Allegations recently surfaced that Alabama U.S. Senate candidate and former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore had romantic involvement with four teenage girls, including one 14-year old, when he was in his 30s. Moore's defense to these allegations is that they never happened. For a variety of reasons, including the well-sourced Washington Post story that broke the allegations, I believe they did. Some Republicans, including several prominent Senators, have said that if the allegations are true he must step down from the Senate race. However, a litany of other prominent supporters have given.......let's say, less satisfactory responses.
Among those is Alabama state auditor Jim Ziegler. Ziegler has given two main defenses of Moore. The first, while still grotesque, is by far the better of the two. Ziegler said “[t]here’s nothing to see here. Single man, early 30s, never been married, dating teenage girls. Never been married and he liked younger girls. According to The Washington Post account he never had sexual intercourse with any of them.” Now, one can certainly argue that cultural norms change, but suffice it to say, if a 30 year old man comes a courting my soon-to-be 14 year old daughter, that man is taking his health and safety, not to mention his freedom, into his own hands. This defense also glosses past the fact that even in the 1970s, the conduct alleged by the 14-year old (though not with the other three girls who alleged Moore pursued them, who were all over the age of consent of 16, and all of whom said their contact with him was limited to kissing), was illegal in Alabama. It also seems to miss the obvious fact that his conduct with 4 separate girls was limited to kissing with the older girls, but progressed to fondling with the youngest of the four, which implies predation beyond that which the law imposes simply by virtue of her age. Meaning -- Moore apparently felt more comfortable pushing the envelope with the youngest of the four. So Ziegler is just being obnoxiously disgusting here.
Not content to be merely disgusting, however, Ziegler then came out with what might be the oddest defense of allegations of child molestation I have ever heard. Ziegler said “[t]ake the Bible. Zachariah and Elizabeth for instance. Zachariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist." He then said "[a]lso take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”
Zechariah and Elizabeth is the easier nut to crack here. Ziegler is simply wrong. Both Zechariah and Elizabeth were older, past childbearing years, when St. John was born. "But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years." (Luke 1:7).
However, the argument about Joseph and the Theotokos is odder still. Here, Ziegler has no Biblical support, because the Bible does not tell us Joseph's age, nor Mary's. Rather than following the Bible, Ziegler is conflating two variant traditions about Mary and Joseph.
The Bible tells us "[i]n the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary." (Luke 1:24). Was
Saint Matthew elaborates.
"Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 'Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,' which is translated, 'God with us.'
Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus."
The Bible does not tell us how old Mary was. It does not tell us how old Joseph was.
Where Ziegler gets this information about Mary and Joseph's ages is not from the Bible, but from the classical Christian tradition that says that Mary was a young teenager and Joseph was betrothed to her to be her caretaker. The problem for Ziegler is this same classical tradition also holds that Mary remained ever-virgin, that is, she and Joseph never had sexual contact. The reasons for this are varied, but mostly center around the classical Church's view that Mary, having borne the Christ in her womb, was sanctified -- set apart and made holy by His indwelling within her. And Joseph, being a chaste and God-fearing man and, not for nothing, much older than Mary, would never wish to reduce Mary's body to a secular purpose after she had borne God Himself in her womb.
While it is true that Moore also never had sexual intercourse with the girls who raised these allegations, one can hardly imagine on this account Joseph and Mary engaging in the conduct Moore is accused of. Suffice it to say, if true, Moore was feeling up a 14 year old girl. To suggest Joseph did roughly the same is to do violence to the Christian tradition.
The other main tradition about Mary and Joseph is that they did have other children after Jesus was born. The main support for this view does come from the Bible, though the implication that Joseph was "an adult carpenter" and Mary "a teenager" is still nowhere to be found in the Bible. The Gospels of Mark and Matthew reference brothers and sisters of Jesus. This tradition stems from Protestantism, and late Protestantism at that. It is based on the principle of Sola Scriptura and assumes that "brothers and sisters of Jesus" also means "sons and daughters of Mary by birth." Based on this reading, Protestants who hold this view tend to reject the May-December betrothal tradition and assume Joseph and Mary were both closer to the same age. Why? Because the Bible doesn't tell us their ages. The classical tradition holds that these "brothers and sisters" were either cousins of Jesus or, as we in the Orthodox Church contend, step-siblings, children of Joseph from a prior marriage. Notably, Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli all held to the classical view, so the later tradition is also not something all Protestants adhere to.
However, no tradition, certainly not one that claims as Ziegler does to be based on "the Bible" holds both that Mary was a teenager and Joseph a much older man and that they had sex with each other and bore children. Leaving aside the patently obvious problem with invoking Mary, Joseph and Jesus as examples of why sexual contact with adults and young teenagers is not wrong -- even if one assumes Joseph and Mary later had sexual intercourse and bore other children after Jesus, literally nobody has ever suggested Joseph was robbing the cradle.
Ziegler's problem, it seems to me, stems from his desire to defend his politician friend, not any desire to be faithful to the Bible. And his bungling of this narrative demonstrates the value of tradition very clearly. Everybody follows somebody's tradition. Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics and many tradition-minded Protestants follow the classical tradition. Joseph was much older than Mary and betrothed to her as a caretaker. Joseph and Mary never had any sort of sexual relationship. Mary remained and still remains ever-virgin. This is encapsulated in our Divine Liturgy, where during litanies we "remember especially our all holy, most pure and blessed and glorious Lady, Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary." Those who do not follow this tradition have assumed another tradition -- that Joseph and Mary did have marital relations and Mary bore other children, and also that Joseph was not that much older than Mary at the time they were married, and certainly not at the time Jesus was born.
Ziegler, of course, invents his own tradition out of whole cloth, conflating the two main traditions while invoking the Bible to defend his politician friend from allegations of child molestation. In so doing, he slanders Saint Joseph the Betrothed and the Mother of God, all for the ignoble purpose of defending an accused child molester. Tradition matters. Choose yours wisely.