“The Virgin”

Alan C. Miner

According to Reynolds and Sjodahl, "The Virgin" (1 Nephi 11:20) is the title given to the Mother of Jesus in the prophecy of his birth (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23). There is very little information in the New Testament concerning Mary. But from what is written about her, it is evident that she was a woman of the highest mental and spiritual culture. That she was a regular visitor in the temple, well known by the officials in the sacred edifice, is also indicated by the story of the appearance of her divine Son there at the age of twelve years. A boy of obscure parentage would not have had a chance to remain among the learned doctors for several days, as he did.

Early traditions, recorded in the Protevangelium and some other apocrypha, related that Mary was born at Nazareth, the daughter of Joachim and his wife, Anna. The father is said to have been a very wealthy citizen, known for his generosity and observance of the law. For many years the worthy couple lived together childless. But, finally, they promised the Lord that a child of theirs would be dedicated to the Lord, i.e. to the temple service. Then, in due time, the baby girl, to whom they gave the name of Mary, came. She was the answer to their prayers, the reward for their faithfulness.

When the girl was three years old--so the tradition avers--she was taken to the temple and, in accordance with the promise made, dedicated to the service of the Lord. From now on, she was raised and educated under the direction of the authorities of the temple. The summer months, it is said, she spent at Nazareth, the rest of the year she served in the Sanctuary.

Now it seems to have been customary, as regards the young ladies raised for temple service, to give them an opportunity, when they arrived at the marriageable age, to choose for themselves whether they would continue to remain virgins of the Lord for ever, or become wives and mothers. Mary's choice was to continue the temple service, but, guided by a special revelation, the high priest selected Joseph of Nazareth to be her legal guardian and husband. (Protevangelium, Chapter 8) She was then twelve years old.

After the wonderful story of the birth of the Savior of the world the evangelists say little of Mary. She is mentioned in the account of the marriage feast at Cana (John 2), and as one attending a gathering outside a synagogue where Jesus had been preaching (Mark 3:31), and then as standing near the cross, when her crucified Son commended her to the care of John (John 19:25-7). She is, finally, mentioned as one of the women present in the "upper room" in Jerusalem, after the ascension of Jesus from the Mount of Olives. (Acts 1:13,14)

Tradition has it that she died in Jerusalem in the year A.D. 48, and that her body also was taken to heaven. The latter "assumption" is based on the story that the apostles, three days after her interment, found the tomb empty.

All this, except the accounts given by the evangelists, is tradition. That the story has an historic foundation is not denied. But to separate the historic element from what is mere fiction, is not always possible at this late day.

Before leaving this subject, a word should be said of Anna, the prophetess, mentioned by Luke. She, too, must have been one of the virgins of the Lord, dedicated to the temple service. She was of the tribe of Asher. This may be accounted for by the fact that when Hezekiah, king of Judah, sent a call to Israel, as well as Judah, to come to Jerusalem to celebrate the passover, some people of the tribe of Asher, and also of the tribes of Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulon, humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. The forefathers of Anna may have come to Jerusalem at that time. The forebears of Lehi, of the tribe of Manasseh, may also have come at the invitation of Hezekiah. (2 Chronicles 30:1-12,16,19) The Evangelist says of Anna, that she was a prophetess. Like Mary, she had been given to a husband, when grown up. She had lived with him only seven years. Now she was eighty-four years old, a widow but "she departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day." Furthermore, she preached the gospel of the Redeemer "to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem" (Luke 2:36-38) [George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, pp. 83-84] [See the commentary on Mosiah 3:7, 8]

1 Nephi 11:20 I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms ([Illustration]): Nephi Sees the Birth of Christ [Robert T. Barrett, Verse Markers, Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 7]

1 Nephi 11:20 And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms ([Illustration]): Nephi's Vision of Mary. Artist: Judith Mehr. [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Ensign, December 1997, inside front cover]

1 Nephi 11:20 I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms ([Illustration]): "He Shall Bring Forth a Son." Mary holds the baby Jesus Artist: Liz Lemon Swindle. [Thomas R. Valletta ed., The Book of Mormon for Latter-day Saint Families, 1999, p. 30]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary