According to the opening chapters of the gospels of Matthew and Luke, Mary, the mother of Jesus, was engaged before his birth to Joseph, son of Jacob (Matt. 1.16) or of Heli (Luke 3.23). Matthew's infancy story is written largely from Joseph's point of view, even narrating his receiving messages from angels in his dreams. These dreams portray his struggle to determine how to deal justly with his fiancée's unexpected pregnancy (Matt. 1.18–25) and how to respond to threats against the infant Jesus (2.13–23).

Matthew and Luke agree in their genealogies of Jesus that Joseph was a descendent of King David (Matt. 1.1–16; Luke 3.23–38). These genealogies imply that Joseph was in some way Jesus' father (see Virgin Birth). Joseph is gone from the scene when the Gospels describe Jesus' adult life, though he was apparently remembered by those around Jesus as his father (Luke 4.22; John 1.45; 6.42) and as a carpenter (Matt. 13:55). The gospel of Mark makes no mention of Jesus' father, and calls him instead “Mary's son” (Mark 6.3). The second‐century CE infancy gospel Protevangelium of James provides additional information of a legendary character. Later Christian tradition comes to view Joseph as an elderly widower, so that the “brothers and sisters of Jesus” in such passages as Mark 6.3 could be understood as Joseph's children from a previous marriage, not his children with Mary; later, he came to be seen as a saintly ascetic with no interest in sex, and Jesus' siblings as “cousins.”

Philip Sellew