The chief sources of information on the life of St. Joseph are the first chapters of our first and third
Gospels; they are practically also the only reliable sources, for, whilst, on the holy patriarch’s life, as
on many other points connected with the Savior’s history which are left untouched by the canonical
writings, the apocryphal literature is full of details, the non-admittance of these works into the Canon
of the Sacred Books casts a strong suspicion upon their contents; and, even granted that some of the
facts recorded by them may be founded on trustworthy traditions, it is in most instances next to
impossible to discern and sift these particles of true history from the fancies with which they are
associated. Among these apocryphal productions dealing more or less extensively with some
episodes of St. Joseph’s life may be noted the so-called “Gospel of James”, the “Pseudo-Matthew”,
the “Gospel of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary”, the “Story of Joseph the Carpenter”, and the “Life of
the Virgin and Death of Joseph”.
St. Matthew (1:16) calls St. Joseph the son of Jacob; according to St. Luke (3:23), He was his father.
This is not the place to recite the many and most various endeavors to solve the vexing questions
arising from the divergences between both genealogies; nor is it necessary to point out the
explanation which meets best all the requirements of the problem; suffice it to remind the reader that,
contrary to what was once advocated, most modern writers readily admit that in both documents we
possess the genealogy of Joseph, and that it is quite possible to reconcile their data.
It is probably at Nazareth that Joseph betrothed and married her who was to become the Mother of
God. When the marriage took place, whether before or after the Incarnation, is no easy matter to
settle, and on this point the masters of exegesis have at all times been at variance. Most modern
commentators, following the footsteps of St. Thomas, understand that, at the epoch of the
Annunciation, the Blessed Virgin was only affianced to Joseph; as St. Thomas notices, this
interpretation suits better all the evangelical data.
It will not be without interest to recall here, unreliable though they are, the lengthy stories concerning
St. Joseph’s marriage contained in the apocryphal writings. When forty years of age, Joseph married
a woman called Melcha or Escha by some, Salome by others; they lived forty-nine years together and
had six children, two daughters and four sons, the youngest of whom was James (the Less, “the
Lord’s brother”). A year after his wife’s death, as the priests announced through Judea that they
wished to find in the tribe of Juda a respectable man to espouse Mary, then twelve to fourteen years
of age. Joseph, who was at the time ninety years old, went up to Jerusalem among the candidates; a
miracle manifested the choice God had made of Joseph, and two years later the Annunciation took
place. These dreams, as St. Jerome styles them, from which many a Christian artist has drawn his
inspiration (see, for instance, Raphael’s “Espousals of the Virgin”), are void of authority; they
nevertheless acquired in the course of ages some popularity; in them some ecclesiastical writers
sought the answer to the well-known difficulty arising from the mention in the Gospel of “the Lord’s
brothers”; from them also popular credulity has, contrary to all probability, as well as to the tradition
witnessed by old works of art, retained the belief that St. Joseph was an old man at the time of
marriage with the Mother of God.