Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mary = Unknown Name?

by Sariah S. Wilson

This is what happens when you read too much online. I was out perusing the LDS Bloggernacle, and while I can't remember the site, there was a blogger saying that the name Mary was unknown to the prophets of the Old Testament, while the Book of Mormon prophets knew it (which would have helped keep Mary safe because the people didn't know her name).

I had an Ammon/sheep moment (they were flocks! FLOCKS!). A sort of "Wha...???" came out of my mouth.

Obviously the Book of Mormon prophets used the name. We've all read it. But I don't think it's true that the people in Israel had no idea that Christ's mother would be named Mary.

Is that why so many women are named Mary in the New Testament? We don't see many Marys in the Old Testament (although we do have Miriam, which is likely from the same original Hebrew word), but there are TONS in the New Testament.

We have Mary, Jesus' mother. The sisters Mary and Martha. Mary Magdalene. Mary, the mother of James and Joses, Mary, the wife of Cleophas or "the other Mary" at the tomb. Why were so many women named Mary? Was it just a name people liked? Or would there have been another reason people picked the name Mary for their daughters?

Back in my BYU days when I had Brother Reed Benson for Book of Mormon, we discussed the scripture with the revelation that is about Joseph Smith, saying he would be named for his father (which he was) and after Joseph of Egypt. Joseph had this name despite having older brothers. Tradition dictates that if a name is passed on to a son, it is typically the oldest. Despite this, he was Joseph. (On a tangent, when he got to that part of the translation, I always wondered whether that freaked him out to see a scripture that was about him!) It's why Lehi gave his own son the name Joseph - because of all the special connections throughout the centuries to that name (and coincidentally enough, also why I gave my second son Joseph as a middle name).

As a consequence of that scripture, in a teasing manner Br. Benson said he was very careful to run his children's names past the Lord first, just to see if they needed to be something different (which is understandable given that his father actually was a prophet).

I, possessing a name that came directly from revelation, know well enough that it is very easy for the Spirit to influence the naming of a child.

But in the case of Mary, isn't it more likely that the Israelites knew that the mother of Jesus would be named Mary? And as a consequence, EVERYBODY named their daughter Mary?

In modern day, if it were revealed that a prophet of the Lord would be born in the Salt Lake Valley in the new millennium, to an active LDS family with a pioneer heritage, and his name would be Fred, we would see an explosion of babies named Fred. Five years from now it'd be like back in the 1970s when the Jennifers had to have their own roll because there were so many of them. Every kindergartner out there would be named Fred (maybe we'd even get a George Foreman family who'd have Fred 1, Fred 2, Fred 3, etc.)

The Bible is full of lots of different female names. It's not like Mary was the only option for parents. But I tend to think that the reason we have so many Marys (and probably had lots more that we don't know about, but it is interesting how many times it pops up as a name for different women and how many scholars think that different Marys were combined into one, like Mary Magdalene) is because people wanted it to be possible for their daughter to be the mother of the Son of God. And if you named her Sarah or Dorcas or Bath-sheba, you automatically precluded your child from that ever happening.

So for me, the abundance of women named Mary suggests that it was in fact known that the name of the Christ's mother would be Mary.

And if you're wondering how this is relevant to anything else - the important thing to remember here is that I posted on a Saturday.


At 7/26/2010 12:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you imagine the pressure on all the little girls who got blessed with the name Mary? I mean, whenever they misbehaved, their mothers might have said, "Now is that any way the mother of God should act?" Sheesh!


At 7/26/2010 1:06 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

I think the point is that the prophets of the Old Testament knew of the name "Mary" but never prophesied (at least in any recorded Old Testament scripture) that Mary would be the name of Christ's mother.

I guess it's a possibility that some of the Old Testament prophets knew it--we just don't have any evidence of it.

The only set of scriptures in which Mary's name is revealed as the mother of Christ before his birth is in the Book of Mormon.

At 7/26/2010 3:49 PM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

So is it just a coincidence then that so many women, particularly in Mary's age group, were named Mary?

There may not be recorded prophecies in the Old Testament with Mary's name, but a lot of times that doesn't mean a whole lot with all the different permutations the Bible has gone through. I think just the sheer number of women named Mary that are mentioned in the New Testament suggests to me that it was known. Also, that there aren't a lot of other female names that are seen numerous times for different people. We don't have a lot of Elizabeths or Annas or whatever - just a plethora of Marys.


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