by Edward Sri, S.T.D.
Belief in Mary’s loving intercession was expressed in early Christian art, prayer and teaching. Whether it be in the many frescoes of the Roman catacombs depicting Mary in a prayerful position, or through early Church Fathers who portray Mary in heaven as praying for those on earth, or through other Fathers who address Mary and prayerfully seek her supplication, Mary’s intercessory role is clearly attested to in the first four centuries of the Church (1). As an example of how highly developed the understanding of Mary’s intercessory power could become in the early church, consider the prayer Sub Tuum Praesidium, which can be dated approximately to the mid-third century: "We fly to thy protection, O holy Mother of God, despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us from all danger, O ever glorious and blessed Virgin." From this we see evidence of early Christians confidently turning to Mary for protection in the face of the trials and dangers in life and asking her to intercede for them. It is not surprising that the Church throughout the centuries would refer to Mary as our "Advocate," indicating her unique power of intercession, taking petitions from God’s people on earth and presenting them before her Son in heaven.
Closely related to Mary’s advocacy is her role as Queen—another Marian title found in the early Church and developed in the Tradition throughout the centuries. In fact, many magisterial teachings will note how Mary exercises her royal office through her role as Advocate, interceding on our behalf. This article will examine Mary’s role as Advocate and Queen, first by exploring an important Biblical foundation for these two titles: the queen mother, who held a royal office in the kingdom of David, and exercised her office especially through her role as advocate, interceding for the people of the kingdom. Next, we will outline how the Church’s Tradition and magisterial teaching has developed the understanding of Mary’s advocacy and queenship throughout the centuries. And finally, some theological issues regarding Mary’s role as Advocate and Queen will be addressed.
The Queen Mother and Advocate in the Davidic Kingdom
The mother of a ruling monarch held an important position in many Ancient Near Eastern kingdoms. She is known to have influenced political, military, economic and cultic affairs in the royal court and played a key part in the process of dynastic succession. In fact, it was generally the king’s mother who ruled as queen, not the king’s wife. We see this in Hittite, Ugaritic, Egyptian and Assyrian kingdoms, as well as in ancient Israel (2).
The importance of the king’s mother may seem odd until we recall that most Ancient Near Eastern kings practiced polygamy and had large harems. While kings may have had many wives, they each had only one mother, and the queenship was given to her. This, in fact, is what one finds in ancient Israel, where the king’s mother was given preeminence over all the women in the kingdom of Judah, even over the king’s wives. She was given the title Gebirah—or "Great Lady"—and reigned as queen in her son’s kingdom.
We can see the importance of the queen mother expressed in many texts of the Old Testament. First, the succession narratives of 1 and 2 Kings present the mother of the king as having such importance that almost every time a new Davidic king is introduced in the Kingdom of Judah, the mother’s name also is mentioned—but the wife’s name is not. Thus, at the crucial transition points of dynastic succession, the narrative consistently highlights the queen mother’s important place alongside the new king. As one commentator has explained, "On the throne the queen mother represented the king’s continuity with the past, the visible affirmation of God’s ongoing plan for his people, the channel through which the Lord’s dynastic promise to David was fulfilled" (3).
The queen mother held an official position in the kingdom of Judah. She is described as having a crown (Jer 13:18) and a throne (1 Kings 2:19; cf., Jer 13:18). It is also significant that 2 Kings 24 mentions the queen mother among the members of the royal court whom King Jehoiachin surrenders to the king of Babylon. In this passage, the queen mother is the first of the king’s royal court listed as being given over to Babylon to go into exile (2 Kings 24:12-15). Miguens notes how this highlights the queen mother’s preeminence in the royal court:
She is mentioned before the "wives of the king" (2 Kings 24:15) and before the ministers, dignitaries and officers (2 Kings 24:12, 15; Jer 29:2). Significantly these biblical passages say that the gebirah is the second, only to the king, in the list of prominent official persons brought into captivity. This detail speaks very highly of the political significance of "the mother of the king" (4).
The queen mother was not simply a "figurehead" position. She had real royal authority, participating in her son’s reign. For example, consider the following prophecy, which the prophet Jeremiah addresses both to the king and the queen mother:
Say to the king and the queen mother: "Take a lowly seat, for your beautiful crown has come down from your head. … Lift up your eyes and see those who come from the north. Where is the flock that was given you, your beautiful flock?" (Jer 13:18, 20).
By addressing both the king and the queen mother, this passage recognized the queen mother’s important royal office. In ominous imagery, the king and queen mother are told to "take a lowly seat"—symbolizing how both had thrones, but would lose them soon. Moreover, both are told they will lose their crowns—also foreshadowing their political downfall. Most of all, both king and queen are described as having the responsibility to shepherd the flock of the people of Judah, a flock that is about to be taken away from them: "Where is the flock that was given you, your beautiful flock?" The important point for our purposes is to note how this prophecy portrays the queen mother as participating in the king’s reign: she has a throne and a crown with the king, and she shares in the king’s mission of shepherding the people.
The queen mother’s royal authority can best be seen if we compare Bathsheba’s role in the kingdom when she was the wife of the king, to her role when she became the mother of the king. In 1 Kings 1, her husband David, the king, is still alive, so she is just the king’s wife. When she wants to enter the royal chamber to meet him, she bows before her husband and pays him homage (1 Kings 1:16). As she leaves she honors the king, saying, "May David live forever!" (1 Kings 1:31).
In the next chapter, David has died and Bathsheba’s son Solomon has assumed the throne, making her queen mother. When she enters the royal chamber this time as mother of the king, she is treated much differently than when she was just the wife of the king. The narrative tells not of Bathsheba bowing before the king, but of King Solomon rising and bowing down before her. Then Solomon has a throne brought in for her, symbolizing her royal status. Even more striking is the place where Solomon places Bathsheba’s royal seat: at his right hand. The queen mother being seated at the king’s right hand has the greatest significance, for in the Bible the right is a position of authority and supreme honor. As Gray observes, "Nowhere else in the Bible does the king honor someone as Solomon does the Gebirah." (5).
The queen mother also served as a counselor to the king (6). We have some evidence of this in the Old Testament. For example, in Proverbs 31, a queen mother gives wise counsel to her son about how to serve the poor, rule the people with justice, avoid too much alcohol and choose a good wife. Although not always this positive, the queen mother’s counsel seems to have had the ability to greatly influence affairs in the kingdom. 2 Chronicles 22:3, for example, tells how King Ahaziah "walked in the ways of the house of Ahab (an evil king), for his mother was his counselor in doing wickedly." This shows how at least this particular queen mother’s counsel was so influential it led the king into wickedness.
The influence of the queen mother is seen in the intercessory role she played in ancient Israel (7). She served as an advocate, taking petitions from the people and presenting them to the king. Her intercessory function can be seen in the passage from 1 Kings 2 when Bathsheba went to meet her royal son, Solomon. In the context, Solomon has been crowned king, and Bathsheba has thus become queen mother. Her new intercessory power is immediately recognized when a man named Adonijah asks Bathsheba to bring a petition of his to the king. Adonijah expresses great confidence in her intercessory role, saying "Pray ask King Solomon—he will not refuse you" (1 Kings 2:17). Bathsheba agrees and then goes to the king.
After she is welcomed by the king, who bows before her and gives her a throne at his right hand, Bathsheba tells Solomon she has a small request to bring to him. Solomon responds by saying "Make your request my mother, for I will not refuse you." Indeed, Solomon’s words reveal the king’s ordinary commitment to the queen mother’s petitions (8).
In sum, we have seen that the queen mother held an official position in the royal court, sharing in the shepherding responsibilities of the king, and serving as a counselor for the king and as an advocate for the people.
The Queen Mother in Prophecy: Isaiah 7:14
We also see the importance of the queen mother in Israel’s prophetic tradition, particularly in the Emmanuel prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. This passage, filled with strong Davidic overtones, is important for our study because it is associated with Israel’s messianic hopes and was explicitly related to Mary and Jesus in the New Testament (Mt 1:23).
The prophecy comes during a period of dynastic crisis. Syria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel threaten to invade the Kingdom of Judah. Ahaz, the king of Judah, fears that the dynasty may be coming to an end with him (Is 7:1-6). Isaiah is sent by God to assure a doubting Ahaz that the kingdom will survive this foreign threat and challenge him to entrust his throne to the Lord. Isaiah then gives a sign to the house of David that will serve as a confirmation of Yahweh’s protection of the Davidic dynasty:
Here then O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin (almah) shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Emmanuel (Is 7:13-14).
At a most basic level, the child represents an heir to the Davidic throne. Such a view best demonstrates how this sign for the house of David relates to the immediate context of the dynastic crisis at hand. Not only is the Davidic line in danger of expiring (Is 7:6), but as a result, God’s faithfulness to the Davidic dynasty (2 Sam 7:11-14) is called into question. It is within this setting that Isaiah specifically addressed "the house of David" with this oracle announcing the Immanuel child in 7:14. Given this context, the child seems to represent some type of dynastic sign guaranteeing the succession of the endangered Davidic line.
This view finds further support in the fact that the child’s name (God with us) is itself bound up with the idea of the preservation of the Davidic dynasty. Since God promised to be "with" the sons of David in a special way (2 Sam 7:9; 1 Kings 1:37; Ps 89:22, 25; 1 Kings 11:38), the sign of a child named "Immanuel" gives assurance that God will remain faithful to his promise to the Davidic dynasty: God will still be with his people even through this crisis in which the house of David appears to be crumbling. All this strongly supports an understanding of the child as a successor to the Davidic throne—someone in whom the dynasty would continue. And in light of the fact that this child in Isaiah 7 is also associated with the great prophecies of Isaiah 9 (a child who would bring about a never-ending kingdom) and Isaiah 11 (a royal son who would unify all people and whom all nations would seek), we can see even more clearly that this prophecy ultimately will be fulfilled in the great messiah king to come, Jesus Christ (cf., Mt 1:23).
Once we see the Immanuel child as a Davidic king, the young woman (almah) conceiving this child would have been understood as the mother of the king. Furthermore, in this oracle addressed specifically to the Davidic household (Is 7:13), the young woman bearing the royal son, an heir to the throne, would have been understood as a queen mother. With Isaiah’s overriding concern for dynastic succession in the house of David, it is fitting that this prophecy links the royal son with his queen mother—the very woman who played an important role in dynastic succession and in the royal court. Indeed, Matthew’s Gospel will employ this queen mother and son prophecy in relation to Mary and her royal Davidic son, Jesus, in the New Testament (Mt 1:22-23).
Mary as Queen Mother and Advocate in the New Testament
Up to this point, we have seen the important role of the queen mother in the Davidic kingdom and in the prophetic tradition about the future of the kingdom. We now can turn our attention to the New Testament. Here we will consider how Luke, Matthew and the Johannine writings portray Mary in ways that bring to mind the queen mother of the Old Testament.
Luke evokes many Davidic kingdom themes in his infancy narrative. In the Annunciation scene, Luke presents Mary’s vocation as Mother of the Messiah within a Davidic kingdom framework. She is introduced in the narrative as being betrothed to a man who is "of the house of David" (Lk 1:26). Luke mentions this detail of Joseph’s heritage in order to prepare the reader for understanding Jesus as a Davidic heir.
The angel’s announcement to Mary in Luke 1:32-33 highlights that her child will be the son of David, fulfilling the promises God made to David in 2 Samuel 7. First, she is told by Gabriel that her Son will be called "Son of the Most High" (1:32). Since "Most High" was a title for God in the Old Testament, and a common divine title in Luke as well (9), the description of Jesus as "Son of the Most High" would indicate that he has a filial relationship with God. This expression also could be understood in light of the Old Testament designation of the Davidic king as God’s son. Thus, Jesus as "Son of the Most High" likely recalls Nathan’s oracle (2 Sam 7:14) and the royal Psalms (Ps 2:7; 89:26-27; cf. Ps 110:1)—both of which describe the Davidic king as having a special filial relationship with Yahweh.
That this is the primary meaning of the child’s divine sonship in 1:32 is made clearer in the following verses, which include even more direct allusions to the Davidic covenant and thus bring Jesus’ kingship into sharper focus. The angel goes on to tell Mary that her child will be given "the throne of his father David" (Lk 1:32), showing that Jesus fulfills Nathan’s promise for the Davidic dynasty in which God would establish "the throne of his kingdom forever" (2 Sam 7:13). When the angel describes how the child will "reign over the house of Jacob forever" and says "of his kingdom there will be no end" (Lk 1:33), these words further explicate Jesus’ kingship in terms of the hopes surrounding the Davidic dynasty (2 Sam 7:13; Ps 89:36ff; Is 9:6ff).
Furthermore, there are several direct parallels between Luke 1:32-33 and the promises God made to David in 2 Samuel 7:9-16 (great name, throne, divine sonship, house and kingdom). Indeed, Gabriel’s words clearly echo Nathan’s oracle, which became the foundation for Jewish messianic hopes. The parallels can be demonstrated in the following chart:
32a: He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High.
32b: And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David
33a: and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever,
33b: and of his kingdom there will be no end.
2 Sam 7:
9: I will make for you a great name . . .
13: I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
14: I will be his father, and he shall be my son . . .
16: And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever (10).
With these words, Gabriel is clearly identifying the child as the Davidic messiah, fulfilling the hopes of 2 Samuel 7. Therefore, the narrative shows that Mary is given the vocation to be the mother of the king.
This is why some have suggested that the queen-mother tradition may be in the background of the Annunciation scene (11). Indeed, this passage portrays Mary as a mother linked with the house of David and giving birth to a Davidic son. Especially since Luke places this scene in the context of the Davidic kingdom, it seems that Mary’s role should be understood in light of that Davidic tradition as well. In that context, Mary, as mother of the Davidic king, would be seen as queen mother of her royal son. As Cazelles has pointed out, while the angel’s words speak of Jesus as the Messiah-King, they also provide a basis for Mary’s royal maternity. "One could not more explicitly announce the birth of the Messiah who was waited for and announced by the prophets. However, by speaking directly to the Mother of the Messiah, the angel implicitly evoked the woman who was the mother of the king, linked to her son. It is thus that these words contain a theology of the queenship of Mary" (12).
In Luke’s account of the visitation, we will see how Elizabeth’s greeting Mary with the title "the mother of my Lord" (Lk 1:43) is charged with great royal significance that is helpful for our topic.
This is the first time Jesus is called "Lord" in Luke-Acts. While kurios was used often in the Old Testament as a circumlocution for avoiding the Tetrogrammaton (Yahweh), it also referred to the Davidic king (2 Sam 24:21; 1 Kings 1:13-47) and the royal messiah (Ps 110:1). Within the Lucan narrative, the title "Lord" later came to refer to Jesus’ total authority and placed him on par with Yahweh (Acts 2 and 10) (13). However, at this point in the narrative, its use by Elizabeth could be "a prophetic foreshadowing" of Jesus’ full identity to be revealed later in the narrative. But in this first use of the title "Lord," "it could also be seen to signify simply the Lordship of the Messiah (Lk 20:41-44)" (14).
Furthermore, Elizabeth’s words to Mary, "And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Lk 1:43), echo 2 Samuel 24:21 where the phrase "my Lord" is used as a royal title honoring the king. In that text, Araunah greets King David, saying: "Why has my lord the king come to his servant?" (2 Sam 24:21). With this in the background, Elizabeth’s words here in 1:43 would have regal connotations that further present Jesus as a Davidic king.
It is also significant that the title in 1:43 is not used in an absolute sense, but stands alongside the first person possessive, "my Lord." This may further signify its royal messianic meaning, since this expression was used in the Old Testament to denote the king and the future messiah. As Brown has observed, "Both in the gospel (20:41-44) and in Acts (2:34) Luke uses Psalm 110:1, ‘the Lord said to my Lord,’ to show that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God; and Elizabeth is recognizing Mary as the mother of ‘my Lord’ i.e., of the Messiah" (15).
Thus, when Elizabeth calls Mary "the mother of my Lord," these words not only point to Jesus as the Messiah, but they also tell us something important about Mary. While recognizing the messianic lordship of Mary’s child, Elizabeth, at the same time, acknowledges Mary as the mother of her king. Here it should be pointed out that in the New Testament, Mary often is referred to as the "mother of Jesus" or "his mother," but nowhere is she called the "mother of my Lord" except here in 1:43 (16). Thus, this unique title for Mary seems to draw attention to her position not just as mother of Jesus in general, but as mother of Jesus specifically in his role as messianic Lord. In other words, Elizabeth, in greeting Mary as "the mother of my Lord," refers to her as mother of the Messiah-King.
This is why the words "the mother of my Lord" point to Mary as a queen-mother figure. It has been noted that in royal court language of the Ancient Near East, the title "Mother of my Lord" would have been used to address the queen mother of the reigning king (who himself was addressed as "my Lord"; cf., 2 Sam 24:21) (17). Thus, within the strong Davidic context of Luke’s infancy narrative, Elizabeth addressing Mary with this royal title provides a basis for viewing her in light of the queen-mother tradition of the Old Testament.
The infancy narrative in Matthew’s Gospel is framed largely around the hopes surrounding the Davidic kingdom. For example, in the very first verse, Jesus is called "christos," which translated the Hebrew word masiah (1:1). This title was used often in the Old Testament to describe Israel’s king, and in post-exilic times to designate the future Davidic king whom God would use to restore the kingdom and establish a perfect, everlasting reign. By using "christos" five times in the first two chapters, Matthew draws attention to Jesus’ Davidic heritage, identifying him as the long-awaited king who would restore the kingdom (Mt 1:1, 16, 17, 18; 2:4).
This messianic portrait is filled in more by another title used in the first verse: "the Son of David" (1:1). By the first century, this title designated the messianic king who would fulfill the promises God made to David. Thus, Matthew’s Gospel shows that Jesus is not just any descendant of David, but is the son of David who would inaugurate the perfect kingdom that would never end.
After tracing Jesus’ royal lineage all the way back to King David in Matthew 1:6-17, Matthew’s Gospel goes on to show how Jesus’ birth itself fulfills hopes surrounding the Messiah-King and the restoration of the Davidic dynasty. Matthew notes that Jesus is born in Bethlehem (2:1), the same place where David was born. The magi call him "the king of the Jews" (2:2) and want to give royal homage to this newborn king (2:2). The scene of the magi paying royal homage to the child also reveals Jesus’ kingship. This is especially seen in the gifts which the magi bring, for they are gifts fit for a king, as seen in this passage’s allusions to Isaiah 60:1ff.; Psalm 72:10-11 and 1 Kings 10:2, 10. Matthew also highlights how Jesus’ birth fulfills prophecies about Davidic kings, including the Immanuel prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 (see Mt 1:22-23) and the prophecy about the future ruler being born in Bethlehem in Micah 5:2 (see Mt 2:5-6).
Within this resounding chorus of Davidic kingdom allusions, Matthew also associates the royal Son with his Mother in several ways that may recall the queen mother.
First, Matthew associates Mary and Jesus with the queen mother and royal son prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. In 1:23, Matthew identifies Mary as the parthenos, whom Isaiah prophesied would give birth to the Immanuel child in Isaiah 7:14 (LXX). As we saw earlier, in the Isaian oracle, the queen mother of Immanuel brings forth a child who would ensure the perseverance of the Davidic dynasty. Here in Matthew 1, Mary does the same, bringing forth the Davidic heir who would secure the true Davidic kingdom forever. As Serra explains, "Just as she (the queen mother in Isaiah 7:14) gave birth to a son who guaranteed the continuation of the House of David, so Mary gives birth to a son who will reign forever on the throne of David, in the house of Jacob, in the ‘Israel of God’ (cf., Mt 28:20; 16:18; Gal 6:16; 2 Sam 7:16). One notes the royalty of the two women" (18).
Second, Matthew frequently records the newborn king alongside his mother. In fact, some have pointed out how Matthew constantly mentioning the child and his mother together—five times in chapter two alone—could draw attention to Mary’s association with her royal Son in a way that recalls the Old Testament queen-mother tradition (19). Matthew’s recurring phrase "the child and his mother" has "a Davidic resonance" (20), which might bring to mind the way the books of Kings repeatedly introduced each new Davidic king alongside the queen mother.
Third, she holds an important narrative position alongside her royal Son when the magi pay him homage (Mt 2:11). This scene involves a number of Davidic kingdom themes. Jesus is called the "king of the Jews" (2:2). The star guiding the magi recalls the star in Balaam’s oracle about the royal scepter rising out of Israel (Num 24:17). The narrative centers on the city of Bethlehem, where David was born (1 Sam 17:12) and out of which the future Davidic king would come (Mic 5:2). And the magi bringing gifts and paying the child Jesus homage recall the royal Psalm 72:10-11 (cf., Is. 60:6).
Within this Davidic kingdom context, Matthew records Mary with the child when the three magi come to honor the newborn king. Notice how mention of Joseph is conspicuously absent: "…going into the house, (the magi) saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him" (Mt 2:11). Why does Matthew focus on Jesus and Mary and leave Joseph out of the picture at this point? All throughout the narrative in Matthew 1-2, Joseph is much more prominent than Mary. Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy through Joseph. The angel appears to Joseph three times. It is Joseph who leads the Holy Family to Bethlehem, to Egypt and back to Nazareth. However, as Aragon notes, in this particular scene of the magi coming to honor the newborn king, Mary takes center stage, and surprisingly, Joseph is not mentioned at all in the entire pericope. "Her mention in this moment, along with the omission of Joseph, underlines that Mary is a person especially important for the narrator, and that is why he puts her in this very high position" (21). This link between royal child and mother in such a regal context again may bring to mind the queen-mother tradition. Indeed, if Jesus is the newborn "king of the Jews" in this scene (2:2), then Mary, as the mother of this king (cf., 2:11), could be understood as a queen mother (22). Brown draws a similar conclusion: "(S)ince the magi story puts so much emphasis on homage paid to a Davidic king in Bethlehem of Judah, ‘the child with his mother’ might evoke the peculiar importance given to the queen mother (gebirah, ‘the Great Lady’) of a newborn or newly installed king in the Davidic dynasty" (23).
When interpreting the "woman clothed with the sun" in Revelation 12, some identify the "woman" merely in a collective way—as a symbol for the Old Testament people of God, as a symbol for the New Testament church, or as a symbol of God’s people in general, spanning both the old and the new. However, as discussed in the chapter on New Testament foundations, while Revelation 12 portrays the woman in ways that might recall Israel or the Church, the "woman clothed with the sun" is also meant to be understood as Mary. Since Revelation 12 presents the woman as the Mother of the Messiah, a Marian interpretation makes most sense. As Andre Feuillette once put it: "Is it conceivable that a Christian author of the late first century could speak about the Mother of Christ while prescinding entirely from the Virgin Mary?" (24) Once a Marian interpretation of the woman in Revelation 12 is held, the ways in which this book presents Our Lady’s queenship become quite apparent.
Like the other Marian passages we have studied, Revelation 12 is filled with royal themes. On one level, this is seen in the woman’s son, who is described as the messianic king exercising his universal dominion. The book of Revelation uses the messianic Psalm 2 to describe how this child will "rule all the nations with a rod of iron" (12:5). He is taken up to heaven to sit on a throne (12:5). This son ushers in the kingdom of God as the enemy is defeated: "Now … the kingdom of our God (has) come, for the accuser … has been thrown down" (12:10).
On another level, royal images are also associated with the woman herself, who as the mother of this king, is portrayed as a majestic queenly figure: "And a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars" (Rev 12:1). First, the woman’s crown is a symbol of royal authority and victory. In the book of Revelation, the symbol of the crown is never a superfluous decoration, but connotes a real reign (25). It often refers to the share the saints have in Christ’s kingship and the reward they receive for victorious perseverance during times of persecutions and temptations (Rev 2:10; 3:11; 4:4, 10; 6:2; 14:14). Thus, the woman having a crown of her own shows that she too has a royal status. The twelve stars point to her relationship with the twelve tribes of Israel (Rev 21:12) or the Church, founded on the twelve apostles (Rev 21:14).
Second, the woman described as having the moon under her feet also may point to her royal authority. In the Scriptures, under-the-feet imagery was often used to denote royal dominion and subjugation of enemies, especially within a Davidic kingdom context (26). Hence, Vanni concludes: "To have someone or something under the feet signifies having power" (27). Thus, the woman depicted as subjugating the moon under her feet suggests that she too has some type of royal position (28).
Further, the images of the sun, moon and twelve stars portray the woman in light of an Old Testament passage that may highlight the woman’s royal authority. It is sometimes proposed that Isaiah’s depiction of the new Jerusalem’s splendor in 60:19-20 (illumined by God’s glory, no longer in need of the sun or moon) and Song of Songs 6:10 (the bride described as beautiful as the moon and resplendent as the sun) have foreshadowed the woman’s radiant description in Revelation 12:1. While these texts may be in the background, Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37:9-11 seems to be even more related, because it has even stronger parallels with Revelation 12:1-2. In this famous dream, the sun, moon and stars bow down before Joseph, symbolizing the royal authority he would have over his father, mother and brothers when he would rise to a pre-eminent position in Egypt as the most powerful person in Pharaoh’s royal court. Thus, in light of the royal significance of the sun, moon and stars in Genesis 37:9-11, the woman in Revelation 12:1 being depicted with these celestial images may add further color to her royalty.
Therefore, the woman in Revelation 12, portrayed alongside her kingly son and depicted with all these royal images clearly would be seen as some type of queenly figure. And once again, the Old Testament tradition of the gebirah could shed light on this queenly woman of Revelation 12. Indeed, she is the mother of the Davidic king (Rev 12:5; Ps 2:7), and she wears a crown as did the queen mothers in the Davidic kingdom (Jer 13:18). Revelation 12 presents a royal woman (12:1) giving birth to the messiah-king (12:5). Although corporate interpretations often view the woman as a symbol for God’s people, no Old Testament or Jewish text speaks of a queenly figure personifying the collective people of God and giving birth to the messiah. However, a close fit can indeed be found in the Old Testament tradition of the queen mother. The queen mother was a royal woman well-known in the Scriptures for having given birth to the Davidic king and for being closely associated with his reign (29). This is similar to the queenly figure in Revelation 12. As such, the queen mother may be in the background for understanding the royal woman who gave birth to the Davidic messiah in Revelation 12. Kirwin draws a similar conclusion: "The woman of Apocalypse 12 is the Mother of the Messiah-King who on the day of his birth, ‘caught up to the throne of God’ is ruler of the universe… Here too, she is the Queen Mother, Mother of Christ – Head and members, Mother of the Church" (30).
These insights would be strengthened by considering how Revelation 12 portrays the woman in light of the Emmanuel prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, which as we saw involves a queen mother who will give birth to a Davidic son. The woman in Revelation 12:1 is introduced as "a sign" (sēmeion), recalling the sign (sēmeion) given to the house of David in this prophecy (Is 7:10 LXX). This sign in Revelation is located in the heavens, like the sign as high as heaven that was offered to King Ahaz (Is 7:10). The sign in Revelation involves a royal woman giving birth to a kingly son (12:1-2, 5) like the queen mother who would conceive and bear a Davidic heir in the Immanuel prophecy (Is 7:14).
Since the woman is portrayed with a number of royal images, she is presented to the reader as some type of queenly figure. And since she is presented as the Mother of the Davidic Messiah (12:5), the queen-mother tradition of the Old Testament can shed light on the woman’s queenly position in this passage. It is thus, as we have seen, that Revelation 12 lends strong biblical support for an understanding of Mary as Queen Mother.
The Queen-Advocate at Cana
In summary, we have examined the portrayal of Mary in Luke 1:26-38, Luke 1:39-45, Matthew 1-2 and Revelation 12. By considering Mary in light of the Davidic kingdom themes that these passages evoke, we have seen how the queen mother can serve as an important background for understanding Mary in the New Testament. As the mother of the Messiah-King, she appears as the new Gebirah. And as the Queen Mother of Christ’s Kingdom, Mary would serve as Advocate, interceding for God’s people. By way of conclusion, let us briefly consider one New Testament passage which illustrates how effective Mary can be as an Advocate in the Kingdom: the Wedding Feast at Cana (Jn 2:1-11).
First, this scene expresses Mary’s compassion and attentiveness to others’ needs. Vatican II described Mary at Cana being "moved with pity" when she noticed the wine ran short at the wedding (31). John Paul II said Mary was "prompted by her merciful heart" to help this family by bringing her concern for them to Jesus. "Having sensed the eventual disappointment of the newly married couple and guests because of the lack of wine, the Blessed Virgin compassionately suggested to Jesus that he intervene with his messianic power" (32).
Second, this scene serves as a pattern for Marian intercession. Just as Mary at Cana noticed the family’s needs first and brought those needs to Christ, so does she continue to bring our needs to her Son through her intercession for us. John Paul II noted how this scene at Cana exemplifies how she intercedes for all mankind. It demonstrates, he says, "Mary’s solicitude for human beings, her coming to them in the wide variety of their wants and needs" and presenting those needs to Jesus. He continues:
At Cana in Galilee there is shown only one concrete aspect of human need, apparently a small one of little importance (They have no wine). But it has a symbolic value: this coming to the aid of human needs means, at the same time, bringing those needs within the radius of Christ’s messianic mission and salvific power. Thus there is a mediation: Mary places herself between her Son and mankind in the reality of their wants, needs and sufferings (33).
Finally, the Wedding at Cana illustrates Mary’s effectiveness as an advocate. Mary notices the problem the family is facing, and in her unique position as the Mother of the King, she confidently turns to her royal Son for help in a way that no one else could. As John Paul II explained, as Christ’s Mother, Mary knows that "she can point out to her Son the needs of mankind, and in fact, she ‘has the right’ to do so" (RM, 21). And when she presents those needs to her Son, Jesus responds to his Mother’s intercession quite powerfully. As the passage bears out, Mary’s request is fulfilled. Jesus performs the miracle and provides the wine that was lacking. And even more, Jesus supplies for them in an abundant way that goes well beyond one’s expectations—at least 120 gallons worth (cf. Jn. 2:6). Thus, Mary is portrayed as a powerful advocate for the family of the bride and groom at Cana, bringing their needs to the King and effectively receiving from her royal Son what the people need.
(1) See J. Murphy, "Origin and Nature of Marian Cult" in Mariology, vol. 3, ed.
J. Carol (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing, 1961).
(2) See my Queen Mother: A Biblical Theology of Mary’s Queenship (Steubenville, Ohio: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2005), pp. 45-53. See also: N. Andreasen, "The Role of the Queen Mother in Israelite Society" CBQ 45 (1983), pp. 179-194; L. Schearing, "Queen" in D. Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5 (New York: Doubleday, 1992), pp. 583-588; R. De Vaux, Ancient Israel (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961), pp. 115-119; G. Kirwin, The Nature of the Queenship of Mary (Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Dissertation Services, 1973), pp. 297-312.
(3) G. Montague, Our Father, Our Mother (Steubenville: Franciscan University Press, 1990), p. 92.
(4) M. Miguens, Mary: ‘Servant of the Lord’ (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1978), p. 65.
(5) T. Gray, "God’s Word and Mary’s Royal Office," Miles Immaculatae 13 (1995), p. 377.
(6) P. De Boer, "The Counselor," VTSup 3 (Leiden: Brill, 1955), p. 54; N. Andreasen, "The Role of the Queen Mother in Israelite Society," pp. 190-191.
(7) P. De Boer, "The Counselor," pp. 60-61; N. Andreasen, "The Role of the Queen Mother in Israelite Society," pp. 194.
(8) See F. Rossier, L’intercession Entre les Hommes dans la Bible Hébraique Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 152 (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1996), p. 189. Also, see Gray’s note on this passage: "The fact that Solomon denies the request in no way discredits the influence of the Gebirah. Adonijah wanted Abishag the Shunammite for the treacherous purpose of taking over the kingdom from Solomon." T. Gray, "God’s Word and Mary’s Royal Office," p. 381, n. 16. Taking the king’s concubine was a sign of usurping the throne in the Ancient Near East. For example, see how Absalom (Adonijah’s older brother), in his attempt to take the throne from David, took his concubines (2 Sam 16:20-23). Gray continues, "Thus the wickedness of Adonijah’s intention is the reason for denial, which in no way reflects negatively upon the Gebirah’s power to intercede. The narrative bears out the fact that the king normally accepted the Gebirah’s request, thus Solomon says, ‘Ask, I will not refuse you.’ To say then that this illustrates the weakness of the Gebirah’s ability to intercede would be to miss the whole point of the narrative, which tells how Adonijah uses the queen mother’s position in an attempt to become king." T. Gray, "God’s Word and Mary’s Royal Office," p. 381, n. 16, emphasis added. For more on the political symbolism of usurping a member of a king’s harem, see R. De Vaux, Ancient Israel, p. 116.
(9) See Luke 1:35, 76; 6:35; 8:28; Acts 7:48; 16:17. J. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1981) p. 348.
(10) R. Brown, Birth of the Messiah (New York: Doubleday, 1993), p. 310.
(11) S. De Fiores, "Regina: Approfondimento Teologico Attualizzato," in S. De Fiores and S. Meo, eds., Nuovo Dizionario di Mariologia (Milan: Edizioni San Paolo, 1996), pp. 1080-1081; A. Serra, "Regina," pp. 1073-1074; J. Ibánez and F. Mendoza, La Madre del Redentor (Madrid: Ediciones Palabra, 1988), p. 290; G. Del Moral, "Santa María, La Guebiráh Messiánica," p. 44; T. Gray, "God’s Word and Mary’s Royal Office," p. 384; H. Cazelles, "La Mère du Roi-Messie" in Mater et Ecclesia, Congressus Mariologicus, vol. 5 (Lourdes, 1958), pp. 55-56; A. Valentini, "Lc 1, 39-45: Primi Inizi di Venerazione delle Madre del Signore," Marianum 58 (1996), p. 348.
(12) H. Cazelles, "La Mère du Roi-Messie," p. 56.
(13) D. Bock, Proclamation from Prophecy and Pattern (JSNTSup 12) (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1987) pp. 69-70.
(14) Bock continues: "…but in view of Luke’s later development of this term, clearly something more is in mind here, though this deeper intention is not clear by this text alone. It only emerges from later Lucan usage." D. Bock, Proclamation from Prophecy and Pattern, p. 70.
(15) R. Brown, Birth of the Messiah, p. 344.
(16) M. Miguens, Mary: Servant of the Lord, p. 61.
(17) B. Ahern, "The Mother of the Messiah" in Marian Studies 12 (1961), p. 28; G. Kirwin, The Nature of the Queenship of Mary, p. 29, n. 72; G. Del Moral, "La Realeza de María segun la Sagrada Escritura," p. 176; M. Miguens, Mary: Servant of the Lord, pp. 60-62.
(18) A. Serra, "Bibbia," p. 219.
(19) Matthew 2:11, 13, 14, 20, 21. See, for example, B. Nolan, The Royal Son of God (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Rupprecht, 1979), p. 43.
(20) B. Nolan, The Royal Son of God, p. 43.
(21) R. Aragon, "La Madre con el Niño en la Casa" EphMar 43 (1993), pp. 54-55. See also: G. Segalla, "Il Bambino con Maria Sua Madre" Theotokos 4 (1996), p. 19.
(22) "Matthew makes it very clear that the infant is king, Israel’s messiah, son of David (1:1, 20; 2:2, 6, 11). Clearly, Mary is the Gebirah, the queen-mother." G. Montague, Our Father, Our Mother, p. 97. See also: G. Segalla, "Il Bambino Con Maria Sua Madre in Matteo 2," p. 18; A. Serra, "Regina," p. 1073; G. Del Moral, "Santa María, La Guebiráh Mesiánica," p. 42.
(23) R. Brown, Birth of the Messiah, p. 192, n. 32.
(24) A. Feuillet, Jesus and His Mother (Still River: St. Bede’s Publications, 1984), p. 23.
(25) See G. Stevenson, "Conceptual Background to Golden Crown Imagery in the Apocalypse of John (4:4, 10; 14:14)," JBL 114 (1995), p. 260; U. Vanni, "La Decodificazione ‘Del Grande Segno’ in Apocalisse 12,1-6," Marianum 40 (1978), p. 131.
(26) Ps 89:23; 110:1; 2 Sam 22:37-43; cf. Gen 3:15; Ps 8:6. See W. Witfall, "Gen 3:15—A Protoevangelium?" CBQ 36 (1974), p. 363.
(27) U. Vanni, "La Decodificazione ‘Del Grande Segno,’ " p. 129.
(28) "The moon beneath her feet (perhaps a footstool) speaks of dominion." R. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), p. 232. Since the moon was important for time (Gen 1:14-19 and the Jewish lunar calendar), this image may symbolize dominion over the temporal realm. See also: A. Serra, "Bibbia," p. 265; idem., "Regina," pp. 1079-1080.
(29) P. Farkas, La Donna di Apocalisse 12 (Rome: Editrice Pontificia Universita Gregoriana, 1997), pp. 210-211.
(30) G. Kirwin, The Nature of the Queenship of Mary, p. 297.
(31) Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 58.
(32) John Paul II, general audience of March 5, 1997, in Theotokos (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2000), p. 177.
(33) John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, 21 (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 1987).
Part II of this article can be found here.
Source: Excerpted from 'Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons,' Seat of Wisdom Books, A Division of Queenship, 2008. To obtain a copy, visit queenship.org.
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