The Root of Jesse

The rod (or root) of Jesse was interpreted by early Christians as a Christlike figure. This imagery was connected to David's royal line, from which both Joseph and, according to Church tradition, Mary were descendants. The lineage grew through the ages and blossomed in the persons of Mary and Christ. Isaiah 11:1–10 says, “There Shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots … and in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek him and his resting place shall be glorious.”

According to the Church Fathers, the Virgin Mary (not just her husband Joseph as is shown clearly from the Gospel lineages) was a descendant from the house of David. This lineage was important to the Church Fathers because it connected Mary's son, Jesus, with the royal line. In Romans 15:12, Saint Paul explicitly makes the connection between Christ and the root of Jesse.

The root-of-Jesse imagery is similar to the vine imagery from the Gospel. The Gospel that states, “I am the true vine, and my father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit … Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me” (John 15:1–4). In this passage, Jesus is the vine and his followers are the branches. Mary, as the mother of Jesus, would have been the first to receive this seed from God and to nurture the vine as it grew. According to the book of Isaiah, “a staff shall spring forth from the root of Jesse, and a flower shall come up from his root; and the Spirit of God will rest upon him” (Isaiah 11:1).

The image of Mary as springing from the root of Jesse was also another reference to the miracle of her ability to bring life into the world although she was a virgin. Many times, in both the writings of the fathers and the Koran, much is written about Mary's ability to bring forth life without any seed from man. This gift is a sign of divine favor as well as miraculous intervention. Saint Jerome brought out the paradox of this event by marveling at the miracle that she, who never had the seed of man, was able to bear fruit — she herself was the fruit of the earth but she bore the Lord in her womb.

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Within Islamic thought, there is also a connection between Mary and fruitfulness. In the Koran's account of the birth of Jesus, Mary went to an isolated place to give birth. When the pain of childbirth became intense, she reached up and grabbed a fig tree, which immediately bore sweet figs to nourish and refresh Mary.

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