Sunday, June 18, 2023

Is Mary, the Mother of Jesus at the cross and the tomb in Matthew?

It is sometimes pointed out that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, could be present at the cross, burial, and resurrection in Mark 15.40, 15.47, and 16.1. Although there are significant variants, the relevant character is generally read as

Mark 15.40: Μαρία ἡ Ἰακώβου τοῦ μικροῦ καὶ Ἰωσῆτος μήτηρ (Mary mother of James the younger and of Joses)

Mark 15.47: Μαρία ἡ Ἰωσῆτος (Mary of Joses)

Mark 16.1: Μαρία ἡ τοῦ Ἰακώβου (Mary of James)

Most commentators assume that this second Mary in Mark's list is the same woman each time, though it's confusing that Mark varies the way he names her. Some have postulated that this is the same woman as Mary the mother of Jesus, given that Mark tells us that Jesus's brothers included a James and a Joses (Mark 6.3), and Joses was not a particularly common name. This would then align Mark interestingly with John who famously does have "his mother" at the cross (John 19.25).

I think the first time I saw this identification was in Kathleen Corley's work, though I know it has subsequently popped up elsewhere.

In general, Matthew receives much less comment when it comes to this question, but while writing about female disciples in Matthew recently, it occurred to me that Matthew is even more likely than Mark to be depicting the mother of Jesus at the cross, the burial, and the resurrection. 

Matthew has parallels to all three of the Marcan passages above, though he has no Salome, and he has "the mother of the sons of Zebedee" in his parallel to Mark 15.40-41 in Matt. 27.55-56. But the other person in the lists he describes in the following ways:

Matt. 27.56: Μαρία ἡ τοῦ Ἰακώβου καὶ Ἰωσὴφ μήτηρ (Mary mother of James and Joseph)

Matt. 27.61: ἡ ἄλλη Μαρία (the other Mary)

Matt. 28.1: ἡ ἄλλη Μαρία (the other Mary)

Matt. 27.56 is pretty similar to Mark 15.40. James is no longer "the small", and "Joses" becomes "Joseph", as in Matt. 13.55, his parallel to Mark 6.3, so the same possibility obtains, that this could be Jesus's mother. With respect to Matt. 27.61 and 28.1, I have always thought that Matthew got a bit impatient with Mark's variations, and so went with the simple, "the other Mary", as if to say, "Whoever that might have been".

But it occurred to me recently that there are probably only two Marys in the whole of Matthew's gospel, Mary Magdalene (Matt. 27.56, 27.61, 28.1) and Mary the mother of Jesus (Matt. 1.16, 1.20, 1.24, 2.11, 13.55). So if we were thinking Matthew-wide of a "Mary Magdalene" and "the other Mary", the latter would clearly be the mother of Jesus. Leaving Matt. 27.56 to one side, she is the only "other Mary" in Matthew's gospel. 

The thing that is so baffling about Mark, and it now seems Matthew too, is why they are so coy about naming Jesus's mother here, all the more as Luke (Acts 1.14) and John (19.25) have no qualms about placing her in Jerusalem either during (John) or after (Acts) the Passion. It could be part of that distancing from Jesus's family that we see especially in Mark (Mark 3.21, 3.31-35, 6.1-6) but also in Matthew (Matt. 12.46-50, 13.53-58). Or could it simply be that Jesus, at this point in the narrative, has died, and so his mother is not defined in relation to him?

I don't think I'd quite realized how potentially simple the Marcan and Matthean pictures are -- only two women named Mary, one named Mary Magdalene, and "the other" the mother of Jesus, James, Joseph / Joses, and the rest. I wonder whether Luke and John, with their additional Marys (Mary and Martha, Mary of Clopas) can cause us to miss this?


Richard Fellows said...

Your point about "another Mary" is interesting.

We would expect the gospel authors to define Mary by her relationship to her most important relative (Jesus), rather than by her relationship to her other sons. So, if Mary the mother of James and Joses was the mother of Jesus, it would be strange. Are there indications that Mark may have considered Jesus to be, by then, the son, not of Mary, but of God instead? Alternatively, perhaps there were attempts to protect the identities of witnesses of the resurrection, for their own safety. That is to say, the failure of Mark to explicitly identify this Mary, and the failure of the gospel of John to identify the beloved disciple, could have been protective silences. If, as seems likely, Mark gave her name as Maria, and names the mother of Jesus as Mariam, the different form of the name could have been part of the disguise.

In any case, there is no difficulty in equating Mary of James with Mary of Joses and Mary the mother of James and Joses. The ancients were very comfortable switching between different names for the same person. There were no SBL style police to enforce naming consistency. Modern scholars should stop imposing their own expectations of naming consistency on the ancient writers. Consider, for example, that the copyists switched freely between "Maria" and "Mariam", even for the same person in the same gospel.

MJR said...

Blessed Mary Mother of the Lord had no other sons