Matthew Chapter 27:55-66

55 ησαν δὲ ἐκεῖ γυναῖκες πολλαὶ ἀπὸ μακρόθεν θεωροῦσαι, αἵτινες ἠκολούθησαν τῷ Ἰησοῦ ἀπὸ τῆς Γαλιλαίας διακονοῦσαι αὐτῷ:

56 ἐν αἷς ἦν Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ καὶ Μαρία ἡ τοῦἸακώβου καὶ Ἰωσὴφ μήτηρ καὶ ἡ μήτηρ τῶν υἱῶν Ζεβεδαίου.

There were many women from afar beholding, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, attending to him. (56) Among them was Mary the Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

Conspicuous in her absence is Mary, mother of Jesus. Nor was she there in Mark, nor will she be there in Luke, although she is certainly present in John, inspiring any number of beautiful pieces of music entitled “Stabat Mater”–the mother standing at the foot of the cross. Mark says that the second Mary is the mother of James the Younger and Joses, although it’s possible that the latter is a variation of Joseph. Luke does not name the women until they are at the empty tomb when he names Mary of Magdala and Mary the mother of James. John specifies that “his (Jesus’) mother” stood at the cross with her sister, named Mary who was married to Clopas, and Mary the Magdalene. Through it all, Mary Magdalene is the only one who remains constant. That is a very interesting bit of information. Why? Why her? Why her, over and above the mother of Jesus? First of all, let’s dispense with the whole prostitute thing. There is no biblical evidence for that. This designation sounds like a slur invented by later tradition to discredit the Magdalene’s role, whatever that was.

I have read suggestions that perhaps Mary M was sort of Jesus’ patron, or patroness. That is, she helped support Jesus financially so that he could spend his time preaching and teaching, and not have to waste time making money. There is one thing in conjunction with this: men married when they were a bit older, but women were usually married right after puberty to assure their virginity. They didn’t have time to be sexually active before they got married off, so the groom could be reasonably certain he was getting a virgin. (This is a large part of the reason that noblewomen in the Middle Ages were often sequestered in a convent right until the day of the wedding.) So an older man and a young girl is a recipe for young widows. Paul was very solicitous about such women, exhorting them not to remarry. Why? Because if they did remarry, their property would transfer to the new husband. If they didn’t marry, they could use the money to support the fledgling church. Was the Magdalene such a widow? A woman of some means? It’s not out of the question. I don’t put much stock in the idea that she and Jesus were married. Had that been the case, I believe the later tradition would have gone much, much further, and been way more vicious than just claiming she was a prostitute. I don’t see any real problems with her being a sponsor of Jesus. It’s embarrassing enough for Jesus to be supported by a woman for later tradition to invent the prostitute thing, but not so blatant that she had to be thoroughly discredited and perhaps obliterated from the record. This would certainly help explain how and why she had followed Jesus from Galilee.

After the Magdalene, we are left with what author John Green would call “An Abundance of Marys” (My apologies to Mr Green). The place to start is the discrepancies among the evangelists. Why do we have so many variations on the identity of these women? That is a fairly simple question. The discrepancy arose because there was no strong, single tradition about who these women were. With no actual evidence, we get speculation, just as we get speculation on the names of the “Twelve Apostles”. No one actually knew their names. Indeed, no one actually knew if there were women watching. So the tradition got creative. And then it got splintered. The simplest solution to the disagreement is that each evangelist stood at the end of a separate tradition. This sort of thing gets biblical scholars all excited, because it allows them to say that the later evangelists had independent information, giving them real historical credibility. They can–and do–say this, but it doesn’t mean they are correct.

The more difficult question is this: Why, if both Matthew and Luke read Mark, why the different names and/or identities for the Marys? Does this not, indeed, point to the likelihood of independent traditions? Doesn’t this put a rather large hole in the idea of direct affiliation? Not necessarily. One fairly simple solution is that the different Marys were interchanged as sort of a shout-out to members of the community to which each evangelist lived. We saw this with Mark naming Simon of Cyrene as the father of Rufus and Alexander. We don’t have to take this at face value; later tradition said that Jesus was related to Joseph of Arimathea. The thing is, the later evangelists were aware of Mark, but they obviously did not follow him on every detail. Had they done so, we’d have had three versions of Mark and nothing else. That is not what we have; from the differences we can safely–I believe–infer that they did not intend simply to follow Mark. I would argue that, in particular Matthew and John, intended to supersede Mark. (Luke, I think, is sui generis for several reasons, but more on that when we get to him.)

While I was aware that there have been all sorts of gyrations to synchronize the identities of the various women named Mary, but I had not been aware of what is called the “Three Marys” conundrum. This theory suggests (“argue” is too strong a word; there is no evidence that can be used to construct an actual argument) that Magdalene, the wife of Clopas, and the sister of Lazarus are all the same person. I won’t go into this; it’s all pure speculation. I had entertained the idea that the sons of Zebedee were actually Jesus’ half-brothers, so that the James always hanging around with Jesus, Peter, and John would have none other than James the Just, the brother of the Lord. However, in different accounts we have Magdalene in the same place at the same time as the mother of the sons of Zebedee (see above) and with Mary, wife of Clopas (Luke), so neither of these ideas really hold water.

This is where the whole outlook of biblical scholarship causes problems. Again, the unchallenged assumption is that the evangelists were all concerned to tell the same story that was ultimately based on a single set of factually accurate data. This is why they twist themselves into pretzels to reconcile “facts” that are not facts at all, but pieces of the legend. As such, they are very plastic. We see this process continuing on into the non-canonical works like Gospel of Peter, which has the trial take place before Herod Antipas, and not Pilate, and has the whole body of Jewish elders, and Pilate, at the tomb to witness the Resurrection. The evangelists were not concerned with who the women at the cross were; although I would suggest that the Magdalene has a fair claim to historical authenticity, at least as a person, if not someone at the foot of the cross. 

55 Erant autem ibi mulieres multae a longe aspicientes, quae secutae erant Iesum a Galilaea ministrantes ei;

56 inter quas erat Maria Magdalene et Maria Iacobi et Ioseph mater et mater filiorum Zebedaei.

57 Ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης ἦλθεν ἄνθρωπος πλούσιος ἀπὸ Ἁριμαθαίας, το ὔνομα Ἰωσήφ, ὃς καὶ αὐτὸς ἐμαθητεύθη τῷ Ἰησοῦ:

58 οὗτος προσελθὼν τῷ Πιλάτῳ ᾐτήσατο τὸ σῶμα τοῦ Ἰησοῦ. τότε ὁ Πιλᾶτος ἐκέλευσεν ἀποδοθῆναι.

59 καὶ λαβὼν τὸ σῶμα ὁἸωσὴφ ἐνετύλιξεν αὐτὸ [ἐν] σινδόνι καθαρᾷ,

60 καὶ ἔθηκεν αὐτὸ ἐν τῷ καινῷ αὐτοῦ μνημείῳ ὃ ἐλατόμησεν ἐν τῇ πέτρᾳ, καὶ προσκυλίσας λίθον μέγαν τῇ θύρᾳ τοῦ μνημείου ἀπῆλθεν.

61 ἦν δὲ ἐκεῖ Μαριὰμ ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ καὶ ἡ ἄλλη Μαρία καθήμεναι ἀπέναντι τοῦ τάφου.

It having become evening, a wealthy man from Arimathea, his name Joseph, who himself had learned from Jesus, (58) he approaching Pilate asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered that it be given (to him). (59) And taking the body Joseph wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, (60) and placed it in a new tomb of his which was cut into the rock, and rolled a great rock in the door of the tomb he went away. (61) There was Miriam the Magdalene and the other Mary sitting, they went away from the tomb.

Not a whole lot of startling revelations there. The most salient point is that Magdalene is considered to be the prime mover in the action of observing Jesus’ tomb. This would be consistent with her role as a prominent financial backer of the movement. Then, as now, money talked, and it the person paying the piper got to call the tune. And notice how she’s relegated her companion to the role of “the other Mary”, no longer important enough to be named.

Despite my often harsh criticism, there are points where I strongly agree with JD Crossan. He does have a better historical sense than many biblical scholars, which isn’t necessarily saying much. His point is that, as a common criminal, the body of Jesus would very likely have been tossed into a common grave pit with a hundred other victims of crucifixion. The result would have been that there simply was no tomb that could then have been found empty. This seems very likely; however, it does not address–at least effectively, IMO–where the whole story of a resurrection came from if there were no empty tomb. The undeniable fact is that the story did start somewhere. So what to make of this?

One very large hint can be derived from the first witness we have to testify to the Resurrection. No, not Mark; the first witness is Paul. He’s the one who told the story of the Resurrected Jesus a full generation before Mark. And there are a couple of things to remember about Paul’s story. Perhaps the most significant is that he says that Jesus appeared to him, just as he had appeared to the Twelve, and to James, and all the rest. This is a huge deal, because Paul didn’t come along until a decade after Jesus had been executed. This is much too late for him to have been with Peter and the rest. So the implication is that Jesus’ may not have risen in the way that we tend to picture it. Bodily? Yes; Paul was a Pharisee and Josephus tells us they believed in the resurrection of the body. But Paul also describes a resurrection body that is not at all the same as a physical body, which implies that our conception, and that of the evangelists, of the rising may not be quite accurate. We may be looking at this a bit too literally. Now, much as I’d love to, this is not the time for a real consideration of this topic. For the moment, suffice it to say that, for Paul, the empty tomb was simply not necessary.

Which brings us to the real point. Since Paul was not concerned with the physical events of the crucifixion, and was not concerned that the earthly body actually came from a tomb where he had been laid after his physical death, the implication is that the story we have of the Passion and Resurrection may very well have been invented some time after Paul. That’s not a slam-dunk certainty, but I believe it’s the best fit for the facts. To make that determination, we have to ask if the idea of the resurrection pre-dated Paul. That, of course, seems an outrageous suggestion, since the foundation-stone of Christianity is the Resurrection. Without that, Jesus is just another wise man. But remember, Mark originally had no true resurrection story; the oldest mss end with the empty tomb, and a man dressed in white telling the Magdalene and the other women that Jesus has been raised and gone ahead of them to Galilee. I think this, together with Paul, is a good indication that there was no Resurrection story until…perhaps until Matthew wrote the one we will read.

57 Cum sero autem factum esset, venit homo dives ab Arimathaea nomine Ioseph, qui et ipse discipulus erat Iesu.

58 Hic accessit ad Pilatum et petiit corpus Iesu. Tunc Pilatus iussit reddi.

59 Et accepto corpore, Ioseph involvit illud in sindone munda

60 et posuit illud in monumento suo novo, quod exciderat in petra, et advolvit saxum magnum ad ostium monumenti et abiit.

61 Erat autem ibi Maria Magdalene et altera Maria sedentes contra sepulcrum.

62 Τῇ δὲ ἐπαύριον, ἥτις ἐστὶν μετὰ τὴν παρασκευήν, συνήχθησαν οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι πρὸς Πιλᾶτον

63 λέγοντες, Κύριε, ἐμνήσθημεν ὅτι ἐκεῖνος ὁ πλάνος εἶπεν ἔτι ζῶν, Μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας ἐγείρομαι.

64 κέλευσον οὖν ἀσφαλισθῆναι τὸν τάφον ἕως τῆς τρίτης ἡμέρας, μήποτε ἐλθόντες οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ κλέψωσιν αὐτὸν καὶ εἴπωσιν τῷ λαῷ, Ἠγέρθη ἀπὸ τῶν νεκρῶν, καὶ ἔσται ἡ ἐσχάτη πλάνη χείρων τῆς πρώτης.

65 ἔφη αὐτοῖς ὁ Πιλᾶτος, Ἔχετε κουστωδίαν: ὑπάγετε ἀσφαλίσασθε ὡς οἴδατε.

66 οἱ δὲ πορευθέντες ἠσφαλίσαντο τὸν τάφον σφραγίσαντες τὸν λίθον μετὰ τῆς κουστωδίας.

On the morrow, after the preparation,  the high priests and the Pharisees convened before Pilate (63) saying, “Lord, remember that this impostor said yet living, ‘after three days I am being raised’. Order therefore to be secured the tomb until the third day, lest coming his disciples steal him and say to the people, ‘He was raised from the dead, and will be the last deceit worse than the first”.  (65) Said to them Pilate, “You may have a custodian. Go out you secure as you see (i.e., see fit). (66) They going out secured the tomb, sealing the stone with the custodian.

First of all, this is the only recorded usage of “custodian” in all of Greek literature. However, it is very common in Latin, from which language it was transliterated into Greek, as Caesar became “Kaisar”. In effect, we are dealing with a something like a technical term that Matthew swallowed whole.  The implication is that Matthew managed to be aware of a Latin term. This isn’t like “kaisar”, which was moved wholesale into Greek; this is an absolute one-off. No doubt he got it orally, he heard the word spoken, then transliterated it by sound. But where was he that he was in a position to hear the word? Tradition places Matthew in Antioch, and this city would have been the permanent residence of the Roman legion stationed in the region. So that does work.

Then there is the issue with the ‘three days’. Strictly speaking, Jesus was in the tomb for way less than 48 hours (3:00 pm Friday to early Sunday morning), so Jesus was not raised “after three days”. He was raised on the third day. This is a very technical thing, but I think it demonstrates what happens when one tries to line up an ex-post-facto story with a prophecy: there is a certain amount of slippage. Perhaps I’m picking nits here, but this has always bothered me more than no doubt it should.  And too, the reaction of the high priests is that they expect the event to come on the third day, since they ask for the custodian, not when Jesus was buried, but the next day, almost as if they knew (wink-wink) that the raising would take place the following day.

This is potentially interesting. The “preparation” was for the Sabbath; that means that the high priests came to Pilate on the Sabbath. My understanding of First Century Judaism is pretty limited, but my understanding is that Jews in general, and priests in particular, were not supposed to bestir themselves on the Sabbath. That was why they had to prepare: they had to pre-do everything that they would need on the Sabbath. And it is also my understanding that they would have been especially reluctant to go visit a Gentile and risk ritual impurity. But, I could be wrong about that.

That’s really about it. There are some threads to be collected in the summary.

62 Altera autem die, quae est post Parascevem, convenerunt principes sacerdotum et pharisaei ad Pilatum

63 dicentes: “ Domine, recordati sumus quia seductor ille dixit adhuc vivens: “Post tres dies resurgam”.

64 Iube ergo custodiri sepulcrum usque in diem tertium, ne forte veniant discipuli eius et furentur eum et dicant plebi: “Surrexit a mortuis”, et erit novissimus error peior priore ”.

65 Ait illis Pilatus: “ Habetis custodiam; ite, custodite, sicut scitis ”.

66 Illi autem abeuntes munierunt sepulcrum, signantes lapidem, cum custodia.

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About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on December 4, 2016, in Chapter 27, gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel, passion story and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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