Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mary and James

Our discussion regarding Women at the Tomb mentioned two Mary’s, both with sons named James. I thought I would put a place marker here for the Mary’s and James’ in the New Testament.

1. Mary – mother of Jesus. Wife of Joseph. Sister of Mary (2). Mother of James, Joses, Judas, Simon and at least two daughters (Mark 6:3) Born 20-6 BCE (depending on Matthew’s date of 4 BCE for Jesus’ birth, as compared to Luke’s date of 6 CE, and her age), last mention at Upper Room prior to Pentecost. (Acts 1:14) Age at least 43 at time of crucifixion, would have been 83+ for the Temple fall and around time of first Gospel.

I’m sorry. The next bit gets confusing because of the possible names. There are two Mary’s named which could either be the same Mary….or be two different Mary’s. I tried to list both possibilities.

2. Mary* – sister of Mary (1). Wife of Cleophas (John 19:25) Possibly Mother of James the Lesser (9)

3. Mary* – Mother of James the Lesser (9) and Joses (Mark 15:40.) Wife of Alphaeus. (Mark 3:18) Possibly mother of Levi (Mark 2:14). Assuming Levi is Matthew (Matt. 10:3), then possibly mother of Matthew. Saw Crucifixion (Mark 15:40). Visited tomb on Resurrection Sunday. (Mark 16:1; Matt. 28:1) Saw Resurrected Jesus (Matt. 28:9-10) contra, See Gospel of John does not list this Mary at the tomb or seeing Resurrected Jesus.

*I apologize for the confusion here, but due to the plausible overlap of names, there are certain possibilities to discuss. It is argued Cleophas is the Aramaic form of the Greek Alphaeus, and hence these are the same person.

That would make Mary (wife of Cleophas/Alphaeus) both the mother of James the Lesser (9) and Joses, as well as the sister of Mary (1), Mother of Jesus. Do you follow that? Mary (1) (Jesus’ mom) had sons named James(10) and Joses, additionally she had a sister named Mary (2) who also had sons named James(9) and Joses.

It gets worse. Mark’s Gospel records the story of Jesus interacting with a tax collector by the name of Levi, son of Alphaeus. (Mark 2:14) Subsequently, Mark lists Jesus’ disciples, naming one “James, the son of Alphaeus.” (Mark 3:18) This disciple is traditionally called “James the Lesser” (9) to differentiate him from James, (11) the son of Zebedee.

What Mark does not tell us is whether James the Lesser, son of Alphaeus (9) is the same or a brother or even related to Levi, son of Alphaeus. Now is when it gets tricky. Let’s follow this story through the Synoptic Gospels.

Matthew decides to insert his own name, “Matthew” instead of Levi when he recounts the tax collector’s tale. (Matt. 9:9)** He drops “son of Alphaeus” when referring to Levi/Matthew.

**Yes, I am aware Matthew is not the author, but I am trying to keep this as simple as I can.

Luke goes back to “Levi” when discussing this tax collector (Luke 5:27) and also drops “son of Alphaeus.” If you are totaled confused, it is as follows:

Mark – Levi, son of Alphaeus
Matthew – Matthew
Luke – Levi

Therefore, if one is proposing a resolution that Alphaeus and Cleophas were one and the same, AND Matthew is the same as Levi, AND the Levi/Matthew son of Alphaeus is a brother to James the Lesser (9), this would make:

Mary (1) – mother of Jesus, James (10) and Joses
sister to:
Mary (2 & 3) – mother of James (9), Joses and Matthew.

Jesus would have a mother named Mary (1), an aunt named Mary (2 & 3), a brother named James (10), a cousin named James (9) [also a disciple] and a cousin named Levi/Matthew [also a disciple.] Plus a brother named Joses and a cousin named Joses.

I should note that Bauckham does not believe Alphaeus and Cleophas are the same.

4. Mary Magdalene – At the crucifixion (Mark 15:40; John 19:25) Saw Jesus buried. (Mt. 27:56; Mark 15:47). Visited tomb Resurrection Morning. (Mark 16:1; Mt. 18:1) Saw post-resurrection Jesus. (John 20:11-18) contra, See Mt. 28:9-10 where it implies she saw resurrection Jesus, but this fails to align with John’s Gospel. Only Luke records Jesus removed seven demons from her. (Luke 8:2)

5. Mary of Bethany – sister to Martha, sister to Lazarus. (John 11:1) The woman who anointed Jesus. (John 11:2, see Mark 14:1-9) See also Luke 10:38 – 42 that records the story of a Mary living with her sister Martha. However, there is no mention of Lazarus, and Luke names the place “a certain village;” not Bethany, despite being aware of where Bethany was. Luke 19:29; 24:50. This is possibly two different Mary’s.

6. Mary - mother of John Mark. (Acts. 12:12)

7. Mary - in Rome, worked with Paul. (Rom. 16:6)

8. Intentionally left blank.

9. James the Lesser – son of Alphaeus, son of Mary (3), possibly cousin to James (10). Called “the Lesser” to differentiate from other disciple named James (11). (Mark 3:18; Matthew 10:3; Luke 6:15) Never listed in John. Nothing beyond being in the list of disciples..

10. James the Just – Brother to Jesus. Mother is Mary (1), Aunt is Mary (2) and possibly Aunt is Mary (3). If Aunt is Mary (3) AND Cleophas is same as Alphaeus, would be cousin to James the Lesser (9) (Mark 6:3; Matt. 13:55) I discuss the growing myth within the Tales of James’ martyrdom here. (Luke 8:19; John 7:3-5; Acts 1:14)

Curiously, only Matthew and Mark name him as a brother to Jesus, (See Gal. 1:19). Luke & John indicate interaction between Jesus and “his brothers” but never names any of them. (Luke 8:19; John 7:3-5; Acts 1:14) Also note Acts indicates a “James” as a leader in the church, but does not indicate he is related to Jesus. Traditionally claimed to be the author of the Epistle of James, but does not indicate such in the book. James 1:1. Brother to Jude (Jude 1)?

Listed in the Gospel of Thomas to be the leader of the Church. (Thomas 12)

11. James the son of Zebedee (Mark 3:17) One of the three insider disciples (with Peter and his brother John) Killed by Agrippa I (Acts 12:2) between 41 – 44 C.E. (Note: the Bible calls this king “Herod” whereas his name was “Agrippa.”)

12. James, father of Judas (not Iscariot). Note this particular disciple named “Judas” is not listed in Mark or Matthew but is listed in both Luke and John. (Luke 6:16; John 14:22 ) I discuss the varying the disciples’ name here.

I’m not making any particular argument, this is more reference material. I may add information later, as I come across it.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect is how difficult it is to narrow down the names. As if the people knew there was a Mary somewhere, and a James, but not quite certain as to who they were in relation to the actual people. Some interesting points:

1. There is no James listed in the Gospel of John. Although the “brothers of Jesus” are referred to, as well as the “sons of Zebedee,” even the other Judas, son of James—the name “James” does not appear.

2. Mary Magdalene is the only Mary listed in all four Gospels. She is not mentioned again.

3. John lists Jesus’ mother’s sister as “Mary”—not Jesus’ mother. Why is it the Johannine community did not know Jesus’ brother’s name, nor Jesus’ mother’s name?

4. Only Luke and John list “Mary and Martha”—although it is possible these were two different Mary’s (and two different Martha’s). (Luke does not record them from Bethany, does not indicate this was the person who anointed Jesus, and does not list Lazarus, her brother.)

5. Although Acts lists a James becoming prominent in the church, it does not list him as Jesus’ brother. (Luke would have had a copy of Mark. Either he must have known the name, OR the name of James being Jesus’ brother was added in a later copy of Mark, after Luke’s copy.)

You may know the argument Gal. 1:19, where Paul says “James, brother of the Lord” was merely a designation of comradeship—not an actual fraternal relationship—just like Christians still call each other “brother” and “sister.” I’m not convinced…yet…but Luke and John not listing “James” when referring to Jesus’ brother is troubling.


  1. I want a diagram to go with all that, like this one:


  2. In a similar vein (although not humorous)—have you seen the diagrams for textual criticism regarding the synoptic problem? They are color-coded!

  3. This site under section 7 ever virgin has another distribution of the various Marys hinging on translation and early church history. I found it while on an internet search after reading your post. I do not read Aramaic so cannot comment on the kinship terms but it is interesting.

  4. As I was going through your ...conandrum(I calle the Bible that), I was thinking of how sure pastors are when they tell you who is who.

    A long time ago, somebody decided which Mary was which Mary and which James was which James. Nowadays, pastors just read the verse and tell you. This is this Mary. And everybody believes just because the pastor says.

    And to think that I used to be one of those believers. Ah what a waste of time!

  5. OMG, very funny. My favorite part was:

    "8. Intentionally left blank."

  6. I was doing this same research. Now I don't have to.

    Thank you.

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