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Yeshua in Context » Eyewitnesses, Resurrection of Yeshua » Women as Eyewitnesses

Women as Eyewitnesses

One of the distinctive features of the death, burial, and resurrection accounts of Yeshua is the presence of a number of women, some named and some not named. This gets even more interesting when you compare the four different accounts. Only one woman is named in all four gospels: Mary Magdalene. The other women who appear include: Mary the mother of James and Joses, Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee, the other Mary, and Joanna.

Many who have written on the resurrection stories and considered whether they describe a real event in history have made a simple point: women’s testimony was not considered valid or desirable in ancient courts. The evidence for this point is not lock-tight, but it is probably true that female testimony had less value to men in power.

Yet, all four evangelists bring up the women who were at the cross and the tomb. Why?

And why are some named and others unnamed?

Furthermore, there is one gospel in which women play a larger role than in the others. That is the gospel of Luke. Why does Luke name so many women and show more deeply than the other evangelists how early and how deeply the women were involved?

What is a woman reading the gospels to think about all this? Was Yeshua forward thinking about women’s roles? Were the disciples as forward thinking as Yeshua?

And what does all this say about the likelihood of the resurrection stories being true reporting of eyewitness testimony about events that really happened?

Richard Bauckham’s Theory of Named Eyewitnesses
In Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Richard Bauckham makes the case that the evangelists tend to name their sources. He meticulously records examples of some characters being named in some gospels but not others. He considers variation in names between gospels and considers other theories. His case, overall, is overwhelming. See other examples of this phenomenon: Cleopas, Why You Should Know Him and Simon of Cyrene, Why You Should Know Him.

Specifically, Bauckham says the evangelists had a tendency only to name those whose testimony was known to them first or secondhand. And the use of names indicates that eyewitnesses played a prominent role in the first generation of Yeshua’s community. The phenomenon of unnamed characters, even for example in a story Matthew or Luke relate which they found in Mark, suggests that there was an ideal of historical integrity. The evangelists were not content to name characters simply because Mark had named them in his gospel. The theory which best fits the facts is that they named only those who testimony was personally known to them by word of mouth (either from the source directly or someone who could report having personally heard the source).

The women at the cross and tomb are a good example of the remarkable variation in named and unnamed characters:

AT THE CROSS
MARK…………………MATTHEW…………………LUKE……………………..JOHN
Magdalene………….Magdalene………………………………………………Magdalene
Mary mother ………Mary mother……………………………………………
of James & Joses of James & Joseph
Salome………………………………………………………………………………
………………………..Mother of Zebedees…………………………………..
……………………………………………………………………………………….Mary mother of Yeshua
……………………………………………………………………………………….Mary’s sister
……………………………………………………………………………………….Mary wife of Clopas

AT THE BURIAL
MARK…………………..MATTHEW………………..LUKE……………………JOHN
Magdalene……………Magdalene……………………………………………
…………………………..other Mary…………………………………………..
Mary mother of…………………………………………………………………
Joses

AT THE TOMB
MARK…………………..MATTHEW………………….LUKE………………….JOHN
Magdalene……………Magdalene…………………Magdalene………….Magdalene
………………………….other Mary……………………………………………
Salome……………………………………………………………………………
……………………………………………………………Joanna………………
Mary mother of………………………………………Mary mother of…..
James James

Observations
Bauckham thinks that in providing well-sourced history according to Jewish and Greco-Roman conventions of the time, the evangelists tended to provide two or three witnesses for the cross, burial, and empty tomb (even John lists other witnesses such as Peter and the beloved disciple).

Joanna is an interesting case with regard to Luke. In his prologue, Luke speaks of researching his account and using eyewitnesses. Was Joanna one of Luke’s sources? She is only mentioned in Luke 8:3 and 24:10. Joanna was the wife of one of Herod Antipas’ stewards, a woman in high places and wealthy enough to donate and support Yeshua’s disciples.

The one consistent witness across all of the gospels at all three events was Mary Magdalene. It would seem that she was the best known woman eyewitness in the early Yeshua community. She deserves an article of her own exploring her story as best we can piece it together.

Salome, a woman whose story is not told in the gospels, is another interesting case. Mark lists her at the cross and the tomb, but not at the burial. Is this because Mark the historian only reported names of those whose testimony he knew of from each event? Did he know of Salome’s presence at the cross and tomb, but not at the burial? It would seem Mark is being quite careful.

The mother of John and James son of Zebedee is only listed by Matthew and only at the cross. Again, this seems like remarkable restraint and care in writing the story. What could explain these variations better than the theory of the evangelists’ dependence on direct eyewitness testimony?

Bauckham brings up a case to show Luke’s careful method as well. One of the women he has mentioned in the Yeshua circle is Susanna (Luke 8:3). Yet he does not write Susanna into the tomb stories. This is yet another piece of evidence for the eyewitness theory.

And what about the larger issue of women and their participation in the work of Yeshua and his male disciples?

The Women in Luke
In general, Luke gives us a unique view of the larger group of Yeshua’s disciples beyond the Twelve more than any other gospel (Bauckham lists, for example, Luke 6:17; 8:1-3; 10:1-20; 19:37; 23:49; 24:9, 33).

I keeping with this broader view, Luke also shows the involvement of women more than any gospel. He alone names Joanna and Susanna. He alone notes that women were supporters of Yeshua’s band (8:1-3). Also, the angel in Luke 24:6-7 indicates that the women had known about Yeshua’s predictions of his death and resurrection. As Bauckham says, this reveals that the women were not simply outsiders or supporters, but part of Yeshua’s inner circle who knew his secret mission.

Perhaps the enhanced importance of the women in Luke’s gospel is also part of the eyewitness theory. Since Luke did his own research and went beyond simply using Mark as a source, it must be that women such as Joanna were special sources for him. Luke found a less relied upon source of eyewitness information to use in his gospel, the women who may have been at least partially overlooked by the other evangelists.

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Filed under: Eyewitnesses, Resurrection of Yeshua

One Response to "Women as Eyewitnesses"

  1. Linda says:

    This is well thought out, and it is gratifying to see the women of Yeshua’s time clearer than before…….

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