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INTRODUCTION

When I was writing my recent article on the name “Mary/ Miriam,” I was struck by how many times Mary the mother of James and Joseph is mentioned in the Gospels. I hadn’t paid much attention to this woman before, apart from recognising that she was one of Jesus’s many female followers.

When I told my husband I had decided to write on Mary the mother of James and Joseph, he admitted that he’d never noticed this Mary before. And when I went to look her up in a book with the title “All the Women of the Bible,” I found there was no entry on her despite some obscure women, mentioned only once in the Bible, having their own entries.[1]

Mary the mother of James and Joseph is mentioned seven times in the New Testament: she is identified in each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). In Matthew and Mark, she is mentioned second to Mary Magdalene in the accounts of Jesus’s death and resurrection. This indicates that, despite my failure to pay attention to her, she was prominent among the first disciples.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Mary is identified as the mother of James and Joseph in Matthew 27:56 and is then referred to as “the other Mary” in Matthew 27:61 (cf. Mark 15:47) and in Matthew 28:1 (cf. Mark 16:1). (In this article, I will mostly refer to her as Mary the mother of James and Joseph, Mary the mother of J&J, and the Other Mary.)

What can we know about this Other Mary who is identified by her relationship to her sons?[2] Here is each of the seven Bible passages that mention her.

MARY THE MOTHER OF JAMES AND JOSEPH IN THE GOSPELS

A Witness, with other Women from Galilee, of Jesus’s Crucifixion

Mark 15:40-41 

There were also women watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James (the short one) and of Joses,[3] and Salome. In Galilee these women followed him and took care of him. Many other women had come up with him to Jerusalem.

Matthew 27:55-56  

Many women who had followed Jesus from Galilee and looked after him were there, watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph,[4] and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.[5]

A Witness, with Mary Magdalene, of Jesus’s Body Being Laid in the Tomb

Mark 15:47 

Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses [6] were watching where he was laid.

Matthew 27:61 

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were seated there, facing the tomb.

A Witness of the Empty Tomb, the Angel’s Message, and the Risen Jesus

Mark 16:1-8 

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, [7] and Salome bought spices, so that they could go and anoint him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they went to the tomb at sunrise. …

When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side; they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he told them. “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they put him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; you will see him there just as he told you.’”

They went out and ran from the tomb, because trembling and astonishment overwhelmed them. And they said nothing to anyone, since they were afraid.

Matthew 28:1-10 

After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to view the tomb. … The angel told the women, “Don’t be afraid, because I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here. For he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has risen from the dead and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; you will see him there.’ Listen, I have told you.”

So, departing quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, they ran to tell his disciples the news.  Just then Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” They came up, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus told them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”

The Other Mary in Luke’s Gospel

Luke 24:1-10 

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, [the women] came to the tomb, bringing the spices they had prepared. … suddenly two men stood by them in dazzling clothes. So the women were terrified and bowed down to the ground.

“Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” asked the men. “He is not here, but he has risen! Remember how he spoke to you when he was still in Galilee, saying, ‘It is necessary that the Son of Man be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise on the third day’?” And they remembered his words.

Returning from the tomb, they reported all these things to the Eleven and to all the rest. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, [8] and the other women with them were telling the apostles these things.

A DEVOTED FOLLOWER OF JESUS

As with Mary Magdalene, the Other Mary only appears in Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels in the crucifixion-empty tomb-resurrection accounts. In Luke’s Gospel, the Other Mary is similarly only mentioned in the tomb-resurrection story (but Luke also mentions Mary Magdalene in Luke 8:1-3). Nevertheless, the mother of J&J may have been a devoted follower of Jesus from the early days of his ministry,[9] and she is mentioned more times in the Bible than some of the Twelve.

Moreover, it is reasonable to assume that the Other Mary was with the disciples when they regularly met in the “upper room” between Jesus’s resurrection and Pentecost. Luke tells us in Acts 1 that “They all were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:14f).

Mary the mother of Jesus is in the upper room waiting for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but she is noticeably absent from the stories of the women at the tomb.[10] Perhaps she needed to recover after the ordeal of watching her son’s gruesome death. Her absence at the empty tomb has led to some, including Chrysostom and Gregory of Nyssa, suggesting that Mary the mother of J&J is actually Jesus’s mother. It’s hardly likely, however, that Matthew would refer to Jesus’s mother as “the other Mary” and list her second after Mary Magdalene (Matt. 27:61; 28:1).

The Other Mary, like Mary Magdalene, was a devoted and prominent female follower of Jesus, and in Matthew’s Gospel these two women share the astounding privilege of being the first people to see the risen Jesus. During this encounter, both women are commissioned by Jesus to “report/ announce” (apaggellō) the good news of his resurrection to the other disciples and pass on his instructions (Matt. 28:9-10 cf. John 20:11-18).

ON RECORD AS A NAMED WITNESS

In each of the Synoptic Gospels, two or three women (from a larger group of women) are named/ identified in the empty tomb-resurrection accounts. The names/ identifications vary in each of these Gospels, but Mary Magdalene is always listed first. Women were the first witnesses of the empty tomb and the only witnesses of the angel’s message of Jesus’s resurrection, and the fact that two or three women are specifically identified and listed may be because the Gospel writers had Deuteronomy 19:15 in mind: “A fact must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

Richard Bauckham suggests the variations between the lists are because the Gospel writers “were careful to name precisely the women who were known to them as witnesses to these crucial events in the origins of the Christian movement …”[11] However, he also states that the inclusion of the women’s names more likely reflects “how extraordinarily important, for the whole story of Jesus, were the events of which they are the sole witnesses.”[12]

Furthermore, Bauckham writes, “These women, I think we can say, acted as apostolic eyewitness guarantors of the traditions about Jesus, especially his resurrection but no doubt also in other respects … [And] their witness acquires textual form in the Gospels …”[13]

With Mary Magdalene, the Other Mary is front and centre in this “extraordinarily important” episode of Jesus’s story, and they are on record as eyewitnesses. Their testimony included in Holy Writ has endured for two millennia.

MARY’S SONS JAMES AND JOSEPH

It was not unusual for women in the ancient world to be identified primarily by their relationship with a male relative, usually a husband or father, but occasionally a son. (I’ve written about this, here.) The Other Mary is identified by name and by her relationship to her sons who were most likely also followers of Jesus. This double identification helpfully distinguishes Mary the mother of J&J from the other women named “Mary” in the Gospels.[14]

Speaking of both the Other Mary and Mary the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12), both identified in the New Testament by their sons and not their husbands, Bauckham says that “we may assume that the husbands of these Marys were either dead or not members of the church or were much less prominent than the sons.”[15]

“James” (that is, “Jacob”) and “Joseph” are familiar Jewish names that occur several times in the New Testament for different men. James Tabor, following Robert Eisenman, argues that the Other Mary’s older son, James the short one (or, James the less), was the beloved disciple who is mentioned several times in John’s Gospel. (The beloved disciple is never named in the Bible.) Tabor further believes that James was a brother or relative of Jesus and also a priest (Mark 15:40; Matt. 27:56 cf. John 18:15-16; 19:26). You can read Tabor’s arguments here.

However, the New Testament doesn’t give information about either James or Joseph. Rather, the focus is on their mother Mary.

MORE IDEAS ABOUT MARY

“Mary” (“Miriam”) was a common name for Jewish women and there are seven Marys (Miriams) in the New Testament, five in the Gospels. The Gospel Marys are sometimes conflated in early Christian writings.[16] This confusion has led to the Other Mary being overlooked by many Christians today, but she is distinct in early Christian texts and ideas in the Greek-speaking church. Even so, in the Orthodox tradition, the Other Mary is sometimes conflated with Mary the wife of Clopas and, along with Mary Magdalene and Mary Salome, is one of the Three Marys, three notable myrrh bearers who went to Jesus’s tomb.

In the Didascalia Apostolorum, written in Greek in the third century, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of J&J, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee, “and other women besides” are referred to, anachronistically, as women deacons because of how they ministered to Jesus (Didascalia Apostolorum 3.12.4 cf. Matt. 27:55-56).[17]

Richard Bauckham, who suggests that Joanna (Luke 8:1-3; 24:9-10) is the same person as Junia (Rom. 16:7), also suggests that the Other Mary is the same person as a Mary who ministered in Rome (Rom. 16:6).[18] In the apostle Paul’s list of greetings to twenty-eight Christians based in Rome, Mary is greeted fourth which is fairly high up the list (Rom. 16:3-16). It makes sense that women in the Gospels, like Joanna and the various Marys, continued to be devoted to Jesus and that they dedicated themselves to the Christian mission after his ascension. Because these women had known Jesus personally and were witnesses to key events, they were noted figures in the first-century church.

From France, there is a legend that Mary the mother of J&J, Mary the Magdalene, and Salome fled persecution together. The women got in a boat without sails or oars, and the boat took them to France. The spot where they supposedly landed is today named Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (“The Saint Marys of the Sea”). According to the legend, these three women were the first to bring the gospel of Jesus to the Roman province of Gaul.

CONCLUSION

Mary the mother of James and Joseph, also known as the Other Mary, is mentioned seven times in the Gospels. She watched the crucifixion with many other women from Galilee and she saw where Jesus’s body was laid. On Easter Sunday, she was one of the women who witnessed Jesus’s empty tomb and the angel’s announcement of the resurrection.

In Matthew’s account, the risen Jesus meets her and Mary Magdalene and speaks to the two women before anyone else. Despite the magnitude of this event, however, the Other Mary has been largely overlooked. I hope that by highlighting her in this article, her place among the first disciples of Jesus may be better appreciated.

Footnotes

[1] Mary the mother of J&J does not have her own entry but is mentioned in passing in the entry on Mary the wife of Clopas. In this entry, the author concedes that while Mary of Clopas is commonly identified as the mother of J&J, they are probably two different women. M.L. del Mastro, All the Women of the Bible (Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 2006), 88.

[2] There is variation in the Greek of the seven phrases that identify the Other Mary. Perhaps she was the wife of James (that is, Jacob) and the mother of Joseph (or, Joses). In ancient Greek, the word for “wife” doesn’t need to be used in phrases where a wife is identified by her husband’s name, and the Greek word for “wife” does not occur in any of the “Other Mary” verses. The word for “mother” is also not needed in ancient Greek to identify the mother of a son, but the Greek word for “mother” occurs in two verses that identify the Other Mary (Mark 15:40; Matt. 27:56). (See footnotes below.) Nevertheless, she was probably the mother of both James and Joseph/ Joses.

[3] The Greek behind this highlighted phrase: Μαρία ἡ Ἰακώβου τοῦ μικροῦ καὶ Ἰωσῆτος μήτηρ (Mark 15:40).

[4] Greek: Μαρία ἡ τοῦ Ἰακώβου καὶ Ἰωσὴφ μήτηρ (Matt. 27:56)

[5] Here is how Tatian harmonised Mark 15:40-41 and Matthew 27:55-56 in his Diatessaron, written around 170–175.

And there were in the distance all the acquaintance of Jesus standing, and the women that came with him from Galilee, those that followed him and ministered. One of them was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the little and Arabic Joses, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee, and Salome, and many others which came up with him unto Jerusalem; and they saw that.
Diatessaron 52.21.

[6] Greek: Μαρία ἡ Ἰωσῆτος, or Μαρία Ἰωσῆ (Mark 15:47)

[7] Greek: Μαρία ἡ τοῦ Ἰακώβου (Mark 16:1)

[8] Greek: Μαρία ἡ Ἰακώβου, or Μαρία Ἰακώβου (Luke 24:10)
In the note on Luke 24:10, the CEB Study Bible states that the mother of James in this verse could refer to “Jesus’ mother (Acts 15:13); the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee (Luke 5:10; 6:14); or the mother of James, the son of Alpheus (Luke 6:15).” It does not mention Mary the mother of James and Joseph, which is more likely than the other three women (cf. Mark 15:40 and 16:1).

[9] Being mentioned only in the final chapters of the Synoptic Gospels does not imply that the women had not been with Jesus throughout his ministry. By way of example, Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias are only mentioned in Acts 1, but they had been with Jesus since John’s baptism (Acts 1:21-23).

[10] J.B. Lightfoot argues against the idea that Mary the mother of James and Joseph/ Joses was the mother of James the Just, that is Jesus’s mother. Here’s an excerpt from his discussion on The Brethren of the Lord.

When a certain Mary is described as ‘the mother of James,’ is it not highly probable that the person intended should be the most celebrated of the name—James the Just, the bishop of Jerusalem, the Lord’s brother? This objection to both the Epiphanian and Helvidian theories is at first sight not without force, but it will not bear examination. Why, we may ask, if the best known of all the Jameses were intended here, should it be necessary in some passages to add the name of a brother Joses also, who was a person of no special mark in the Church (Matt 27:56; Mark 15:40)? Why again in others should this Mary be designated ‘the mother of Joses’ alone (Mark 15:47), the name of his more famous brother being suppressed? In only two passages is she called simply ‘the mother of James’; in Mark 16:1, where it is explained by the fuller description which has gone before ‘the mother of James and Joses’ (15:40); and in Luke 24:10, where no such explanation can be given. It would seem then that this Mary and this James, though not the most famous of their respective names and therefore not at once distinguishable when mentioned alone, were yet sufficiently well known to be discriminated from others, when their names appeared in conjunction.
(Read more here: The Brethren of the Lord)

[11] Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, Second Edition (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2006), 51. (Google Books)

[12] Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 449. (Kindle Edition)

[13] Bauckham, Gospel Women, 445-446.

[14] Bauckham notes,

When the Gospels […] identify women among the disciples of Jesus by reference to their male relatives (Mary the mother of James the little and of Joses, Mary of Clopas, the mother of the sons of Zebedee, the mother of Jesus), the male relatives mentioned were themselves disciples, probably known as Christians in the early communities, and also, in three out of four of these cases, bore the extremely common name Mary and needed to be distinguished in some way from the other Marys among Jesus’ disciples and kin. Bauckham, Gospel Women, 195.

[15] Bauckham, Gospel Women, 337.

[16] In particular, Mary of Bethany, Mary Magdalene and the unnamed penitent sinner in Luke 7 became a composite Mary in the Latin-speaking church. Furthermore, Mary the wife of Clopas is thought to be Salome by some, and thought to be the Other Mary by others. For example, “Mary is usually supposed to be the wife of Cleophas (John 19:25), and the sister of the mother of our Lord; so that these two disciples [James and Joseph] would be Christ’s first cousins. The matter is shrouded in difficulty, and cannot be decided with absolute certainty.” From the Pulpit Commentary on Matthew 27:56 (Source: Bible Hub)

[17] The Didascalia Apostolorum was originally written in Greek but only survives as a complete work in Syriac. Some of it survived in a fourth-century Latin translation. Mary the mother of J&J is mentioned four times in this work but there is some confusion in the way she is identified (cf. 3.6.2 and 5.14.11-14)

[18] Bauckham, Gospel Women, 263.

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Image Credit

Excerpt of The Three Marys at the Tomb, an ink and wash drawing by Italian artist Domenico Piola (1627-1703) (Wikimedia)

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12 thoughts on “The Other Mary: Mother of James and Joseph

  1. One of the frustrations in reading ancient literature is the writer’s assumption of their contemporary readers’ familiarity with references.

    If I were a first-century Christian and someone said to me, “Mary — you know — the mother of James and Joseph,” I would probably say “Oh! Yes!” because OF COURSE I knew who they were, and who she was.

    But now, I am neither a contemporary reader, nor am I acquainted with James, Joseph or their mother Mary.

    It is also frustrating because we have very little story associated with this Mary. But also comforting, because what little story is associated with her is so very significant.

    1. Exactly. I’m sure the female followers of Jesus who are named in the Gospels, are named because they were well known in the first-century church. Considering that they had known Jesus personally and been witnesses of key events, the women would have been highly respected. People would have wanted to hear their first-hand accounts of life with Jesus and their stories of the beginnings of the church.

  2. Great article! In your note #16 about composite Marys, you quote one source that says, “Mary is usually supposed to be the wife of Cleophas (John 19:25), and the sister of the mother of our Lord . . .” I have read this idea before, and I wonder how likely it could be that two Marys would be sisters. Parents would not give the same name to two daughters. I suppose it could happen if they were sisters through a blended family relationship or maybe “sister” means something else like sister-in-law? Any thoughts about that?

    1. Yes, it’s tricky. Perhaps Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary the mother of Jesus they were cousins or sisters-in-law as some suggest. But I really don’t know. I have a lengthy footnote on Mary of Clopas here: https://margmowczko.com/many-women-followed-jesus-gospels/

  3. […] Salome was one of the Galilean women who also accompanied Jesus to Jerusalem where they witnessed his crucifixion. She is not named with Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of (James and) Joses who watched Jesus being placed in the tomb (Mark 15:47), but Salome was with them when they brought spices and ointments on Easter Morning in order to prepare Jesus’s body for a proper burial. […]

  4. […] Ben Witherington has argued that the beloved disciple was Lazarus of Bethany (cf. John 11:3, 36). The beloved disciple first appears in John chapter 13 after the raising of Lazarus in chapter 11, and not before. James Tabor, following Robert Eisenman, argues that the beloved disciple was James the Less, a brother or relative of Jesus and a priest (Mark 15:40; Matt. 27:56 cf. John 18:15–16; 19:26). […]

  5. […] [3] I sometimes wonder if the Mary in Romans 16:6 was Mary the Magdalene now ministering in Rome. The Eastern Orthodox Church tells the tradition that Mary Magdalene went to Rome and travelled throughout Italy with the message of the gospel, and that she even spoke to the Tiberias, the Roman Empire. (Source) Richard Bauckham, who suggests that Joanna (Luke 8:1-3; 24:9-10) is the same person as Junia (Rom. 16:7), also suggests that Mary the mother of James and Joseph is the same person as the Mary who ministered in Rome (Rom. 16:6). I mention this in my article on Mary the mother of James and Joseph. […]

  6. […] It is difficult to overestimate the significance of the fact that the first person to see Jesus alive after his crucifixion and resurrection was a woman (or women). Did Mary Magdalene just happen to be at the right place at the right time for this momentous meeting with the newly risen Jesus, or was it a divinely appointed encounter? […]

  7. The Orthodox Christian tradition, for 2000 years, has consistently identified Mary the mother of Jesus as being the same as “Mary the mother of James and Joseph.” This would explain why always one or the other Mary is named in any given context, never both. They were actually the same person.

    Just as Jude, the stepbrother of Jesus, in humility does not call himself that but instead identifies as “the brother of James” (Jude 1:1), so this Mary in humility preferred to be named in connection with her stepsons James (author of the NT Epistle of James) and Joseph, who are named together with their two younger brothers in Matthew 13:55. (The “Judas” mentioned in this verse is usually known in English as “Jude”—in Greek it’s the same name—and is the author of the NT Epistle of Jude.)

    I am proceeding on the Orthodox assumption that James, Joseph, and their siblings were children of Joseph (Mary’s husband) by his first wife Salome who had died before his betrothal to the young Mary—which happened when she became too old to continue living at the Jerusalem Temple. All this is in accordance with very early Christian tradition as recorded in a number of sources, including the early-2nd-century “Protoevangelium of James.”

    After the death (and resurrection and ascension) of Jesus, Jewish practice would name Mary in connection with her living children—in this case, stepchildren.

    Some have objected that Matthew (13:55) records the prevailing view that James, Joseph, and the rest were Jesus’ “brothers,” assuming that this must mean a blood relation, not just stepbrothers. But note that the same verse, quoting the same people, calls Jesus Himself the son of Joseph!

    1. Thanks for this, Jeff. I’m familiar with Infancy Gospel of James. I’ve read it many times in English and Greek.

      I did look into the idea that Mary the mother of Jesus was the same person as Mary the mother of James and Joseph. However, I can’t see that Mary’s humility has anything to do with it. Unlike the author of Jude whose letter is included in the New Testament canon, I strongly doubt she wrote any of the Gospels, and at least some of the Gospels, perhaps all, were written after her death.

      Mary is plainly identified as the mother of Jesus, especially in the infancy narratives and in the episode when she (with Jesus’s siblings in tow) wanted to speak to Jesus, but also elsewhere (Matt. 13:55; John 2:1-12; 19:25-27; Acts 1:14).

      For the author of Matthew’s Gospel to call the mother of Jesus the “Other Mary” and identify her second to Mary Magdalene (third in Luke 24:10) doesn’t make sense unless Mary M was more highly regarded than Jesus’s mother. However, Mary is not mentioned second, but first, when it is clearly Jesus’s mother (John 19:25).

      Jesus’s brother James became a famous figure in the primitive church, and presumably Jude also. So if the “Other Mary” is the mother of Jesus, why is she identified as the mother of James and Joseph, and not the mother of James and Jude? Moreover, according to your church tradition, she was the step-mother of Jesus’s brothers, not their biological mother.

      I find it difficult to see that Jesus’s mother is lumped into this description:
      “There were also women watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the short one and Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women followed him and took care of him” (Mark 15:40-41).

      Nevertheless, I will keep the idea in mind.

  8. […] A fourth Miriam in the Gospels is Mary the mother of James (Jacob) and Joseph (or, Joses) whom Matthew also refers to as “the other Mary.” This Miriam is mentioned seven times in the Gospels. She watched the crucifixion with many other women from Galilee (Matt. 27:55–56; Mark 15:40–41) and she saw where Jesus’s body was laid (Matt. 27:61; Mark 15:47). On Easter Sunday, she was one of the women who witnessed Jesus’s empty tomb and the angel’s announcement of the resurrection (Matt. 28:1–10; Mark 16:1–8; Luke 24:1–10). In Matthew’s account of the resurrection, Jesus meets her and Mary Magdalene and he speaks to the two women before anyone else (Matt. 28:9–10 cf. John 20:11–18). […]

  9. […] The Other Mary: Mother of James and Joseph […]

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