Mary Magdalene and the Resurrection

Mary Magdalene at the Tomb with two other “Marys” following behind her. These are the famous “Three Marys”  at the cross…Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. John 19:25. his passage is the source of the Three Marys at the Cross paintings; “his mother, his mother’s sister Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. But it is just as easy to read that list differently, making four women at the cross; his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. You can place the commas so that there are two women; [1] “his mother and his mother’s sister; Mary the wife of Cleophas and Mary Magdalene.” (The passage is reminiscent of the Gnostic Gospel of Phillip quote: “His sister, his mother,and his companion were each a Mary.”) (Luke says: It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women…24:10)
That verse in John is also the only time that “his mother” and “Mary Magdalene” are in the same sentence. I think that John wrote the scene at the cross around some well-known last words of Jesus directed at his mother and deliberately or not, separated “his mother” from “Mary Magdalene”…my theory. He put the Beloved Disciple into the scene and made it about him, knowing full well that Mary had other sons probably standing there with her. But heard in the context of Mariamne III pushing her son to go up to Jerusalem to fulfill her prophecy that her son would restore the kingdom, the words from the cross take on a bitter edge.
The power structure won the day. Caiaphas’ “prophecy” that Jesus should die for “the good” of the nation held and the son of Mariamne III with her Virgin prophecy that her son would rule was going by the wayside…as all the other prophecies had. Luke tells us in Acts that Mary was with her other sons and the disciples in Jerusalem after the crucifixion, but the authors of the gospels were confused as to whether she was at the cross or not…until John, written last, explicitly included her but without naming her…trying to clarify the situation.

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. (John 19:25)

I think that John wrote her into the scene at the cross (perhaps not realizing she was there disguised as Mary Magdalene…my theory) because he wanted us to know about this last scene between Jesus and his mother that has also been veiled.

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother…When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by whom he loved…

The “disciple standing by whom he loved” has caused a lot of debate about who “he” was. He was first thought to be Lazarus “whom Jesus loved,” as we saw in the last post. And, if Jesus had just made a marriage alliance with Lazarus’ sister or daughter most likely, Mary of Bethany, it could make sense to turn her over to his wife’s family. But Mary often traveled with her other sons and one son James will be the leader of the family and followers in Jerusalem after his death…and she clearly stayed with them. She had no need to be taken care of by a “Beloved Disciple.”[1] But forget about all that for a moment and just see the last words John said Jesus spoke to his mother from the cross. A totally different picture emerges…

Woman, behold thy son!  (John 19:26)

Like at the wedding in Cana, John wants us to see Mary as pushing Jesus to declare himself and to see her as having authority over him, though he pushed back. She feels that he was “beside himself” when he is off lecturing and healing…doing his own thing.

And when his friends heard of it, (picking his disciples?) they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself. And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils…There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren?…Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother. (Mark 3:20-31-35)

Clearly, as discussed earlier, we are meant to know that there was a schism between Jesus and his mother…

And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But he said, Yes rather, blessed are they that bear the word of God, and keep it. (Luke 11:27-28)

Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come. (John 2:3)

But he eventually did comply…he did go up…and his time had come.

The Resurrection

But…there was still one more hope…that Jesus could be revived. To that end, he had to be gotten down from the cross immediately. The gospels state that it was a Jewish privilege that crucified men would be taken down before the Sabbath began. There is a lot of controversy over which day exactly Jesus was crucified having to do with the Passover and the Sabbath but I think the real issue is getting him down from the cross quickly. Money probably changed hands again. I think this is where Pilate’s wife earned her future sainthood…she helped them get him down quickly. Could he be revived? Josephus, in his own biography, wrote about reviving a crucified captive in the war with Rome thirty-some years later.

I saw many captives crucified and remembered three[2] of them as my former acquaintances. I was very sorry at this in my mind, and went with tears in my eyes to Titus, and told him…so he immediately commanded them to be taken down, and to have the greatest care taken of them, in order to their recovery; yet two of them died under the physician’s hands, while the third recovered. Life 75.

There was probably some lore about the chance of revival; something that could be seen as a resurrection….

Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive; After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulcher be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead...Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. (Matthew 27:62-65)

There has been speculation that Jesus planned it all…and planned to live through the crucifixion.[3] One would like to think that he did revive because of the persistence of the resurrection stories—revived for a short time and then “resurrected” into heaven? Like Daniel’s prediction that heroes would become stars in the “firmament.”

The case against revival was this…

The Jews therefore…besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him, But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water…For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken….(John 19:31)

Saving the Bones

Caution is required when something is done to fulfill a scripture, but there was an important reason to have unbroken bones and an intact body…because of the official Resurrection of the Saints, the name Judas Maccabee called his holy warriors; saints. Judas took great care of his fallen soldiers’ bodies “because of the resurrection.”[4] But Judas had not been resurrected, neither had Alexander son of Mariamne the Queen…the one that should have been king…though as a ghost he roamed the palace halls. Surely Jesus would be the one to return. When Martha was questioning Jesus about why he waited so long to come and save her brother Lazarus, John had him say to her:

Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day…(John 11:23-24)

That was the belief about resurrection. Matthew, as noted earlier, also wanted to see Jesus’ death as the beginning of the Resurrection of the Saints…

And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. (Matthew 27:50-53)

Boxes for Collecting the Bones

The Mariamene Mara Ossuary Read the book The Jesus Discovery by James A. Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici, Simon & Schuster 2012…for an introduction to bone ossuaries from early 1st century A.D. The ossuary of Caiaphas the High Priest had already been found and there is a debate over an ossuary with James son of Joseph…but  more than that (!) the authors found other ossuaries in a tomb outside of Jerusalem with the name Mariamene…which they are associating with Mary Magdalene. Google James A. Tabor…there is a lot of information on his archaeological finds and ossuaries in general, plus a blog, a FaceBook presence and more books…and a documentary.

Because of recent finds of ossuaries in the news –ossuaries or stone bone boxes–were used in and around Jerusalem at exactly this time—and apparently only at this time—the first century A.D. up until the devastating end of the war with Rome in 70 A.D. The boxes were used to house the bones of the departed—those that could afford to be buried in rock tombs around Jerusalem, that is. (The body would be encased in herbs and shrouded and left to nature to process. A year later the bones would be collected into a sometimes decorated and sometimes inscribed stone box. [5]. I think ossuaries were needed at this exact time in history because the Resurrection was truly expected at any moment and one needed intact bones to be revived. Josephus made a point of saying that the Pharisees and the Essenes believed in the Resurrection as did the Hasmoneans following Judas Maccabee. The Sadducees and high priests were mostly “conservatives” and only believed what was written in the Law of Moses.) [6]

Mary and the Resurrection

I do not think it was a coincidence, though, that it was Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ mother (my theory as written here) who was the first one to announce her son’s resurrection/revival. She was the first to “see” him…she alone or with her handmaids. At first no one believed her…Mark ended his gospel with the women crying at the empty tomb. As the other later gospels all ended with different versions of the resurrection, another ending with a resurrection was later added to Mark.[7] Mariamne III was persuasive or stubborn enough, and had a large enough following of her own…like “Rachael” leading the lamenting for her lost children that led to a massacre in the Temple after Herod died…that soon it became more important to have seen her son than not. Soon only those who had seen him had authority in the movement.

Mariamne III and her Prophecy

But what about Mary/Mariamne III/Mary Magdalene? I tend to think it was just not possible for her to accept that her prophecy was wrong. Her son being killed before he could fulfill the promise was a blow she would not accept. Were all the promises to mothers who sacrificed their sons for the Law—who were “zealous” for the Law like the mother with seven sons in the days of the war with Antiochus Epiphanes—false?

Then the mother said to her seventh son) I beseech you, my child…Do not be afraid of this butcher, but show yourself worthy of your brothers, and accept death, so that by God’s mercy I may get you back again with your brothers. But their mother was surpassingly wonderful, and deserves a blessed memory, for though she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage, because of her hope in the Lord. And she encouraged each of them… for she was filled with a noble spirit and stirred her woman’s heart with manly courageII Maccabees 7.

It wasn’t just an old story long forgotten…The old promise had been made new again. Her son would be returned to her in the Resurrection. There was no actual war in Jesus’ day, but her prophecy grew more needed as skirmishes escalated into all-out war with Rome thirty after his death…within Mary’s lifetime. Mothers of sons took guidance from the widow with seven sons and encouraged them to fight Rome. Mary became, I think, the “poster girl” for the promise. Books written in and out of the New Testament continued to encourage mothers who lost their sons in the war…long after the war when they should have been returned…don’t give up  hope.

Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection…(Hebrews 11:35)

II Esdras of the Apocrypha[8] was written during or shortly after the war with Rome as a series of reassurances for those devastated by the war. One such “Apocalypse” was for mothers of sons:

Mother, embrace your sons, bring them up in gladness, like a dove; strengthen their feet, for I have chosen you, says the Lord. And I will raise up the dead from their places, and bring them out of their tombs, because I recognize my name in them. Do not fear, mother of sons, for I have chosen you, says the Lord. I…have consecrated and prepared for you twelve trees loaded with different fruits, and an equal number of springs flowing with milk and honey, and seven huge mountains on which roses and lilies grow, with which I will fill your sons with joy…When you find any who are dead, give them burial and mark the place, and I will give you the first place in my resurrection… II Esdras 2:15-24

It was Mariamne III who announced her son’s resurrection, however brief, and thousands of years later she will be the only one said to ascend into heaven to be by his side…a queen mother sitting at the right hand of her son the king.  Vindication of a sort. Who can now say that her role in pushing her son to go to Jerusalem and declare himself was because of her better angels or because of her “seven devils.”

[1] Though, as we will see later, this statement led to stories of Mary, Mary Magdalene and Martha and Mary of Bethany being put into a boat with Lazarus, the Beloved Disciple who now had taken on the care of Jesus’ mother and his sisters…because they were now all one big family alliance. (The Golden Legend…see later footnote.)

[2] Could be a coincidence that there were three friends crucified like the two “robbers” crucified with Jesus…one revived.

[3] The Passover Plot, A New Interpretation of the Life and Death of Jesus by Dr. Hugh J. Schonfield, Bantam Books NY 1965

[4] II Maccabees 12:39-45

[5] See Biblical Archaeology Review on line and the books of James D. Tabor on finding ossuaries with Jesus’ family names on them, including variations on “Mariamne” and one for James and one for Caiaphas the High Priest.

[6] Antiquities of the Jews XVIII.I.2-4

[7] See The “Strange” Ending of the Gospel of Mark and Why It Makes All the Difference…Biblical Archaeology Review Magazine 04/01/2017

[8] Josephus used I Esdras in his histories and the gospel writers also used the Esdras books.  II Esdras is an Apocalypse written after the death of Nero in A.D. 68 and during the war with Rome 65-70 A.D. As transcribed and commented on in The Apocrypha, An American Translation by Edgar J. Goodspeed 1959 Random House NY.

[1] Hebrew script, for example does not use vowels or punctuation. They have to be “interpreted” into the text…guesses at what was meant by the context.

[2] It is written as a prophecy given to Esra by an angel and deals with Assyrians and such but was written during the build up to war with Rome and was heavily amended by Christians after the war. Josephus used I Esdras in his histories and the gospel writers also used the Esdras books, though the books did not make it into the official Jewish or Christian canon.

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