This blog is about my search for a Mary that made sense to me…a Mary that fit into the patriarchal culture of her day…but also a Mary that could travel with her son and tell him what to do… something only a queen mother could get away with. She had to be a Mary that could help explain why her son, a Galilean citizen brutally killed by the Roman Occupier of Palestine in Jerusalem at the behest of the Jewish High Court and the High Priest…all the forms of political power of the day…died with a sign over his head saying “King of the Jews.” All four versions of the story in the gospels include the sign but do not explain in real time why it was there and why the first question Pilate, the Roman governor and his judge, jury and executioner, asked him was “Are you a King of the Jews?” to which Jesus answered, “Yes” all four times.
Being a king in a Middle Eastern monarchy even in the first century A.D. required a royal bloodline….even to be a puppet king in an occupied nation…as we will see. As a curious layperson, after years of studying Christian “Search for the Historical Jesus” books, I literally stumbled across an 800-page book of The Collected Works of Josephus, a Jewish historian born 4 years after the death of Jesus who wrote Antiquities of the Jews and Wars of the Jews in basically the same timeframe that the earliest gospels were being written (ca 90 A.D.) but using Jewish court records. Josephus spoke at length about a Jewish Royal family–other than the legendary Davidic one–that included queens with the dynastic name of Mariamne, often translated in Christian documents as Mary.
I have re-written this manuscript a hundred times over thirty-plus years and continue to at least look at the indexes of books still being written on the Historical Jesus…or less common…Mary…to see if my “idea” holds up…so far, so good but others are starting to take a hard look at the women also. I will share their ideas as we go along.
Simply comparing the rich and royal women and their stories in Josephus with the New Testament story does reveal a time of liberated women that answer the questions…Why are there so many women in the New Testament? Was Jesus a feminist? Or…more to my theory…was Jesus accompanied by his royal mother and her handmaidens who supported him? If so, then a certain amount of “veiling” on both the Jewish and the Christian side has been going on, as we will see…
By simply comparing Josephus’ histories of the New Testament era from the Jewish side…with the story of Jesus “son of Mary” as it has come down to us from the Christian side…and by studying a history of Jewish queens and their role in the politics of their nation…gives much needed context to the New Testament Mary and her role in the life and death of her son…see what you think. Even if you disagree, with “my Mary,” you will have to agree that looking at the women’s history…changes our understanding of the era and the role that royal women were expected to play…and did play…and that they were relevant…
In the nature of blogs…begin at the end if you want to read it like a book. Start with the earliest post under “Archives” October 2014 and come forward…if you want to look at queens from a specific time frame look under menus “Queens of Israel” as a sidebar. Under “Pages” are personal stories of my search and research and further topics that caught my interest but don’t flow chronologically. This blog presupposes a strong level of interest in the reader…a reader with some level of knowledge of the New Testament story…
Josephus, lastly, tells a story about one final Mary…the last one in his index and on my list. The only one translated as “Mary.” This Mary’s story is pretty awful. She does something that is the crowning evil that a woman could do, and not just any woman but a wealthy noble woman. Even Josephus hesitates to tell her story, except I have innumerable witnesses to it in my own age….
There was a certain woman that dwelt beyond Jordan, her name was Mary; her father was Eleazar, of the village Bethezub, which signifies “the House of Hyssop.” [i] She was eminent for her family and for her wealth and had fled to Jerusalem with the rest of the multitude and was with them besieged therein at this time.
When all exits were closed to the Jews, every hope of escape was now eliminated; and the famine, strengthening its hold, devoured the people, houses and families, one after another. The roofs were full of women and infants in the last stages of exhaustion, the alleys with the corpses of the aged: children and young men, swollen with hunger, haunted the marketplaces and collapsed wherever faintness overcame them…Many, as they buried the fallen, fell dead themselves, while others set out for their graves before their fate was upon them. And throughout these calamities, no weeping or lamentation was heard…Deep silence blanketed the city, and night laden with death was in the grip of a yet fiercer foe—the brigands…Josephus andThe Jewish War V.XII.3 Cornfeld.
So, if two actual historical queens took Nazarite vows in Jerusalem 20 to 30 years after the death of Jesus, is it too far afield to think that Mary/Mariamne made a long-term even life-long Nazarite vow until her prophecy was fulfilled…until her son returned to claim the kingdom? It will be a short discussion.
My first thought is, if I had a prophecy that I would bear a special son, I would want to look up how to do it right. Pre-google, you went to a scribe to look it up in the Torah or the prophets, as clearly the gospel writers did for the prophecies Jesus fulfilled.
And…in another “believe it or not,” there is a prescription given to a young woman by an angel on how to bear such a son…it is the story of the mother of Samson.
There are many good books out there now that look at James/Jacob son of Mary. [i] It is possible they even have found his ossuary, stone bone box. [ii] We don’t know much about James, but we know more about him than about the other family and followers of Jesus because he is in the Book of Acts and in Josephus! In both instances his appearance is after the death of Jesus. Acts says that James lead the family and followers in Jerusalem after his brother was killed. He was one of the Pillars that Paul met and a strong Jew and well thought of in the city. Here, I want to touch on James being a Nazarite and his ongoing feud with the High Priesthood and with Agrippa.
In the last post we saw how Agrippa…dressed as a prince while waiting to be put into prison for hoping out loud that Tiberius Caesar would just go ahead and die so that his friend Caius could be emperor…a strange thing happened.
Now Agrippa stood in his bonds before the royal palace,and leaned on a certain tree for grief…and as a certain bird sat upon the tree on which Agrippa leaned (the Romans called this bird bubo,) [an owl,] one of (the others) that were bound, a German by nation saw him and asked a soldier who that man in purple was; and when he was informed that (he was a principal man of the nation of Jews the man asked to be able to speak to Agrippa and) said thus to him…
This sudden change of thy condition, O young man! Is grievous to thee…now wilt thou believe me, when I foretell how thou wilt get clear of this misery…and how Divine Providence will provide for thee. Know therefore…that…I think it fit to declare to thee the prediction of the gods. It cannot be that though (wilt) long continue in these bonds…and wilt be promoted to the highest dignity and power…But, do thou remember, when thou seest this bird again, that thou wilt then live but five days longer. This event will be brought to pass by that God who hath sent this bird hither to be a sign unto thee…Antiquities of the Jews XVIII.VI.7
After riding into the city as a king invoking David—but with levels upon levels of meaning…perhaps also as the King to Come “with all things in his power”—and though in practical terms that would have required a miracle– that might allow room for the return of a king who was a descendant of the Hasmonean Queen….the House of King and High Priest together who had defied the rule that only a descendant of David could be king for about 100 years…but lost the kingdom after a long war to Herod and his Roman legions in 37 B.C.
After Jesus entered Jerusalem as a king, it seems that things quiet back down, perhaps checking out the lay of things, though it is said that he goes into the Temple in the mornings to teach and at night returns to Bethany…another few ordinary days. Then one morning…
…they came to Jerusalem and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; and would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught them saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? But ye have made it a den of thieves…(Mark 11:15-17)
All four gospels say this happened and John says it happened twice. But they all say that after the huge disruption in the temple, Jesus calmly went back into the porticos and taught and when even was come, he went out of the city.
The Mary of Bethany stories have always been a puzzle, in part because they seem to conflate or combine a “sinning woman from the city” with the unusually positive story of sweet Mary of Bethany and her ungrateful old sister Martha. They give a lot of space to a houseful of women. Mark begins the Bethany round of stories with this:
And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard, very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head. (Mark 14:3)
Matthew 26:6, following Mark says the same thing. Luke 7:36-37 says:
And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him.And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. And behold a woman in the city which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment…
Mark and Matthew ended their Bethany stories with Simon the Pharisee Leper and the anonymous sinner from the city who just randomly wandered in. I will look at her and anointing later in this post but now the story takes a dramatic turn. Luke and John added stories about Martha and Mary and Lazarus also living in (perhaps) Bethany.
Now it came to pass, as they went that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.(Luke 10-38)
John then radically changes it by identifying the unnamed rich woman with the ointment as Martha’s sister Mary of Bethany.
Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus of Bethany,the town of Mary and her sister Martha. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair.) (John 11:1-2)
The above passage is the only time that “Mary” is named before “Martha” because John was giving her special attention…and deftly changes the sinning woman with the expensive ointment to a young follower of Jesus…but most of the time, it is Martha named first.
Now Jesus loved Martha,and her sister, and Lazarus…And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary…Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him…(John 11)
Twice in the stories Martha complains to Jesus as an equal and expects an answer including the famous line about her being left to do all the serving while Mary sits at his feet…but also over the death of her brother. She demanded to know why he waited until after her brother was dead to come. Jesus then gave her one of his major revelations about his being the “resurrection and the life” and is probably the reason for the story. (John 11) It isn’t just Martha, though. When he approaches Lazarus’ tomb, “Jesus wept” and
“then said the Jews,Behold how he loved him!”
So…in effect, at Bethany there is a Pharisee named Simon possibly nicknamed the Leper, and perhaps a widow named Martha who owns her own house. Living with her are, Mary a younger sister and a brother or uncle… kin… named Lazarus. Jesus is said to love Martha and Lazarus more than Mary…who is thought by many to be the wife of Jesus…combined with Mary Magdalene. The Jesus-was-married-to-Mary Magdalene people combine these two Marys to make one woman worthy of being the wife of Jesus…although you might notice that Mary Magdalene is never in the Bethany stories…so Mary Magdalene was already combined with Mary of Bethany somewhere off stage.
But Mary of Bethany is more than just a younger sister not helping with dinner. Let’s look at the other passages dealing with just this Mary…
Now it came to pass, as they went that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary which also sat at Jesus feet, and heard his word…(Luke 10:38-42)
Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him:but Mary sat still in the house…And Martha…called Mary her sister secretly saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him… And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother…when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out…and…when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet. (John 11)
The events in the story have a Christian slant…but I would like to note that no other disciple of Jesus falls at his feet…Reading the passages from a daughter of the king viewpoint, Mary of Bethany is not the first one mentioned where love is concerned. She sits at Jesus’ feet. She falls at his feet. She stays indoors until he calls her. She anoints his feet. She sounds like a virgin damsel to me…one betrothed to Jesus, her soon to be husband and already “lord and master.”
The waiting to be called by her lord before going out of the house reminds me of this passage I quoted from the war with Antiochus Epiphanes:
The women, with sackcloth girt under their breasts,thronged the streets, while maidens who were kept indoors ran together, some to the gateways, some to the walls, and some looked out from the windows; and all raised their hands to heaven and uttered their supplication. II Maccabees 3:19.
I think that Mary of Bethany was subtly being portrayed as a damsel virgin betrothed to Jesus. Virgin damsels are allowed to wear their hair long and loose…as are prostitutes…so it could be this young Mary washing Jesus’ feet not the sinner from the city. John’s assertion that the woman who anointed Jesus was Mary of Bethany means she was not a prostitute…and not even Mary Magdalene.
When in doubt, I learned from writing local histories, check the timeline. Timing is important. Jesus’ last stop at Bethany comes just before he makes his way up to Jerusalem where he now feels “his time has come.” And, the role of Mary of Bethany’s washing Jesus’ feet becomes an anointing.
Then Jesus six days before the Passover came to Bethany…and…took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment.(John 11:1-2, 12:1-3)
A Wedding in Bethany
Coincidentally, six days was the length of a normal wedding ceremony according to The Jewish Encyclopedia On-Line. Perhaps anointing your betrothed husband’s feet was part of a particular group’s wedding ritual…or a ritual for the king to come…or a ritual to honor Jesus himself who also had a foot-washing ritual with his disciples at just this time.
And now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come…He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel…; he poureth water into a bason and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel… (John 13:1-20)
But before that during the six days in Bethany, Jesus also carefully orchestrated his entry into the city.
“Go ye into the village…ye shall find a colt tied, whereon yet never man sat loose him, and bring him hither…” (Luke 19:30)
The Sinning “Anointing” Woman
I need to go back now and pick up the other thread in this story; the story of the woman that anoints Jesus who at first is just a woman with an alabaster box of ointment wandering by.
And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard, very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head. And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made…And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? She hath wrought a good work on me…. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her. Mark 14:3-9, Matthew 26:6-13
The woman anointed Jesus on his head and Jesus defends and praises her for it. Luke radically changes the story by placing the event in Galilee and immediately called the woman “a sinner” and of the “city.” (The woman is from Jerusalem but followed Jesus to Galilee?) He then adds the “Mary Magdalene and her seven devils” story—leaving the Jesus-was-married-to-Mary Magdalene people to insist that it was her doing the anointing by that close association. But Luke did something more. He changed the head anointing in Mark and Matthew to a feet anointing and makes the woman a weeping repentant sinner…putting the woman in her place and cooling a tricky story of an anointing down by adding womanly emotions and sins…veiling it:
And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And… behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner…brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.[i] Now when the Pharisee saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him; for she is a sinner…(Jesus) said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven…And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils…Luke 7:36-50, 8:3
Yet Another “Mary” Heard From
This is when the Gospel of John rehabilitated the anointing woman by naming her as Mary of Bethany—but kept the anointing of the feet.
Now, a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair)…[the raising of Lazarus story follows]…Then Jesus six days before the Passover came to Bethany…They made him supper; and Martha served…Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment… John 11:1-2, 12:1-3
I think that John had information that the anointing woman was named Mary and so made her the only Mary he knew was there…Mary of Bethany. A good many of the thousands of books written about Mary Magdalene say that she was also Mary of Bethany by the somewhat convoluted path mentioned above. I do not. The mention of Jesus being in Bethany “six” days which the Jewish Archives, said is the length of a normal wedding ceremony and the fact that John does tell another story of Jesus and his mother at a wedding in Cana (remembering that Luke has the Bethany stories in an unnamed village in Galiles) where she gives him orders very early on, plus the thought that Mary of Bethany could be Mary Magdalene because of the proximity of their stories in Luke…but the anointing stories tell of two anointing, I think.
To Be Crowned by Your Mother
The reason is because of this passage:
Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, and behold king Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart. Song of Solomon 3:11
We are told that Jesus went up to Jerusalem directly from Bethany after one or two anointings to orchestrated shouts of Hosanna:
And when he was come nigh,even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice…Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest! (Luke 19:37-38)
It would also have been essential for Jesus to have a potent marriage alliance…an alliance with someone who could help him with his claims. I think that young woman was Mary of Bethany that I now call Mariamne IV. (More on who I think she may have been in next blog post.) She anointed Jesus’ feet as part of an “espousal ceremony.” The marriage alliance played a key role in Jesus feeling that “his time had come.”
And that Mary Magdalene/Mariamne III anointed him on the head as part of his crowning ceremony. My wishful thinking/guesstimate is that their well-planned entry into Jerusalem on the seventh day, (!) the day after his anointing and espousal, included his mother with her bloodline and prophecy riding beside him on that elusive second “colt of an ass.” The son of Mariamne III of the Mariamne Tower/bloodline would have been riding into Jerusalem with his queen mother at his side…. a deliberate reversal of the last Davidic king and his mother as they rode out of the city to be sent into exile in Babylon…for those with eyes to see…[iii]
Mariamne’s I through VI
[i] Read the entire passage in Luke. He mentions “feet” SEVEN times and the use of the word “head” has become “hairs of her head” for the weeping sinner woman who anointed his “feet.” Jesus also goes to great lengths telling a parable to show that the woman has been forgiven because she loves him much. I will give an example of this kind of love in the next post. We are conditioned to see the word love and think sexual love.
[ii] Remember that the gospels are written during the time of slanders being flung back and forth between rabbis and disciples and the family of Jesus. The gospel writers, even after the horrible war with Rome in 65-70 A.D. have to defend Mary.
[iii] II Kings 24:12…There is so much contradictory information in the New Testament as to whether Jesus was a “son of David.” Herod thought of himself as the “son of David” and it is rumored that he had a genealogy drawn up to show that he was, technically (if one believed that genealogy) making Mariamne III a tiny part “daughter of David.” As Timothy 1:4 said about Davidic genealogies…Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions….so do.
 The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail by Margaret Starbird, Bear & Company, 1993…She wrote her book in answer to Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln, Dell 1982. Also a favorite is The Moon Under Her Feet, The Story of Mari Magdalene in the Service of the Great Mother, a novel by Clysta Kinstler, one of the Goddess books suggesting a ritual marriage between Jesus and Mari, a priestess…so big for a while. Harper SanFrancisco 1989.
The way the gospels are written—and let me say again, I am no expert, merely obsessed with comparing the royal women in Josephus to the gospel women and seeing what happens– nothing deep and I stay away from the religious aspects of the story—it often seems to me that there were two factions among the followers of Jesus according to the way the gospels are written: women and everyone else. It has often been commented on that Jesus spoke to a lot of women for his day. The 70s feminists I read went so far as to make him the first “feminist.” For instance, Jesus was called upon to defend and/or “heal” the women around him, most of whom are considered to be “sinners” by the disciples. The disciples or at least the writers of the gospels also had a bias against the “rich.” If even some of the disciples around Jesus were Essen in their outlook…not surprising if they had been disciples of John the Baptist who has long been considered to be at least affiliated with the Essenes, then it is understandable. As Josephus said of the Essen:
This is demonstrated by that institution of theirs, which will not suffer anything to hinder them from having all things in common; so that a rich man enjoys no more of his own wealth than he who hath nothing at all. Antiquities of the Jews XVIII.I.5
Add to that the “sins” of Essen belief that I have quote twice earlier about how women are not to be trusted…and rich women were the worst sinners, even for the Rabbis, as we will see in the next post. Mary Magdalene had money enough to support Jesus but also had seven devils. The Matthew and Luke birth stories also accuse Mary, as do the Rabbis of being an adulteress. The women with enough funds to purchase expensive ointment had to have been “sinners.”
Remember that the very first designation of family for Jesus was Mark 6:3:
“Is this not Jesus…the son of Mary.”
It was changed by each subsequent gospel to make it more patriarchal…because to call a man the son of his mother was unusual. It usually meant that he was illigitimate…and that is a possibility…given all the fuss made about his birth. But I think it is something more, of course. I think that calling Jesus the “son of Mary/Mariamne” placed him immediately in time and space for his audience for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Even forty years after Jesus’ death and after the war that leveled the Jewish nation, Jews would have known what it meant as they were dispersed over the Mediterranean. He was a son of the royal house, a son of the Tower of Mariamne…and his wrongful death will play a part in the lead-up to that war with Rome…as I will attempt to show.
Mariamne III the Virgin Orphan could be vilified for her Herodian blood by her own people, but also celebrated for her Hasmonean blood. Her direct descent from Mariamne I, the Great Queen, was a key to understanding her. The Queen was beloved by the multitudes but also vilified by priests and “certain Pharisees” for marrying Herod and polluting the royal Hasmonean line. She was executed for adultery/unchastity which Josephus said was untrue and he sought to rectify the record.
And thus died Mariamne, a woman of an excellent character, both for chastity and greatness of soul…Antiquities of the Jews XV.VII.6
She is virtually unknown today, I think, because she legitimized Herod as king and her heirs were known as Herodian.
Later gospel writers and church fathers seemed annoyed that there were so many women named “Mary” in the New Testament. Lists were often made trying to nail them all down…a hopeless task. The usual method of listing them was to combine a few as Marina Warner did in her book Alone of All Her Sex. She devoted an appendix to the thankless task she called, A Muddle of Marys, and ends with these words:
Theonly text to deal satisfactorily with the problem is the Twentieth Discourse, a spurious Coptic work attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem in which the Virgin introduces herself as all possible Marys: “I am Mary Magdalene, because the name of the village…was Magdalia. My name is Mary of Cleopa. I am Mary of James the son of Joseph the carpenter.”