Feast of Joanna, Mary, and Salome (August 3)   6 comments

Witnesses to the Resurrection

Identifying who certain biblical figures can prove difficult.  Relying on names is insufficient sometimes.  For example, the Apostle Bartholomew and the Apostle Nathanael were the same person.  And Simon Peter was Cephas.  These are relatively easy cases, for they pertain to Apostles.  Attempting to sort out the identities of the women who witnesses the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus is not as easy, however.

Mark 15:40 states that Salome (not the one who demanded the head of John the Baptist) and Mary Magdalene were present at the crucifixion.  Salome was probably the same person as Mary (of Clopas), wife of Zebedee, sister of Mary of Nazareth, and aunt of Jesus.  (See Matthew 27:56 and John 19:3.)  Zebedee was the father of the Apostle John and one of the two Apostles named James.  This made Jesus a cousin of two of his Apostles, assuming that Salome was Mary of Clopas.

The Gospel accounts say that the women  traveled to the tomb to annoint Jesus’ body with spices.  The Gospel of Mark, in its original version, ended abruptly, with an empty tomb:

And the women came out (of the empty tomb) and ran away from the tomb because they were frightened out of their wits; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Volume 7 of The Interpreter’s Bible (1951), pages 911-912, contains the following analysis of the women’s presence at the tomb:

These women who figure so notably in the resurrection stories portray powerfully the love that does not end with death.  They loved Jesus beyond the end.  They sought to pay the last reverence that could be paid.  But on their sad journey of faithfulness they ran into a surprise.  Faithfulness has a way of running into surprises.  When one goes faithfully on with duty, doing in times of darkness, disappointment, or defeat, what is often the little that can be done in devotion to Christ, one meets the unexpected.  The thing beyond one’s own power and wit happens.  New strength, the comfort of the fortified heart; the fresh awareness of a Burden-bearer, walking alongside; the way opened through seemingly insuperable obstacles–all these surprises of God have been encountered along the road of faithfulness.

Fear seems a natural reaction in that context.  I might have been scared, too, at least briefly.

There is some confusion and disagreement concerning the identity of Mary, Mother of James.  Mark 16:1 lists her alongside Salome and Mary Magdalene as present at Jesus’ tomb.  Matthew 28 identifies the women at the tomb as Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary.”  Luke just mentions Joanna, Mary the mother James, and Mary Magdalene.  Her identity rests with the question of who James, her son, was.  I can of at least three followers of Jesus (two Apostles and an early Bishop of Jerusalem) named James.  And there were other people named James at the time.  Mary the mother of James was faithful.  That is all that matters.

Luke 24:10 states that Joanna, Mary the Mother of James, and Mary Magdalene returned from the empty tomb and informed the eleven surviving Apostles that Jesus was alive.  The Apostles did not believe the women.

So, who was Joanna?  Luke 8:3 identifies her as the wife of Chuza, who was the steward of Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea (reigned 4 B.C.E.-39 C.E.).  The Lukan Gospel states also that Joanna supported Jesus and the Apostles financially.  Joanna is a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church, too.

Were Joanna and Salome the same woman, just as Bartholomew and Nathanael were the same man?  Or, or were both present but not listed together?  I think it unlikely that Joanna and Salome were the same person, unless Chuza the steward was also Zebedee the fisherman.  Yet I think that it does not matter.  Let us not distract ourselves with trivia, and so miss the main point:  Today we celebrate the faithfulness of women who followed Jesus.

I conclude with an excerpt from Hidden Women of the Gospels, by Kathy Coffey (New York: Crossroad, 1997).  Read as Coffey writes in the voice of Joanna:

I could barely sleep, the morning’s errand looming over the night.  A monstrous boulder dominated my dreams, and I felt crushed beneath its weight, grazing my knuckles against its flinty surface.  That night followed the least restful, most nerve-wracking Sabbath I’d ever spent.  Any “holy” thoughts were lost in wondering about the dark tomb, the stench, the violence we might face the next morning.

For the tenth time, I checked my supplies:  Cloths and spices, balm for that broken body.  Would we have enough?  Would the guards stop us?  Would everyone who’d agreed to come show up?  Could we budge the stone?  Maybe I stewed over the little questions so I could suppress the larger one: how could a tomb contain him, his vibrant, pulsing life?

My friends looked exhausted too when we gathered in the greyness before dawn.  We’d all had a sleepless night and longed to begin the day, no matter how terrible it might be.  Something stronger than our questions drove us to the sad task ahead.  Maybe it was the memory of his arm hanging limply from the rock-hewn shelf, the bruises in his hand turning violet.  Maybe it was his insistence at our last meal together: remember me.  Maybe it was the look on his mother’s face when we wrapped the torn limbs into linen.  Each of us bore different memories, like shadowy companions along the road.

From a distance, I thought the stone loomed larger and darker than I’d remembered.  But as I got closer, I realized it wasn’t a boulder but a dark opening, a glaring hole.  Our pace quickened.  Was I hallucinating, or did glimmers of white flash inside?  I grasped Mary Magdalene’s hand for courage as we stepped into the cool tomb.  We barely had time to blink our eyes and adjust to the darkness before we heard a voice buoyant with song.

For the rest of my life I will carry those words, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.”  Would every sadness unravel so swiftly?  Would our sharpest sadness unravel so swiftly?  Would our sharpest tragedies be robbed of their sting?  If someone told me then that paralytics could dance, trees could hoist themselves into the sea, and the dead could sing, I’d believe it.  My inner terrain has shifted somehow.

And the men who scoff at us?  They’ve just missed the best news they could ever hear, poor fools.


Blessed Lord, through your only-begotten Son you overcame death and by your Holy Spirit you call us to Him that we might believe and be saved.  Grant as the women came to his tomb on Easter morning and found joy where they expected sorrow, so we might also come to Christ Jesus, casting our cares upon Him and receiving forgiveness, peace, and the sure and certain hope of everlasting life through Him who reigns eternally with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Psalm 45:1-9

Mark 16:1-9 and Luke 24:1-12

Posted January 29, 2010 by neatnik2009 in August 3, Saints of the Bible

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