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Mary of Clopas

Reading the Gospel accounts of the Crucifixion reminds me of one the pieces of evidence which convinces me that they are genuine – they fail to agree on simple facts – in this instance, who was at the foot of the Cross.

Let us begin with St Matthew’s account:

many women … who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee 27:55-56

St Mark tells us that there were:

women … among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome 15:40

St Luke, who we know gathered all the information that he could, wrote about ‘the women who had followed him from Galilee’ 23:49, whilst St John tells us that they were :’his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene’19:25.

Is John referring to three or four women? My own view is that he is referring to four. Apart from anything else, it rids us of the necessity of arguing that The Virgin Mary’s sister was also called Mary. In a piece I wrote here last year I gave reasons for suggesting that “Mary of Clopas’ was the mother of James the younger and Joses, who are described elsewhere in the New Testament as the ‘brothers’ of Jesus; indeed, ‘Joses’, or Jude, so identifies himself in his epistle. If Mary of Clopas was, as suggested, the wife of Cleophas (or Alpheus) who was the brother of St Joseph, then it would have been natural enough for her to have been at the foot of the Cross, and for her sons to have been disciples. I don’t much want to get drawn into another fruitless discussion on the meaning of the word ‘adelphoi’ which, as I have shown elsewhere, does not necessarily mean uterine brother, and Joseph Richardson has some well-researched posts here which do the job better than I could, but simply cite it here in evidence of the supposition that ‘Mary of Clopas’ in St John, and the ‘Mary the mother of James and Joseph’ were the same person. If ‘Salome’ was, as I have suggested, the ‘mother of the sons of Zebedee’ and the sister of the Virgin Mary, we can then reconcile the four accounts: at the foot of the Cross were the Virgin Mary and her sister, Salome, and her sister in law, Mary, along with Mary Magdalen.

This suggests that Jesus’ family circle was a close one, and that its female members stood with him to the end – and it would be the same group, minus his mother, who would go to the tomb and find that far from it being the end, it was the beginning. It also reminds us of something easily forgotten – the importance of the role played by women in the church from its beginning.