As we enter Holy Week, some reflections on those close to Jesus, might be in order. I begin with the question of the identity of the ‘other Mary’ in the Gospel stories of the final week of Jesus’ earthly life.
‘Miriam’, or as we Anglicise it, “Mary’ was one of the most common names in the Holy Land in the times of Christ, and it can confuse us at times. The Virgin Mary is the best known, and Mary Magdalen bids fair in our time to rival that (though not for reasons which would have pleased her), but who is this other Mary who gets mentioned at Golgotha and at the Tomb? SS Matthew, Mark and John use different designations, but scholars are agreed they are talking about the same Mary. Matthew calls her the ‘other Mary’, Mark, ‘Mary the mother of James’ and John ‘Mary the wife of Clopas’. As so often in history, this woman is defined by her husband and her children. ‘James’ is the Apostle, James the less, the first bishop of Jerusalem (to distinguish him from St James the son of Zebedee and brother of St John)) who is identified as the son of Alphaeus. St. Jerome identified Alpheus with Cleophas who, according to Hegesippus, was brother to St. Joseph (Hist. eccl., III, xi). That would have made Mary of Clopas the Virgin Mary’s sister in law. St Luke tells us that Clopas was one of those to whom the Lord appeared on the road to Emmaus. That would make one of the first men to see the Risen Christ the husband of one of the women who stood by the Cross on Golgotha – and his uncle according to the flesh, and therefore quite possibly his step-father after the death of Joseph – in other words not some obscure person. It may well be that he was the source of the story which Luke alone tells. According to Eusebius (Chapter 11) Simon (Simeon), the brother of James the less, succeeded James the Just as bishop of Jerusalem. So Mary had three sons, James the Less, Simon and Joses. We are told that the ‘brothers of the Lord’ were ‘James, Joses (or Joseph) Simon, and Judas (or Jude). If, as appears probably, Clopas looked after his sister-in-law and her son, then it is easy enough to see why the locals would have called Mary of Clopas’ children ‘brothers of the Lord’. In the fourteenth century, Russian travellers to Constantinople reported seeing the incorrupt body of Mary of Clopas in one of the many monasteries there, which may or may not spoil the medieval legend that she and Mary Magdalen went to France by ship after the Ascension. As that gets us into mad Dan Brown territory, it would be satisfying to think that the Russians were right. In fact we do not know what became of Mary of Clopas, but we can see from this short sketch that she was part of what was actually quite a close-knit family which stood with Jesus to the end – and beyond. We sometimes think of the Holy Family in terms of our own nuclear families, but it was not like that at all. Jesus had close family, at least two of whom wrote Gospels and at least two of whom were bishops of Jerusalem. But that was not all, as we shall see, other Apostles also had close family links with Jesus.