The women who saw and told

The credible witnesses to Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection

Imagine you have witnessed a crime, and you have to make a statement to the police to say what you saw or heard. You need to be truthful and tell the whole truth and not add any details which did not occur. In a court, a credible witness is one whose testimony is perceived as being truthful and believable. Now, imagine you saw someone die, and you knew for a fact they were really dead. Then three days later, you go to the morgue and meet them there, all alive, hale and hearty. Do you think your testimony would be credible?

There are four books in the Bible, which are called gospels. The writers are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, who tell the gospel, or the good news about Jesus. They based their books upon eyewitness accounts or the works of earlier writers.

When you read these gospels, you will find there are similarities and differences between them. This is because each writer tells the story from a different perspective and a different source. A former detective, J. Warner Wallace, suggests in that these apparent contradictions are in fact good pointers to the truth and accuracy of the gospels.

In the aftermath of a crime, each eyewitness tells what happened from their point of view, where they were standing and what they saw. If several witnesses say exactly the same thing, then alarm bells should ring. There has been collusion somewhere. Each of the gospels has a slightly different list of women who were present. These are not necessarily contradictory but told from a different point of view.

So, what do the accounts have in common?

  • Women saw Jesus die on a cross
  • Women saw Jesus buried in a tomb
  • Women saw the empty tomb and were among the first to see Jesus’s risen body.

These stories were told, re-told and passed on until written down sometime later. And the original eyewitnesses to these events were overwhelmingly women. They were the ones who saw what happened and told others, and it is thanks to them that we have these stories written down.

Friday- At the cross

Only one of Jesus’s male disciples is mentioned as being at the cross, that is John, the rest were his female disciples. It is often said that it would be more dangerous for the men to be at the cross, but the Romans had no qualms about crucifying women. They were in as much danger as the men. They risked their own imprisonment, physical punishment, death, ridicule, and loss of reputation. So why did they risk so much? They had followed Jesus through Galilee and Judea. They were healed, forgiven and set free, and when the crunch came, they would not leave him alone when he needed them most. Together, they served him to the end.

“A drop of blood seeped from his pallid skin from under a thorn and into his eye. He blinked, and it tricked down his face and chin. Mixed with sweat and blood, it fell down his chest, onto his legs, and dripped off his foot. Suspended in the air it waited until splashing in the dirt like the first drop of rain after the summer drought.” Leaving Bethany, page 113.

 Who were they?

  • Mary Magdalene- is the only woman mentioned in all four gospels.
  • Mary, the mother of James and Joses(or Joeseph), – is mentioned in Matthew and Mark.
  • The unnamed mother of the sons of Zebedee, that is John and James, – is mentioned in Matthew.
  • Salome – is mentioned in Mark, (She could be either of the two mothers listed above.)
  • Mary, Jesus’s mother, – is mentioned in John.
  • Mary, the wife of Clopas – Jesus’s mother’s sister, or sister-in-law, also she could be the mother of James and John, mentioned in John.
  • Many other women were present- says Mark.

So, you can see the list is a little confusing, some women are unnamed or given different titles, or named in relation to family members. There is some overlap, and some women could be included on the list twice.

“ˋIt’s finished! Father, into your hands I offer my spirit. ˊ Closing his eyes, his head dropped forward. And he died. Everything stopped, and I was aware of nothing else, apart from Jesus’s lifeless body, his face now at rest.” Leaving Bethany page 114.

Friday – at the tomb

Luke does not tell us the names of the women at the cross, but those who followed to the tomb.

  • Mary Magdalene
  • Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod Antipas’s chief steward
  • Susanna
  • Other women
  • Mary, the mother of Joses – is mentioned in Mark

Saturday- The silence

Saturday must have been a terrible day. They had lost everything. Their hopes and dreams for themselves, their communities and their country were based upon Jesus and now he was gone. The women had seen Jesus’s dead body placed in a tomb and a large stone rolled over the entrance. The dream was over.

Sunday – at the tomb

Their dream was over, but their dedication to Jesus was not. The women wanted to do one last act of love for him, they would prepare him for burial correctly. What did they expect on the journey to the tombs? Jesus had spoken about rebuilding the Temple after three days, but did they realise this meant his body? Did they truly believe Jesus would rise from the dead? They carried with them spices, water and linen to prepare a dead body for its final resting place, so I assume they expected to see his body lying in the tomb where they had last seen it.

“ˋWhy are you here? Why are you here in a tomb when you are looking for someone who is alive? Remember he said he would die and be raised to life on the third day. He is not here, because he is alive.ˊ

My heart thumped loudly within my chest, echoing in my ears. Jesus asked me three times to believe him and three times I replied that I did and then failed. And here I was looking for his dead body in a tomb.” Leaving Bethany page 123

Who was there?

  • Mary Magdalene – is mentioned in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
  • Another Mary thought to be Jesus’s mother – is mentioned in Matthew.
  • Joanna – is mentioned in Luke
  • Mary the mother of James, mentioned in Mark and Luke
  • Salome – is mentioned in Mark
  • Other women were present

Theirs was a time when the testimony of women in civil and criminal courts, whether Jewish or Roman, did not count or were at least suspect. The gospel writers offer women as the first witnesses. Inserting Peter or John’s name into the accounts would have made them more credible for the first hearers, but they did not. They did not mention the women to make the gospels more credible, because they actually hurt the account. They are there because they were the first witnesses.

“Rushing to him, I grabbed his hands in mine and felt his warmth, now believing I had him back again after losing him to death. This was now the second time I had someone dear brought back from the tomb. His face, which I had last seen wearing the grey mask of death, was transformed like the rest of his body. Ruddy cheeks glowed, his lips flushed red, and the spark of like had returned to his eyes.” Leaving Bethany page 128.

Leaving Bethany

In writing the crucifixion and resurrection scenes in Leaving Bethany, I had to decide who to include. The story is told from Martha’s point of view and as various traditions have her and her sister, Mary, at both the cross and tomb, I wanted her there to tell the story.

For reasons of not wanting too many characters suddenly dropped into the story I chose Mary Magdalene, (whom I call Miriam) Joanna, Martha and her sister Mary to be at both the cross and tomb and Jesus’s mother with them at the cross. The quotes are from my novel, Leaving Bethany, and they are my reflections on what Martha’s thoughts may have been.

This Easter time, I pray we will once again examine the evidence these women brought and find it credible (if somewhat incredible!). That we will stop looking for life among the dead and find it in the person of Jesus, and that we will share the good news, as these amazing women did, and go and tell others.

Chris Gollon, Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

The original eye-witnesses to these events were overwhelmingly women.

They risked imprisonment, physical punishment, death, ridicule, and loss of reputation

Photo by Ismael Paramo on Unsplash 

Suspended in the air it waited until splashing in the dirt like the first drop of rain after the summer drought.

Leaving Bethany
Le Saintes Femmes au Tombeau by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

His face, which I had last seen wearing the grey mask of death, was transformed like the rest of his body. Ruddy cheeks glowed, his lips flushed red, and the spark of like had returned to his eyes.

leaving Bethany
Photo by Pisit Heng on Unsplash

Susan Sutherland is the author of Leaving Bethany, a historical Biblical fiction novel written from the point of view of Martha of Bethany, a friend of Jesus. The sequel, Return to Caesarea, will be out in early 2023.

If you liked the blog, why not join Susan’s mailing list and receive a free copy of her eBook, The Interviews of Aemilia Metella?

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