Mary the Mother of James the little and Joses

Mary the Mother of James the little and Joses

Mary the mother of James the little and Joses/Joseph is most fully named in Mark 15:40, although she is also mentioned in Mark 15:47, 16:1, Matthew 27:56 and Luke 24:10.

Contrary to some traditional beliefs, Mary of Clopas and Mary the Mother of James and Joses are not the same person. And she is not the same person as Mary the mother of Jesus.

We do not know who James the little and Joses/Joseph were, but they were most likely disciples of Jesus themselves. We do however have extensive knowledge of Symeon, the son of Mary of Clopas. He had enough fame in early Christian communities that if these Marys were the same woman, she would most certainly have been referred to through Symeon’s name over James and Joses.

The name Mary was incredibly common. One quarter of all women in Jewish Palestine at the time were named Mary. This led to the need to identify these women by the patriarchal naming convention at time which involved connecting them to their most well known male relative. We must remember this and be careful to not combine their identities and unintentionally erase them from Christian history.[1]

Disciples such as Susanna and Joanna who had more unique names were not identified through a male since there would be no confusion to the early Christian communities on who they were.

The main exception to this historical naming convention is Mary Magdalene, who is thought to be named by the town Migdal, where she was from, although this too is debated.[2]

Who’s going to roll the stone away?

“Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us?” (Mark 16:3).

A practical question from women engaged in practical mourning. The women who went to the tomb that Easter morning came prepared with ointments and spices to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. As they were on their way they wondered if they hadn’t overlooked one important detail: Who was going to move the very heavy stone out of the way for them?

Jesus was placed in his tomb hastily, as the Sabbath was quickly approaching. Preparing a body for burial was an important part of the grieving process and was a way of honoring both Jesus’ life and their grief.

To their surprise the stone had been rolled away. They hadn’t planned it all out that day but they knew where they needed to go despite the grief and the unknown. They knew they had a job to do and their faithfulness led them to something amazing.

In what ways did their mundane actions and practical steps of faith lead them into the bigger story of the resurrection?

Women in the Early Church

During the first centuries, the Christian church was spreading rapidly beyond Jewish Palestine and into the complex and influential Greco-Roman world. Christians were elevated to prominence and persecuted and killed. The secular intellectual movements were equally influential on the culture and the church needed to quickly adapt the the new challenges as its message spread.

There was no universally accepted theological doctrine and debates among church communities was common.

Cultural expectations and customs required certain things from women, yet the Christian movement often provided another way, a way of liberation and often extraordinary potential for leadership.

Women needed to find a way to make this work for them within their cultural contexts and the results varied.

In the coming weeks we will be exploring the various ways women found their ministries and led the church in creative and controversial ways.

From disciples turned evangelists, to female teachers, pastors, pilgrims, scholars and theologians, martyrs, entrepreneurs, dessert mothers and ascetics to name a few, women’s roles as pioneer leaders in the church took extraordinary forms.

What women accomplished in the first five centuries has often been overlooked or ignored completely, but their stories offer us a fascinating insight into how women led despite circumstances. Their stories can challenge and encourage us today as we remember their courage, boldness and faithfulness despite opposition from men.

What women come to mind for you when you think of women in the early church?

Do you know the stories of Tabitha, Lydia, Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, Thecla, Perpetua, Felicitas, Helena Agusta, Marcella of Rome, Paula of Rome, Mary of Egypt, Egeria, Melania the Elder and Younger and Amma Syncletica?

These are just a few of the women we will be learning about in the coming weeks! I’m excited to get to know these women more and honor their lives alongside you!

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[1] Bauckham, Richard. Gospel Women : Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 2002.

[2] Joan Taylor, a professor at King’s College London suggests that Mary’s name, “Magdala', (meaning “the Tower”), is most likely a nickname that Jesus gave her and not necessarily a reference to her hometown. Taylor’s archaeological and historical research suggests no town named Magdala or Migdal existed at the time of Mary’s life, (although it does now). Similarly to how Jesus nicknamed Simon Peter, (meaning “the rock”), and James and John were called the “sons of thunder”, her belief is Jesus nicknamed Mary too.