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Women at the crucifixion of Jesus
Near the Cross
I read Matthew 27:55-56 this morning and saw something I had not noticed before. There were many women at Jesus’ crucifixion – many (pollai). I had previously imagined that only a few women had accompanied Jesus and made the trip all the way from Galilee to Jerusalem – usually a journey of several days.
These women had travelled to be with Jesus and to minister to him by taking care of his needs.
From this group of many, Matthew identified just three of the women: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the unnamed mother of the sons of Zebedee. Mark, in his parallel account, also lists just three women: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and Salome, but he adds that many (pollai) other women from Galilee were near the cross with them (Mark 15:40-41 cf Mark 16:1). John likewise lists three women: Jesus’ mother, and her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene (John 19:25). Luke does not mention women at the cross, but at the tomb, before and after the resurrection; and he also identifies just three: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother, or wife, of James, but he mentions that there were other women with them (Luke 23:55-56 cf 24:9-10).
Town to Town
Luke speaks of certain women who had accompanied Jesus during his itinerant teaching and healing ministry. In Luke 8:1-3, he wrote that women travelled with Jesus and provided for him out of their own resources. Like Matthew and Mark, Luke identified just three of the women: Mary Magdalene, Joanna the wife of Chuza, and Susanna, but adds (in verse 3) that there were many other (heterai pollai) women in this group.
Many women were dedicated followers of Jesus during his ministry on earth. Many of these women seem to have been independent of fathers and husbands, and some were independently wealthy. These women left the relative comfort of their homes and travelled in rough conditions to faithfully follow and serve their Lord. There is little doubt that Jesus welcomed these women and valued their ministry.
Friends and Followers
Jesus did not shy away from female company. He had several, perhaps even many, close female friends, women such as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Martha and Mary of Bethany, etc. And he continually showed kindness and respect to the many other women he encountered during his ministry.
I’ve often pictured Jesus roaming around Galilee with just the Twelve, but on several occasions, at the very least, there were many women with him also. How many is many? 10, 20, 30, 40, or more? Did the women disciples outnumber the men? We can only speculate as to how many women were among Jesus’ followers. (Cf Acts 1:13-14.) One thing is certain: throughout the last two millenia many more women have continued to follow Jesus and serve him. And Jesus continues to welcome their company and value their ministry.
 The Greek word here, pollai, is the feminine plural form of polus. This word means “much”, “many”, “plentiful”, etc. It is misleading that most English translations translate pollai in these verses about Jesus’ female followers as “some”. This is just one example of a gender bias in most English translations.
 The identity of Salome is unclear and debated. She may have been the mother of James and John (the sons of Zebedee). Some believe she may have been one of Jesus’ sisters. Still others believe she was an aunt, or even a great aunt, of Jesus.
 Some speculate that Mary and Clopas (Cleopas?) where the two on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-33, esp. Luke 24:18). Later, after the death of James (Jesus’ brother and the first bishop of the church in Jerusalem), a man named Symeon, and identified as the son of Clopas, became the second bishop of Jerusalem. If his father was the same person as the husband of Mary, then Symeon was related to the Holy Family. When he was 120 years old, Symeon was tortured and martyred for his Christian faith. (Eusebius, Church History, 3. 32. 1-4)
Image: The women at the crucifixion (original source unknown).
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