The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
Get the Book!

Crucifixion: The Witness of the Women

The tradition that the women followers of Jesus were present during the crucifixion was probably inserted to give a guarantee to the authenticity of the events described. But the artificial nature of this insertion can be seen from the fact that all four gospels simply couldn't agree as to just exactly who was present during the crucifixion. Given below is who each evangelists say was there:

Mark 15:40-41
Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses and Salome...Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

Matthew 27:55-56
Many women were there watching from a distance...Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee's sons.

Luke 23:49
the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance watching these things.

John 19:25
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

The proliferation of Marys as witnesses to the crucifixion is a source of confusion. John had three Marys present at the crucifixion, including Jesus' mother. Mark and Matthew did not mentioned Jesus' mother but another Mary, the mother of James and Joses. This is rather strange as Jesus was mentioned earlier as having brothers named James and Joses (Mark 6:3; Matthew 13:55). Luke was probably aware of these difficulties and avoided it by simply calling those present "the women."

As an interesting note, the only person all three gospels (Mark, Matthew and John) agree was there was Mary Magdalene. We know of this Mary from Luke:

Luke 8:1-2
Soon afterward he [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Mag'dalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,

Today we would call a person who was "possessed by demons" as someone who is either insane or psychologically unsound. If the above passage in Luke is historical, it means that the only person the gospels of Mark, Matthew and John agree was present at the crucifixion was someone who we have every reason to believe is mentally unsound! It is a further fact that Mary Magdalene is the only person whom all four gospels agree to have been the witness to the resurrection (or at least the empty tomb : Mark 16:1-8) as well! But more of that later.

The lack of agreement as to who the women were makes any appeal to the presence of the women at the crucifixion as the authenticating factor dubious.

To conclude what we know of the crucifixion, I quote Guignebert again:

As a matter of fact, early tradition, with or without the guarantee of the women, was not in a position to do more than assert the essential facts: Jesus was arrested, tried, condemned and executed. Of that alone we are certain. [1]

Back to the top


1.Guignebert, Jesus: p489

Back to the top

[Home] [The Central Thesis] [Christianity] [The Bible] [Jesus] [Paul] [God] [History] [Pascal's Wager] [Bibliography] [Links]
© Paul N. Tobin 2000

For comments and queries, e-mail Paul Tobin
Hosted by