Throughout the centuries, many arguments disregarding the validity of the Resurrection have emerged. In fact, the various explanations began on the very day in history that Christ rose (see Matthew 28:13). Since then, Apostles, Evangelists, Saints, and the faithful have given beautiful rebuttals to every argument insisting the Resurrection was made up by Jesus’ followers who—in non-believers’ eyes—were mortified they had been so wrong about Him.
The Witness of Women
One of my favorite pieces of evidence in support of the Resurrection is the inclusion of the narrative about the women at the tomb. At that point in history, women were not considered credible witnesses. They could not even testify in a court of law! Yet the Evangelists share the detail that it was women who were the first to encounter the empty tomb.
If the Apostles had made up the story about Jesus’ Resurrection, they never would have based their story on the experience of a group of females. No one would consider it credible! However, the Apostles and Evangelists include these details because it is the truth—and it is the truth to which the Apostles are testifying (see 1 John 1:13).
Although the rest of the world may not have considered women worthy witnesses, God sure did!
The Women at the Tomb + Their Backstories
While the male disciples hid in fear, these women approached Jesus’ tomb with a love that casts out all fear. Because Jesus died so close to the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath (which begins at sundown on Friday), the burial process was rushed and only included the bare minimum. Thus, these women returned to Christ’s resting place, wishing to anoint the Body grandiosely, in the manner they felt He deserved.
God rewarded this act of love with one of His own by allowing them to be the first to see the effects of the most glorious event in human history!
Please note: The Evangelists do not share identical lists in regards to the women present. However, this is not a contradiction in facts. The Evangelists were writing for different audiences and thus had different persuasive goals in mind. The names of some women may be included in one Gospel, but not in another. This may be because the Evangelist’s audience knew that woman and thus could go and speak in person with her about what she saw. In addition, each Evangelist included details pertinent to their specific story. So while John only mentions Mary Magdalene by name in his Gospel, it does not mean other women were not there. Rather, that Mary Magdalene is a protagonist from whom he does not wish to detract. No matter the differing details, explanations exist for all of them.
Mary Magdalene (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)
The most prevalent of these women is Mary Magdalene. Across the Gospels, she is mentioned by name twelve times (more than most of the Apostles)!
Two major contributing factors led to a misunderstanding that Mary Magdalene was either a prostitute, the woman caught in adultery, or the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears.
- The first is her surname, which is indicative of her hometown. Magdala was a small city on the shores of the Galilean sea. Its land was fertile, its fishing exemplary, and its location a major crossroads for travelers no matter which direction they were headed. It is possible that the fertility of the city of Magdala itself played a role in her own financial wellness which she in turn used to financially support Jesus and the Twelve. However, Magdala was also a city of immorality and prostitution was prevalent in the area. This may have contributed to the notion that Mary Magdalene was quite immoral herself.
- The second major factor which contributed to this misinformation was a homily given by Saint Gregory the Great. While trying to inspire the faithful to repent with great hope during a trying time in human history, he muddled the lines between Mary Magdalene and the sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet. The message of his homily was impactful. The faithful found immense hope in the story of a great sinner who became notably holy. Consequently, the message spread and reverberated. Mary Magdalene has been portrayed inaccurately in homilies and Hollywood for centuries since.
Who She Truly Was
In reality, Mary Magdalene was a wealthy woman with unnamed weaknesses. She was deeply afflicted by seven demons, and was restored to full physical and spiritual health by the touch of Jesus. Consequently her reciprocal love and devotion was incredibly strong. She became a disciple of prominence, always mentioned first (with one exception) in the lists of women followers (much like Peter is listed before all the men).
A leader, Mary Magdalene was continuously a part of Jesus' traveling entourage, using her wealth to support the group. Her unwavering devotion conjured the necessary courage to be present at Christ’s crucifixion and burial, in addition to returning to the tomb twice. Although her distress led to her misidentification of the Resurrected Jesus as the gardener, her intensity in this moment is astounding: “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away” (see John 20:15). Such a bold and fearless assertion!
Mary Magdalene is the only woman included in all four Resurrection accounts, another indication of her prominence in Jesus’ ministry. It was she who ran to tell the hiding male disciples that the tomb was empty, and then informed them again after encountering the Risen Lord, making her the Apostle to the Apostles.
When you think about it, the whole belief of Christianity is dependent upon her initial testimony!
Mary, The Mother of James (Mark, Luke)
This Mary was the aunt of Jesus. Married to Clopas (also known as Cleopas and Alpheus), she was the mother of the Apostle James the Lesser. A silent character in the Gospels, she is mentioned various times and in various ways. She was a disciple of her Nephew throughout His ministry and also present for His crucifixion and burial. Surely, she was a source of emotional support for her sister-in-law, the Blessed Virgin, who was a widow and had lost her only Child.
Mary's husband, Clopas, was the brother of Saint Joseph. He was a main character in Luke’s Emmaus narrative and it is possible that Mary was the second unnamed disciple in the story. In these small details, it is apparent that Mary was devout in her relationship with the Divine, passing that on to her children. Mother to at least four sons, two of them served as the first and second bishops of Jerusalem within the early Church (the first being Saint James the Lesser).
During this point in history, the prominence of the name “Salome” for Jewish girls was second only to the name “Mary.” Thus, it is debated which Salome from the early Church was the one present on Easter Sunday.
The most accepted stance is that she was Salome, mother of the thunderous Apostles James and John. Her husband was Zebedee, a fisherman with such a successful business it allotted them the finances to afford servants. It is speculated that she had ties to the Jewish High Priest, either familial or social, which is why John was able to get inside his home for Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin (see John 18:15-17).
Salome was captivated by Jesus from the start, allowing the sons she raised to leave home and follow Him. A disciple herself, she must have felt familiar with Christ as she asked for seats of honor for James and John in the coming Kingdom. Jesus kindly corrected her, assuring that they would share in His suffering, but not sit at His side.
God built upon this spiritual moment, and Salome went on to witness Jesus’ suffering firsthand at the foot of the Cross. Her sons went on to serve as bookends for the Apostles’ martyrdoms, the first and the last of the group to die, suffering for the Kingdom as promised by Jesus.
Only included in the Gospel of Luke, Joanna was an upper class woman who had been on the receiving end of a healing miracle (see Luke 8:1-3). Her husband, Chuza, was a steward of King Herod. As such, they were significantly wealthy and able to live a lavish life.
Despite the goodness of her wealth, Joanna found greater satisfaction in Jesus. Out of gratitude, she became a financial backer of His ministry. Joanna was a devoted disciple, at times even traveling with Jesus and the Twelve proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of God. No doubt she brought incredible stories of Jesus back to the palace. Perhaps she was even present for Jesus’s brief trial before Herod since she likely lived there full time (Scripture makes no mention that she was).
The Other Mary (Matthew)
"Mary" was the most common name for Jewish females at the time of Jesus. This is why there are so many “Marys” needing to be distinguished from one another in the Bible. Though it is possible Matthew was referring to Mary of Bethany, the absence of Martha being named specifically alongside her makes this unlikely.
In all probability, this was simply Matthew’s way of alluding to Mary, the Mother of James, who is mentioned in the narrative by the other Synoptic Gospels.
The Other Women (Luke)
Luke, who was writing to give an ordered account, shares that other women were present besides those mentioned specifically. We cannot know with certainty who these women were, but we can allow our imaginations to insert the possibility of female disciples named earlier in the Gospel.
Perhaps Mary, Martha, and Susanna (another known financial support and recipient of healing) were among them.
What about the Blessed Virgin?
There is no one who loved Jesus more than His Mother, Mary. Why did she not return to the tomb to finish burying her Son? The explanation is simple.
Mary was perfect in love and perfect in discipleship. She had listened and adhered to her Son’s teachings all along. Thus, when He predicted His Death and Resurrection and everyone else was somewhat confused, Mary understood and believed. She did not return to the tomb on Sunday morning, because she knew the tomb was only temporary!
Although Scripture does not share these details, tradition provides insight into Mary’s whereabouts on that day. Saint Vincent Ferrer writes that Mary, believing in the Resurrection, kept vigil all night on Holy Saturday, waiting for the return of her Son and King. Saint Vincent, Saint Bridget of Sweden, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Pope Saint John Paul II, and many other Saints all agree that the first thing Jesus did when His soul reunited with His body was to rejoice in God’s mercy with His Mother.
This is, in fact, why the tomb was empty when the rest of the disciples approached it!
Crucial to the Cause
Luke gives one mention of these beautiful women in the book of Acts when he includes them collectively in the list of the 120 disciples gathered prayerfully in the Upper Room (see Acts 1:14). This means that these ladies were also witnesses to the ordination of Matthias, attendants at Pentecost, and contributors to the early Church community. Their presence and testimonies were surely imperative to the Apostles, Evangelists, and converts.
Who knows... if not for the details these women were able to provide about the Passion, the climax of the Gospels could look different on paper!
Which woman at the tomb are you most fascinated by or interested in?