Frequent shroud blogger and friend John Klotz (see posting yesterday, An Early Christmas Present from John Klotz), in his blog, points us to an observation by Tom Wright (pictured) about the role of women in the Gospels. In Jesus Christ, Feminist he writes:
It was the degraded state of women generally that makes it remarkable that the four Gospels record women as the first witnesses to the Resurrection. In fact, N.T. Wright, Anglican Bishop, and perhaps the foremost scholar of the Resurrection, uses that fact to conclude that the traditions that were formalized as the Gospels, predate St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
“Even if we suppose that Mark made up most of his material, and did so some time in the late 60s at the earliest, it will not do to have him, or anyone else at that stage, making up a would-be apologetic legend about an empty tomb and having women be the ones who find it. The point has been repeated over and over in scholarship, but its full impact has not always been felt: women were simply not acceptable as legal witnesses. We may regret it, but this is how the Jewish world (and most others) worked. The debate between Origen and Celsus shows that critics of Christianity could seize on the story of the women in order to scoff at the whole tale; were the legend-writers really so ignorant of the likely reaction? If they could have invented stories of fine, upstanding, reliable male witnesses being first at the tomb, they would have done it.” (Interior citations omitted).<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[vi]
The obduracy of the bachelor hierarchy to the ordination of women is an anarchism that the Church must put behind it. There is a desperate shortage of priests in many countries, particularly the United States. In the US, dioceses are importing priests from Africa. They are fine men, however, their presence in the United States is contingent to their strict hewing to the Vatican line.
Of course, I might wonder if allowing priests to marry might help the shortage problem. In the Episcopal Church in the US, we have a surplus of ordained priests. I don’t know why. Women priests? Married priests? Less strict hewing to any line?
And by now we have probably exhausted this off-topic.
A scholar of Tom Wright’s standing must be aware that the Marcan story in Mk 16:8-20 of the Resurrection being first revealed to Mary Magdalen, is a later addition, possibly 2nd c. the original ending having apparently been lost. In Mk 1-8 the women discover the empty tomb, and one angel gives them the message that Jesus has risen.
The endings in other Mk MSS vary, but don’t seem to include the story of Mk 16:8-20. However variations on the story appear in the other three gospels.
In Matthew 28, there is an earthquake and one angel gives the three women the message, and then in Mt 28:9-10, Jesus comes to meet them. In Luke 24, however there are two angels who give the women the message, the women go to tell the 11 apostles, Peter runs to the tomb, confirms their story, and then Jesus appears to two of the apostles on their way to Emmaus, but is unrecognised. In John 20, only Mary Magdala is mentioned as coming to the tomb while it is still dark, sees the tomb is empty, she tells Peter, and then Peter & John confirm the story of the empty tomb; Meanwhile Mary waits outside the tomb weeping, she sees two angels who ask her why she is weeping, and then sees Jesus, mistaking him for the gardener. It seems difficult to attribute the women being the first witesses of the resurrected Jesus to Mark, although both Matthew and John give variations of it. Luke however prefers the Emmaus appearance to two apostles as the first appearance. All four gospels attribute women as being the first witnesses of the empty tomb.
Your biblical exegesis is spot on. I must be careful to distinguish between apparitions and witness to the appearances. However, Wright I think is correct, in putting the fact that women play a central role in the Resurrection story as a whole.
Wright’s first fact in “proving” the Resurrection is the empty tomb.
“I must be careful to distinguish between apparitions and witness to the appearances” should be “I must be careful to distinguish between apparitions and witness to the empty tomb.”
John, Apart from my comments above, I thought your whole page was a remarkable piece of work, and extremely enlightening. I had appreciated that Jesus was not averse to breaking the cultural norms when it came to women, but your article is a persuasive argument that at heart he also seems to have been a radical feminist. I’m not sure if in your paragraph referring to the ordination of women, you intended the word “anarchism(sic)”, or “anachronism”. Tom Wright’s conditional comment “Even if we suppose that Mark made up most of his material …” also seems a peculiar comment for him to make. There is a strong tradition that Mark’s witness was the apostle Peter, see closing verses of I Peter (but may well have been written after 65 AD). My own argument for a gender independent priesthood , argued elsewhere on this site, was merely based on Paul’s Galatians 3:25-28,
Could send me your E-Mail address. There are some things I might want to share with you which are not ready for publication. I would appreciate your comment and critique as I go along.
Done. Check your web-site mail-box.
It is not the women or the empty tomb but the appearances that are crucial in the Resurrection accounts.
Louis, 100% agreed.
Thanks Max. I’m glad you understood.
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