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New Undesigned Coincidence: The women from Galilee

I've recently been enjoying reading Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses straight through. At some point I hope to have the time to write more about my big-picture assessment of the book. Right now I'm involved in some other publishing projects and don't have the time to do that at any length. So all I will say here is that Bauckham's book is worth reading, extremely interesting and well-written, and has some good information and arguments, but that I don't "buy" all of his arguments, even when their conclusions are congenial to me. For example, I'm unconvinced by his claim to have discovered a literary indicator that he calls "the inclusio of eyewitness testimony" by which the authors allegedly tagged their eyewitness sources. I'm afraid, much as I'd like to agree with him, that the inclusio of witness testimony is a mirage. Again, I hope to write more about Bauckham another time.

So far, one of the most valuable effects of my reading Bauckham has been to inspire me to notice things that I hadn't noticed before. The undesigned coincidence that I give here is based upon one of Bauckham's (ultimately unsuccessful, in my view) attempts to support an "inclusio of witness testimony," but by focusing on the texts in question, I noticed a previously un-noted coincidence among the documents.

One of my favorite undesigned coincidences given in Hidden in Plain View is the one between Matthew 14 and Luke 8 where we discover how the Christians could have known what Herod was saying to his household servants. Matthew refers to Herod's superstitious musings to his servants that Jesus might be John the Baptist risen again. This is the lead-in to Matthew's account of the beheading of John the Baptist. Luke, in an entirely different context, lists some women that gave money to Jesus' ministry in Galilee and traveled with him, and in this list he includes Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward. This provides a very natural route by which the chit-chat between Herod and his servants could have reached the Christian community, including the author of the Gospel of Matthew. One of the nicest things about this coincidence is that it confirms a unique phrase in Matthew within a passage (the story of John the Baptist's death) that otherwise looks very "Markan," thus confirming Matthew's independent access to events even when a given incident is also found in Mark.

I now see the same verses in Luke (8:2-3) as participating in a coincidence both internal to Luke and between Luke and Mark/Matthew. Here is Luke's information about these women in chapter 8:

Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming 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 Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means. (Luke 8:1-3)

The women listed are Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, though Luke notes that there were others as well. They are said to have traveled with Jesus and to have given money to him. The connection with Galilee from Luke is found both in the reference to Magdala (which is on the coast of the Sea of Galilee, south of Capernaum) and in the previous chapter's reference to Jesus as being in Capernaum and in Nain, which is about six miles south of Nazareth. So Luke doesn't explicitly say here that these women began their association and travel with Jesus in Galilee, but this is a plausible inference.

Fast-forward to the crucifixion, and we find that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all mention that there were women at the cross who had followed Jesus to Jerusalem from Galilee. Luke mentions this very briefly just after recounting Jesus' death (Luke 23:49) but names none of them at that point. He simply says that the women who followed Jesus from Galilee as well as some of Jesus' (male) acquaintances "stood at a distance watching these things." Later in the chapter (vss. 55-56) Luke again mentions "the women who had come with him from Galilee" and says that they saw the tomb and how Jesus was laid and then returned home to prepare spices and ointments. Again, Luke gives no names at this point.

But Matthew and Mark do. Here is Mark 15:40-41 on the women at the cross:

There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.

Matthew's list is similar, though not identical to Mark's in wording:

There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. (Matthew 27:55-56)

Scholars have enjoyed debating over whether Mark's "Salome" is to be taken to be the same as "the mother of the sons of Zebedee" in Matthew. If so, Matthew seems to have access to some independent information about her, or else Matthew knows the identity of yet a different woman present at the cross. Regardless, is it not interesting that the only overlapping name between Matthew and Mark's lists of women from Galilee here and Luke's list in 8:1-3 is Mary Magdalene? Yet it really looks like the same group of women is in view in all three gospels. Matthew and Mark expressly refer to the women from Galilee at the cross as those who traveled with Jesus and ministered to him, which sounds an awful lot like the group Luke mentions in chapter 8 who traveled with him and provided for him out of their means.

It's extremely unlikely that Luke invented his unique mention of these women back in chapter 8 based upon his knowledge of the crucifixion passages in Mark and/or Matthew. For one thing, Luke's list in chapter 8 is already partially confirmed through its connection with Chuza and the household of Herod. Beyond that, if Luke were fictionally inventing his chapter 8 list ("Hey, we don't see these women earlier; they just crop up suddenly at the cross. Maybe I'll put them into my story earlier!"), why would he have made the names differ so much? Would he not have included Mark's Salome in chapter 8 and left out Joanna and Susanna? And why would he have not driven home the connection between his own gospel and Mark's (and Matthew's) by naming the women at the foot of the cross and at the burial? (Mark and Matthew both name Mary Magdalene and the other Mary--Mary the mother of Joses, in Mark--as seeing where Jesus was laid.)

So we have an undesigned coincidence confirming that there was a group of women, consisting at least of Mary Magdalene, Salome, Mary the mother of Joses, Joanna, and Susanna, and possibly separately (if she isn't Salome) the mother of the sons of Zebedee, who came from Galilee and eventually traveled with Jesus to Jerusalem, helping him materially along the way. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all fit together to confirm this.

But there is a little more information to this effect as well, from Luke alone.

Luke does not expressly name at first the women who went to the tomb on Easter morning, though one infers from the continued use of "they" from the previous chapter that it was the same group of (in Luke, unnamed) women from Galilee who had gone home to prepare spices.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words... (Luke 24:1-8a)

Bauckham notes that the words of the angel "Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee..." and the statement that the women "remembered his words" indicates that these women had actually been with Jesus in Galilee. No other Gospel records this aspect of the message of the angel. The women were not only told to give a message to the disciples; they were also reminded of what they, personally, had heard Jesus say in Galilee about his suffering and death.

The names in Luke come up only in verse 10:

and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. (Luke 24:9-11)

Based on other harmonistic considerations (which, again, is just good historical practice), I would argue that Luke is "chunking things in" here and that the women did not remain together throughout all of these events. Mary Magdalene probably did not see the angels at the same time that the other women saw the angels, because (per John's account) she apparently ran back to get Peter and John immediately upon seeing that the stone was rolled away. At some point in the day, these various women spoke to some or all of the apostles and told them what they had seen. But notice the names: Luke's list includes Joanna, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James (who presumably is also Mary the mother of Joses) and makes it clear that there were other women involved as well. Matthew's parallel list of women at the tomb on Easter (28:1) mentions only Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary." Mark's (16:1) mentions Salome, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James.

It is quite clear that no one in this situation is trying to copy someone else. Bauckham believes (and I think he is right here) that the variations in the names of women coming and finding the empty tomb indicates scrupulousness on the part of the evangelists--namely, that they were careful to include only those who they, individually, had strong reason to believe were present. Perhaps Matthew and Luke had not spoken to Salome and decided to let her presence rest on Mark's account alone. Joanna is unique to Luke's Gospel entirely; no one else mentions her. Luke apparently had reason to know that she was there.

Here in the account of the words of the angel and the women's memory, Luke's gospel ties together very nicely the resurrection with Luke 8 by making it clear that these women had really known Jesus in Galilee. But Luke does not press or emphasize the point at all. When he finally gets around to names in chapter 24, he does not even include Susanna! Perhaps Susanna was present, but Luke doesn't mention it, if so. And he mentions Mary the mother of James, who wasn't in his own list in chapter 8 at all. Joanna and Mary Magdalene do overlap with the chapter 8 list, thus confirming casually within Luke's gospel that these are members of the same group of women mentioned there.

Luke 8, the three accounts of the women at the cross and the burial, and the accounts of the women at the tomb all fit together in a beautiful but uncontrived mosaic to give a picture of this group of women from Galilee who were with Jesus in his ministry, in his darkest hours, and on to his victory from the grave.

Comments (4)

Is this the second edition you are reading? Also, could I twist your arm into telling us what these publishing projects are?

It's actually the first edition, which is what I happen to have on hand in hard copy. I'm told that Hidden in Plain View gets a footnote citation in the new edition. :-)

One publication project is a long paper on the problem of the external world that will hopefully be published in a journal's special issue on epistemology. That was sent out the other day.

The Matthew 14/Luke 8/Herod household coincidence is one of my very favorites from the book. I've used it several times recently as an illustration of the idea of undesigned coincidences in general, because it's so easy to look at the Matthew passage and ask, "how did Matthew know these things about Herod's statements to his servants?" and then flip to to Luke and show, immediately, "here's how." And as you point out, it all comes so naturally, almost nonchalantly, that it totally demolishes the idea of Matthew and Luke as Machiavellian schemers trying to concoct a persuasive body of falsehoods to dupe these early Christians.

I first read the book back in 2006 and then the author came to speak at an event so I got it autographed. It's currently out on loan. I was sceptical about some of his theses, but am persuaded that the Gospels, even Mark's are much more constructed than was thought.
Highly recommend Robinson's Redating the New Testament. Also Bartlett - he certainly seems to date Mark to the 40s not 60s

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