Tomorrow’s sermon (Mar 27, 2016) will be from the end of Mark 15 and the beginning of Mark 16. Time won’t allow me to say much about Mark’s use of eyewitness testimony. One critical element in the gathering of eyewitness testimony is the correct identification of witnesses by name.
At Christ’s crucifixion, there was a group of women looking on. Mark mentions three of them by name (Mark 15:40):
- Mary Magdalene.
- Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses.
Notice how long the identification is for the middle of those three. That’s natural because this Mary needs to be distinguished from the other Marys (and there were several). Then too, her son, James, needs to be distinguished from other Jameses. Instead of “the younger,” this James is traditionally referred to as “James the Less” (see KJV) which some scholars think is a reference to his stature, not his age. Perhaps we should be thinking, “James the Short.” Mary’s other son is named Joses, a nickname for Joseph. This common name also required a distinguishing of Joseph from Joseph (which is also done in our passage by means of a man’s hometown: Joseph of Arimathea).
As an important aside, we ought to ask why certain names were so popular in Israel at this time. Several generations earlier, Judea had experienced a moment of independence. In between the time of Alexander the Great and the expansion of the Roman Empire, the Maccabees fought to gain independence for Judea. This was the time in which the miracle of Hanukkah occurred. Down to Jesus’ day, the Maccabees (also called Hasmoneans) were the heroes after whom parents named their children. The prominent members of the Maccabee family bore the names Mary, Salome, John, Judas, Simon, Jonathan, Eliezar, Mattathias, and (perhaps) Joseph. Another factor for the popularity of certain names in Jesus’ day was their appearance in Hebrew Scriptures, especially the names of the patriarchs. Judas (Judah), Simon (Simeon), and Joseph thus had two reasons to be popular. The name “James” (equivalent to Jacob) on the other hand, was not a Hasmonean name, but was of course the name of the father of the twelve tribes.
The designation for our Mary in verse 40 is so clunky that Mark abbreviates it the next two times he mentions her. For sake of fair play, he refers to her in terms of one of her sons the one time, and her other son the other time. At 15:47, when she sees where Jesus is buried, she is “Mary, the mother of Joses.” On her way to the tomb (16:1), she is “Mary, the mother of James.” Same woman each time (15:40, 47; 16:1).
Why do I go into these details? Because Mark names his eyewitness sources as evidence of the truthfulness of his account. This is the same reason that while certain persons remain anonymous in his gospel, others are identified by name (for example, each of The Twelve, Bartimaeus in chap. 10, and Simon of Cyrene’s sons in chap. 15). In all likelihood, those who are named were known to Mark’s readers. A comparison of the gospels confirms this. All four gospels state that Mary Magdalene was among the women who went to the tomb on Sunday morning. But note the differences. Only Mark mentions Salome. Only Luke mentions Joanna. The differences have to do with the distinctiveness of each gospel — when it was written, by whom, and to whom. Each writer mentions those eyewitnesses he personally knew, or that his audience knew, or that the Christian community in general in the Mediterranean world knew as alive and active in the churches as an eyewitness at the time of the writing of that particular gospel.
Ancient historians placed the highest value on eyewitness testimony:
Gathering information out of a book is not the same thing, nor even comparable to learning from the living voice. —Galen, second century AD.
I did not think information from books would profit me as much as information from a living and surviving voice. –Papias, quoted in Eusebius.
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. –Luke 1:1-2.
We say: Christ is risen! To which the eyewitnesses respond: He is risen indeed!
Source: Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Eerdmans, 2006.