In first century Judea women were not considered reliable witnesses. The Jewish historian Josephus said –
“Let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex.” (Antiquities of the Jews, Chapter V111 : 15)
The thinking of the time was recorded in the Talmud –
“Any evidence which a woman [gives] is not valid (to offer), also they are not valid to offer. This is equivalent to saying that one who is Rabbinically accounted a robber is qualified to give the same evidence as a woman” (Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 1.8).
Women couldn’t be witnesses under Roman Law –
“The woman is incapable of being a witness in any form of jurisprudence where witnesses are required”. Women were reckoned with minors, slaves, the dumb and criminals to be incapable of being witnesses. Women could not start a court case without being represented by a man. Women cannot represent themselves in law “because of the infirmity of their sex and because of their ignorance about matters pertaining to public life”. (www.womenpriests.org)
Gnostic writings also reflected the thinking of the time –
“Simon Peter says to them: “Let Mary go out from our midst, for women are not worthy of life!” Jesus says: “See, I will draw her so as to make her male so that she also may become a living spirit like you males. For every woman who has become male will enter the Kingdom of heaven.” Gospel of Thomas saying 114
This passage demonstrates the thinking that men were considered to be on a higher spiritual level.
The Bible itself records many more men than women. According to ‘Quora’ there are 1,770 men named in the Bible and 93 women. Ezra’s long lists of lineages contribute to these unbalanced statistics. One of the first things John the Baptist did was to condemn the need to tie yourself to the literal family of Abraham
“Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.”
We need to compare the records to get the full picture of what is important in God’s eyes, just as Jesus did when He said “It is also written”.
For example, Luke gives the impression that Peter went to the tomb alone. If John had accompanied him it is strange that Luke doesn’t record it – Peter “wonders to himself”. Compare it to the record in the 4th Gospel where another ‘loved’ disciple outran Peter –
It seems logical that the other disciple in this passage who doesn’t get named is a woman, Peter’s wife, and that Mary Magdalene went to them in the early hours of the morning – probably while they were together sleeping. We know from 1 Cor. 9:5 that Peter’s wife accompanied him –
“Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?”
Jesus loved both Peter and his nameless companion. The word here for ‘loved’ is phileō. When it talks of ‘the disciple Jesus loved’ at the cross and last supper, the love is agapaō. ‘The Beloved Disciple’ was not the only loved disciple in the Fourth Gospel. They are identified from the other loved disciples by being the one who was close to the breast of Jesus at the last supper –
Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?” John 21:20
Here are the first few verses of John 20 re-written with the presumption that Peter was with his wife – not from the Koine Greek perspective that unidentified people are males (the text for unidentified people defaults to masculine – see comments at end). My thoughts in brackets –
“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple Jesus loved (Peter’s wife), and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And she, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet did not go in (perhaps Peter carried a light which slowed down his running, she waited for him and she was scared to go in alone). Then Simon Peter came, following her, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple (a woman), who came to the tomb first, went in also; and saw and believed. For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away to/by themselves (the word home is not in original).” (Mary Magdalene stayed at the tomb)
Note the early hour here. Mary went while it was still dark. It would be logical for Peter and his wife to be together.
Why would the author of the Fourth Gospel make disciples with prominent roles anonymous? I conclude it’s because, as women, their testimony would not count in a patriarchal society and they are not ‘witnessed’ by the authors of the other gospels.
MARY WAS NOT BELIEVED
Mark 16:9-16 records the details of the witness of Mary –
“He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. She went and reported to those who had been with Him, … When they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they refused to believe it.”
Mark then explains that Jesus appeared to another two as they walked, who were also not believed –
And after these things, to two of them, as they are going into a field, walking, he was manifested in another form. Mark 16:12 Youngs Literal Translation
Then in v 14 he records the condemnation of those who didn’t believe and makes it clear it’s the eleven disciples (John being one of them) –
“Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.”
This is not men refusing to believe because of the fear of raising false hopes, but because they lacked faith and had hard hearts, it was a ‘stubborn refusal’ to believe the women and.
Some of the New Testament writers chose to put Peter’s testimony ahead of Mary’s. It is only by comparing all the records that we get the full picture and can discern that in God’s eyes the witness of a woman is just as valid as the witness of a man. Clearly certain writers chose to elevate a man’s witness because it would be more accepted – while the author of the 4th Gospel rightly and factually recorded the witness of Mary because the entire gospel is written from the perspective that worldly thinking has no place in Godly thinking. They explain –
“He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:13
The author of the 4th Gospel defines people by what they are not who they are –
John the Baptist – A Voice I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness John 1:23
Pharisees questioned Jesus – “If you are the Messiah tell us plainly… JESUS REPLIED -the works I do in my Father’s name testify about me.” John 10:24-7
The Author – ‘A Beloved Disciple’ rather than using their own name.
There are many examples where the witness of women was secondary to men even amongst the male disciples who were slow to grasp the gospel’s equality of both women and gentiles –
“They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found The Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Luke 24:33
NOTE: No mention here of His appearance to Mary first.
Another example :
“Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brethren at the same time”. 1 Cor. 15:3-5
Again, no mention of his appearance first to Mary, it is Peter who is mentioned as the first witness. No doubt this is due to the audience these words were directed at not recognizing the witness of a woman, thus the appeal is made through witnesses they would accept.
The wonderful news is that even though the witness of a woman may be secondary by worldly thinking – God sees men and women through different eyes.
For more thoughts on the author of the 4th Gospel, the explanation of unidentified disciples defaulting to masculine, and the possibility that Mary Magdalene was the unidentified disciple with Andrew who followed Jesus at the start of His ministry, see “Under the Banner of Love – Mary Magdalene Author of the 4th Gospel”