This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Schrader and Taylor on the name "Magdalene"

I recommend Elizabeth Schrader and Joan Taylor, "The meaning of "Magdalene": a Review of Literary Evidence", JBL 140 (2021) 751-773. Available for free here.

They show that Mary the Magdalene did not come from an identifiable place called "Magdala", and they conclude: "the term ἡ Μαγδαληνή may be based on an underlying Aramaic word meaning “the magnified one” or “tower-ess,”". The word "Magdalene", should be seen as an honorific title similar to "Peter" and may not refer to a place at all. We are therefore free to equate Mary the Magdalene with Mary of Bethany.

A symbolic interpretation of "Magdalene" is confirmed by the observation that Jesus and his followers often gave leadership names to those who, like Mary, had the commitment and courage to provide them with material support. See here.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Mary the Magdalene, The Gospel of Philip, and John 19:25

 Mary the Magdalene was prominent in the Jesus movement because she is mentioned first when she is listed with others (Matt 27:56; 27:61; 28:1; Mark 15:40. 47; 16:1; Luke 8:2; 24:10). Only in John 19:25 is she named after others:

Εἱστήκεισαν δὲ παρὰ τῷ σταυρῷ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἡ ἀδελφὴ τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ, Μαρία ἡ τοῦ Κλωπᾶ καὶ Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνή.
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

It is no dishonour for Mary the Magdalene to be named after the mother of Jesus and his aunt, for these were senior relatives of Jesus. Consider how the brother of Jesus is named ahead of even Peter at Gal 2:9. Mary of Clopas is not preceded by καὶ (and), so she may be the aforementioned "his mother's sister". However, the Magdalene's prominence is reduced if Mary of Clopas is seen as a person in her own right. The Magdalene would then be judged to be less important than Mary of Clopas, who is not named anywhere else in the New Testament.

The Gnostic Gospel of Philip (3rd century), like the Gnostic Gospel of Mary chapter 9, promotes the authority of Mary the Magdalene. It does so, for example, by saying that she always walked with Jesus and was called his companion:

There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. For his sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary.

The first sentence here, like John 19:25, refers to Mary the mother of Jesus, and her sister, and Mary the Magdalene, but it omits Mary of Clopas. This suggests that the author might be equating Mary of Clopas with the aunt of Jesus. The second sentence says that three women were called Mary, but the point is that the sister is called Mary. This is clear from the fact that the sister is mentioned first, ahead even of Jesus's mother, and the fact that the audience already knew that the other two women were called Mary. 

The "his sister" makes little sense, since no sister of Jesus has been in view. As others have suspected, the text, which survives only in a single coptic manuscript, has been corrupted. I believe that the original read as follows:

There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene the one who was called his companion. For his mother's sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary.

The second sentence then works as a clarification of the first, with the same three people mentioned. It claims that Jesus's aunt was called Mary and thus it interprets John 19:25 to mean that Mary of Clopas was Jesus's aunt. It tries to rebut those who would use John 19:25 to argue that the Magdalene was a lesser character. Some found it unlikely that two sisters (the mother of Jesus and her sister) would have the same name, so it is not surprising that someone omitted "mother's". Others came up with different solutions to the problem of two sisters called Mary:

Eusebius (Church History 3.11) states that "Hegesippus records that Clopas was a brother of Joseph." This would make good sense of John 19:25 if "sister" there is interpreted loosely as "sister-in-law".

The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (7th to 9th century)
Jesus met them, with Mary His mother, along with her sister Mary of Cleophas, whom the Lord God had given to her father Cleophas and her mother Anna, because they had offered Mary the mother of Jesus to the Lord. And she was called by the same name, Mary, for the consolation of her parents.

In summary, the Gospel of Philip tries to prevent John 19:25 being used to undermine the status of Mary the Magdalene. This seems to have been missed by scholars, probably because they have not been sufficiently attentive to the importance of name order.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

The insertion of 1 Cor 14:34-35 and Rom 15-16 into the western manuscripts

1 Cor 14:34-35 reads,


Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.


Many consider these verses to be an interpolation, in part because they appear after verse 40 in the western Greek-Latin diglot manuscripts of Paul’s letters, D F G (and in 88*). These diglots had a (now lost) common ancestor, known as Z.


Did Z simply move 14:34-35 from after verse 33 to after verse 40? If so, the variation in the location of the verses provides no evidence that they are inauthentic. Alternatively, perhaps the disputed verses were originally absent and were imported into Z from another manuscript. If so, we have strong evidence that they were interpolated into 1 Corinthians by an early editor. The verses could then have spread until they had infected all surviving manuscripts, because copyists had a tendency to include text when in doubt.


To decide between these two views we must look at the editorial tendencies of Z. Kloha (pages 547-555) has drawn our attention to the textual variants that involve sizable chunks of text in D F G. He finds three transpositions, which are shown in the table. They occur in almost the exact same manuscripts as those that relocate 1 Cor 14:34-35, so plausibly happened at the same time.



The words “and the church in their house” are moved from Rom 16:5 to Rom 16:3, perhaps to connect them more closely with their verb (greet) and their referent, Prisca and Aquila. Perhaps there was a sexist motivation, for the transposition gives Paul’s high praise in Rom 16:4 to the church, rather than to Prisca herself.


Paul sends greetings from “all the churches of Christ” at Rom 16:16b, but the greetings from others do not occur until Rom 16:21-23. Z has Rom 16:16b transposed to 16:21, perhaps just to place all these greetings together.


In Z the benediction of Rom 16:20 occurs instead at the end of the letter, where it obviously fits well.


For Kloha, this transposing tendency means that we have no evidence here that a text lacked 1 Cor 14:34-35, and this convinced me for a while.


However, all three of these transpositions are in Romans 16, which, along with Romans 15, was absent from the ancestral line of D F G before these two chapters were added (together or one at a time). See Gamble pages 15-33. The transposing tendency belonged not to a copyist of the entire text, but to someone who edited the manuscript using text from another manuscript. Clause-length transpositions occurred in Z (or a predecessor) only in text that was added from another manuscript. Therefore 1 Cor 14:34-35 was absent from the manuscript and was added, along with Rom 16, by an editor with a tendency to transpose. Thus he inserted the two verses in the new location, perhaps to avoid disrupting Paul’s smooth discussion of prophecy.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Mariam became Maria and, with that name, was Luke’s source for the infancy narrative

The name Mary in New Testament manuscripts appears sometimes in its Semitic form, Μαριαμ, and sometimes in its Greek forms: Μαρια (nominative and dative), Μαριαν (accusative), and Μαριας (genitive). Whenever it is in the genitive case it is written as Μαριας.(1) Peter Williams explains this as a form to be used suppletively alongside the Semitic Μαριαμ in the other cases. The mentions of the name of Mary, mother of Jesus, in the earliest manuscripts are shown in the table below. The use of the Greek forms of the name in codex Bezae (D05), are also explicable, since this manuscript has an anti-Semitic bias, including in its text of Luke.(2) D switches to the Greek form of the name at Luke 1:30, presumably because a scribe did not want a Semitic Mary to have “found favor with God”.


 At Luke 2:19 and Acts 1:14 the manuscripts are evenly divided between the Greek and Semitic forms.(3) It is unlikely that scribes would change Μαριαμ to Μαρια at these verses. Having transcribed her name successfully as Μαριαμ many times, why would a scribe switch to Μαρια at these points? If, on the other hand, Luke wrote Μαρια at these two spots, then scribes might change it to Μαριαμ to make it consistent with the form of the name already used several times for Mary. Let us now consider why Luke may have chosen to write Μαρια at Acts 1:14 and Luke 2:19, and only there.


Acts 1:14 mentions Mary’s presence in Jerusalem, and John 19:27 implies that she became a resident of Jerusalem. The gospel spread to many Greek speakers in Jerusalem and beyond, and they may have known Mary as Μαρια. We should therefore not be surprised that Luke’s last mention of Mary refers to her by this later form of her name.


Luke 2:19, like Acts 1:14, refers to her as Μαρια, suggesting that Luke has the later time in view here too.


Mary remembered all these things and thought deeply about them.(4)


Therefore, it seems to me that Luke has in mind not only the earlier time of Jesus’s birth, but also the much later time when Mary recalled what she had remembered, and when she was known as Μαρια, at least to Greek-speakers such as Luke. He seems to be citing Mary as his source for his birth narrative.

Luke, like other ancient writers, often refers to the same person by different names according to context. Consider Saul-Paul, John-Mark, BarJesus-Elymas, Jason-Aristarchus, and Crispus-Sosthenes.(5) A good parallel to Μαριαμ-Μαρια in Luke-Acts, is the case of Simon-Simeon. Luke gives him his Greek name form, Simon, at Luke 4:38, 38; 5:3, 4, 5, 810, 10; 6:14; 21:31, 31; 24:34; Acts 10:5, 18, 32; 11:13, but he gives him his Semitic name form, Simeon, appropriately, at Acts 15:14.



(1)  Not only for the mother of Jesus, but also for Martha’s sister (John 11:1) and Mark’s mother (Acts 12:12).

(2)  See Jason Robert Combs, “The Polemical Origin of Luke 6:5D: Dating Codex Bezae’s Sabbath-Worker Agraphon” JSNT (2019) 162-184.

(3)  At Luke 2:19 NA28 cites Μαρια א* B D Θ 1241. 1424 sa bopt. Μαριαμ א2 A K L P W Γ Δ Ξ Ψ f1.13 33. 565.579. 700. 892. 2542 𝔐 syh bopt. While NA28 prefers Μαριαμ here, the SBL and Tyndale House versions have Μαρια. At Acts 1:14 NA28 cites Μαρια א A C D Ψ 33. 614. 1175. 1241. 1505. 1739s 𝔐. Μαριαμ 81. 323. 945. 1891.

(4)  Good News Translation. The NRSV, for example, says “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart”, but this is misleading, as the heart was considered the center of thought and feeling, rather than just the seat of emotion (BDAG).

(5)  For the identities or Aristarchus and Sosthenes, see my Tyndale Bulletin article here

See pages 263-4 of the same article for a discussion of name switching by ancient writers.