Would Christians disfavor Mary & women being first witness-heralds of the resurrection?
Clarifying the question
This is a “would” question that focuses not simply on Jesus’s alleged appearance to the women (for that, see here), but more broadly the women’s reported role as evidence discoverers—for both Jesus's empty tomb and His first appearance—and their consequent functioning as heralds of the resurrection and those evidences to the apostles. So Mt, Mk, Lk, and Jn portray the women as having this special witness-herald role to Jesus’s resurrection, making them almost inextricably involved in Christianity’s foundation story as its initiating witnesses and, in fact, first Christians.
Our question then is this:
In hearing of the women’s role here, would Christians, with their biases and goals…
- …see more reason to wish it false?
- …find irksome or regrettable the circulation of the detail?
- …wish it was the male apostles who had essentially started Christianity instead?
- …see it as clearly unpalatable to many Christians and skeptics evaluating the faith in a 1st century Mediterranean culture?1
Answering may help us discern whether Mary and the women actually saw Jesus's tomb empty, and ultimately whether Jesus actually rose from the dead.
- Historians often frame it as a question about whether the content is characteristic of Christianity’s content creators. So they might ask, “Was the content ‘dissimilar’ to their interests”. This language grounded the classical “Criterion of Dissimilarity” in historical Jesus studies.
It’d clearly scandalize their Gospel
Christians would know that the reported usage of women as witness-heralds would stigmatize their gospel, community, and leadership.
This page analyzes 3 arguments
- Jews were inclined to dismiss women as unworthy mediators for God.
- Men trusting women would invite shaming.
- Demoniacs would be deemed unreliable.
This is relevant because Christians in general disliked stigmatizing their gospel’s reputation. So for these apostles and Christians who desired to be proud of their leadership and the pedigree of their faith, it was uncomfortably embarrassing to dignify these women with an almost inextricably primary role in the news of Jesus’s resurrection to the men and the rest of Christendom. In fact, if Christians could have left it out of their origin story, the average Palestinian would’ve sooner assumed that none of the original witnesses—by the standards of AD 30 Mediterranean society—were scandalously subpar. [On a closely related note: see here on how Christians would consequently see this as a very unappealing lie to tell.]
It’d clearly discredit the origin of their belief
In terms of their desire to have more evidence in the origin story of the Christian gospel that Jesus rose, this circulating account grounding it in the women’s testimony would be overtly subpar.
This page analyzes 2 arguments:
- Women were considered unreliable witnesses.
- Demoniacs were considered unreliable witnesses.
This is relevant because Christians would prefer to have at least some average evidential force behind their witnesses.1, 2
**But against that first claim, re the empty tomb evidence, Christians didn’t care to have this.
- • A.J.M. Wedderburn: “…we must bear in mind both the world in which the Christian movement arose in the purposes which such traditions were meant to serve apart from their stating what had happened. For they were not told to satisfy mere idle curiosity or to serve a purely antiquarian interest. In part the stories of Jesus’ resurrection were meant to persuade the outside world of the truth of the Christian faith, written to prove the reality of the resurrection, […]” [Beyond Resurrection (Hendrickson, 1999), 57.]
- It’s worth noting here that the ability to argue that the tomb was Jesus’s also seems to depend on the witness of the women. They alone are set up as knowing where Jesus was entombed, and so uniquely able to know if Jesus’s tomb was empty, and arguably whether the figure that appeared was Jesus doing so by the right tomb.
The women are negligible characters
As portrayed by the Gospel authors, Mary and the other women who end up first learning Jesus rose, up until that moment, play virtually no role in the Gospel drama of Jesus’s ministry.
- The women get virtually no mention prior to this.
This is relevant because the empty tomb discovery and its proclamation of Jesus’s resurrection by the accompanying angel is the climax and main content of the Gospel story. Yet using negligible characters as the heroes in your story’s climax—tossing out all the character development beforehand—is awkward. It frustrates the narrative’s development, and makes for generally inept story-telling.
Later Christians downplayed their role
Christians did historically (AD 35-100) dislike and/or disvalue those women being known as the empty tomb discoverers.
A full page will analyze these 4 arguments:
- Women are omitted in the kerygmatic summaries in Acts.
- Mt 28:16 does: it omits why the men went to Galilee.
- They were omitted in Justin’s dialogue’s (150 AD).
- They were replaced in the Gospel of Peter (150 AD).
This is relevant because its improbable that later Christians would choose to do this unless these women truly were undesirable as Christianity’s initiating witness-heralds to Jesus’s resurrection.
In Mk, the women function as witnesses
The Gospel of Mark clearly and deliberately chooses to portray the women as witnesses.
See this page to analyze 6 arguments:
- Mk 15 (buried) & 16:1 (emptied) re-list similar participants.
- Mk 16:1 and Lk 24:10 emphasize (by naming) different members.
- Mk 16:1 names them without introduction.
- Mk 15-16 is loaded with witness-engendering terms.
- Mk 15-16 portrays the women as being uniquely qualified as the witnesses.
- Mark claimed to relay expert-witness testimony.
This is relevant because Mk was a Christian; he wouldn't have emphasized their role as witnesses if it was so offensive to his Christian sensibilities.
Against that first claim's relevance, plausibly…
- Greco-Roman biographical conventions required Mark to use them.
- the rampant awareness of the fact meant Mark could not avoid reporting it.1
- • Carolyn Osiek: ”…if the entire story is secondary, it surely would have disappeared, or at least the women would have vanished from it, for they and the story came to serve no kerygmatic purpose in the canonical tradition. But they remained because the memory of their role was so persistent that it could not be removed.” [“The Women at the Tomb: What are they doing there?” HTS Theological Studies 53/1 & 2 (1997): 116.]