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Mary, and Mary, and Mary

Posted by Sen on January 25, 2010

James Tissot, View from the Cross

One of the friends asked about the two, or three, women called Mary in this letter from Abdu’l-Baha:

There is no harm in any affliction which befalleth thee in the love of El-Baha, … Remember the hardships of the disciples, and what Mary, the Virgin; Mary, the Magdalene; and Mary, the mother of Jesus, bore in the path of God … (Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha 261)

The question is: does this mean that Abdu’l-Baha thought that Mary the Virgin and Mary the Mother of Jesus are two different people?

It seems most likely that there is a translation error or copyist’s error here. The name of the third Mary should be “Mary, the Mother of Jacob.” I cannot prove that is what Abdu’l-Baha wrote, because the Persian text of this letter does not appear to have been published, but he mentions the three women called Mary in another letter:

O ye maid-servants of God and leaves of the Tree of Eternal Life!
Blessed are ye for attaining to that which was the greatest hope of Mary the Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jacob! This gift was shining on the face of the Virgin Mary like unto a brilliant gem glistening on the great crown of glory.
(Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha, 662)

Also, in a talk for we have the Persian text, Abdu’l-Baha says that many women have appeared, who excelled men:

For example, her holiness Mary excelled men, and Mary Magdalene was a model for men to emulate, and Mary the mother of Jacob was the exemplar for men, … (my translation, from Khatabat-e Abdu’l-Baha vol. 2 page 135; in the version given in Promulgation of Universal Peace p 175, Mary mother of Jacob is omitted.)

As in the Catholic tradition, Abdu’l-Baha regards Mary, the mother of Jacob and Joses, as a different person to the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus (meaning that Jacob and Joses are not full brothers of Jesus). This other Mary, the mother of Jacob, is mentioned by Matthew:

… many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children. (Matt 27:56)

The alert reader will note that English translations usually refer to James rather than Jacob. The change was apparently introduced in the King James Bible, perhaps in honour of King James. But Arabic translations refer to the second Mary as the mother of Yakob and Yusuf (correctly seeing that Joses is a Greek variant of the Aramaic name Yosef) A modern Arabic translation reads:

وَبَيْنَهُنَّ مَرْيَمُ الْمَجْدَلِيَّةُ، وَمَرْيَمُ أُمُّ يَعْقُوبَ وَيُوسِي، وَأُمُّ ابْنَيْ زَبَدِي

and among them Mary the Virgin and Mary the mother of Yacob and Yusuf and the mother of the sons of Zabadi

The three women called Mary also appear in the crucifixion narratives:

John 19:25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene

and later

Mark 15:47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid.

And after the resurrection:

Luke 24:10. It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James [ie Jacob], and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.

~~ Sen McGlinn ~~
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