Textual Criticism and What Jesus Learned from Martha and Mary

Textual Criticism and What Jesus Learned from Martha and Mary October 17, 2019

There have been a number of blog posts about recent research by Elizabeth Schrader on Martha in the Gospel of John, and whether her presence is in fact an interpolation that caused some confusion and misidentifications related to the Mary mentioned alongside her in the majority of manuscripts. I think it will take a book-length treatment to explore how our portraits of the various women involved would change in light of this work. It probably won’t make sense for me to try to do this in my own book, but I need at the very least to think through the implications of this for my project. The story in Luke doesn’t change, as far as I can tell. When it comes to the Gospel of John, Schrader notes that, on the one hand, no manuscript exists from which Martha is completely absent. But wherever she is mentioned, there is textual variation. That Martha was added to the Gospel offers a straightforward explanation of the manuscript evidence. What I’m not sure about is whether this genuinely impacts the impression of who does certain things in the New Testament as far as historical reconstruction is concerned, or whether this might not simply be the result of a scribe who had read Luke then adding references to Martha in John, where originally only Mary the sister of Lazarus was mentioned. Or is Schrader correct that it was originally Mary Magdalene in John and that she gets turned into Mary of Bethany by scribes? What do you think?

Definitely read Shrader’s article, which is one of the most impressive pieces of deductive text critical scholarship I’ve ever read. For more on this topic, see:

Is Martha the Sister of Mary Magdalene?

Tommy Wasserman responded to the multiple guest posts by Schrader about this on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, asking whether Martha is an interpolation in John. Here are one, two, three, four posts on that topic from ETC.

Scribes tried to blot her out. Now a scholar is trying to recover the real Mary Magdalene.

Candida Moss on conspiracy to suppress Mary Magdalene

One Biblical Scholar’s Attempt to Uncover the Real Mary Magdalene

James Snapp on Mary, Martha, and John 11

A Recent Doctoral Thesis on the Marys in the Fourth Gospel

The Textual Mechanic

For those who prefer an audio-visual treatment of this topic, here are shorter and longer versions of a podcast:

For another interesting angle on Martha and Mary, do look at the work of Mary Stromer Hanson.

A New View of Mary and Martha

See also:

New Clues for Ascent of the Soul in the Gospel of Mary

Jesus’ Women Disciples

Sara Parks spoke about her work on women in Q:

The first issue of the Journal of Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies is available!

Current Issue

Watch or at least listen to this lecture by Amy-Jill Levine on stories about women in the New Testament:

I found it while looking for the best way to share her lecture on Mary Magdalene at the Chautauqua Institution. I highly recommend that as well. See also:

Women in the Story of Jesus

A review of To Cast the First Stone:

To Cast the First Stone

And a review of Susan Hylen’s book on women in the New Testament worldIan McFarland wrote about three women that Jesus spoke with in the Gospels. And on yet another story about Jesus and a woman, Andrew’s Version has a post about “Sabbath, Law, and Liberation.” See too:

Jesus Has a Bad Day

Even Jesus Had Bad Days–and we can learn something from them

Will Women Be Saved Through Childbearing?

Men and Women in Christ (MWiC)

“Teaching was unrighteous for a girl”: The History of Violence Against Women Preachers

Sermon: God must be crazy!

Doesn’t Christianity Denigrate Women? (RJS)

Do Men and Women Have Different Brains?

Rachael Denhollander: What’s a Girl Worth?

The Status Of Women, The Status Of “Women’s Work”

A Womanist Approach to Racial Reconciliation

Kate Bowler on Evangelical Women Celebrities

Coming Out of Complementarianism: one woman’s long journey to freedom

Gender-Fluid Jesus is No Joke

David Raped Bathsheba and This is Why That Matters.

Did King David Rape Bathsheba?

Mothers and Saints

2FAB: Amma Sarah

A Letter to the Editor: Hagar Has Her Say by Marilyn Batchelor

Andrea White on Womanist Eschatology and Hermeneutical Method

The First Woman Protestant Reformer

Women’s Issues and Concerns in the Old Testament

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  • John MacDonald

    I wonder if this casts some light on the larger issue of religious documents being forged, and perhaps that of writers thinking they were justified at lying in the name of God (for God’s purposes, eg 1 Kings 22:21-22)

    • Perhaps, although in this case at least it seems equally possible that the author, editor, or later scribes thought they were just clarifying the relationship between two documents, one mentioning Mary and Martha of Bethany, the other Mary and Lazarus of Bethany. And they may have done so on the basis of historical information, for all we know.

      • John MacDonald

        It’s an interesting question in the context of the Gospel of John, since, for instance, we have the precedence that Jesus lied when he told his family that he wasn’t going to the feast, but then went “in secret.” (John 7:8-10), the presence of the adultery pericope that may not have originally been there in GJohn …

    • The people who wrote 1 Kings know they are lying. They are terrorists who want to overthrow and undermine their government. If you never read anything outside the Bible you’ll never know they’re lying.



  • robrecht

    It’s an interesting theory, to be sure. Impossible to prove, except that it does demonstrate our lack of certainty about the original text, the limits of our grasp of the original. Add to that Elaine Pagels’ view of the fourth’s gospel’s opposition to (and therefore affinity with) the gospel of Thomas, and we have another lens with which to view the gospel of John as, in some ways, rather similar to the noncanonical writings purporting to be written by Mary Magdalene or Thomas. The gospel of John is so very different from the synoptics. If we were not already so familiar with the gospel of John, it would seem to us as weird and strange as some of the gnostic gospels do.

  • Mike Dunster


    Philip Jenkins wrote an interesting piece about the second ending to the Gospel according to John, where the disciples are fishing and meet the resurrected Jesus, saying that this might be the oldest story about the disciples meeting Jesus (i.e. that the oldest stories involve him meeting them in Galilee rather than Jerusalem), sothat the Jerusalem strand of stories (including those about Mary Magdalene meeting him) are a later addition. I found it an interesting piece and it seems as least plausible (insofar as a non-theological person like me can judge), but then I can’t quite understand how the tradition about Mary meeting Jesus actually got started – given the patriarchal nature of the early church, how then would a story about a fairly intimate meeting between Mary and Jesus that happens before he has appeared to Peter actually gain prominence?

    • I’ve written something about the second ending of the Gospel according to John, both in an online article in Bible and Interpretation and my little book The Burial of Jesus. I suggest that that might be how the Gospel of Mark originally continued, with the male disciples fleeing to Galilee and encountering Jesus by the lake. Traditions from women who remained in Jerusalem and from men who fled to Galilee probably existed first in tension but eventually merged into the still varied versions we find in the New Testament (and other) Gospels.

  • ima eghlima

    The disciples are graduates who want to claim the second end of the Bible. They are fishing from the disciples. They ask God to demand the salvation of God in the execution of the trial of Jesus Christ. And the disciples want it. They want to observe, on way the Day of Judgment according to running Jesus Christ.And make it known to the public, and make it clear that those who see him as evil are born of a saint. So that they can save his life and make him publicly praised, victorious to Paradise and favored by God. And God created the seed of the tree. And out of the seed he hath appeared, and hath appeared;

  • ima eghlima

    In ancient times, custom was only court, and royal. That of the mother, the sister, the cousin’s daughter, etc. If the boy was not in the royal family for later generations, the boy could be mingled with his mother. And the sister can mingle with her father or brother. To the blood, from the blood of a royal tribe to remain pure forever. That the royal clans possessed the blood of the gods and the blood of power. And they passed from generation to generation. And they were not allowed to mingle with strangers. Unless the other person is of the blood of other tribal kings. And that Mary was a royal family. And his son Jesus was also of his blood. And who was their son if they merged?
    And strangely enough, a place of living of the collective of women. That if you die, they will inadvertently fall into their lap. Everyone may become pregnant. For, in the instinct, women will bring to man man, friendship, self-sacrifice, grace, and forgiveness. And women who step aside and sit in the corner. As a stream of life, sometimes sad, sometimes tempting, sometimes tricky, sometimes in madness and destruction.And they act in jealousy of evil and evil.And if given the social status of leaving men, women in the social position, when men left for reasons of war, development, disease, poverty, occupation, and situation.And the women are waiting for a chance to cross the road. Although committed to the place. They wait until the men return, and some decide that it is better to go after the men. There is a group of people sitting on the road and a group of people standing on the road.

  • ima eghlima

    Everything comes back to you. How ! Your thinking proves it. When you think about what you eat. You are and what you ate. but why ! Your needs are controlled within the framework of your desires. Really be you and a world of ears that hear you. Need it! Or, you can and you want, your wishes will meet the goals of your subscribers. And what you’re talking about! Everyone is saying that they support you in the beginning. They understand you. And they want to be with you, and you express that you can provide what is in the basket of choice and demand. And it doesn’t answer silently. Into chaos, air and freedom. To the mountain, you are the peak of strength and power. And their dignity and commitment are weak and fragile.And with the freedom of self-esteem and self-knowledge, you are the pride of those around you.If they spoke of you in pride and in glory.And whatever, you want them to want. And what you consider to be words. And they want your self-interest and want it.If, to the One God, put everything into your earth take . Bless you to collect it ,Provide.
    Slothful, faith. Great, thank you. To followers, knowledge. And to the fellows, to help.

  • ima eghlima

    The Renaissance is a tradition. Semicircular dome ceilings, white stones, Roman shapes, Roman sculptures, strong churches, tall windows and Roman columns, windows with colored glass, dark red, dark blue, dark green, amber yellow. Inside the high ceilings of fully-painted Renaissance monuments, romance, romantic, and dreamlike paintings.
    Heaven, Era. B street. Fortune-telling, inside the ponds.

    And to the American Renaissance, it is a call to the Renaissance century in the land of the kings of romance. The dream of romance in the context of the Renaissance order and in the system of proportional domination, the golden proportion of ethnic prestige.Senate,
    Sitting and legislating traditions. And to rallies, public to trials, performances. Colosseum Gathering Hall.
    King of the castle, And the show, between the black and white war.

    Heaven, Era. B street. Fortune-telling, inside the ponds.


    — Janice Koop, Salt Lake City, UT