In my research for a manuscript I am working on, I came across one enigma concerning the purported apparitions by Christ after the Resurrection. The earliest written report surviving of the Resurrection was the epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. All the apparitions reported by Paul were strictly masculine. Yet, according to the Gospels, whose surviving written text post-date the Epistles, the first witnesses to the Resurrection were Mary Magdalen and women accompanying her. Why this disparity and does it have any significance?
For one thing, Paul’s account is evidence that the traditions recorded in the four Gospels predate
Paul’s epistle. For His time and His place, Jesus was
a feminist, arguably a radical feminist at that. Leonard Swidler, among others,
have written of written of this phenomena.[i]
Judea, at the time of Christ,
according to tradition and written law, women were virtually non-people. The
reference by Paul to the post-Resurrection appearance to 500 “brothers” is an
indication that in the First Century CE, the number of men was significant and
the number of women not worthy of mention. Women were not regarded as credible
witnesses. Generally speaking, except in the rarest of instances, women could
not bear witness in courts of law.”[ii]
Females were not allowed to even read the Torah, nonetheless study it. Fathers were not allowed to teach their daughters the Torah. In the prescribed daily prayers, men prayed: "Praised be God that he has not created me a gentile; praised be God that he has not created me a woman; praised be God that he has not created me an ignorant man.”
Law and custom forbade men speaking with women in public, even a husband was enjoined from “speaking much” with a woman.[iii]
There are several instances of Jesus breaking taboos in his relationships with women. A woman having her period was regarded as unclean and any one who came in contact with her was unclean. Jesus cured a woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years when she touched him, even though that touching rendered him unclean.
In one incident, while traveling through
Samaria, he met a much married woman at a
well and discussed the scriptures with her, identifying himself as the Messiah.[iv]
She was so moved by his words that she went into the village and spread the
word that the Messiah had come
Another time, Martha was upset with her sister Mary, because when Jesus visited their home, she sat at his feet discussing Scripture while Martha was busy preparing food for their guest. When Martha asked Jesus to chastise Mary for not helping, Jesus instead chastised Martha. “Mary,” he said has “chosen the better part.”[v]
It was the degraded state of women generally that makes it remarkable that the four Gospels record women as the first witnesses to the Resurrection. In fact, N.T. Wright, Anglican Bishop, and perhaps the foremost scholar of the Resurrection, uses that fact to conclude that the traditions that were formalized as the Gospels, predate
St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
“Even if we suppose that Mark made up most of his material, and did so some time in the late 60s at the earliest, it will not do to have him, or anyone else at that stage, making up a would-be apologetic legend about an empty tomb and having women be the ones who find it. The point has been repeated over and over in scholarship, but its full impact has not always been felt: women were simply not acceptable as legal witnesses. We may regret it, but this is how the Jewish world (and most others) worked. The debate between Origen and Celsus shows that critics of Christianity could seize on the story of the women in order to scoff at the whole tale; were the legend-writers really so ignorant of the likely reaction? If they could have invented stories of fine, upstanding, reliable male witnesses being first at the tomb, they would have done it.” (Interior citations omitted).[vi]The obduracy of the bachelor hierarchy to the ordination of women is an anarchism that the Church must put behind it. There is a desperate shortage of priests in many countries, particularly the United States. In the US, dioceses are importing priests from Africa. They are fine men, however, their presence in the United States is contingent to their strict hewing to the Vatican line.
However, the Church does change. Remember, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake as a heretic. Among her heresies was dressing as a man. Twenty-five years later she was exonerated and, after a few centuries, canonized. When dealing with the Church, sometimes these things take a little time.
[i] This discussion is drawn from “Jesus was a Feminist” by Leonard Swidler, Professor of Catholic Thought & Interreligious Dialogue, Religion Department, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA An Editor of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies and a member of religion department at Temple University, Philadelphia, PA at the time this article was written. The article first appeared in Catholic World. January, 1971. The article can be found on the internet at which can be found on the web at http://www.godswordtowomen.org/feminist. See also, Swidler, Jesus Was a Feminist: What the Gospels Reveal about His Revolutionary Perspective, Sheed & Ward, 2007,
[iv] John 4:4-26
[v] Luke 10:38-42
[vi] Wright, N. T. (2010-04-28). The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God) (Kindle Locations 12206-12209).
Fortress Publishers. Kindle Edition Augsburg