“Accompanying Jesus were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities” (Luke 8:2).
It is likely that the texts that have survived as the four Gospels had subsequent editors who helped shape the stories about Jesus and his first followers. It is also likely that specific names and events were important to the tradition even when they were regarded as controversial. The best example of this was the memory of the failure of Peter and most of the Apostles to understand and remain loyal to Jesus when he was arrested and put to death. If the New Testament were any other official record of a royal house or imperial administration, such negative material would have been left out.
That the names of certain women were preserved as part of the group that accompanied Jesus during his ministry argues for the authenticity of this description. The 12 men selected by Jesus as Apostles were important symbols of the 12 tribes of Israel, but so must the women have been in the tradition, or they would have been omitted from Luke’s narrative.
But to diminish their importance compared to the Apostle, a later editor may have added that these women had all been healed of evil spirits and other infirmities. Mary Magdalen, a notable figure in all the Gospels and clearly prominent in the tradition, was further tagged as having been possessed by “seven demons.” Thus began the process of conflating several stories of women into a single individual designating Mary Magdalen as a former prostitute.
What survives from Luke’s simple account is a description of the band of disciples accompanying Jesus as both men and women traveling together. Some of the women are named –Mary, Joanna and Suzanna – among the unnamed others. They supported Jesus’ ministry from their resources. It is left to us to imagine this group, but it seems likely that Jesus’ entourage raised eyebrows and caused scandal that added to his own radical reputation as they passed through villages and towns on their way through Galilee and to Jerusalem.
Even taking into account cultural and historical differences, this fulsome display of humanity supports the idea that Jesus wanted his movement to show how God’s grace made real community possible, excluding no one. The idea of male-only church leadership was not part of the original model. The women played a key role, remaining faithful to Jesus to the end and serving as the first witnesses to his resurrection.
A different Gospel lies almost hidden in the midst of the one we have.
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