• Elaine Kelly

Follow the Money! Where did women get funds to support Jesus?

Updated: Oct 8

The Bible tells us that women supported Jesus from their personal financial means. Let's look at ancient inheritance and property ownership rights of women, and how women may have become the financial supporters of Jesus' ministry.

The ancient Israelites started with a law that land holdings swould only pass from father to son. If a man died without a will, the first-born son succeeded in the control of the family property. Where there was no son, the man could appoint an heir; it could be his slave, his nephew, a brother, or a son other than the eldest, or to a daughter. For example, Job gave his daughters a share in his estate equal to that of their brothers.


The daughters of Zelophehad brought their case to Moses, showing that the law would result in injustice and leave innocent women homeless. Once the systematic injustice was recognized, Moses changed the law to state that if a man dies without a son, the inheritance and land title is to pass to his daughters (Numbers 27:1-11). This case set the precedent for future inheritances. Under Mosaic law, a woman was entitled to own private property and land, and she also had the right to bequeath her belongings to others.


Under the Roman Republic, before Rome became an Empire, when a daughter was given in marriage, she was passed from her male guardian (father or brother), to her new husband who assumed title to her inheritance and became responsible for providing for her (manus marriage). Roman law stated a wife's property must be kept separate from her husband's so that it could be reclaimed in the event of a divorce. If her husband died, she would not be eligible to inherit from him, but the heirs were obligated by the marriage contract to provide for the widow financially until she remarried.


Later, under Roman law, marriage without manus was more common. This meant that the bride and her financial property remained under her father's guardianship and her husband had limited legal power over her.


The Roman Empire gave male and female children equal inheritance rights, but women were required to nominate a male legal guardian to act in her interests. Generally, women could own property but not control it. However, some women ran their own financial affairs, business and property, since the law provided exceptions to the need for a legal guardian. She could be free of guardianship, for example, if her husband died in military service, if she got permission from a head of state, or if she had more than three children. In 17 BC, Caesar Augustus ruled that when a woman had at least three children (who had survived long enough to be named), she was permitted to become her own person and be legally emancipated (sui luris). In the event of divorce or death of her husband, an emancipated woman would not be subject to having a male legal guardian. In addition to these incentives for larger families, Caesar Augustus penalized those who were not married. Any unmarried woman over the age of 20 was assessed an annual tax. Any unmarried man over the age of 38 was assessed a tax and debarred from receiving inheritances and attending public sporting events.


The laws of the United Kingdom were likely influenced by Mosaic and Roman laws. They allowed unmarried women to inherit and own property, with the inheritance going to her husband as soon as she married. It was not until the Married Women's Property Act of 1882 that the United Kingdom allowed married women to own and control property in their own right.


My novel, Out of Brokenness: The Forgotten Followers, shows women empowered by Jesus as patrons. Women like the widow of Nain would become destitute without an heir to be her guardian. Where did the patrons get their money?


Mary Magdalene, Susannah, Joanna (Luke 8:1-3): Some would have inherited because they had no brothers. They could maintain control of their wealth if they did not marry, if their husband had done military service for Rome, or if they got permission from the Roman governor. It is possible that these women had these sources of wealth to underwrite Jesus and his work.


Perpetua: It is possible that Peter, who was from Bethesda, was able to move to the prosperous fishing village of Capernaum because he inherited fishing rights from his wife's family.


Salome: If Salome and Zebedee were in a marriage without manus, her inheritance would have been kept separate from her husband's assets and she could reclaim it in the event of a divorce. If Zebedee passed away, Salome could inherit if she had more than three children. Tradition shows that after the resurrection, Salome may have travelled, as a single woman, to Ephesus and then Veroli, Italy.


Mariamne: My novel depicts Mariamne under the hand or guardianship of her brother Philip who is negotiating a ketubah marriage contract to give her as wife to his friend Nathanael. History shows that Mariamne did travel and live with Nathanael and Philip as an apostle.


Photini: The Samaritan woman at the well was likely destitute, having had five husbands divorce her. While she had no financial support for Jesus, she told everyone in town about him, and they respected her and listened to her and came to meet Jesus. Tradition tells us that Nero tortured her but she would not recant her teaching. When Nero sent his daughter Domnina to persuade Photini to deny God, instead Domnina and her hundred slave girls all became baptized as believers.


Veronica: Any man would divorce the woman with the hemorrhage to avoid the taxes assessed on a childless marriage; Veronica would also be unable to work since her bleeding made her unclean and isolated her. Tradition states that she later found work for Emperor Tiberius.