Mary of Clopas and Mary of Nazareth
Updated: Jul 18
When approaching my biblical fiction, I had a long look at the many Mary's and their children. To avoid confusion for readers of my novel, I use variations on the name Mary:
Marie - Mary Magdalene
Miriam - Martha's sister in Bethany
Maria - the mother of Jesus
Mara - Mary of Clopas
Salome - is Mary Salome
Mariamne - Philip's sister
Earlier I posted about Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany. Today I'm looking at the mother of Jesus "Maria", and Mary of Clopas "Mara" and their children. Mary may have given birth to Jesus at 15 and became a widow before Jesus was 30. Were Maria and Mara sisters, sisters-in-law, sister-wives, half sisters...? Did they both have children named James, Joses/Joseph, Jude and Simon/Simeon?
Mary, Daughter of Clopas:
Some believe that Mary of Clopas is the daughter of Clopas and the biological sister of the virgin Mary. The tradition is that Saint Ann was married three times. From one husband, she had Mary who became the mother of Jesus, from another husband, she had Mary, daughter of Clopas, and from another husband, she had Mary Salome, who married Zebedee and became the mother of James and John. This would make James and John Jesus's cousins and could be a reason why, at the cross, Jesus asked John to take responsibility as Maria's son. Salome is mentioned at the cross by name in Matthew and Mark but not in John's gospel. The an ancient tradition that Mary Salome acted as Maria's midwife lends to the idea that they were related. Most theologians say it's more likely that Mary of Clopas was the wife of Clopas than the daughter of Clopas.
Mary, Wife of Clopas (Mara):
There is debate about "his mother's sister' in the verse: "Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene" (John 19:25 NIV). Is "his mother's sister" is an adjective describing Mary the wife of Clopas, or is a placeholder for Salome, John's mother. Most Church Fathers interpret this text to suggest sister in question is Mary the wife of Cleopas, Maria's sister-in-law, called sister for short.
The 2nd-century writer Hegesippus, 4th- century historian Eusebius, and the 5th-century theologian Jerome all wrote that Clopas was a brother of Joseph, This would make the children of Clopas cousins of Jesus. Mara is also referred to as “the other Mary” (Matthew 27:61; Matthew 28:1-10). She is named as a follower of Jesus who cared for his needs and was an eyewitness at his death, burial, and resurrection.
Mara's sons James and Joses:
The apostle James the Less is also called James, son of Alphaeus (Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, Acts 1:13). The Bible also lists Jude, of James, being unclear in describing Jude, as the brother of James or son of James (Luke 6:16, Acts 1:13). Some say it is written by the apostle Jude, known as Thaddaeus. Others say the letter of Jude is written by Jude, the brother of James and Jesus. The Bible does not pair James the Less as a brother of Jude or the son of Clopas and Mara.
While Alphaeus is also the name of Matthew's father, most theologians agree that there is no evidence that Matthew and James the Less are brothers. However, it is possible that Alphaeus is a variant or a translation of Clopas/ Cleopas/ Cleophas, making the apostle James the Less the son of Mary of Clopas, also called the son of Alphaeus. Many theologians believe that Alphaeus is the same as Clopas. Alphaeus (in Aramaic), Cleophas (Greek) and Clopas (Hebrew). Clopas (Alphaeus) is named twice in the Bible, Luke 24:13 and John 19:25. The Bible does not pair James the Less as a brother of Matthew: he is not presented in a set of brothers, while other brothers are presented together: James/John and Peter/Andrew.
The Bible refers to Mary, the mother of James and Joses (Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:47), the mother of James the Less (Mark 15:40, Mark 16:1-7, Luke 24:1-32). Some say that James the Less, listed as one of the twelve apostles, was the same person as James the brother of Jesus or son of Maria. However, the Bible states that Jesus's brothers did not believe in Jesus (John 7:5) until after the resurrection (Acts 1:14), so this could not be the apostle James the Less. Also, if Jesus's brothers believed in Jesus, it would be natural to task them with the responsibility of caring for their mother, Maria, as opposed to giving that task to the apostle John. For these reasons, my novel shows James the Less as the son of Clopas/Alphaeus and Mara, and not the same person as James, Jesus’ brother. This is consistent with the view of most Protestant Christians.
The Bible names Simon as one of Jesus's brother, and the historian Eusebius says Clopas has a son Simeon in Hebrew (Simon in Greek), who was a relative of Jesus and became the second bishop of Jerusalem (after the death of James, the brother of Jesus). During the first century, believers who knew Simeon would also know Clopas (Luke 24:18) and Mary of Clopas (John 19:25). We take the view that Maria and Joseph had a son named Simon who did not believe in Jesus until after the resurrection and that Clopas and Mara had a son named Simeon who became the second bishop of Jerusalem. Simeon, the second bishop of Jerusalem, was martyred around AD 100.
Maria of Nazareth:
The Bible says that Maria did not know Joseph until she gave birth to her son, Jesus (Matthew 1:25). Traditionally, the church has taught that Maria perpetually remained a virgin.
However, the Bible clearly says that Jesus had four brothers, James, Joseph, Judas and Simon, and at least two sisters (Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3).
In summary, the novel Forgotten Followers shows Mara as the wife of Clopas/Alphaeus, sister-in-law to Maria of Nazareth, with four children: James (the apostle James the Less/James the Younger, Joses, Janis, and Simeon (2nd bishop of Jerusalem).
Maria of Nazareth has sons (James, Joseph, Jude, Simon) and at least two daughters with Joseph after Jesus is born and these are Jesus's siblings.
How can we understand the siblings of Jesus:
a) Jesus's siblings were the children of Maria and Joseph
The modern Protestant view is that Mary remained a virgin only until after Jesus' birth, and then Joseph and Mary had four sons after Jesus and at least two daughters. Protestants see this as more in line with the Bible's records saying Jesus' had 'brothers and sisters' (Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3).
b) Jesus's siblings were cousins
The early Protestants, including John Wesley, shared the Roman Catholic view that Mary remained a perpetual virgin and that Jesus' brothers and sisters were actually his cousins, children of Mary of Clopas. As stated above, many ancient historians state that Clopas was Joseph's brother, and the siblings of Jesus were the children of Mary of Clopas. This would make the children of Clopas (James, Joses, Simeon) cousins of Jesus, and mean that his cousins are the ones referred to as his brothers (James, Joseph, Jude, Simon).
c) Jesus's siblings were his half-brothers from Joseph's first marriage
The traditional view of Eastern Orthodox churches is that the brothers of Jesus were sons of Joseph after he became a widower on the death of his first wife. This idea often comes with Joseph being 20-40 years older than Mary when they wed. Joseph already has heirs and Mary remains a perpetual virgin after marrying Joseph.
d) Jesus's siblings were half-brothers under Leverite law
According to tradition, if Joseph died leaving no heirs, then Joseph's brother, Clopas, would have fulfilled his duty under Leverite law and married Joseph's widow. Any biological children of Mary and Joseph's brother would be considered Joseph's heirs and Jesus's siblings. Also, Joseph's brother's wife, Mara, and Maria would become sister wives, matching the description of Mary the mother of Jesus standing with her sister, Mary of Clopas (John 19:25). I don't know any theologians who seriously entertain this option.
But what about all those guys named James?
son of Zebedee and Salome (the apostle James the Great); my novel presents Salome as not being a half-sister of Maria; James and John not being Jesus's cousins. This James, brother of John, was killed about 44 AD per Acts 12.
son of Mary of Clopas (the apostle James the Less) who was an apostle with Jesus and who was martyred in Ostrakine in 62 AD.
brother of Jesus (James the Just) became a believer after the resurrection, became a pillar of the church (Galatians 1:19, Galatians 2:9) and could be called the first bishop of Jerusalem. James, brother of Jesus, wrote the letter of James in the Bible. Tradition is that around AD 65, Jewish leaders called for James the Just to stand on the pinnacle of the temple and speak against Jesus. When he spoke for Jesus, they pushed him to the ground and beat him to death with a fuller's club. Because historically the Roman Catholic church merged James the brother of Jesus with James the Less, the apostle James the Less is depicted in traditional art holding a fuller's club. The fuller's club may be referring to the large wooden bat used by ancient fullers to clean, soften, and whiten cloth.
James the father of Jude Thaddaeus may be alternatively translated as James the brother of Jude or Jude Thaddaeus.
James the brother of Zoker, both grandsons of Jude. This James is from early church history. There are two brothers identified as Zoker and James, the grandsons of Jude. As Jude was the brother of Jesus, this Zoker and James would be grand-nephews of Jesus. The Bishop of Caesarea Eusebius quoted from Hegesippus saying that Zoker and James were brought before Emperor Domitian in the first century. In court, Zoker and James admitted they were descendants of David and relatives of Jesus. Court documents show how much they had in terms of assets, primarily a smallholding from which they supported themselves. They testified that Jesus' kingdom was not a threat to Rome, was not an earthly kingdom but a spiritual one. Domitian then let them go and did not actively persecute Christians.
In summary, we have two Marys, each having their own children with similar names, and through history, the two Marys and their children have often been combined.
My Catholic brothers and sisters may view Maria remaining a virgin, and Jesus’s siblings (named in Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55) were actually close kin, either stepsiblings (if Joseph had children from a prior marriage) or cousins (children of Mara, conflating the two James into one). Some Catholics also believe that Salome was a half-sister of Maria: St. Anne had a daughter from each of three husbands: Maria (mother of Jesus), Mara (daughter of Clopas), and Salome (Mary Salome).
My novel follows the Protestant view that Maria remained a virgin only until Jesus was born and that Jesus’s siblings were children of Maria. The novel reflects that Jesus’s siblings did not believe in Jesus during his ministry (John 7:5) but believed after the resurrection (Acts 1:14). Since early historians Hegesippus and Eusebius state Clopas was a brother of Joseph, my novel portrays Mara as wife of Clopas and sister-in-law to Maria.
In Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold, I show Clopas and Mary with four children, Jamie (who became the apostle James the Less), Joses, Janis, and Simeon (who traditionally became the 2nd bishop of Jerusalem). James the Less, son of Alphaeus (another name for Clopas), is one of the twelve disciples (Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, Acts 1:13). In traditional art, only James the Less and John, son of Zebedee, are depicted without a beard, as they are the youngest apostles. My novel shows these two as teenagers, having become men at about age 13. Jesus’ aunt and uncle, Mary and Clopas, may well have become a husband-and-wife team of travelling missionaries.
Elaine Ricker Kelly Author is empowering women with Christian fiction about women in the Bible and early church and Christian blogs about women in leadership, church history and doctrine. Her books include:
Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold
The Sword A Fun Way to Engage in Healthy Debate on What the Bible Says About a Woman's Role