Mary of Clopas: The Other Disciple on the Road in Art
Updated: 7 days ago
Even though the Bible does not tell us the travellers on the road to Emmaus are two men, throughout history art has usually shown Clopas and the other disciple as two men. This is part one of two on Emmaus and the other disciple in art.
Some have theorized it was Clopas's son Simon, the apostle Simon Peter, Simon the Zealot (since when the two return to Jerusalem, those in the room say that Jesus also appeared to Simon). Others theorize it was Luke, the author of the story, and that both Clopas and Luke were included in the 72 apostles that Jesus sends out in Luke 10:1. Others speculate the disciple with Clopas was Nathanael, Nicodemus, Philip the Deacon, or James the brother of Jesus. Some like to leave the second disciple unnamed, so that they may imagine themselves in the shoes of the unknown disciple. However, it is very reasonable that the disciple with Clopas is Mary, the wife of Clopas.
What does the Bible say about Mary of Clopas?
The Bible tells us that Mary, the wife of Clopas, was in Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion (John 19:25, Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40). We also know she was one who watched them place Jesus in the tomb (Matthew 27:61, Mark 15:47). It is recorded that Mary, wife of Clopas and mother of James and Joses was one of those who brought spices to anoint Jesus' body on the first day of the week when angels told them that Jesus had risen(Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1, Luke 24:10). In the story of the two disciples on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus (Luke 24:13, Mark 16:12), we know they were walking to the home they shared, where they planned to eat together. The story tells us they were talking with each other about all that had happened, and we can imagine them comparing notes about what Mary and the women had seen and what Clopas and the men had heard.
Why might we want to see the other disciple as a woman?
Ever since we were children, we have been shown images of the two disciples on the road as men, even though that is not what the Bible says. I still see Sunday school lessons and clipart showing two men with beards walking with Jesus. When I read our children's picture Bible to my daughters, the image of the two men on the road bothered me so much that I coloured over one of the individuals to make it look a bit like a woman. I wanted my daughters to be able to imagine themselves in that scene, with Jesus telling them that he had risen. I wanted my daughters to know that they were important enough that Jesus would speak to them and bring forgiveness and deliverance.
Why do people think the other disciple is a man?
Despite all of these biblical references to Mara, theologians and historians have struggled to find a logical male to be on the road with Clopas. People may want to think it is two males on the road because of a preconceived notion that it is a disciple, and therefore must be a male. However, the word disciple means follower or student, is gender-neutral and can be used for men or women.
Perhaps people think it is two men on the road because the Christian church throughout history has approved art that depicts two men on the road to Emmaus. Many paintings show two men with Jesus, in particular, the well-known "Supper at Emmaus" painted by Caravaggio in 1601. We need to remember that during the Renaissance period, the church was a wealthy patron of the arts. It commissioned art that would tell Bible messages to the illiterate population, reinforce the power and greatness of the church and teach the perspectives of the male leadership, bishops and pope. The Protestant Reformers also approved of art that showed men as disciples and church leaders, destroying images of women dressed as priests or leading worship. Likewise in the late 1800s, during the French Catholic revival, James Tissot painted the Pilgrims of Emmaus as two men. Even in recent times, religious leaders or patrons sometimes prohibit artists from showing a woman as a disciple, painting a woman in priestly robes, serving communion, or with arms raised in blessing.
However, some art leaves the gender of the disciples uncertain. This Duccio painting of "Road to Emmaus" could be viewed as a husband and wife inviting Jesus into their home in Emmaus.
Rembrandt's 1648 painting seems to leave open the possibility that one of the figures is a woman.
How would it impact our faith to see art that shows Clopas and Mary on the road to Emmaus?
It is good to see art that represents the equality shown in the Bible. It is affirming to see that Jesus appeared to both women and men when he was resurrected. It is refreshing to find art that depicts Clopas and his wife, Mary, on the road to Emmaus. I am grateful for these artists, who make Bible stories more relevant today, and relatable for various genders and races.
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This mosaic was created in 1970, is found at the Resurrection Chapel, National Cathedral, Washington DC. Photo: Victoria Emily Jones.