• Elaine Kelly

Mary of Clopas: The Other Disciple on the Road in Art

Updated: May 16

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. Some have theorized it was Clopas's son Simon, the apostle Simon Peter, Simon the Zealot (these because 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 do people think the other disciple is a man?

Despite all of these biblical references, some 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 depicted two men on the road to Emmaus. Look up the art of the disciples at Emmaus and you are bound to see images of two men with Jesus by painters such as Caravaggio (1601) and Rembrandt (1648). 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. 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.

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.

What would it look like to have art show Clopas and Mary on the road to Emmaus?

For these reasons, 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.

Check these out on Art and Theology.

This mosaic was created in 1970, is found at the Resurrection Chapel, National Cathedral, Washington DC. Photo: Victoria Emily Jones.

This painting is gold leaf applied to wood panels, done by Sister Marie-Paul Farran at the Benedictine Monastery on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. On the left are the disciples on the road, and on the right are the disciples entertaining Jesus at their home.

Spanish-born artist Maximinio Cerezo Barredo painted "Emmaus" in 2002. The background shows the man and woman blindfolded on the road when they could not see that they were speaking with Jesus. The foreground shows the nail wounds in Jesus' wrists as he breaks bread with the man and woman.

Father John Giuliani lives in Connecticut and paints sacred figures with Native American faces to celebrate a union of spiritual understanding through diverse cultures.

Artist James He Qi is a contemporary Chinese Christian that paints biblical themes with Chinese cultural elements. He has taught at Nanjing Theological Seminary and Fuller Theological seminary.

Contemporary artist J. Barry Motes has painted "Supper at Yummaus", depicting Clopas and Mary at a food court with a Hispanic Jesus blessing their fast food.

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