Biblical Archaeology Review 32:2, March/April 2006

Biblical Views: The Last Man Standing

By Ben Witherington III

In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), none of the twelve disciples is mentioned as a witness to Jesus’ crucifixion. Mark, the earliest gospel, tells us that “All of them deserted him and fled” (Mark 14:50). While the Twelve are conspicuous by their absence, the female disciples, including Mary Magdalene, witnessed from afar (Mark 15:40, cf. Matthew 27:55–56). Luke seems to imply a wider group of witnesses: “All his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things” (Luke 23:49). Once more, however, no mention is made of the Twelve—not even of Peter, James and John. The account in the Fourth Gospel (John 19:25) simply confirms the impression that the Twelve were not there. Only three or four women are mentioned as witnesses: Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene, another Mary and, apparently, Jesus’ mother’s sister (if she is different from this third Mary).

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