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Was Martha of Bethany Added to the Fourth Gospel in the Second Century?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 September 2016

Elizabeth Schrader*
The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church


This study examines the text transmission of the figure of Martha of Bethany throughout the Fourth Gospel in over one hundred of our oldest extant Greek and Vetus Latina witnesses. The starting point for this study is instability around Martha in our most ancient witness of John 11–12, Papyrus 66. By looking at P66’s idiosyncrasies and then comparing them to the Fourth Gospel's greater manuscript transmission, I hope to demonstrate that Martha's presence shows significant textual instability throughout the Lazarus episode, and thus that this Lukan figure may not have been present in a predecessor text form of the Fourth Gospel that circulated in the second century. In order to gain the greatest amount of data on the Fourth Gospel's text transmission, I rely on several sources. Occasionally these sources conflict in their rendering of a variant; I have tried to make note of these discrepancies and look at photographs of witnesses whenever possible. Although this study is primarily focused on Greek and Vetus Latina witnesses, an occasional noteworthy variant (e.g., from a Syriac or Vulgate witness) may be mentioned when relevant to the subject at hand. The work of many established redaction critics, who have already hypothesized that Martha was not present in an earlier form of this Gospel story, will also be addressed.

Copyright © President and Fellows of Harvard College 2017 

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1 These include the following: the International Greek New Testament Project [IGNTP] (University of Birmingham), “IGNTP Transcripts: A Transcription of John in P66,” Electronic Editions of the Gospel according to John in Greek, Latin, Syriac and Coptic, 17 December 2009,; the United Bible Societies, “An Electronic Edition of the Gospel according to John in the Byzantine Tradition: The Byzantine Edition of John; Transcriptions” (ed. Roderic L. Mullen with Simon Crisp and David C. Parker; 2nd ed.), Electronic Editions of the Gospel according to John in Greek, Latin, Syriac and Coptic, August 2007, rev. July 2014,; Vetus Latina Iohannes: The Verbum Project, “The Old Latin Manuscripts of John's Gospel” (ed. P. H. Burton et al.), Electronic Editions of the Gospel according to John in Greek, Latin, Syriac and Coptic, September 2007, rev. April 2015,; Schmid, Ulrich B., Elliott, W. J., and Parker, David C., The Majuscules (vol. 2 of The New Testament in Greek IV: The Gospel according to St. John; NTTS 37; Leiden: Brill, 2007 Google Scholar); Swanson, Reuben, New Testament Greek Manuscripts: Variant Readings Arranged in Horizontal Lines against Codex Vaticanus (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1995)Google Scholar; and the University of Münster, Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung [INTF], New Testament Transcripts Prototype, Editions by Tischendorf, von Soden, Wettstein, and Wordsworth and White have also been consulted; see Novum Testamentum Graece (ed. Constantinus Tischendorf; Leipzig: Tauchnitz, 1862); Die Schriften des Neuen Testaments in ihrer ältesten erreichbaren Textgestalt auf Grund ihrer Textgeschichte (ed. Hermann Freiherr von Soden; 2 vols.; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1911–1913); Novum Testamentum Graecum (ed. Jacobus Wettstein; Graz: Akademische Druck, 1962); and Nouum Testamentum Domini Nostri Iesu Christi Latine. Secundum Editionem Sancti Hieronymi (ed. John Wordsworth and Henry Julian White; Oxford: Clarendon, 1889–1954).

2 See Royse, James R., Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri (Leiden: Brill, 2008) 399400, 416Google Scholar; see also Orsini, Pasquale and Clarysse, Willy, “Early New Testament Manuscripts and Their Dates: A Critique of Theological Palaeography,” ETL 88 (2012) 443–74Google Scholar, at 470. A later dating for P66 has also recently been argued in Nongbri, Brent, “The Limits of Palaeographic Dating of Literary Papyri: Some Observations on the Date and Provenance of P. Bodmer II (P66),” Museum Helviticum 71 (2014) 135 Google Scholar.

3 Head, Peter M., “Scribal Behaviour in P. Bodmer II (P66),” in Textual Variation: Theological and Social Tendencies? (ed. Houghton, H. A. G. and Parker, David C.; Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias, 2008) 5574 Google Scholar, at 59–60.

4 Royse, Scribal Habits, 401, 405.

5 Head, “Scribal Behaviour in P. Bodmer II,” 60.

6 Gordon Fee, James R. Royse, and Marie-Émile Boismard are the only text critics of whom I am aware who have made substantive comments about the changes in John 11. I address their comments in the discussion of John 11:3 below.

7 “There was a certain sick man, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and of Mary his sister” (see All IGNTP citations of P66 in this paper come from this site. The IGNTP and the INTF state that the initial reading was αυτου (see Swanson states that P66’s initial reading was αυτης, although he does not mention the clear initial reading of μαριας και μαριας. See Swanson, New Testament Greek Manuscripts: John, 151.

8 Due to the και (“and”) it is clear that a second woman is present here, but the scribe shows hesitation on the name. Royse cites dittographies in the manuscript at 1:27b, 12:26a, and 14:3 (Scribal Habits, 441).

9 “There was a certain sick man, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and of Martha her sister.”

10 Royse, Scribal Habits, 430, 430n.

11 “Papyri: P66,” Early Bible, Thanks to Peter Head for sending me this link; all images of P66 in this paper come from this website. Permission has been granted from the Bodmer Library to reproduce the image.

12 “There was a certain sick man, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary his sister” (

13 “There was a certain sick man, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and of Martha his sister.” The IGNTP only notes the omission of the word κωμης for A*, but due to the smaller letters at the beginning of the line and the ι underneath the θ, I believe Swanson and the INTF more accurately represent A*’s reading here.

14 Thanks to the British Library for giving permission to reproduce this image. © The British Library Board, Royal 1D VIII, f48v.

15 Reproduced with permission from the British Library.

16 See Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece (27th ed.; Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993) 285. NA28 omits the reference.

17 “whose brother was also Lazarus being sick.”

18 “of whom the brother Lazarus was sick.”

19 Reproduced with permission from the Bodmer Library.

20 Fee, Gordon, “Corrections of Papyrus Bodmer II and the Nestle Greek Testament,” JBL 84, (1965) 6672 Google Scholar, at 69. See also Boismard, Marie-Émile, “Papyrus Bodmer II. Supplément de Jean,” RB 70 (1962) 120–33Google Scholar, at 124–25.

21 Codex Bezae includes και (“also”) here but has no verb and retains the article ο (“the”). P45 adds αυτη η (“it was this Mary . . .”) to 11:2a.

22 “Therefore Mar[?]a sent to him saying . . .” The verb απεστιλεν and the participle λεγουσα are both singular.

23 “Therefore the sisters sent to him saying . . .” The forms απεστιλαν and λεγουσαι are now plural.

24 Reproduced with permission from the Bodmer Library.

25 The second α in αδελφαι may be the last letter of the woman's name from the initial reading, with an ι squeezed in before the word προς.

26 Comfort, Philip W. and Barrett, David P., The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001) 430 Google Scholar; Elliott, W. J. and Parker, David C., The Papyri (vol. 1 of The New Testament in Greek IV: The Gospel according to St. John; Leiden: Brill, 1995) 280 Google Scholar; Boismard, “Papyrus Bodmer II,” 125; Swanson, New Testament Greek Manuscripts: John, 151.

27 Fee, “Corrections of Papyrus Bodmer II,” 69–70.

28 Royse, Scribal Habits, 454n.

29 “Le rôle de Marie était encore plus effacé qu'il ne l'est maintenant. C'est peut-être une des variantes les plus intéressantes du papyrus” (Boismard, “Papyrus Bodmer II,” 128).

30 Boismard, Marie-Émile and Lamouille, Arnaud, La vie des Évangiles. Initiation à la critique des textes (Paris: Cerf, 1980) 83 Google Scholar.

31 Ernst, Allie M., Martha from the Margins: The Authority of Martha in Early Christian Tradition (Leiden: Brill, 2007) 4445 Google Scholar, citing Stockton, Eugene, “The Fourth Gospel and the Woman,” in Essays in Faith and Culture (ed. Brown, Neil; Sydney: Catholic Institute of Sydney, 1979) 132–44Google Scholar; Boismard, Marie-Émile and Lamouille, Arnaud, L’Évangile de Jean (vol. 3 of Synopse des quatres Évangiles en français; Paris: Cerf, 1977) 277–94Google Scholar; Rochais, Gérard, Les récits de résurrection des morts dans le Nouveau Testament (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Kremer, Jacob, Lazarus, die Geschichte einer Auferstehung. Text, Wirkungsgeschicte und Botschaft von Joh 11:1–46 (Stuttgart: Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1985) 84 Google Scholar.

32 Meier, John P., A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (vol. 2; New York: Doubleday, 1994) 831 Google Scholar.

33 Schnackenburg, Rudolf, The Gospel according to St. John (trans. Hastings, Cecily, McDonagh, Francis, Smith, David, and Foley, Richard; 3 vols.; New York: Crossroad, 1987) 2:320 Google Scholar.

34 Fortna, Robert Tomson, The Fourth Gospel and Its Predecessor (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988) 98, 101 Google Scholar.

35 von Wahlde, Urban C., Commentary on the Gospel of John (vol. 2 of The Gospel and Letters of John; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010) 515 Google Scholar.

36 “Selon ces témoins, les vv. 1 et 3, comme le v. 45, ne parleraient que de Marie; Marthe n'y serait pas meme mentionnée. . .. Il aurait été fortement remanié à un stade ultérieur pour y introduire le personnage de Marthe et lui donner la prééminence sur sa soeur” (Boismard and Lamouille, La vie des Évangiles, 83–84).

37 Bultmann, Rudolf, Das Evangelium des Johannes (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1950) 309 Google Scholar.

38 Smith, Morton, Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973) 154 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

39 Brown, Raymond E., The Gospel according to John I–XII (AB 29; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966) 433 Google Scholar.

40 “Sororis” in John 11:3 is a nonsense genitive word in a nominative context, and the verb “miserunt” is plural in both transcriptions. Writing an i instead of an e was a common orthographic scribal error. Thanks to Hugh Houghton for pointing this out.

41 The omission in μ might be due to a scribal leap, especially because the last word of 11:2 (“infirmabatur”) looks so similar to the last word of 11:3 (“infirmatur”). Thanks to James R. Royse for pointing this out. However in ff 2 the omission makes more sense in context, since the singular pronoun “illi” in 11:4 now refers back to Mary in 11:2.

42 The Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), “Evangelia quattuor, sive Evangelia antehieronymiana,” Gallica, Many thanks to the Bibliothèque nationale de France for permission to reproduce this image.

43 Since this reading may well be an orthographic error, I am not including it in the stemma diagram.

44 The Holy Bible, Conteyning the Old Testament and the New (London: Robert Barker, 1611); The Holy Bible, conteyning the Olde Testament and the Newe (London: Christopher Barker, 1591). Reproduced with permission from the Keller Library at General Theological Seminary; thanks to Mary Robison and Patrick Cates for allowing me to look at these rare volumes.

45 The Gothic and Anglo-Saxon Gospels in Parallel Columns with the Versions of Wycliffe and Tyndale (ed. Joseph Bosworth and George Waring; London: John Russell Smith, 1865) 509.

46 Reproduced with permission from the Bodmer Library.

47 Royse believes this mark is a comma, though he suggests it could also be a transposition mark. Either way this mark appears to be an attempt to separate the word ειπεν from the word αυτη. See Royse, Scribal Habits, 411.

48 Swanson states that the initial reading was ειπεν αυτοις η ασθενεια, while states that the initial reading was ειπεν αυτη η ασθενεια (see

49 “Now Jesus loved Martha and the sister and Lazarus.”

50 “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”

51 Reproduced with permission from the Bodmer Library.

52 Such as those mentioned by Royse in Scribal Habits, 480–81.

53 “La mention de Lazare en dernière position ne manque pas de surprendre! La solution la plus vraisemblable est que ce verset fut ajouté par l'auteur pour montrer que le rôle principal dans le récit est tenu, non par Lazare, mais par Marthe” (Rochais, Les récits, 118).

54 Thompson, Herbert, The Gospel of St. John according to the Earliest Coptic Manuscript (London: Bernard Quaritch, 1924) 22 Google Scholar.

55 From the same page of ff 2. See n. 42. Reproduced with permission from the BnF.

56 John Chrysostom, Hom. Jo. 62, 1. Image from the 11th-cent. Gr. Ms. 320 in St. Catherine's Monastery on Mt. Sinai, folio 114r. This variant is included as Chryss in the stemma diagram above. Reproduced by permission of Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai, Egypt.

57 The BnF's digitized version of c: BnF, “Novum Testamentum,” Gallica, Thanks to the BnF for permission to reproduce this image.

58 See Quispel, Gilles, “Marcion and the Text of the New Testament,” VC 52 (1998) 349–60Google Scholar, at 352.

59 “Denique amabat Jesus Lazarum et Mariam: amabat Christus Ecclesiam suam” (St. Ambrose, Apol. Dav. 8.41). See S. Ambrosius (ed. Jacques-Paul Migne; PL 14; Paris: Garnier Fratres, 1882) 946.

60 Kurt, and Aland, Barbara, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism (trans. Rhodes, Erroll F.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989) 280–81Google Scholar.

61 The correction of ff 2c [j] is from a later hand and reflects familiarity with [b].

62 Reading [e] is likely an error, since it suggests that Martha is Jesus's sister.

63 Or possibly εφιλει δε ο ιησους τον λαζαρον και την αδελφην αυτου. Codex Bezae transcribes εφιλει (another verb for “loved” from a different Greek root).

64 See Bultmann, Das Evangelium, 309 and Fortna, Fourth Gospel, 106.

65 Ernst, Martha from the Margins, 46 [italics in original].

66 Tertullian, Treatise against Praxeas (ed. and trans. Ernest Evans; London: SPCK, 1948) 84, 117n. Only a 16th-cent. printed edition names Martha. Evans attributes it to a slip of Tertullian's memory (see ibid., 304).

67 Image from the same page of the BnF's digitized version of c. See n. 57. Reproduced with permission from the BnF.

68 Ibid. Reproduced with permission from the BnF.

69 Malan, Solomon Caesar, The Gospel according to S. John: The Eleven Oldest Versions except the Latin (London: Joseph Masters, 1862) xi, 167 Google Scholar.

70 ‘Ορας πως ζεον το φιλτρον ην; Αυτη εστι περι ης ελεγε, Μαρια δε την αγαθην μεριδα εξελεξατο. Πως ουν αυτη θερμοτερα εφαινετο, φησιν; Ου θερμοτερα αυτη, ου γαρ ηκουσεν εκεινη, επει αυτη ασθενεστερα ην. ‘Η γαρ ακουσασα τοσαυτα, αυτη φησι παλιν, ‘Ηδη οζει . . . (Bernard de Montfaucon, Sancti Patris Nostri Johannis Chrysostomi, Archiepiscopi Constantinopolitani, Opera Omnia Quae Exstant [vol. 8; Paris: Gaume Fratres, 1836] 425). Thanks to Deirdre Good for her help with the translation.

71 πως ουν φησι, Θερμοτερα νυν η Μαρθα φαινεται; ου θερμοτερα, αλλ’ επειδη ουπω μαθουσα ην εκεινη, επει αυτη και ασθενεστερα ην. Και γαρ ακουσασα τοσαυτα, ετι ταπεινα φθεγγεται, ‘Ηδη οζει . . . (ibid.). Translation from Chrysostom, John, “Homily 62 on the Gospel of John” (trans. Marriott, Charles in NPNF 1 [ed. Schaff, Philip; vol. 14; Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing, 1889]Google Scholar; rev. and ed. Kevin Knight), New Advent, 2009,

72 Ελθοντι γαρ τω Κυριω προσεπεσεν η αδελφη, και λεγοντι, Που τεθεικατε αυτον; . . . Κυριε, ηδη οζει (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catecheses ad illuminatos 5.9; see Mullen, Roderic L., The New Testament Text of Cyril of Jerusalem [Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997] 160)Google Scholar. Translation from Cyril of Jerusalem, “Catechetical Lectures” (trans. Edwin Hamilton Gifford in NPNF 2 [ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace; vol. 7; Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing, 1894]; rev. and ed. Kevin Knight), New Advent, 2009,

73 Royse suggests that it may be due to “a simple sound change” (Scribal Habits, 526).

74 Origen, Comm. Jo. 10.15. See Origenis 4 (ed. Jacques-Paul Migne; PG 14; Paris: Imprimerie catholique, 1862) 345 n. 43. The more modern SC volume omits this variant. See Blanc, Cécile, Origène. Commentaire sur Sainte Jean (5 vols.; SC 120, 157, 222, 290, and 385; Paris: Cerf, 1966–1992) 2:462 Google Scholar.

75 I am aware of one Lukan Coptic witness in which the scribe initially transcribed “Maria” in 10:40 and corrected to “Martha”; The New Testament in Greek: The Gospel according to St. Luke (ed. IGNTP; Oxford: Clarendon, 1983) 241.

76 Hippolytus, In Cant. 2.29–30. For more on Hippolytus's treatment of Martha and Mary in his commentary, see below.

77 Boismard and Lamouille, La vie des Évangiles, 83, 85, and 87–90.

78 Good, Deirdre, “The Miriamic Secret,” in Mariam, the Magdalen, and the Mother (ed. eadem; Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005) 7 Google Scholar.

79 Beavis, Mary Ann, “Reconsidering Mary of Bethany,” CBQ 74 (2012) 281–97Google Scholar, at 282.

80 Mark Goodacre, “The Magdalene Effect: Misreading the Composite Mary in Early Christian Works” (unpublished essay), 12–13, 16. Thanks to Dr. Goodacre for sending this paper to me.

81 Gregory the Great, Homilia 33. Some earlier works identifying Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany include the 3rd- or 4th-cent. Manichaean Psalm 192, the 3rd- or 4th-cent. Pistis Sophia (see 1.36–38, 1.72–73), and the 4th-cent. second Greek version of the Gospel of Nicodemus. See Beavis, “Reconsidering Mary of Bethany,” 290–92 for a helpful survey and a table of the evidence. The case can also be made that Hippolytus's 3rd-cent. In Canticum canticorum (25.2–3, discussed in more detail below) and the 4th-cent. Acts of Philip (8.94) identify Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany.

82 Beavis, “Reconsidering Mary of Bethany,” 286–87 [italics added].

83 Thanks to Hal Taussig for confirming that this construction is etymologically plausible in our conversation of 8 October 2014. Jesus often gave Greek nicknames to his closest disciples, such as Simon “Peter,” Thomas “Didymus,” and James and John “Boanerges.” The nickname Boanerges (like Bartimaeus) is also a combined Aramaic/Greek name.

84 Ernst makes a convincing case for a widespread tradition in early Eastern Christianity of Martha as a myrrophore and apostle of the resurrection, citing many sermons, pieces of liturgical and archaeological evidence, and hymns (see Martha from the Margins, 73–175). Most of the liturgical evidence seems to place Martha in the Matthean resurrection scene, not the Johannine scene, so I do not treat it in great detail here. Ernst's work on Martha is invaluable, but considering the changes made to P66 and throughout the Fourth Gospel's manuscript transmission, I am more likely to agree with Bovon (see below).

85 Hippolytus, In Cant. 25.2–3. This translation is found in de Boer, Esther, The Mary Magdalene Cover-Up: The Sources Behind the Myth (trans. Bowden, John; London: T&T Clark, 2007) 100 Google Scholar. Ernst notes that Hippolytus combines elements of both Matthew's and John's Easter narratives in the commentary, but Jesus's speaking the women's names here and their answering “Rabbouni” is distinctly Johannine. See Ernst, Martha from the Margins, 104.

86 Who, as many have noted, has no connection to the anointing scene of Luke 7:36–50.

87 See Brown, Raymond E., The Gospel according to John XII–XXI (AB 29A; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970) 984 Google Scholar; Tatian, Diatessaron 53.9–10; Augustine, Nupt. 1.34; Augustine, Serm. 229L.

88 Gospel of Peter 50–57.

89 Epistula apostolorum 9. Ernst provides a helpful survey of the scholarship around the changing names here. See Ernst, Martha from the Margins, 81–84.

90 Epistula apostolorum 10.

91 “La polémique serait d'autant plus nette: contre les gnostiques qui valorisent Marie-Madeleine, l’Epistula apostolorum, faisant flèche de tout bois, appellerait Marthe à la rescousse” (François Bovon, “Le privilège pascal de Marie-Madeleine,” NTS 30 [1984] 50–62, at 53). For a dissenting opinion, see Ernst, Martha from the Margins, 82–83.

92 Parker, David C., “Editing the Gospel of John,” in The Textual History of the Greek New Testament: Changing Views in Contemporary Research (ed. Wachtel, Klaus and Holmes, Michael W.; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011), 1322, at 20Google Scholar.

93 Of all the above variants, Minuscule 423 is perhaps most intriguing since by cutting directly from John 11:20 to John 11:25, the text is not clear on whether Jesus's dialogue is with Martha or Mary. After this dialogue, Mary actually returns to Martha in Minuscule 423’s version of John 11:28!