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When is a sister not a sister?

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister named Mary... Luke 10. 38-9

There exists strong archaeological and cultural evidence for the operation of a guest house in Bethany, which is only two miles from Jerusalem. It would have been a convenient base for pilgrims to the holy city, especially during high days and holidays, when space within the walls would have been at a premium and cramped. Was this the place favoured by Jesus and run by Mary and Martha? In their documentary and accompanying book, Joan Taylor and Helen Bond raise the intriguing question as to whether these women were sisters in the biological sense, or through marriage or as fellow believers?

Does it matter? Perhaps not. But the way in which they are referred to without further explanation suggests that these women were well-known to those associated with the Jesus movement. Extra-testamental literature from the time corroborates this and provides further evidence for the presence and indeed for the authority of woman in the early days of the church. Might Martha and Mary have had a hand in preparing the Passover Meal which Jesus celebrated with his friends - and were they present? The Gospels mention only The Twelve but, as a family occasion, there would surely have been others both serving and sharing?

Such questions might seem like idle speculation. Yet they deserve raising because they demonstrate that, in the formative accounts of our faith story, we are dealing with the dynamics of real life events and not the sterile arrangement of a still-life drawing!



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