Editor’s Note: I am currently blogging through my book Easter: Fact or Fiction, 20 Reasons to Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead. That book is available on Amazon by clicking the picture or link below. Please check it out! (Scroll down for links to the other parts to this post) (CLICK HERE FOR THE AMAZON LINK)
“But let not a single witness be credited; but three, or two at the least, and those such whose testimony is confirmed by their good lives. But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servants be admitted to give testimony on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth”
– Jewish/Roman historian Josephus, pointing out the belief that women of his day should not testify in court
“In dealing with a crowd of women at least, or with any promiscuous mob, a philosopher cannot influence them by reason or exhort them to reverence, piety and faith; nay, there is need of religious fear also, and this cannot be aroused without myths and marvels”
– Strabo, a first century philosopher sharing a quite common view of women at the time: that they were immune to reason and comparable to a “promiscuous mob.”
Please don’t blame me. I don’t make the news, I only report it. In this case, the news is that the ancient world often had attitudes towards women that would be considered incredibly backwards, at best, in our current western culture. The quotes above, by Strabo and Josephus, are only the tip of the iceberg. Some more examples: In the Babylonian Talmud, the second century Rabbi Judah The Prince (who was not a wrestler, despite his WWE sounding name), said that male adherents of Judaism, “must recite three blessings every day: ‘Praised are you, O Lord, who has not made me a gentile,’ ‘Praised are you, O Lord, who did not make me a boor,’ and ‘Praised are you, O Lord, who did not make me a woman’ ” Lest you think Judah the Prince was an obscure figure in Judaism, I should point out that he was the chief editor of the Mishnah (oral Jewish law, in written form) and he was a primary leader of the Jewish community during the second century, where it was noted that he was a direct descendent of King David.
Speaking of the Misnah, one of the Rabbis found within testifies that, due to their menstrual issues, “women are not competent witnesses to be relied on…they are not halakhically admissible as reliable witnesses.” Similarly, witness this excerpt from the Jewish Women’s Archive Encyclopedia, “A particularly painful issue of difference between males and females (in the first century) is that of reliability in testimony. Women are not considered reliable witnesses when two kosher witnesses are needed, for example on monetary issues, capital crimes and sexual crimes… To some extent this is based on her reliability in counting her days of niddah (menstrual) impurity.”
I imagine some of you are mad right now, so let me just sneak in one other somewhat infuriating quote written by our backwards ‘friends’ from antiquity. Celsus was a Greek philosopher and an adamant opponent of Christianity who lived in the second century. Of the resurrection, and the fact that a woman was the first witness of the risen Jesus, Celsus opined:
“But we must examine this question whether anyone who really died ever rose again with the same body. Or do you think that the stories of these others really are the legends which they appear to be, and yet that the ending of your tragedy is to be regarded as noble and convincing—his cry from the cross when he expired, and the earthquake and the darkness? While he was alive he did not help himself, but after death he rose again and showed the marks of his punishment and how his hands had been pierced. But who saw this? A hysterical female, as you say, and perhaps some other one of those who were deluded by the same sorcery, who either dreamt in a certain state of mind and through wishful thinking had a hallucination due to some mistaken notion, or, which is more likely, wanted to impress the others by telling this fantastic tale, and so by this cock-and-bull story to provide a chance for other beggars.” 
As you can see here, Celsus’ major attack on the validity of the resurrection account is that it was first witnessed and propagated by a hysterical woman (Mary Magdalene) and, another “one of those,” who was “deluded by the same sorcery.” On behalf of women everywhere, I am offended for you! Be reminded that, though this backwards attitude towards women was staggeringly rampant in the first century, that was not the case with Jesus, the apostles, nor the early church. Perhaps you’ve imagined that the “Jesus Team” consisted of Jesus and the twelve disciples, and those thirteen went around from city to city healing the sick and sharing the good news. You’d be partly right, but the Jesus team was actually quite a bit larger than that, as there were a number (the Bible says “many) of women that also travelled with Jesus and had a critical role on the team, paying for lodging and expenses, etc. Jesus Himself was radical in the way He treated women, having multiple deep individual encounters with them at a time when it would be scandalously inappropriate for a Rabbi to have a one on one conversation with a female. Compare the New Testament to any other document of antiquity, and you will find that it was radically forward thinking in its ethos of women.
To be sure, in many cases, women were treated quite poorly in the earliest centuries, and were viewed in a way that does not comport with modern reality. I could add many other quotes to demonstrate this historical fact, but that is not necessary to make the primary and pertinent point here: having a female witness to something monumental in the first century might be a little bit…inconvenient, to say the least.
As Josephus notes above, there were many cultures in antiquity where a woman was not allowed to testify in court. In other ancient cultures, they might have been allowed to testify, but their testimony would not have carried as much weight as the testimony of a man. In some of those situations, where women were actually allowed to testify, it would take the testimony of two women to override the testimony of one man. Why is such a cultural issue critical in discussing the resurrection of Jesus? Because, according to Matthew 28, the first two witnesses to the risen Jesus were women, Mary Magdalene and “The other Mary.” Luke adds that Joanna was there, as well as “other women,” and seems to indicate that “the other” Mary, was Mary the mother of James.
All four gospels, written down by different men, in different places and at different time periods ALL feature a female (Mary Magdalene) as the first witness of the resurrection of Jesus. That some gospels also mention the presence of other women is far from contradictory, but is the very essence of differing eyewitness testimony. Some details will be included by some authors, and omitted by others. The bottom line is this: women, several of them, were the first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. Additionally, Mary Magdalene, perhaps the foremost of these female witnesses, had what might be considered a sketchy past: Jesus had driven not one, but SEVEN demons out of her at one point. All of this leads to an incredibly important question: If, in the first century, the testimony of women was not considered as reliable by any culture, why does the Bible clearly, and in great detail, portray women as being the first and primary witnesses to the risen Jesus? That question also begets another important question: How is it, given the assumed unreliability of women, that so many thousands of people eagerly believed the account of the resurrection of Jesus – many at the cost of their own lives?
Though it is not part of the Bible, and not considered Scripture, there is an apocryphal document called the Epistula Apostolorum, which dates to roughly 120 A.D. It is supposedly an eyewitness account of the apostles, and covers issues like the resurrection of Jesus, some of His parables, and several prophecies. This document contains a depiction of the resurrection, and contains extended dialog between Jesus and the women at the tomb. It is interesting, for the purposes of our discussion here, because it depicts what would have likely been the attitude of men in the first century to the proclamation of women that Jesus rose from the dead; specifically, it portrays the 11 remaining disciples utterly refusing to believe the testimony of the women until they actually see Jesus. I’m not posting this below because I am certain that this is a reliable record, written by the apostles, of what happened on the first Easter Sunday, but because it is a good example of how first century men would have viewed the testimony of women:
Concerning whom we testify that the Lord is he who was crucified by Pontius Pilate and Archelaus between the two thieves and was buried in a place which is called the place of a skull (Kranion). And thither went three women, Mary, she that was kin to Martha, and Mary Magdalene and took ointments to pour upon the body, weeping and mourning over that which was come to pass. And when they drew near to the sepulchre, they looked in and found not the body
10 And as they mourned and wept, the Lord showed himself unto them and said to them: For whom weep ye? weep no more. I am he whom ye seek. But let one of you go to your brethren and say: Come ye, the Master is risen from the dead.
Martha came and told us. We said unto her: What have we to do with thee, woman? He that is dead and buried, is it possible that he should live? And we believed her not that the Saviour was risen from the dead. Then she returned unto the Lord and said unto him: None of them hath believed me, that thou livest. He said: Let another of you go unto them and tell them again. Mary came and told us again, and we believed her not; and she returned unto the Lord and she also told him.
11 Then said the Lord unto Mary and her sisters: Let us go unto them. And he came and found us within and called us out; but we thought that it was a phantom and believed not that it was the Lord. Then said he unto us: Come, fear ye not. I am your master, even he, O Peter, whom thou didst deny thrice; and dost thou now deny again? And we came unto him, doubting in our hearts whether it were he. Then said he unto us: Wherefore doubt ye still, and are unbelieving? I am he that spake unto you of my flesh and my death and my resurrection. But that ye may know that I am he, do thou, Peter, put thy finger into the print of the nails in mine hands, and thou also, Thomas, put thy finger into the wound of the spear in my side; but thou, Andrew, look on my feet and see whether they press the earth; for it is written in the prophet: A phantom of a devil maketh no footprint on the earth. 12 And we touched him, that we might learn of a truth whether he were risen in the flesh; and we fell on our faces (and worshipped him) confessing our sin, that we had been unbelieving. 
What a fascinating passage, and almost humorous in its depictions of the disciples utterly refusing to listen to the female witnesses! The only possible rational reason that the Bible depicts women as the first witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus (and prominent witnesses at His crucifixion) is that it factually happened. The depiction of these women as witnesses to what should be considered the most monumental event in the history of the world, makes no sense whatsoever if the biblical accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are invented or even embellished.
Here’s why: There are perhaps five main theories about who Jesus was which can be summed up with the five “M’s” used by Southern Evangelical Seminary President Alex Mcfarland. Was Jesus merely a MYTH? That is, was he a legendary sort of character that was invented whole cloth by the lower class culture of Jerusalem who were seeking a hero to look up to? Or, was Jesus a MAN, simply a great teacher, who lived a great life and had a great influence on people, but nothing more than a special, and mortal, human being. In this view, either the followers of Jesus held Him in much higher esteem than they should have, or Jesus Himself had the most remarkable delusions of grandeur in history.
A third option is that Jesus was a MYSTIC, that is to say that perhaps He did possess some form of esoteric knowledge and power that elevated Him over the rest of humanity. Perhaps He was something more than merely a man, perhaps a first century alchemist of sorts, or even something like a mutant from comic book fame. Under this theory, Jesus wasn’t God, nor was He immortal; and He certainly wasn’t able to save humanity, but He was something more than an average person. A fourth possibility is that Jesus was/is a MISREPRESENTATION. This theory, popularized by writers like Dan “Da Vinci Code” Brown, posits that the church (or some other body) deified Jesus long after His death, and magnified Him and His accomplishments, in some sort of bid to gain power and control people. In this view, Jesus was merely a teacher that got heavily promoted after His lifetime into something more.
MESSIAH or MASTER is the final possibility of who Jesus was and is. That is, that Jesus is everything the Bible claims Him to be – He is the son of God, the King of Kings, and the savior of Israel and all of humanity. Really, aside from ridiculous theories (Jesus was an alien, etc.) those are the five options as to who Jesus was. If He literally and historically rose from the dead, then several of those possibilities are eliminated outright.
In light of those potential identities of Jesus, ponder this question: Why invent and insert women as the first witnesses on Easter morning if the resurrection was a myth, or intentional deception? There is no plausible reason for the women to be portrayed as witnesses of this event, except for the simplest reason of all: it really happened that way. If the early church was simply inventing the story of Jesus’ resurrection, wouldn’t it have made far more sense to utilize a prominent and well respected witness? Perhaps somebody like Joseph of Arimathea, or even Simon the Pharisee, or Nicodemus, a Pharisee AND member of the ruling council – any of these (and dozens of others) would make for more believable and impacting witnesses, if one wants to allege that the disciples, or some other group fabricated the story of Jesus resurrection.
In N.T. Wright’s epic book on the resurrection of Jesus, he states this case quite brilliantly. Consider well his questions, and the implications of their answers:
Even if we suppose that Mark made up most of his material, and did so some time in the late 60s at the earliest, it will not do to have him, or anyone else at that stage, making up a would-be apologetic legend about an empty tomb and having women be the ones who find it. The point has been repeated over and over in scholarship, but its full impact has not always been felt: women were simply not acceptable as legal witnesses. We may regret it, but this is how the Jewish world (and most others) worked. The debate between Origen and Celsus shows that critics of Christianity could seize on the story of the women in order to scoff at the whole tale; were the legend-writers really so ignorant of the likely reaction? If they could have invented stories of fine, upstanding, reliable male witnesses being first at the tomb, they would have done it. That they did not tells us either that everyone in the early church knew that the women, led by Mary Magdalene, were in fact the first on the scene, or that the early church was not so inventive as critics have routinely imagined, or both. Would the other evangelists have been so slavishly foolish as to copy the story unless they were convinced that, despite being an apologetic liability, it was historically trustworthy?
Links to the other 20 posts in this series (20 Reasons To Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead)
#5: 20 Reasons To Believe Jesus FACTUALLY Rose from the Dead – #5 The Lithuanian Argument
#11: 20 Reasons To Believe Jesus FACTUALLY Rose from the Dead – #11 Bible Accounts are Too Detailed to Contain Mythic Information
#12: 20 Reasons To Believe Jesus FACTUALLY Rose from the Dead – #12 Bible Accounts of Jesus’ Resurrection are Too Early to be Mythical
#13: 20 Reasons To Believe Jesus FACTUALLY Rose from the Dead – #13 Textual Variants Demonstrate Biblical Reliability
#16: 20 Reasons To Believe Jesus FACTUALLY Rose from the Dead – #16 Skeptical Ancients, or Slack-Jawed Yokels?
#17: 20 Reasons To Believe Jesus FACTUALLY Rose from the Dead – #17 Minimal Facts Argument (Gary Habermas)
 Montague Rhode James in The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1924), pp. 485-503
 Alex McFarland, The 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, ©2007), 111-14.
 Jacob Neusner, The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary, vol. 19 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2011), 230.
 Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert, Menstrual Purity: Rabbinic and Christian Reconstructions of Biblical Gender, Contraversions (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, ©2000), 275.
 James Stevenson, A New Eusebius: Documents Illustrating the History of the Church to AD 337 (London: SPCK, 1987), 133.
 This is mentioned in Luke 8:2. The idea that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute is not actually found in the Bible. It was possibly Pope Gregory the Great, in a sermon from 591 A.D., that first put forward the idea that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute.
 Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, ©2002), 270
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