🔼The name Clopas in the Bible
There is only one Clopas — or Cleophas, as some translations curiously insist — in the Bible, but it's not immediately clear who or what he is. Clopas is mentioned only in John 19:25, in relation to someone named Mary but what precisely Clopas is to Mary isn't clear either. The Greek uses the genitive form to express possession or origin, and although that frequently denotes a marital relation — Matthew 1:6, for instance, curtly speaks of "she of Uriah" — Clopas might very well be a brother, son, father or some otherwise unknown town or region, some distant patriarch or even the eponymous originator of some intellectual discipline or school of thought.
Who, in turn, Mary of Clopas herself might be is an additional mystery but here at Abarim Publications we're pretty sure that the authors of the gospels primarily aimed to focus on the origin and rise of the global social movement that was charged with perpetuating the age old tradition of which the Romans had just destroyed the central temple. In other words: the gospels tell of social movements rather than individuals (but read our lengthy article on the name Mary for the details).
🔼Who were the women standing by the cross
The various evangelists report the goings on at Golgotha from their separate and specific perspectives. This may perhaps cause some confusion as to which women were actually present at the crucifixion of Christ, but it really shouldn't. We elaborate on the identity of Mary in our article on that name, but for the four "different" crucifixion scenes:
- Mark (15:40) has:
- Mary Magdalene, Mary "of-James-Mikron-and-of-Joses-the-mother" and Salome.
- Matthew (27:56) speaks of:
- Mary Magdalene, Mary "of-James-and-of-Joses-the-mother" [namely] the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
- Luke (24:10) has:
- Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary of James — and note that here too it's not "mother of James" but just a genitive "of James."
- John (19:25) has:
- His mother and His mother's sister [namely] Mary of Clopas and Mary Magdalene.
Matthew lists Mary "of-James-and-of-Joses-the-mother" side by side with "the mother of the sons of Zebedee." We know that the sons of Zebedee were also called James and Joseph (Matthew 4:21), and that Jesus had two brothers named James and Joseph as well (Mark 6:3). Then there is also a "James of Alphaeus" and the name Alphaeus is the same as Clopas (different dialect, same name) but on occasion two Jameses are mentioned in one breath (Acts 1:13) and should hence be distinguished.
How the distinctions work is a mystery but it indicates that there is more to these names than meets the eye. There are either three women (reminiscent of the three Graces; see our article on χαρις, charis) with sons named James and Joseph; two of whom named Mary and one named Salome, who pop in and out of view in perfect alternation, or the Mary other than the Magdalene is Mary of Nazareth, also known as Mary of Clopas, the wife of Joseph, the mother of Jesus Christ, the mother of the sons of Zebedee, "of-James-and-of-Joses-the-mother", and ultimately the one who does the Father's will (Matthew 12:50).
The term "sons of Zebedee" most likely referred to a Judaic sect comparable to the much respected "sons of light" (Luke 16:8, John 12:36) or the not so respected "sons of Zadok" (that is the Sadducees). Mary Magdalene appears to point toward the formal wisdom tradition, and the Joanna which Luke mentions appears to be a subclass of the templar enterprise (see our article on Mary for the argument). But most strikingly: John suggests that Mary the Nazarene and Mary the Magdalene were sisters!
🔼The story of the Two Sisters
It's curious enough to be introduced so unceremoniously to Jesus' aunt so late in the game but perhaps the Johannine author meant the word αδελφη (adelphe), meaning sister, in this case to denote like-mindedness (Romans 16:1) or perhaps pupilage (1 Timothy 5:2) or even a more intense association (Song of Solomon 4:12). More prominently, however, is the author's obvious nod to the archetypal tale of the Two Sisters, whose amorous rivalry invariably revolves around one sister's male offspring or the sisters' brother.
In the narrative of the Bible this story iterates first in the Sarah and Hagar cycle (not counting the much later added version of Eve and Lilith), and in its ostensibly exhaustive variant of Leah and Rachel. The tale of the Two Sisters sits at the core of Solomon's wise decree (1 Kings 3:16-27) and features in the Song of Solomon (8:8). It's retold in the parable of Oholah and Oholibah (Ezekiel 23:2) and iterates even in the New Testament first in Paul's sermon on Samaria and Jerusalem, or Hagar and Sarah (Galatians 4:21-26), and ultimately in Mary and Martha of Bethany (Luke 10:38, John 11:1).
🔼More mysterious symmetries
Whatever the mystery of John 19:25 entails, we can be confident it's deliberate. The name Clopas is but a small part of it, but apart from the link to the Two Sisters, it draws the attention into several other directions:
First there is Cleopas (Κλεοπας) whom the risen Christ famously met on the road to Emmaus, and whose name is ostensibly similar to our name Clopas (Κλωπας). This similarity is an etymologic coincidence (Cleopas is Greek but Clopas is Semitic), but it may well have been used by the Johannine author to make a poetic link to Emmaus, and thus the Battle of Emmaus, and thus the victory of Judas Maccabee, and thus the autonomous Kingdom of Israel, and ultimately the restoration of the Kingdom in the resurrection of the Christ. Note that Cleopas is technically short for Cleopater (meaning Father's Glory) but looks like it means All Glory.
The other person to whom our attention is drawn is Alphaeus, the father of the afore mentioned James (Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, Acts 1:13). This name Alphaeus is essentially the same as Clopas, so James of Alphaeus is pretty much the same as James of Clopas.
🔼Etymology of the name Clopas
The name Clopas means Change or Exchange with an emphasis on traversal. The name Joseph comes from the verb יסף (yasap), meaning to add, increase or do again. These two verbs are obviously quite akin in action and effect, and as "husband" of Mary, the societal mother of the Christ, the names Clopas and Joseph could be construed to describe the primary aspects of economy, namely travel and exchange.
Note that the character of Abraham also serves as the arch-father of international trade, that the name Hebrew comes from a verb that means to cross over, and the name Arabia from a verb that means to traverse or criss-cross. Mary the Nazarene is in more than one way the counterpart of Mary the Magdalene, whose name comes from the noun מגדל (migdal), which means tower. Towers in the Bible are the symbol of precisely the opposite of being all over the place, namely of steadfastness and central government.