“there were a lot more than twelve of us,”
declares jesus christ
where Jesus Christ met many of his followers.
RACHEL The microphones of Emisoras Latinas are located today on what was once the fishermen’s wharf of Capernaum. We are accompanied by Jesus Christ, on another day of his second coming. Jesus, Capernaum, here on the shores of Lake Galilee, was known as your town. Why is that?
JESUS What happened was that I left Nazareth and came to live here.
RACHEL And what made you think of moving to a fishing port?
JESUS Well, here is where Peter, Andrew, James were living… They had their boats and their nets…
RACHEL They were fishermen, but you were not.
JESUS No, I came to fish them! When I returned from the Jordan, I thought something must be done to change things in this country. So I came to Capernaum to look for them.
RACHEL Did they belong to some religious organization?
RACHEL Peter, Andrew, James…
JESUS No, they were organized in some kind of resistance against the Romans…
RACHEL So you called them and formed with them the group of the twelve apostles.
JESUS Twelve? We were a lot more than twelve!
RACHEL In your biography it says there were twelve apostles.
JESUS It can’t be so because… Let’s see, count them James and John, who were sons of Zebedee. Salome, their mother, who also joined the movement. Peter and Andrew, who were brothers. Joanna, the wife of Cusa. Then there was Thomas, the twin. And Mary, the one from Magdala. Also Philip, Suzanne, Nathaniel, Martha and her sister Mary who lived in Bethany, Judas the one from Kariot, who did what he did…
RACHEL Hold on, one minute, because you’re confusing our listeners.
JESUS What’s so confusing, Rachel?
RACHEL You’re mixing the men up with the women, the men who were apostles with …
JESUS With the women who were apostles. What’s wrong with that?
RACHEL Well, that’s confusing, because it’s always been clear that you chose only men to form your church.
JESUS And what Essenian told you that? In our group there were all kinds, women, men, people from Judea, from Galilee, there was even a Samaritan woman who snuck in.
RACHEL Let’s get things straight. Those women that you mention went with your group … as logistical support.
JESUS What does that mean?
RACHEL That is, they made the food, washed the clothes … perhaps they even helped the preachers relax.
JESUS What are you talking about, Rachel? The women were the best of all for talking to the people and getting them excited. They were also the best for organizing people. They did the same work as everybody, the same as the men.
RACHEL But, then, … Wait, we have a call … Hello?
RENATO [with Portuguese accent] This is Renato Souza de Almeida speaking. I work in youth ministry in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
RACHEL Well, speak slowly so that we can understand you well.
JESUS Jesus is right. If you don’t think so, read the letter of Saint Paul, where he tells how he worked with Junia, with Lydia, the one who sold purple cloth, with Evodia, with Phoebe, with Apia. Paul worked with a whole lot of women in the first Christian communities.
RACHEL Much obliged, Renato. But then, if that was the way things began … Have you observed the situation now, Jesus? Have you noticed how your representatives nowadays reject women as priests, as pastors, as bishops? Why do you think they act that way?
JESUS I don’t know, really, perhaps out of fear. Maybe they feel small next to women and don’t want to recognize it.
RACHEL If I understand well, then,… would you be in agreement with having women priests?
JESUS I’m not in agreement with any kind of priest business, neither for men nor for women. But for guiding communities, women are wiser and also more responsible. It’s for that reason that God confided the most important message, the most precious pearl, to a woman, not a man.
RACHEL What pearl are you talking about?
JESUS Why don’t we go look for her in Magdala? Do you want to come? Let’s go, it’s not far.
RACHEL Yes, let’s go! Listening audience, you’re tuned to Emisoras Latinas on the road to Magdala. This report has come from your special correspondent, Rachel Perez.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
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Fishermen: poor and despised
In Jesus’ time Capernaum, of which only ruins remain, was a city of about three square kilometers and a few thousand inhabitants. Fishing was the principal way of earning a living there, as in all the cities and villages that were near the Sea of Galilee. Many fishermen worked for a boss, but some organized cooperatives or formed a family business. In those days fishing was a despised trade since the fishermen spent so much time on the seas or lakes, which for the religious culture of the time were considered malevolent places: demons were thought to dwell in their depths.
The number 12: a symbol
Although Jesus may have had twenty disciples in his closest group, or eighteen, or any other number, those who wrote the gospels mention the names of only twelve, which is a symbolic number. The number 12 had a special meaning in Israel: it symbolized totality and represented the whole people of God. There were twelve sons of Jacob, the patriarchs who gave their names to the twelve tribes that populated the Promised Land.
When the evangelists wrote their gospels, they decided to use that same symbol: the new people of God was also beginning with “twelve” founders, heirs of the ancient twelve tribes. We find the symbolism of the number 12 all the way up to the last book of the Bible, in which the definitive number of the people of God at the end of time is said be 144,000 (12 × 12 × 1000 = the totality of totalities).
A movement with many women
There is no doubt that in Jesus’ group “many women” took an active part (Luke 8,3). Besides his mother Mary, we know the names of some of them: Mary Magdalene, several other Marys, Suzanne, Salome, Martha and Mary of Bethany, Joanna… The first Christian communities continued this tradition: men and women met and worshiped together, both men and women preached the message of Jesus with the same authority, and both men and women presided at the celebration in remembrance of him. Like the men, the women had representation and decision-making power in the communities as priests and bishops.
In her book, Mary, a Flesh-and-Blood Biography of the Virgin Mother (Bloomsbury, 2005), the British journalist and Middle Eastern expert, Lesley Hazleton, gives some very interesting information about two spiritual movements, existing before and after Jesus’ time, which placed women on a par with men as regards positions of power and decision-making. One of the movements was known as “the therapeutics” and the other as “the mountaineers”, and during the first Christian centuries they had much influence on the Christian movement. Hazleton also describes a movement made up only of women: the Coliridians.
Women collaborators of Paul
Despite the misogyny of Paul, which derived from his experience with the Jewish sect of the Pharisees, he affirmed that in Christ there is no male or female (Galatians 3,28). With this claim he legitimized the active participation of women in the first Christian communities. Also, he makes emphatic mention of many women in his letters and lavishly praises their work. For example, he singles out the deaconess Phoebe (Romans 16,1), Junia (Romans 16,7), Prisca, Julia, Evodia and Sintece, all of whom he called his “collaborators” (Philippians 4,2). He also mentions Claudia, Trifena, Trifosa, Prisca, Lyida, Tiatira and Nympha of Laodicea. Of the 28 persons to whom Paul accords special praise in his letters to the early churches, 10 are women.
The case of Junia is special and symptomatic. For many centuries here name was disguised beneath a masculine name: Junias. Since Paul had given the title of apostle to this woman, who was the wife of Andronicus, the scribes who copied the letter considered such an attribution impossible, so they added an “S” to the name Junia, thus transforming it into a diminutive of the masculine name “Junianus”.
Fourth century: a dramatic reversal
In the fourth century, with the “conversion” of Constantine, Christianity became the official religion of the empire, and women’s participation in the church gradually disappeared. The Spanish theologian José María Marín explains what happens: Primitive Christianity was much more involved with the family than with governing as a public function; consequently, women played a more important role in organizing the communities and the house churches. It was only at a later stage, when Christianity passed into the public, political sphere, that men took active control away from women.
Lesley Hazleton gives the following analysis: When orthodoxy was established and Christianity acquired official recognition and political power, the role of women was severely restricted, for religion was perhaps a sphere common to men and women, but politics was strictly for men. She cites the U.S. Baptist theologian Harvey Cox, who in his book Seduction of the Spirit characterizes this dramatic reversal in Christianity as the most successful attempt in history on the part of a hierarchy to divert, deactivate and control feminine religious symbolism.
The patriarchal architecture of the cathedrals
The architecture of the great European cathedrals reflected the misogynous ideology that prevailed in Christianity for centuries. A suggestive and surprising text is the prologue to Eve Ensler’s famous “Vagina Monologues”. In it the U.S. feminist Gloria Steinem asserts:
In the sixties, while I was doing research in the Library of Congress, I found a little known treatise about the history of religious architecture which blithely stated a thesis, as it were known by everybody, to the effect that the traditional shape of most patriarchal buildings of worship imitates the female body. Thus, there is an external entrance and another internal one, the labia majora and the labia minora; there is a vaginal central nave, which leads to the altar; there are two curved ovarian structures on either side; and finally, in the sacred center is the altar or uterus, where the great miracle takes place: men give birth.
Though this comparison was new for me, it opened my eyes with a shock. Of course, I thought. The central ceremony of the patriarchal religions is nothing else but the ceremony in which men take control of the “yoni” power of creation by giving birth symbolically. It is no wonder that male religious leaders state so often that we human beings are born in sin … because we are born from female tummies. Only by obeying the rules of the patriarchy can we be “reborn” through men. It is no wonder that priests and pastors decked out in long vestments sprinkle our heads with a fluid that mimics the waters of birth. It is no wonder that they give us new names and promise us we will be reborn in eternal life. It is no wonder that the male priesthood attempts to keep women far removed from the altar, just as we are kept far removed from control of our own powers of reproduction. Whether symbolic or real, everything is aimed at controlling the power that resides in the female body.
A misogynist church
Despite Jesus’ own practice and despite the practice of the original Christian communities, the Catholic Church has been fiercely opposed to the ordination of women for centuries, right up to our own day. In May 1994 Pope John Paul II published a document, ratified by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in 1995, in which he stated that the ordination of women was no longer to be discussed: I declare that the Church in no way has the ability to confer priestly ordination on women and that this declaration should be considered definitive by all the faithful. The last statement of this position was that of the then cardinal, now Supreme Pontiff, Joseph Ratzinger, in his “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World.” Published in October 2004, this text expresses the extreme and profound misogyny of official Catholicism.