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Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 47 - June/July 2012 > Mary (by Norman Tew)


by Norman Tew

Mary --- What's in a name?

The song says Mary is a "Good old name", and though it may not be as popular today in its various forms (Maria, Marie etc) it has been very popular in the past.  It has a Christian Biblical connotation but let us look at its use in the Bible.

The SDA Bible Dictionary gives this introduction, "Greek Maria and Mariam , from the Aramaic Maryam, a form of the Hebrew Miryam, which in turn is probably a Hebrew adaptation of the Egyptian Mryt, "the beloved one".

The name originated in the Old Testament, being the name of the elder sister of Moses.  Since she grew up in Egypt it is easy to see why a Hebrew name came from an Egyptian original. 

An interesting fact is that there was another person in the Old Testament with this name.  The sex of this second Miriam is uncertain, and though the original was of the tribe of Levi, this person was a descendant of Judah.  The information is found in 1 Chronicles 4:17, but the text is obviously unclear for different English translations give very different stories.  The first part of the verse names four sons of a person name Ezra.  In the KJV the second part of the verse names three children of an unnamed mother.  Modern translations including the NKJV all identify the mother as the wife of Mered, some name her as "Bithiah, the daughter of Pharaoh" or "Bithiah, an Egyptian princess".  Thus again the name Miriam is found in an Egyptian context.

But of course our use of the name Mary comes from one of the many New Testament Marys, but remember that Mary is still the same name as Miriam, just in a different language.

The SDA Bible Commentary lists 8 Marys but it is possible that some of them are the same as others but there are at least five different people.  Let us first take two names from the bottom of the list.

In Romans 16:6 Paul sends his greetings to "Mary, who has worked very hard among you".

Another easy one is the mother of John Mark in whose house the believers were gathered when Peter was in prison, and to whose house he went when the angel took him out of jail.

Now let us go to the top of the list, and of course the most important Mary was the mother of Jesus.  There is much we could talk about this Mary, I dare say that people who have been named Mary in the Centuries since have been named after her, not one of the others.

There are many stories about her, but we do know she was an obedient servant of God from the way she responded to Gabriel when he told her of her mission in life.  She is frightened, perplexed but willing to obey.

Another phrase that I always connect with her was first stated after the visit of the shepherds, "But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19 NRSV)   This phrase is repeated again, and I am sure there were many times when she watched Jesus and did not fully understand but thought about what she saw.

But there are still up to five more Marys.  Two of these are Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha.  Many commentators suggest that these two Marys are the same person.   Mary Magdalene is listed as having seven demons cast out of her, she is also grouped with ladies who supported Jesus with their means.  It is suggested that some of the earlier records of the gospel did not always identify her as she was still alive but that later records were able to name her without giving offence.

We find the other three Marys mentioned in the events after the crucifixion of Jesus.  There was another  Mary with Mary Magdalene at tomb, who may be the same as Mary the mother of James and Joses also mentioned in other records about this time.

Then there was Mary, the wife of Clopas.  It is of course possible that the "other Mary" was the mother of James & Joses, and it is also possible that the mother of James & Joses was the wife of Clopas. But we have no information

If you wish to study this through look at the following texts:

What was the point of this article?  I believe that the lives of all the Bible characters were described to help us learn lessons, maybe some times to be inspired by them, sometimes warned.  In the case of these Marys it is in almost all parts one of inspiration.  I could almost say "Go and do likewise".

The Bible is in so many ways a book about men, but these women who supported and helped Jesus are an inspiration to all of us.  They were faithful, loyal and believing. They pondered what they saw and heard from Jesus and they followed it up in their lives.

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