Kingdom Women

The life and times of Mrs. Zebedee

Sometimes the life of a minor character in the Bible suddenly comes into focus. Since I wrote a post on the female disciples of Jesus, I’ve been fascinated by “the women,” a group of women from Galilee who took care of Jesus. My imagination has been particularly captured by “Mrs. Zebedee,” a simple fisherman’s wife.

Photo Credit: StateofIsrael via Compfight cc

There’s a few facts we know for sure, but there’s a lot we can legitimately surmise about the life of the wife of Zebedee, mother of James and John.

Here’s the core verse:

And many women who had come from Galilee with Jesus to care for him were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James and Joseph), and the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee. (Matthew 27:55-56)

James and John were among the first disciples Jesus chose. They were fishermen, partnered with Andrew and Peter in their fishing business (Luke 5:10). This was more than a “mom and pop” business since when James and John left to follow Jesus, they left Zebedee in the boat with the hired men (Mark 1:20). Were Zebedee and his family people of means?

Since Peter and Andrew lived in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 1:21, 29), it seems likely that their partners, Zebedee and his family, also lived nearby. I’m sure that James and John reported back to the family the story of Jesus turning the water into wine in nearby Cana (John 2:12). Were the Zebedee family in attendance at the synagogue in Capernaum the morning that Jesus cast out a spirit in the middle of the service? Later that day, after the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law in Peter and Andrew’s home when the whole town came to watch Jesus healing the sick, were Zebedee and his wife there too?  (Mark 1:32) As word spread about what Jesus was doing as he traveled through Galilee, I’m sure the parents of James and John followed the news of what their kids were involved in with great interest. From time to time, did they join the large crowds from Galilee that followed him wherever he went? (Matthew 4:25)

Whatever they were involved in during Jesus’ early ministry, Zebedee’s wife became totally committed to the One who taught her sons to fish for men.

In the Matthew version of the women watching as Jesus hung from the cross and breathed his last, three women are mentioned, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of James and John (ie., Mrs Zebedee). The Mark version of that same story also lists three women, the two Mary’s and Salome (Mark 15:40). Was Zebedee’s wife’s name Salome?

Mrs. Zebedee was part of the group of women that accompanied Jesus on his final journey from Galilee to Jerusalem (Matthew 27:55). This group of women is described as Jesus’ friends (Luke 23:49). The journey from Galilee probably begins in Matthew 19:1.

This means that Mrs. Zebedee accompanied Jesus and was most likely present for the following:

  • Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage (Matthew 19:1-11)
  • The rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-28)
  • The teaching on leaders being servants (Matthew 20:20-28)–she is specifically mentioned as present for this.
  • The healing of two blind men (Matthew 20:29-33)
  • The triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11)
  • The clearing of the temple (Matthew 21:12-17)
  • The fig tree withering (Matthew 21:18-22)
  • Jesus’ telling of various parables (Matthew 22 and 25)
  • His altercations with the Pharisees (Matthew 23)
  • His foretelling of the future (Matthew 24)
  • Mary’s anointing Jesus for burial (Matthew 26:6-13)
Most passages just refer to the disciples accompanying Jesus for all of the above. Take, for example, the Mark version of Jesus teaching on the road to Jerusalem about leaders being servants (Mark 10:35-45). it would be easy to think that only the twelve disciples were involved. However, the Matthew version fills in the details. The mother of James and John comes with her sons, kneels before Jesus and requests they be allowed to sit on his right and left hands in his coming Kingdom. Jesus seizes this “teachable moment” to talk about servanthood (Matthew 20:20-28).

How often do we assume, when the Gospels refer to the disciples (as opposed to the twelve) that women were not present? This example demonstrates their involvement.

Mrs. Zebedee was certainly there watching as Jesus died. She watched as his body was taken down from the cross and as Joseph of Arimathea laid it in his own tomb (Luke 23:55). If she was indeed Salome, she purchased burial spices and prepared them on the evening of the Sabbath with Mary Magdalene and Mary, mother of James (Mark 16:1; Luke 23:56). Then early next morning she may have also been present at the empty tomb when the angel told them that Jesus had been raised from the dead (Mark 16:2-8; Luke 24:1). She was probably with Mary Magdalene and the other women as they told the eleven disciples that Jesus had risen (Luke 24:10).
Did Mrs. Zebedee leave for home immediately after Jesus’ resurrection? Or was she one of the five hundred who, at one time, saw the risen Jesus’ in person (1 Corinthians 15:6). Did she  “tarry in Jerusalem” until the Day of Pentecost? Was she one of the group of women who were part of the 120 in the upper room as the disciples cast lots to choose a replacement for Judas (Acts 1:14)? Was she there when all the believers were gathered together in one place (Acts 2:1) and the Holy Spirit came like a rushing, mighty wind and tongues of fire settled on each of them and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues (Acts 2:1-4)? Did she rejoice as 3,000 people became believers that day? Was she part of the early church in Acts 2?

I’d like to think so. What about you?

11 replies on “The life and times of Mrs. Zebedee”

Wow! I never thought about Mrs. Zebedee before! She was very actively involved with Jesus and His ministry. Thanks for making me think!

Steve, I was amazed too. I woke up one night thinking about that verse and suddenly realized there were a whole lot of things that we could discover about her. So I got up around 5am and 3 hours later had come up with this post. Although she’s only named in two separate incidents, there’s so much we can learn about her. I was blessed!

When I read the post to Tony, my husband, it reduced him to tears.

yes jesus opened up the availability for relations with god for all humans no matter what sex or race–that’s one of the reasons why the jews rejected him–they could not handle him claiming equality with god and accepting other nationalities and sexes.

Tony has a wonderful heart, as you already know, Felicity – (obviously!)

What I like so much about this post is that the seed for it was clearly planted in your mind by the Spirit. He sometimes lays breadcrumb trails like this for us, doesn’t he? How exciting to begin with an implanted thought or prompt and then follow it through to a satisfying conclusion. We should expect this sort of thing, we should pray for it and eagerly anticipate it. Three hours very well spent.

I’m sure you are absolutely right about Mrs Z. But the mode of the insight is a huge encouragement so thanks for sharing it.

This is good and helpful to me since I plan to act out Mr.Zebedee on this Sunday Morning worship.
Thanks Felicity! Your informed imagination really helps.

Thanks for this great post, I was reading my bible, and the thought of Zebedee came into my mind. And I came across this post, which I will love to take as part of my research. Thanks

Thanks for your time in research and sharing this. Reading this morning in Mark 1:19-20 I wondered what Zebedee’s reaction to Jesus was when his sons James and John instantly left the family’s fishing business to go with Jesus leaving the business with out them. Didn’t think of what Mom’s reaction was. Your post really helped in answering my question.

I just wanted to say “Thank You” for sharing this post. I have asked only one of the questions about Mrs. Z, but this post awakens many more angles that I would have never considered. Thanks again!

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