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What Happened to Mary After Jesus?

This week's question comes from Susan D. She asks, "What happened to Mary after Jesus' death?" Although she doesn't specify which Mary, we'll assume she's asking about Mary the mother of Jesus.

With the exception of Jesus' birth, Mary plays a rather minor role in the four Gospels. She is portrayed rather negatively in Mark and Matthew, quite positively in Luke and John treats her neutrally. In Mark's gospel Mary and her family are shown coming for her son because she seems to think he is deranged (Mark 3.19-21). John retells the account where Mary seems to force Jesus' hand at a wedding in Cana where he performs his first recorded miracle (John 2.1-5). After these events, Mary is seen only a couple more times in the Gospels, the last time being when Jesus is dying on the cross and asks his disciple John to care for his mother (John 19.25-27).

After Jesus' death we find Mary mentioned only one more time. The book of Acts says that she joined the other disciples in an upper room for prayer on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1.14). After that, Mary the Mother of Jesus disappears from scripture. The assumption of most biblical scholars is that she lived out her life in the company of the disciples and eventually died of old age.

But there is a tradition that says otherwise. That tradition is kept alive by the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches who maintain that Mary had a much more significant role after the death of Jesus. For one, Ambrose ( a church writer of the fourth century) wrote that Jesus appeared to his mother before he appeared to anyone else. Though this is not mentioned in scripture, nor any other writing before Ambrose, this became an accepted account by the church.

Following the resurrection and the Pentecostal mention in Acts, tradition asserts that Mary lived either in Ephesus or in Jerusalem and that she may have been buried in Ephesus (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., III, 31; V, 24, P.G., XX, 280, 493). On the other hand, the Bishop of Jerusalem asserted that Mary's tomb resided in Jerusalem. Indeed, there are numerous works that suggest a number of burial sites for Mary including the Garden of Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives.

However, there is another tradition that has prevailed at least since the fifth century and was made church dogma for the Roman Church in 1950 by Pope Pius XII. This tradition holds that Mary died between three and fifteen years after Jesus' ascension into heaven (Acts 1.9-10). St. Juvenal, the Bishop of Jerusalem, asserted at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 that Mary had died in the presence of all the Apostles. He also stated that after she was placed in her tomb, Thomas, one of the apostles, requested the tomb be opened and they discovered her body gone. Because of this reportedly the apostles assumed Mary had been bodily assumed into heaven, much as her son had.

The bodily assumption of Mary has its root firmly in tradition of both the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church, but the Bible itself is silent as to Mary's life and death following her brief mention in Acts 1. Indeed, nothing is written prior to the fourth century about her life or death, save for the biblical accounts. So Susan, we really know nothing for certain about Mary's post Pentecostal life-only the speculative writings of men some 300 years after Jesus.

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