Mary, Wife of Cleophas

This biblical Mary was the mother of James the Less and Joseph (Mark 15:40, Matthew 27:56). She has also been called Mary the mother of James (Mark 16:1, Luke 24:10), but her relationship, if any, to the mother of Jesus is confusing. Some biblical historians have called Cleophas the brother of Joseph (Jesus' stepfather), meaning that Mary, wife of Cleophas would be the Blessed Virgin Mary's sister-in-law. “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene” (John 19:25). The Gospel of John certainly states that Mary of Cleophas was among those women who stood by the cross, but the text doesn't make clear if the gospel writer was identifying the Mary, wife of Cleophas, as the sister of the Blessed Virgin. Tradition does not mention the Virgin Mary as having any brothers or sisters. Catholics believe her birth was not associated with original sin and is thus known as the “Immaculate Conception,” often confused with the virgin birth incarnation of Jesus.

Mary and Martha of Bethany with Jesus

Jesus Sources disagree over whether or not the wife of Cleophas was related to Jesus' family. Consider for a moment that she was mother of James the Less. Who was he? James the Less was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, and served as the head of the Jerusalem congregations with whom Peter, John, and Paul conferred in Acts 15. He has also been called James the Younger and James, the son of Alphaeus. Were Alphaeus and Cleophas the same person? Most likely.

The spelling of Clopas may derive from Klopas (or the King James Version, Cleophas). This individual is also sometimes identified as Alphaeus. Clopas, according to scholars of biblical linguistics, was most likely of Semitic origin. The wife of Cleophas/Alphaeus was the mother of James the Less. She would necessarily also be the mother of Matthew, who was called in the Gospel of Mark 2:14, “Levi the son of Alpheus.”

Early church father Eusebius recorded that Alphaeus/Cleophas (Clopas) was the brother of Joseph, husband of the mother of Jesus. That would make Mary, wife of Cleophas a sister-in-law of Jesus' mother Mary, and James the Less a cousin of Jesus.

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