Who was the Most Beloved Disciple?

Let’s talk conspiracy theory this week. In the Gospel of John (written 70 years after Jesus’ death) there are four references to an unnamed disciple. This disciple was at the Last Supper, the crucifixion, the empty tomb, and on the Sea of Galilee in one of Jesus’ appearances after the resurrection. The gospel writer calls him “the most Beloved Disciple.” Who was this?

  • Mary Magdalene? This one is the most fun to talk about. Certain novelists sell a lot of books based on this theory. And DaVinci’s Last Supper painting does show a very feminine-looking disciple at the table. But most Biblical scholars think the use of the male pronoun in the text limits the gender to male. Plus Mary Magdalene is mentioned separately as being present at the tomb along with the Beloved Disciple.
  • One of Jesus’ brothers? The Beloved Disciple is also likely someone not named elsewhere in the Gospel of John. The only disciples not named in the Gospel of John are the “other” James, the “other” Jude, and the “other” Simon, and Matthew. These four (some scholars think even Matthew was a brother) were all part of the Jesus family.
  • Brother James. According to arguments presented by scholar James Tabor, Jesus’ brother James is the most likely candidate for the Beloved Disciple. He may have been one of the original 12 (i.e. the “other James”), and therefore was likely a part of Jesus’ inner circle. Plus, at the scene of the cross, Jesus gives the care of his mother Mary over to this Most Beloved disciple. Jewish tradition would have logically made that the next oldest brother.

There’s lots more, but we’ve only got three bullets per week.

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