Thursday, May 9, 2024

Mary of Bethany: Choosing the Better!

Mary of Bethany:  Choosing the Better!

By Patsy Norwood  © 2024  All Rights Reserved!

Introduction and Background

Bethany (located in modern day Palestine) was a small village just outside of Jerusalem.  In John 11:18, we learn that it was actually about 2 miles outside of Jerusalem on the southeastern side of the Mount of Olives. Today, we would refer to it as a suburb of Jerusalem.

Jesus passed through Bethany several times on his way to and from Jerusalem where our lady of choice for this study lived along with her two siblings, Martha and Lazarus. Did they all live in the same house?  Secular history seems to indicate that they did and if we take into consideration the events recorded in John (which we’ll do later in the study), it does appear that they all belonged to one household. 

Speculation is that Martha was older than Mary and was more practical and unemotional.  Mary, on the other hand, was younger, impassioned, and imaginative.  Speculation goes on to include that Martha likely was a widow and that Mary had never married.

Whether speculation is correct or not, it's clear we are dealing with two opposite personalities. For the purposes of this study, we’re going to take note of their personality differences realizing that neither is wrong.  God uses both types, but depending on the circumstance, this circumstance in particular, one could be, in fact, better than the other.  (Sidenote:  Martha was not an unspiritual person, a study on her will quickly make that obvious.)

Indications are that Mary, Martha and Lazarus were somewhat wealthy evidenced by their owning a family tomb and having the ability to purchase costly ointment.  It seems that they were well-known as well.  (We’ll cover all of this later in the study.)

To help us better understand the back story/background of this study, we need to take a brief look at the history of Jewish hospitality. 

The following was taken from the Dictionary of New Testament Background, Editors Craig A. Evans & Stanley E. Porter:

Following the exile, most Jews lived outside of the Holy Land, and many of these made pilgrimages to Jerusalem.   At least one of the synagogues in Jerusalem was built in such a way as to address this situation; in an inscription, Theodotus claims that he built ‘the guesthouse and the rooms and the water supplies as an inn for those who have need when they come from abroad.’

Roman roads were built in Palestine, and inns offering hospitality for a fee appeared soon thereafter (Luke 10:34-35; see also 2:7).  Yet the emphasis in Judaism remained on the exercise of private hospitality, especially to aliens and strangers (Deut 10:17-19), as an obligation that was enjoined by the Torah (Lev 19:33-34) and underscored by the depiction of Yahweh as the protector of strangers.  Hospitality was viewed as a byproduct of personal piety toward God, and Josephus’s depiction of the pious Essenes accordingly gave emphasis to their hospitality.

To practice hospitality, therefore, was worthy of praise, even self-praise (Job 31:32), whereas the failure to do so evoked condemnation (Job 22:7), especially in circles where hospitality was regarded as superior to fasting (Is 58: 6-7).  For models of hospitality and inhospitality, Jews of the Greco-Roman period drew heavily on the Old Testament.

Could this attitude towards hospitality have been the starting point of the relationship Jesus had with Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  We know that Jesus, along with His disciples made many trips in, around, to and from Jerusalem.  They needed places to sleep, rest and get refreshed.  To me, it almost seems like the perfect beginning, what do you think?

Next week, we’ll open our Bible to Luke 10: 38-41 and dive in.  I hope you’re as excited about this study as I am!

I hope you’ve enjoyed today's lesson.  Don't forget to leave a comment and if you're enjoying this study, please share the link with other ladies who you think might enjoy it as well.

Until the next class …

patsy @ From This Heart of Mine

Sources used for this study:

Various translations of the Holy Bible

Various commentaries

Dictionary of New Testament Background, Editors: Craig A Evans & Stanley E. Porter

Archaeological Study Bible

All the Women of the Bible by Edith Deen

Daughters of Eve by Lottie Beth Hobbs

Halley’s Bible Handbook by H. H. Halley

Who’s Who in the Bible by Philip Comfort & Walter A. Elwell


  1. Inviting strangers in to stay would not be considered safe today. I wonder if it was considered risky in those days.

    1. Good question! Just going by human nature, which over all doesn't change, it would seem that there would be situations that would indeed be risky. A deep dive study on Old Testament hospitality would be interesting.

  2. This sounds like it gonna be good

    1. LeeAnn, thank you, I have enjoyed researching and writing it.

  3. Hi Patsy, this will be such an interesting topic. I have always read it that Martha was wasting her time with the domestic work. But, I totally can relate and indeed do align with Martha, it's so helpful to think that neither were wrong! Looking forward to this study 😁

    1. Julia, it's sad that that is the way Martha is portrayed most of the time. But, when we look at all of what the Bible says about her, we see that society might not be looking at the whole picture of Martha's life but just at a snapshot instead.

  4. Sorry, comment was from Julia UK xx

  5. I am looking forward to this study! Mary seemed to be very close to Jesus.

    1. Angelia, yes, she did as did her sister and brother as well.