Is she best remembered for being the mother of two beloved disciples? As the over-ambitious mother? As one of the band of women followers? Or as one of the faithful?

Although Salome was a remarkable woman of faith she has “… received very little attention, even in the recent studies of women disciples of Jesus.[1]

Salome is probably best known for being the mother of two disciples, John and James.[2] Scholars seem divided on whether she was also Mary’s sister, Salome, or just one of the band of women followers. However, many scholars are convicted that she is the Salome referred to as “the sister of Mary” in John 19:25.[3] If this interpretation is accurate, then this would also make her not only the mother of two disciples, but also Jesus’ aunt.[4]

Regardless, “Next to Jesus’ own mother, the most notable mother to cross Jesus’ path during his ministry was the mother of the disciples James and John.”[5]

Salome is oftentimes highlighted for being the mother who was over-ambitious for her two sons. This interpretation stems from when Salome and her two sons knelt before Jesus, late in his ministry, and she requested that he, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Matt  20:21).

Scholars have interpreted her request as revealing her maternal ambition “to ensure the places of highest honor for her sons.”[6]

Scripture reports that when the other disciples heard of Salome’s request they became angry with the two brothers (Matt 20:24). It has been suggested that it is “quite natural to suppose that the other ten disciples were ambitious for these places, too, and must have felt that this mother had made a very selfish request.”[7] Another scholar wrote, “that the disciples were “still jockeying for positions in the hierarchy model” not fully grasping that for Jesus, godly leadership is more about humble service than power and prestige.[8]

Yet, Jesus “did not treat Salome’s ambition as if it were sinful but he was compassionate because of the ignorance behind the request.”[9]

Jesus understood that his followers were unable to fully comprehend all that lay ahead.

It has been contended that “This mother had been presumptuous enough to put her own human ambition for her sons James and John above their spiritual preparation.”[10]

Yet, this type of contention primarily remembers Salome as being the disciples’ ambitious mother, and thus minimizes her contributions. A more robust portrayal of Salome would include that she was one “ the most faithful followers of Jesus to the end.”[11] She was one of his early followers and served and ministered to him “during the years that followed.”[12]

Salome was also one of the few brave followers who resolutely remained at the Cross.[13] And she was most likely one of the band of saintly women who went to minister funeral rites to Jesus’ body at the tomb.[14]  

She and Zebedee were also exceptional in that they “handed down a rich spiritual legacy” to their sons, both whom became two of Jesus’ most trusted disciples.[15]

There is also evidence suggesting that Salome, Zebedee and their sons generously gave of their finances during Jesus’ ministry.[16]

This was a remarkable family of faith.

Yet, the family suffered much hardship. The two sons were persecuted. Both lost their lives. James was martyred when Herod Agrippa had him beheaded during Passover, A.D. 44.[17] And although John was not martyred like the other disciples, he was banished to Patmos Island for the remainder of his life.[18]

Salome also witnessed Jesus’ unimaginable suffering and his horrific death on the Cross.

So, when I consider Salome through a mother’s eyes I do see the ambitious mother. Wanting the best for her sons.

But I see more. Much more.

I also see an exceptional woman of faith.

A woman who was a devoted follower of Jesus.

A woman who resisted the traditional and cultural norms that expected her to stay at home. Defying the conventional so that she could travel with the disciples and sit under the authority and the teaching of a rabbi.[19]

A woman who dared to leave the known for the unknown.

A disciple whose “’following’ [was] a matter of self-denial and allegiance to Jesus.” Exhibiting an audacious dedication by taking up her cross and following Jesus, despite everything it cost her.[20]

A woman willing to risk her own safety as she elected to stay  with Jesus at the Cross.[21]

One of the faithful who remained steadfast through the Cross to the tomb.[22] Demonstrating a tenacious faith, even as so many others fell away in fear.

So yes, Salome was John and James’ mother. And she did made the over-ambitious request for her sons.

But she was also one of the faithful who sacrificed much to follow Jesus.


[1] Richard Bauckham. Gospel Women. Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 2002, 225.

[2] Edith Deene. All the Women of the Bible. Castle Books, Harper Collins Publisher Inc., New York, NY, 1955, 193.

[3] Ibid, 193; Bauckham, 237.; Catherine Kroeger and Mary J. Evans. The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary. InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2002. 535.

[4] Bauckham, 237.; Wikipedia. Salome., 1.

[5] Deene, 193.

[6] Ibid, 193.; Kroeger 535).

[7] Deene, 193.

[8] Kroeger, 535.

[9] Herbert Lockyer. All the Women of the Bible. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1967, 151.

[10] Deene, 193.

[11] Ibid, 193.

[12] Sue and Larry Richards. Every Woman in the Bible. Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 1999, 198. ; Mark 15:40, 41; Matthew 20:20-28.

[13] Mark 15:40-41; Matt 27:56; John 19:25.

[14] John 20:1-18.

[15] Deene, 193.

[16] Ibid, 194.; Joanne Turpin. Twelve Apostolic Women. St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, Ohio. 2004, 17.

[17] Turpin, 21.

[18] Ibid, 21.

[19] Turpin, 15-16.

[20] Mark 8:34. Marla J Schierling Selvidge. And Those Who Followed Feared. The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 45 no 3 Jul 1983,  397.

[21] Luke 23:28; Mark 15:40; Matthew 27:56.

[22] Luke 24:10; Mark 16:1. Lockyer, 151; Bauckham, 235.


Rogier van der Weyden. Mary Salome in the Descent from the Cross.

Rogier van der Weyden. Descent from the Cross. Details: Mary, John the Evangelist and Salome.

Meister Francke, 1435.