Wednesday, February 06, 2008

There's Something About Mary (1)

The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene, by Jane Schaberg

Chapter One, Virginia Woolf and Mary Magdalene, is a reflection on the life and writings of Virginia Woolf and her importance for the author. Each subsequent chapter begins with a quote of Woolf.

In Chapter Two, Meditations on Migdal, Schaberg talks about the town of Magdala, where Mary Magdalene was from. The town is usually associated with the ancient town of Migdal, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, five kilometers north of Tiberias. In NT times the town was thriving. As late as the thirteenth century there was a Christian church there over the purported site of Mary Magdalene's home. But by the seventeenth century only ruins were reported there. Apart from one archaeological dig in the 1970's Migdal has been largely ignored by archaeologists and scholars.

Chapter Three, Silence, Conflations, Distortions, and Legends, takes us into the scriptural references to MM and the making of her legend. This is what we know about MM from the Christian scriptures:
According to all four Christian New Testament Gospels, MM is a -- perhaps the -- primary witness to the fundamental data of the early Christian faith. She is said to have participated in the Galilean career of Jesus of Nazareth, followed him to Jerusalem, stood by and his execution and burial, found his tomb empty and received an explanation of that emptiness. Two texts mention that seven demons had come out of her (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9). According to three accounts (Mark 16:7; Matthew 28:7; John 20:17) she is sent with the commission to deliver the explanation of the empty tune to the disciples. Also according to three accounts (Matthew 28:9-10; John 20:14-18; Mark 16:9) she was the first to experience a vision or appearance of the resurrected Jesus...

In the Gospels MM a spoken to only by the figure at the empty tomb and by the risen Jesus. She speaks only to and of them, or of the empty tomb. Dialogue with her as individual occurs only in the Gospel of John, in the Garden tomb scene. Mark 16:8 depicts her and the other women fleeing from the empty tomb and saying nothing to anyone because of their fear, so that Gospel ends in their silence. In Luke 24:34 (as in first Corinthians 15:5) the first vision of the resurrected one is said to be Peter's; John 20:8 presents the mysterious figure of the beloved disciple as the first to believe.

Outside the Gospels, she is mentioned by name nowhere else in the Christian Testament, not even in first Corinthians 15:5-8 which lists those to whom the risen Jesus appeared...
Schaberg notes that an analysis of these texts in their historical context shows that as early as the second half of the first century her role in the events of the death and resurrection of Jesus is disputed. Other disciples, Peter or the Beloved Disciple, are given priority. But she is there in each of the gospels - in either a primary or secondary role - as a witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is her part in the canonical gospels.

So how, then, did she come to be associated with a whore? To be continued...

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