The Magdalena Factor in Christian Primitive Accumulation: the search for the divine parent

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Thu Nov 13 22:26:56 MST 2003

A nonfiction book out this month - "The Gospel of Mary of Magdala," by Karen
King of the Harvard Divinity School - strikes a different chord. An
eight-page fragment lost for 1,500 years, this gospel, written in the second
century, tells of a conversation among Mary, Peter, Andrew, and Levi about a
teaching Jesus gave to Mary on the end of the material world and the nature
of sin. It highlights Mary's role as an apostle and Peter's resistance to
her role. (...) The gospel "shows us there was a tradition of Mary Magdalene
as an important apostle of the church after the resurrection," says Ms. King
in an interview. Several other gnostic works (gospels not chosen for the New
Testament and termed heretical by early church fathers) similarly support
her in that role. (...)  "Since she was commissioned by Jesus to be in
essence an apostle to the apostles, she provided the most crucial precedent
in the New Testament for women to be teachers, preachers, or evangelists,"
says Ben Witherington III, professor at Asbury Theological Seminary.(...) An
expert on women in the Bible, Dr. Witherington says that "what happened on
Easter morning involving her is really what triggers all of this [debate]."
(...) Many see her as a central character in the church's marginalization of
women over several centuries. The perception of Mary as a prostitute
originated in 591, when Pope Gregory the Great falsely identified her with
an unnamed sinful woman in the Bible. Almost 1400 years later, in 1969, the
church officially corrected its error, though it lingers in public
consciousness. (...) Often-fantastic legends about Mary traveling from
Jerusalem to France, pregnant with Jesus' child and giving birth to a line
of kings, spread in medieval times and reappeared in books in the 1980s, to
be folded into "The Da Vinci Code." (...) "America is a Jesus-haunted
culture, but at the same time, it's a biblically illiterate culture,"
Witherington says. "When you have that odd combination, almost anything can
pass for knowledge of the historical Jesus." King sees something else at
play in the debate: The question of Jesus' marriage resonates, she believes,
with the complex issues that churchgoers are facing today in discussions
about sexuality and the body, including the contentious homosexuality
debate. "We have such a medicalized view of the body," she says. "The real
issue is how do we think theologically about the body and sexuality." (...)
Ms. Tickle sees this interest in Gnosticism and Mary Magdalene - and the
willingness of many to look afresh at the Christian tradition - as going
beyond the role of women in the church. "This is the pursuit of the divine
feminine, a kind of yearning that infects both genders; it wishes to find in
the divine parent that wholeness that is the feminine and masculine
together," she says. "Scripturally speaking, Mary is our best shot at
showing that there was in Jesus the recognition of that."

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