Biblical Archaeology Review 34:2, March/April 2008

ReViews: The Controversial Mary

This is a shorter, more popular version of Schaberg’s Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament.1 The detailed scholarly discussion is replaced with a question-answer format. The earlier volume engaged with Virginia Woolf; the later one more nearly with Dan Brown.

Yet both versions reflect an eloquent combination of personal investment and historical investigation and both compellingly detail the Magdalene’s depiction as penitent, whore, apostle, lover, etc., from Holy Writ all the way to Hollywood, reflecting a culture’s assessment of sexuality and gender.

The point is beautifully made in the opening chapter, which describes her hometown Magdala, like Mary herself, as “bulldozed, plowed over, owned by various men.”

Chapter 2 describes treatments of Mary before she became “harlotized.” An Ephesian legend reports that Mary was jilted at Cana— the prospective groom being the Evangelist John.

The sexual relationship between Jesus and the Magdalene has been a concern of the medieval Cathars and Albigensians inFrance, of Martin Luther, of Brigham Young, and even of a few scholars today.

In Chapter 3, the authors develop a composite role for Mary in gnostic texts where she is a prominent and even intimate disciple who has visions and is praised for her superior understanding.

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