Thursday, March 24, 2011

Reviving Mary Magdalene: Emergency Rescue Work

You may imagine why my life partner, my spouse, has been reading aloud to me pages of Dr. Mary Pipher's wonderfully helpful (anthropology / psychology / sociology / spiritual) book.  She's asked me to read some of the pages for myself too.  As we read together, as I study alone further, we're not doing academic exercises.  We're involved in our own emergency rescue work.  It's work together as parents, equals, a mother and father.  We're raising a son and daughters in a misogynistic culture, much like yours I'm guessing.  But I'm not writing as an alarmist or to alarm you.  You know.  You know where you live, what your own children must negotiate, and how set against women (y)our society can be.  Read the books, the glossy magazines.  Read Dan Brown's view of Mary Magdalene in his pop book that has "only two female characters in his lengthy novel -- the love interest of his alter ego symbologist and an elderly nun who survives for all of two pages" (as David Lose points out; HT Shawna R. B. Atteberry).  Read the traditional Christian view of Mary Magdalene, even as Dan Brown would use fiction to challenge it; Stefan Lovgren, reviewing Brown's novel for National Geographic, says the historical obvious:  "Depicted by the Church as a prostitute, Mary Magdalene was an intimate disciple of Christ."  Why the focus here on Mary Magdalene?  Well, of course why!  Why has she been so mischaracterized?  What's that say about your culture?

So, in this post, I'd love for us to look at how gynophobic and misogynistic views affect us all in profound ways.  Can we think about and make some change?  The subtitle of the post really could have been, "Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls," or "Saving Ourselves," or "Saving the Self of Mary Magdalene," or "Saving the Bible from Misogynists." 

But enough of what I have to say.  Below are 5 important statements for us all (all related):


The male interpreters and writers want to see a prostitute, so that’s what they write about. For the record Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute either.


Mary Magdalene has always been the subject of both popular and scholarly intrigue. Was she the wife of Jesus, his complete initiate, a Goddess or a priestess? Did the Church dramatically alter her image to deny her importance? These questions have inspired representations of her in art, film and literature, from "Caravaggio" to "The Last Temptation of Christ" and "The Da Vinci Code". The "Mary Magdalene Cover-Up" is the first book to bring the original sources that have informed our current day view of Mary to a wider audience. Esther de Boer has brought together an impressive array of texts from the first century, when Mary Magdalene was alive, to the sixth century, when her image as a penitent sinner was invented. Each text is accompanied by an informed and lively commentary by the author placing it in its historical context. This combination of original texts and commentary enables the reader to draw their own conclusions about this most enigmatic of first-century women.


It is extremely important to note that the Bible NEVER associates Mary Magdalene with prostitution or sexual immorality of any kind. Most people don’t realize this and, in fact, think that that is her primary memorable feature. Why is it so important to get it straight? Here are just a few reasons:
1. It’s wrong; as such, it misrepresents the contents of the biblical texts.
2. It misrepresents our earliest evidence of the nature of Christianity.
3. It perpetuates the notion that many women in the Bible were sexually immoral or suspect.
4. It belittles the bold, central role that women have always played in Christian history, including our own era.
5. It continues the historical and ongoing tendency to reduce the importance of females in general and restrict them to the limited categories of wife, virgin, mother, or whore.

Each of those categories is tied to male control of female sexuality.


It has traditionally been assumed that the Bible promotes a special feminine role for women.  Yet we are immediately faced with the problem:  what model shall women emulate?  Eve?  Mary?  Sarah?  Mary Magdalene?
      In the New Testament, Jesus is held up as the one model for both men and women.  This central biblical teaching can in one stroke expose as a purely human invention the idea of special "feminine" roles for women.  To take Eve as a model of "true feminism," for example, would be like taking Adam as the example of "a real man."  [and who would we take as the masculine, male counterpart of Mary Magdalene?]
--Philip Cary, "One Role Model for All:  The Biblical Meaning of Submission," in Reta Halteman Finger's The Wisdom of Daughters: Two Decades of the Voice of Christian Feminism


     We need to change society if we are to produce healthy young women. But I can't single-handedly change the culture, and neither can the families I see [in counseling].  I try to help families understand some of their daughters' behavior as a reaction to a misogynistic culture and its manifestations at home, with friends, in school and in the larger community. We work together to assess the impact of the culture on the life of each family and to develop plans for damage control. It's emergency rescue work.

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