November, 2005 Archives
by Lesa Bellevie in Gnosticism
This exciting news is something I picked up from Terje Bergesen’s blog.
by Nevine El-Aref
In Al-Gurna where several excavation missions are probing for more Ancient Egyptian treasures under the sand, a team from the Polish Centre for Mediterranean Archaeology has stumbled on a major Coptic trove buried under the remains of a sixth-century monastery located in front of a Middle Kingdom tomb.
This was reported by Al-Ahram Weekly On-line (Cairo) back in February.
Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, says that the find is equal in importance to the discovery made at Nag Hammadi in 1945. I hope he’s right. I can’t wait to find out what texts are included, but know it will likely be a long time before the public learns more about them.
Would it be entirely inappropriate to pray for the missing pages of the Gospel of Mary to be there?
by Lesa Bellevie in Apostle, Gnosticism, Mary Magdalene, Media sightings
This article was posted today on the Minnesota Women’s Press website:
There’s Something About Mary
by Elizabeth Noll
[Elaine Pagels]: The Christian movement has always been diverse. That it was diverse in the beginning is very clear. It’s still diverse. I think that what that says is that if you’re going to participate in it at all, you make choices about what you participate in. What kind of groups, what kind of understanding. You have a wide range of choices. I do make choices about those things, quite consciously, and I think that most people are aware that they’re making choices about that.
This is a pretty good article, about Mary Magdalene in the Gnostic tradition. It addresses some very basic questions about Mary Magdalene and brings up a couple of points that I’d like to call out.
From the interview:
MWP: I read somewhere that the prostitute thing started with a pope in the sixth century.
EP: Yes. The stories get conflated so that the story of the prostitute who washes Jesus’ feet with her hair is interpreted to be Mary Magdalene when of course the story doesn’t say that at all. That’s church tradition, begun in the sixth century.
MWP: And then, in the 1960s, didn’t the Vatican officially announce that she was not a prostitute?
EP: Yes, because it was recognized by people working on the text, particularly Raymond Brown, that there’s no grounds for that, historically. And some churches, like the Russian Orthodox Church, have taken her always to be a saint.
But what [this debate] shows is that these issues about women are not invented by feminists in the 20th century; they’re issues that have been engaging Christians from the very beginning of the movement.
This demonstrates one of my hot buttons. Pope Gregory the Great didn’t invent the tradition of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute, he merely reinforced it. Depending on where you lived in Christendom and who taught you about the religion, you might have learned that Mary Magdalene was Mary of Bethany or the anonymous sinner woman from Luke (who was also never called a prostitute, incidentally), or any combination of the three women. I believe that Susan Haskins discusses this briefly in her book, Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor.
Pope Gregory the Great was a master administrator who took the throne during a time when doctrine and dogma was in chaos. One of the things for which he is remembered is settling long-standing questions and determining official positions that the Church would take on certain issues. In one homily delivered in 591 (XXXIII, I think), he established once and for all that:
She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary, we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark.
Today, Gregory is getting credited more and more frequently as inventing the tradition, which is clearly not the case. Conflation of the women in the Gospels and confusion between the Marys was evident several centuries before Gregory.
Another thing that stands out in the section of the interview I quoted above is that Pagels comments that Orthodox Christianity has always considered Mary Magdalene a saint. What I’m sure she knows, and my guess is that she only misspoke, is that Mary Magdalene has always been a saint in the Western church as well. I think we should give Professor Pagels the benefit of the doubt here; I think she meant to say that Orthodox Christianity has always considered Mary Magdalene a distinct person separate from Mary of Bethany and Luke’s anonymous sinner.
Not a bad interview at all. I love to see Elaine Pagels in the news.
by Lesa Bellevie in Blogroll
The following article, from The Dallas Morning News, was posted today at ReligionNewsBlog.com:
My editor at Alpha Books, Randy Ladenheim-Gil, was interviewed for the piece.
This was the absolute best part of the article:
Father Trigilio is just as pleased to be a Dummies author. He’s at work with two others on a Dummies book about Pope John Paul II, to be released near the first anniversary of his death, April 2, 2006.
For anyone who has lingering concerns about pairing “dummies” and “idiots” with sacred subjects, the priest says: Get over it. He notes that in First Corinthians, St. Paul favorably uses the term “fools for Christ.”
“The actual word in the Greek, if you translate it literally, means ‘morons,’ ” Father Trigilio said. “Nobody gets bent out of shape that St. Paul is calling them a moron.”
My experience with writing an Idiot’s Guide was as follows:
- I had twelve weeks to write the book. This is not enough time to order images from archives and get permissions for copyrighted material. For example, I wanted to use an image from a book published in the 1950s on an imprint now owned by Penguin (of which Alpha Books is a subsidiary). They couldn’t find the copyright owner in their files, and there wasn’t enough time to do a full copyright search.
- The book went through a review by Mark L. Strauss, author of Distorting Scripture?: The Challenge of Bible Translation & Gender Accuracy. He is not a Mary Magdalene expert, but my book is much more solid as a result of his input.
- The introduction was written by Jane Schaberg, author of The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament. She is a Mary Magdalene expert, and I felt honored that she agreed to do the introduction.
- The book went through a review by a copy editor in a different state who was hired by Alpha. I had a couple of weeks to go through all of the comments inserted into the text by Mark Strauss, the copy editor, and someone in layout, and respond to them, though there was no opportunity for any real dialogue about potential changes. I could only accept suggested changes or reject them, and there was no guarantee that my decision wouldn’t be vetoed.
- Alpha’s policy is to NOT send the layout to the author before the book goes to the printer unless specifically requested. This is something I learned after waiting and waiting to receive a galley for review, only to find out the book was already being printed.
- There are several problems in the book that I would have liked to correct if I had seen them in a galley. For example, there is a stupid typo in the map that appears within the first few pages. It says “Lebanan” instead of “Lebanon.” Mea culpa. I’m disappointed that not only did no one else catch it, but I didn’t have a chance to correct it before it went to print.
- No one, I mean no one, got advance copies of the book. That includes me. I had to buy a copy of my own book from Barnes & Noble to see what the finished product looked like. It took about six weeks after the official pub date to get my box of contract copies.
- The person hired to do the marketing (it seems that Alpha outsources everything instead of doing it from in-house) can’t seem to get the description of the book right, so there are problems with the way it looks on Amazon.com, BN.com, and the Penguin website.
The positive points for the book are that the advance was decent for a first-time author (I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to get any kind of advance had I taken an independently-written manuscript to some random publisher) and I got published. In print. For real. That’s pretty satisfying, which is why I usually don’t complain about the kinds of things I outlined above. The fact that I was able to write a book with wide exposure more than makes up for the inconveniences.
by Lesa Bellevie in Holy Grail, Mary Magdalene
In the photo that appears at the link below, it’s hard to make out the store in question (you can zoom in). The caption is priceless though:
by Lesa Bellevie in Holy Grail, Mary Magdalene
This is an excerpt from an opinion piece posted today on The Sunday Telegraph opinion page:
God isn’t big enough for some people
by Umberto Eco
G K Chesterton is often credited with observing: “When a man ceases to believe in God, he doesn’t believe in nothing. He believes in anything.” Whoever said it – he was right. We are supposed to live in a sceptical age. In fact, we live in an age of outrageous credulity.
The “death of God”, or at least the dying of the Christian God, has been accompanied by the birth of a plethora of new idols. They have multiplied like bacteria on the corpse of the Christian Church — from strange pagan cults and sects to the silly, sub-Christian superstitions of The Da Vinci Code.
It is amazing how many people take that book literally, and think it is true. Admittedly, Dan Brown, its author, has created a legion of zealous followers who believe that Jesus wasn’t crucified: he married Mary Magdalene, became the King of France, and started his own version of the order of Freemasons. Many of the people who now go to the Louvre are there only to look at the Mona Lisa, solely and simply because it is at the centre of Dan Brown’s book.
Tsk. I think everyone already knows by now that Umberto Eco is no fan of The Da Vinci Code. Early on, some slavished praise on Dan Brown for writing a book worthy of Eco, a laughable suggestion at best, and perhaps Eco took it personally. I remember seeing a documentary, or video (sorry, can’t remember what it was now), in which Umberto Eco was interviewed about all of this Mary Magdalene and Jesus being married business. He seemed highly amused by the whole thing, and proudly showed off a shelf in his study on which he stored books that were nonsense. (Drat! I’ve even forgotten the witty name he gave this shelf!) He made a very clear point of filing the book in question, either The Da Vinci Code or Holy Blood, Holy Grail, on THAT shelf.
Today, the article with the above excerpt showed up online. Now, I just have to say that someone with Eco’s reputation and stature really is in a position to say something memorable to those of us who pay attention to this sort of thing. Something memorable in a good way. But the excerpt above displays quite a bit of ambiguity.
Jesus became the King of France and started an order of Freemasons?!
Clearly, there ARE people around who believe these sorts of things, but Dan Brown never says either in DVC. I wonder, was he being facetious with the remarkable absurdity of these claims, as an example of how inane DVC is? Or is he really trying to give a brief synopsis of the more ridiculous–but non-existant–points of the book? Or is he lurking on email lists reading the kinds of bizarre theories being floated these days? As much as I rather enjoy the incongruous mental image of Umberto Eco haunting alt.conspiracy late at night, I sort of have my doubts about that one.
Whichever the case, I’m disappointed. I think the article was otherwise very interesting and he was going in a potentially meaningful direction with all of this.
by Lesa Bellevie in Blogroll
Who the heck am I, and what gives me the idea that I’m qualified to blog about Mary Magdalene, anyway?
My name is Lesa Bellevie. I’m the founder of Magdalene.org, and the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Mary Magdalene. Yes, the title is part of the real Idiot’s Guide series, I didn’t rip it off. (Believe it or not, this is a common question.) I’ve been researching Mary Magdalene since 1997, when I first discovered that nothing in the Gospels says she was a prostitute. A software test engineer by trade, I naturally turned to the Internet to see what I could dig up, which, in 1997, was not much. I decided to start my own website to gather all of the information I was able to find about Mary Magdalene and just to see what would come of it. It’s been a fulfilling project and has led to other opportunities that allow me to explore my avocation as an amateur historian.
You read right: amateur historian. Or, armchair historian if you’d prefer. I have no long string of letters after my name to validate any of the work that I do, no institution to lend its credibility, no grants to fund my projects. It’s just a University of Washington Friends of the Library membership card, my husband/research assistant/cohort, and me. Everything I know about New Testament scholarship is entirely the result of self-education; although I like to defend myself by saying that many great people in history have been self-educated, I am fully aware that I probably have only just enough knowledge to get myself into trouble.
And still, I persist.
It’s difficult to say what drives me and my passion for learning about Mary Magdalene. Some people are interested in Raymond Burr, some people in the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and for me, it’s a 1st century woman who may or may not have actually existed. I leave it to the reader to determine the quality of my work, and add that I’m always open to polite criticisms. If there is something I can do better, or a resource I need to use, or a methodology that should be applied, I’d love to hear about it.
As for my spiritual background, I was raised in a very literalist branch of Protestant Christianity (read: evangelical, Pentecostal, non-denominational, whatever they’re calling it these days), and no longer consider myself a Christian. I’m not an atheist (on most days), but neither do I adhere to any particular system of faith. Point 15 of my Personal Manifesto sums it up: “Spiritually, I draw inspiration from Hermetic, Platonic and Neo-platonic philosophy, Christianity, and Gnosticism.”
As often as I’ve tried, I’ve been unable to remember being taught anything about Mary Magdalene in Sunday school, but somehow I acquired the notion that she was a prostitute, as do most other people who live in the Western world. Whether this was the result of my religious upbringing or immersion in this culture, I’ll never be able to say.
I’ve never been a Roman Cathlolic. (This is important. Occasionally, when I’ve taken a more conservative approach to a Mary Magdalene question, I’ve been accused of defending the Church. Heh.)
Contrary to what some believe, I have no “camp.” That is, I do not have a league of minions sitting around waiting to do my bidding so I may better carry out my diabolical plots to suppress views of Mary Magdalene of which I do not approve. As I said, it’s just me, my husband, and our ever-growing stacks of library books. When I don’t appreciate a particular idea about Mary Magdalene, I’ll say so directly and explain why.
Finally, I have a quick word on my place in the Magdalene movement. The movement itself seems to be made up of two branches: the historians and the mystics. Each levels criticisms at the other: the historians say that the mystics are making up history as they go, and the mystics say that the historians have forgotten that Mary Magdalene is a spiritual figure. I can appreciate both of these positions, and, as a result, I try to plant myself firmly between the two branches in order to more fully understand each.
That said, I do tend to lean more toward the historian side of things. It just seems that the world has gone a little crazy in the wake of The Da Vinci Code, and the mystics have taken this as some kind of popular mandate. Maybe it is, but that doesn’t mean everything isn’t still off-kilter. I doubt there is anything I can do to help tip the balance, but in fifty or a hundred years, when the world is looking back on the origins of the Mary Magdalene cult in Western society, I want to be named as a voice of reason.
Margaret Starbird once asked me if I feel like I’m tilting at windmills.
As a matter of fact, I do.
by Lesa Bellevie in Mary Magdalene
In March, 2005, John Allemang, of The Globe and Mail, a Toronto newspaper, had this to say about my book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Mary Magdalene:
“The author of the Idiots volume on Mary Magdalene, Lesa Bellevie, also runs the website Magdalene.org. Yet the amount of detail the Bible supplies about Mary Magdalene could almost be written on the head of a pin. So you have to admire the sheer opportunism of a publishing company that can offer a Complete Idiot’s Guide to Jesus’ favourite female follower, which explores ‘who she might have been.’”
I don’t hold a grudge, John, I promise, even though I know no one had access to an advance copy of the book. The reason I’ve included these comments is because it reflects the increasingly common belief that before The Da Vinci Code came along, there was nothing to say about Mary Magdalene. I have one thing I’d like to say in response:
Dan Brown didn’t invent Mary Magdalene.
Come to think of it, he didn’t even reinvent Mary Magdalene. Everything Brown wrote about Mary Magdalene had already been in circulation for at least a decade. But it took Brown to borrow these ideas, for better or worse, incorporate them into an easily-digestible plot, and publish with a house that marketed it aggressively, to bring Mary Magdalene to everyone’s lips.
The woman herself has been around for almost two-thousand years, not lingering in the shadows like a wallflower, but as one of the most popular Christian figures ever. At various periods in history she has inspired mass devotion or mass revulsion, sometimes both at the same time. Something Mary Magdalene has rarely been is a subject of no controversy. To suggest that there is little to say about her that isn’t related to The Da Vinci Code is naïve, at best.
Now that I’ve gone and made such a bold statement, it seems fair to share what I feel there is to talk about. Let me start by saying that as far as I’m concerned, there are no right or wrong views of Mary Magdalene. Some perspectives are more historically probable than others, some are more spiritually fulfilling than others, and some are certainly less offensive than others. But when it comes right down to it, everything about Mary Magdalene is relative; your view depends very much on where you’re standing. It’s impossible to quantify how many people of a given religious persuasion hold which views, so these are the categories I use to compare the ways people are currently approaching Mary Magdalene:
The traditional view of Mary Magdalene, of course, is that she was a penitent sinner. She may have been a prostitute, or an adulterer, or various other kinds of naughty woman, but Mary Magdalene’s presumed sins are almost always sexual in nature. (Take, for example, the fact that no one has ever talked about Mary Magdalene the thief.) It’s very difficult to find a significant written work that takes this point of view today; usually this is something you find in religious tracts, sermons, hymns, etc.
The more recent view of Mary Magdalene that even semi-conservative Roman Catholics can get on board with is that Mary Magdalene was the first, and perhaps most important, apostle. That is to say, Mary Magdalene was the first person to see the risen Christ, and the first person to spread the good news, and therefore, she was an apostle. (We can argue for days on the definition of “apostle,” which I’m sure will eventually be a subject covered in The Magdalene Review, but not today.) This group includes the writings of Karen King and Ann Graham Brock.
Since the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library, it has become obvious that a woman named Mary, believed by many scholars to have been Mary Magdalene, was a very important figure in Gnostic Christianity. Gnostic Christianity itself can be viewed as a failed branch of early Christianity; the branch that emerged as the orthodoxy stamped it out by the sixth century. This group includes the writings of Elaine Pagels, Karen King, Marvin Meyer, and Annti Marjanen.
- Beloved Disciple
There are a growing number of people who believe that Mary Magdalene could have been the author of the Fourth Gospel, the one we typically call John. Scholarship in this area is gaining attention and momentum. Authors include Ramon K. Jusino, Esther de Boer, and Marvin Meyer.
There are actually two branches of the Holy Grail perspective of Mary Magdalene that I’ve decided to classify.
This group includes those who believe that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and conceived at least one child. Mary Magdalene would have then been a vessel for the blood of Christ and therefore a very literal Holy Grail. This subgroup of of the Holy Grail category believe that any surviving bloodline is of great importance, and often elaborate geneaologies are published as a result. Authors who have written from this perspective include Michael Baigent, Henry Lincoln, and Richard Leigh (authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail), and Laurence Gardner. If one wishes to include fiction, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code would fall into this category.
In my opinion, this is the far more interesting of the two branches of the Holy Grail category. From this angle, Mary Magdalene served double-duty as an archetypal feminine face of God as well as being the literal wife of Jesus. The reason our culture and Christianity is so filled with problems is that we have “lost” Mary Magdalene, the bride of Jesus, who was an integral part of the real Christian message. Margaret Starbird is almost single-handedly responsible for forging this subcategory. “Lost feminine” thinking also had an influence on The Da Vinci Code, but was represented by a fast-growing movement even before DVC‘s 2003 publication. Taking a look at the goddess spirituality movement of the last thirty years is extremely important when evaluating this perspective.
- Temple Priestess
It’s important to emphasize that there is a great deal of crossover among all of these categories; rarely does someone who is interested in Mary Magdalene adhere to only one view. The temple priestess perspective is a prime example; usually those who think of Mary Magdalene as a sacred temple prostitute/priestess also believe that she partnered with Jesus at some point, a union that may or may not have resulted in children. Frequently the temple priestess perspective is reinforced and confirmed by “received,” or channeled, messages from Mary Magdalene.
* * *
A couple of weeks ago, a reporter for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette interviewed me via email for the article “Mary Magdalene: Witness to Resurrection remains wrapped in mystery”. One of her questions was, “Why did it take so long to get Mary Magdalene’s story straightened out?”
This took me by surprise for some reason. I’ve never been under the impression that we’re anywhere near finished figuring out what Mary Magdalene’s story was, but since the publication of DVC, more and more people seem to believe that it’s all sewn up. I had been thinking about setting up a blog for quite some time, and that question made it seem imperative.
In 1998, I founded Magdalene.org, a secular site with the goal of educating the public about the many views of Mary Magdalene in circulation. Websites are relatively static though. I want a place where I can dissect the various things that are being said of Mary Magdalene every day, in magazines, on television, in books, movies, music, the pulpit and the corner coffeeshop. To my knowledge, this will be the first blog devoted to the subject of Mary Magdalene (if there is another, please, I would love to hear about it!).
Before signing off on my first post, I have to acknowledge that you might now be wondering: what are my views of Mary Magdalene? That’s a difficult one to answer. I can start by pointing you toward my personal manifesto, which sheds a little light on the issue without directly addressing the question. In truth, I might never be able to answer that one even for myself; I find the answer changes frequently.
One thing I can tell you is that my goal isn’t to use this space for advancing my own spiritual views anyway. Sharing some new historical research, perhaps, interpreting academic research into plainspeak, hopefully. Passing along the latest media clippings, absolutely. What I’d like to do most, however, is help the public wade through waters that are becoming increasingly muddied by a lack of critical thinking and an almost frightening eagerness to discover and propogate the one, true identity of the woman called Mary Magdalene. I have to admit that I’m going to be hard on the more speculative claims that have been made lately, but I’ll have a few things to say about research done in institutions of higher education as well. This field is crying out for skeptics who aren’t basing their opposition on matters of faith or doctrine. Maybe there are folks out there who are better suited to respond to such a call, but it’s going to keep me up at night if I don’t at least try.