April, 2006 Archives
by Lesa Bellevie in Mary Magdalene, Media sightings, Traditional
During Lent, as we move toward Easter, the number of Mary Magdalene appearances in the media are always higher than usual. She was, after all, a key figure in the Easter story.
Two news stories have come to my attention so far today:
Jesus and Mary Magdalene, from the Hindustan Times website. A brief article extolling Mary Magdalene’s virtues as one who tirelessly followed Jesus out of her love for him. Her steadfastness was rewarded by forgiveness (although the article doesn’t say of what, exactly, she was forgiven) and by “the sight of God.”
I’m very fond of the article I found in the B.C. Catholic Newspaper, Resurrection means giving up the old to find new, by Marie Luttrell. In this story, the author recounts a story she heard about a pastor whose wife had passed away. In coming to terms with her death, he developed a new appreciation for the concept of resurrection, and the scene in the garden when Mary Magdalene meets the risen Christ.
Once Mary had understood that it was Jesus and not the gardener speaking to her, she was filled with joy and went to embrace Him. Jesus responded, “Don’t cling to Me.”
Pastor Virney felt he had heard the same message from his wife, and that it had taken three years after she had died before he heard it so clearly. “Don’t cling to me. You will never live the life you are supposed to live and become the person God wants you to be unless you can let me go.”
This is something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately. I’m currently working on an article about personal experiences of Mary Magdalene, and unexpectedly, I realized that several people come to their interest in her, or find their interest in her intensified, through the death of loved ones. Something that isn’t often discussed about Mary Magdalene is her role as a mourner, a woman who grieves openly for someone she loved. There are complex emotions that go along with such an experience, and the best person we have to connect to in the Gospels, where the death of one loved so greatly is concerned, is Mary Magdalene.
In analyzing some works of art in which Mary Magdalene appears, John Watt, in a piece called The Strange Fate of Women in Christian Culture, says:
…the abject pain of the Magdalen at the foot of van der Weyden’s cross is contrasted with the swooning mother. One drops into a lifeless faint, the other stands and writhes. Although the Magdalen stands to the side of the picture, it is her lively agony, as contrasted with the Madonna’s immobilizing faint, which catches the viewer’s attention. The Magdalen lives her agony, and in Titian’s Pieta she is the one who alone stands and cries out to the world.
Often the phrase I’ve heard repeated most where Mary Magdalene as mourner is concerned is “love is stronger than death.” It has, at times, become a mantra for some whose lives have been turned upside down by loss. This is true for me as well. In the late 1990s I had been fortunate enough to have never lost anyone close to me. My aunt then developed breast cancer and passed away within the space of a year. Turning to Mary Magdalene’s example, acknowledging love, acceptance, and hope, was vital. When my father passed away last spring, I felt much closer to Mary Magdalene, as someone I could identify with, than in all the years previous.
Mary Magdalene models grief for us very well. Her love for Jesus followed him to his grave. And through her experience of the risen Christ we are exposed to the hope of resurrection for the loved ones we have lost, however we happen to think of resurrection itself. The article by Luttrell presents the whole situation succinctly and poignantly.
by Lesa Bellevie in Da Vinci Code, Media sightings
From the BBC:
Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh have lost their case against Dan Brown and Random House. Although the judge did state he believes that Dan Brown and his wife had access to and used HBHG much earlier in the writing process than claimed, he said that Brown didn’t copy it substantially.
Of the ruling, Dan Brown said:
A novelist must be free to “draw appropriately” from historical works without facing a court and having his integrity called into question.
I can’t help but suspect that the ruling has more to do with maintaining the status quo in the publishing industry than The Da Vinci Code itself. If the judge had ruled in Baigent and Leigh’s favor, it could have spelled disaster for novelists everywhere. Whatever the case, I’m relieved that it’s finally over.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.
by Lesa Bellevie in Blogroll, Da Vinci Code, Mary Magdalene, Media sightings
While I was at Barnes & Noble last night, I noticed that the Fodor’s Guide to The Da Vinci Code: On the Trail of the Best-Selling Novel is finally out. I did an interview for the book last year, and had almost forgotten about it. Thumbing through it, I found a small section on Mary Magdalene, which the author ended with a quote from my interview. They caught me in a “Joseph Campbell” moment, apparently:
Flawed or not, Mary Magdalene’s reputation has an undeniable resonance, says Lesa Bellevie, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Mary Magdalene. “Mary Magdalene the repentant sinner had a profound influence on the direction taken by Western culture,” Bellevie says. “As the Church’s primary example of pious repentance, she became a tremendously popular saint.”
“Mary Magdalene is a woman whose time has come,” Bellevie believes. “We don’t need to make up speculative histories for something to be spiritually meaningful, and neither does something need to be historically accurate for it to be spiritually meaningful–this is the power of mythology.”
by Lesa Bellevie in Mary Magdalene, Traditional
A few people have asked me recently about the shift that occured in the Roman Catholic Church in 1969 where Mary Magdalene’s identity as a “penitent” is concerned. There seems to be a misconception that in 1969, there was a big event in which Mary Magdalene’s reputation was singled out for revision. In actuality, there was a general reform of the Church calendar with consideration to the way that it acknowledged many saints, Mary Magdalene included.
I now have a canned response to questions about what happened with Mary Magdalene’s identity in 1969, which I thought would be useful to post here:
In 1969, Mary Magdalene’s identity on the Roman Catholic calendar was changed from “penitent” to “disciple.” Here is a helpful excerpt from Katherine Ludwig Jansen’s book, Making of the Magdalen: Preaching and Popular Devotion in the Later Middle Ages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), pp. 335-6:
“Though the Tridentine reformers attempted to expunge legendary elements from the vitae of the saints, their efforts were far from complete. A historically accurate cult fo the saints would have to wait until 1969, when the Roman calendar was reformed [see footnote below]. In that reform, hagiographical scholarship, particularly the work fo the Bollandists, was marshaled to test the historicity of figures such as Saints Christopher, Margaret, and Catherine of Alexandria, martyrs whose cults flourished throughout the Middle Ages. Such exacting scholarship was merciless on these legendary saints. As no evidence could be found to document their historical existence, their feastdays were summarily expunged from the Roman calendar.
Saint Mary Magdalen’s stature suffered similarly in that reform. Four hundred and fifty-two years after Lefevre attacked the Gregorian saint the Roman Catholic church decided to dismantle the composite Magdalen. As of 1969 it was decreed that she was to be venerated only as a disciple, the revised title inscribed after her name in the new calendar. In an earlier calendar reform her feast-day, which in the Middle Ages had been celebrated by a duplex, the most elaborate of all liturgies reserved for the most important saints, was reduced to a memorial, a simple remembrance. Now Mary Magdalen was to be remembered merely as one of many of Christ’s disciples, a pale shadow of the complexity of her symbolic significance in the Middle Ages.”
Footnote: Sacred Congregation of Rites, Roman Calendar (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1970). The decree of the congregation and the apostolic letter of Pope Paul VI, lay out the principles of this reform. See also Roman Calendar: Text and Commentary (Washington D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1976).
Blog-watchers will no doubt notice that my perspective on this change has much in common with Ludwig-Jansen’s. Her comments on the subject have been very influential on my own thinking in this regard.
by Lesa Bellevie in Blogroll
Yes, I realize that the publication of the Gospel of Judas by the National Geographic is surrounded by a great deal of controversy, but I am excited about it nonetheless. We have a family outing planned for this evening that includes a stop at Barnes & Noble to pick up a copy for our library.
- Roger Pearse’s page on GJudas at Tertullian.org is very well organized: The Coptic Gospel of Judas (Iscariot)
- The new National Geographic page is very nice. It includes some images of the manuscript as well as the Coptic and an English translation: The Lost Gospel of Judas
- A transcription of the Coptic, in .pdf format.
- Jeremy Puma over at Fantastic Planet has a brief commentary (from a modern Gnostic point of view) based on his reading of the text last night: Gnostic thoughts on the Gospel of Judas itself.
- ‘Gospel of Judas’ offers contrarian view of Jesus, MSNBC.
- New Testament: Judas redeemed, by Linda Morris, Sydney Morning Herald.
- In his own words: Judas the betrayer was really Judas the chosen one, by Linda Morris, Sydney Morning Herald.
What is my interest in this text? Initially I had hoped that it would include a mention of Mary Magdalene, or at least some woman disciple, but it sounds as if that won’t be the case. Regardless, I’m eager to read it on its own merits. How often is it that we, the reading public, get access to a new document dating back to the origins of Christianity? Given that we have to wait decades sometimes for translations of important texts to trickle out of academia, it’s a little like Christmas morning when they actually hit shelves.
by Lesa Bellevie in Folklore, Mary Magdalene
My husband, Chris, does quite a bit of research on folklore, and has always been on the lookout for lore related to Mary Magdalene. Recently he came across two different medieval verbal charms used to staunch the flow of blood. The one below comes from The Folk-Lore of the Isle of Man, by A. W. Moore (1891), Chapter 5, “MAGIC, WITCHCRAFT, &C.”:
Three Moirraghyn hie dyn Raue, ny Ke imee as ny Cughtee, Peddyr as Paul, dooyrt Moirrey jeu, shass, dooyrt Moirrey jeu, shooyl, dooyrt Moirrey elley, Dy gast yn uill shoh, myr chast yne uill haink as lottyn Chreest: mish dy ghra eh, as mac Voirrey dy chooilleeney eh.
Three Maries went to Rome, the Spirits of the Church stiles and the Spirits of the houghs, Peter and Paul, a Mary of them said, stand; a Mary of them said, walk; the other Mary said, may this blood stop as the blood stopped which came out of the wounds of Christ: me to say it and the son of Mary to fulfil it.”
Two things stand out. First, the fascinating Gaelic word moirraghyn (queens?) in the first line, which brings to mind the Celtic Morrighan, a goddess-figure who often appears in a triple aspect. Second, the last line is intriguing; it invokes the power of Jesus as the son of Mary rather than as the son of God. Very unusual!
Reading this charm inspired me to do some searches on the “three marys” or “three maries.” I was amazed to find at just how many stories there are related to this collective. From islands to towns to rock formations, the Three Marys show up in the lore of many Christian cultures. In South America, the three stars that make up Orion’s belt are even known as “Les Tres Marias.”
Today I came across a poem called Mireio by 19th century Provençal poet, Frédéric Mistral. As Charles Alfred Downer describes the epic in his 1901 book, Frédéric Mistral: Poet and Leader in Provence:
The story of Mirèio may be told in a few words. She is a beautiful young girl of fifteen, living at the mas of her father, Ramoun. She falls in love with a handsome, stalwart youth, Vincèn, son of a poor basket-maker. But the difference in worldly wealth is too great, her father and mother violently oppose their union, and so, one night, the maiden, in despair, rushes away from home, across the great plain of the Crau, across the Rhone, across the island of Camargue, to the church of the three Maries. Vincèn had told her to seek their aid in any time of trouble. Here she prays to the three saints to give Vincèn to her, but the poor girl has been overcome by the terrible heat of the sun in crossing the treeless plains and is found by her parents and friends unconscious before the altar. Vincèn comes also and joins his lamentations to theirs. The holy caskets are lowered from the chapel above, but no prayers avail to save the maiden’s life. She expires, with words of hope upon her lips.
The theme of the three Marys is heavy in this poem, rich in Provençal folk beliefs and legends. At one point the main character, Mirèio, prays:
O Holy Maries, who can change our tears to blossoms, incline quickly an ear unto my grief!
As the girl prays in the chapel of the church of the three Marys, finally collapsing of exhaustion, she has a vision of the saints descending to her from heaven. Tragically, she then dies.
Apparently this poem is Mistral’s greatest work, and it gives us some insight into the authentic beliefs and pastoral lifestyle of Provence at the time when it was written. It’s a far cry from what popular Mary Magdalene authors would have us believe, namely, that everyone in Provence believes that Mary Magdalene came to the region bearing Jesus’ offspring. That aside, I was moved by the imagery conveyed by Downer, and am now searching for an English translation of the poem.
In 1864, an opera called Mireille debuted in France. Written by Charles Gounod, who had met Mistral in Provence, the opera is based on Mirèio. There is an English translation of the libretto at the UW library, which we will likely pick up this weekend. I hope it will give me more insight into the original poem and Provençal legends of the three Marys.
by Lesa Bellevie in Bloodline, Media sightings
The Mystery of the Jesus Papers
by Sara James
Chris and I watched the NBC Dateline special last night that was either derived from this article or resulted in this article. Either way, the article reads like a transcript from the show. Michael Baigent, one of the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail (and also one of those suing Dan Brown) has a new book about to hit the market, entitled, if you haven’t guessed by now, The Jesus Papers. I haven’t received a review copy yet, but based on the Dateline special and the marketing collateral I’ve seen, it seems to be not much new.
The “swoon” theory of Jesus’ death and resurrection, that is, the idea that he didn’t die on the cross but only appeared to, has been around for a very long time. Michael Baigent’s Jesus Papers explores this idea, interprets scripture from this point of view, but doesn’t seem to take it in any new directions. His main innovation appears to be the claim that he has seen physical proof of Jesus’ survival in the form of letters written by Jesus himself dated around 45 C.E.
The letters are secret, of course. Baigent won’t reveal the name of the owner, and confesses to not being able to read Aramaic, in which the letters were written. He hasn’t had the documents validated, in fact, even the photos he took of the alleged documents ended up disappearing. There was never even any discussion of why documents of such import to Western history would be in the hands of a private collector rather than available for study by scholars. Convenient, no? Readers are forced to take Baigent’s word for it.
Elaine Pagels and Craig Evans, both Dateline guests, sum up my feelings on the subject:
Pagels: It’s imaginative to say the least.
Evans: It’s voodoo scholarship, it shouldn’t be taken credibly.
Mary Magdalene’s role in The Jesus Papers remains to be seen. My guess is that she is only mentioned in connection with the author’s belief that Jesus went on to sire a family with her. If this is the case, then perhaps we could view The Jesus Papers as a sort of prequel to Holy Blood, Holy Grail. I’ll post more about it once I see an actual copy of the book.
The Dateline program was a lot of flash, not many revelations. I’m hoping that the National Geographic special on the Gospel of Judas (Sunday, April 9, 2006 at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT, on the National Geographic Channel) proves to be much more substantial.
by Lesa Bellevie in Da Vinci Code, Holy Grail, Mary Magdalene, Media sightings
Yesterday I posted a link to an article called “Jesus and Mary Magdalene: New Gospel Fragment Discovered”. Although this was a bit of an April Fool’s joke, I posted it for another reason as well: it’s an excellent piece of satire. With all of the discussion lately about Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s alleged marriage, I think it was inevitable that someone would eventually place the situation into a satirical context, which the author, Eric Mader, did with great effect. On more than one occasion, I’ve dispelled the notion that the article is genuine. Does this make the article a hoax? Or simply a well-composed parody?
I recently talked with Eric Mader to learn more about his thoughts on the subject. Read the rest of this entry »
by Lesa Bellevie in Blogroll
According to the 2006 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, as cited by Church Executive Magazine (“Late Breaking News”), my blog is one of those that “are used by Emergent Church practitioners for communication.”
This comes as a complete surprise to me, as it possibly will to a few of the other owners of blogs listed. I first heard about the Emergent movement a few months ago, and although i find the whole concept fascinating, I haven’t run out to my friendly neighborhood Emergent Church to sign up. I’m rather curious about what criteria were used to compose this list and how MR came to be on it. It isn’t offensive in the least, only inaccurate.
Long live the Internet.
by Lesa Bellevie in Mary Magdalene
I wanted to quickly post this link today while I had a moment:
Jesus and Mary Magdalene: A New Gospel Fragment Discovered
By Jonathan Sheen
According to Rorty, the text presents what appears to be a record of part of the honeymoon taken by Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
“They are traveling by ship from island to island in the Aegean Sea,” he said. “The trip seems to be something like the ancient equivalent of our pleasure cruises. Few details are given, but at each stop Mary is recorded as complaining about the food…”
I’ll have more to say on this article tomorrow; until then, enjoy!