‘Gnosticism’ Category Archives
by Lesa Bellevie in Da Vinci Code, Gnosticism, Mary Magdalene, Media sightings
Jordan Stratford, a Gnostic priest in the Apostolic Johannite Church, who leads a congregation up in Victoria, B.C. and who also happens to be an acquaintance of several years, has written a book called The Da Vinci Prayerbook. I think the title is actually a little misleading, given that its contents are far more luminous than DVC, but I understand the audience he would like to reach with this information. His volume is a collection of source material and inspirational writings that illuminate the modern reawakening to Gnostic traditions.
Although I was negilent in my failure to post his press-release (which you can read at Fr. Jordan’s blog here), I recommend the book for anyone curious about modern Gnostic outlook, particularly as it relates to interpreting Mary Magdalene as the bride of Jesus in a metaphorical manner.
Finally, the article, which turned up in the Victoria News:
Gnostic priest addresses Da Vinci Code controversy
By Mark Browne
“Gnosticism does not rely on historical literalism in the same way that Christianity does,” Stratford explained. “Let’s ask the bigger question about what this stuff means.”
The idea that Jesus married Mary Magdalene can be understood as myth that conveys the “marriage” between Christian tradition and the older religions of the divine feminine, he said. Moreover, that marriage can be interpreted as a balance between the masculine and the feminine.
“Gnosticism teaches that Mary Magdalene is an expression of the myth of Sophia, the goddess of wisdom and of the holy spirit.”
My very best wishes to Jordan, both on the publication of his book and his recent wedding!
by Lesa Bellevie in Gnosticism, Mary Magdalene, Media sightings
RTE Radio has put the third installment of their four-part series on Mary Magdalene, Woman With The Wild Thing’s Heart, online: “Meet the gnostics”. From the page that comes up, just click on the link to listen to the latest installment of the series, or scroll down and click on the link to listen to the series.
In the third episode of this series, experts discuss Gnosticism: what it was, and how Mary Magdalene studies were affected by the discovery of Gnostic texts in 1945. The notion of Mary Magdalene as “most loved” by Jesus is examined, along with a cursory treatment of the “making females into males” language. They included my very brief introduction to the subject of Gnosticism as well as my thoughts on one reason why the Nag Hammadi discovery was important.
Technical note: You need to have Real Player installed in order to listen; you can download it for free from Real’s website (click on the link to “Get RealPlayer – Free”).
by Lesa Bellevie in Apostle, Book reviews, Gnosticism, Mary Magdalene
This weekend I read Bruce Chilton’s latest book, Mary Magdalene: A Biography. Readers of the review that follows should keep in mind that it is against a galley. The endnote numbering wasn’t even incorporated into the text in the copy I have, so even though the notes weren’t meaningless after having read the text, there are still some major disconnects that will only be remedied by reading the book in its final published form. Realistically, I have so many books in my reading queue at the moment that going out and buying this book is unlikely, so I’ll go ahead after issuing that one caveat.
Speculative non-fiction books have always been difficult for me to appreciate. Works of non-fiction that ask, “What if this thing had been true?” and then proceed on a hypothetical path based on the original assumption strike me as hollow gestures toward the subject on which they focus. Rather than presenting scholarship in a straightforward manner, they instead feel novelized and sensational. There are a great number of “would have,” “may have,” and “probably did” kinds of statements in such books. Bruce Chilton’s biography of Mary Magdalene is not an exception. Mary Magdalene is a subject ripe for speculation, and there are a number of “biographies” in circulation as they have been imagined by different authors (Gordon Thomas’ The Thirteenth Apostle comes immediately to mind). Chilton’s addition to the corpus of Magdalene scholarship adds a few new ideas, but in a questionable format.
Most notably, he asserts three things about Mary Magdalene:
- She was intimately involved in Jesus’ exorcism ministry as one who had first-hand experience with the subject.
- She was a practitioner of healing by anointing, a magical ritual practice.
- She was a visionary who sensed Jesus in his spiritual (non-physical) resurrected form.
Although the book is filled with troublesome statements and suppositions, there are only a few I’ll mention here. First and foremost is the fact that Chilton hypothesizes the existence of an oral source of exorcistic material used by the author of Mark to fill out his exorcism pericopae. Apparently the suggestion for such a source doesn’t originate with Chilton, but that it seems to pop into his book fully formed without much of a case being made for its existence is peculiar. His reasons for believing such a source existed are based on his reading of Markan internal evidence only, by intuiting Mary Magdalene’s signature on the exorcism accounts. (Mark is the Gospel Chilton uses to support almost all of his guesses because of its primacy; he asserts that Mark’s use of “the Magdalene source” was the most primitive, with the later Gospels gradually “suppressing” Mary Magdalene’s influence.) An appendix contains Chilton’s Magdalene source as he reconstructed it from Gospel passages.
On the subject of Mary Magdalene as an anointer, one of Chilton’s innovations I found interesting was his defense of a partial unity theory.
Mary is the indispensable character in Mark’s account of the Resurrection, the pivot of the action around whom the final events turn. She, and she alone, embodies the connection between Jesus’ interment and the angelic announcement to the same Mary Magdalene (16:6-7) that Jesus has been raised from the dead. She connects his death and Resurrection, not only by who she is but what she does: Mary Magdalene established the place of anointing as a central ritual in Christianity, recollecting Jesus’ death and pointing forward to his Resurrection.
In this way, Mark implies, rather than states, Mary’s identity as the woman with the ointment, so our inference is not a deductive certainty. An implication is just that and shouldn’t be confused with proof: It leaves traces for the audience of the Gospel to infer its meaning. But read without this inference, Mark breaks Jesus’ promise that “wherever the message is proclaimed in the whole world, what she did will also be spoken of in memory of her” (Mark 14:9). By permitting ourselves this inference, we allow the Gospel not to contradict the very saying of Jesus that it takes pain to convey.
The anointing in Mark (and Matthew) is performed by an anonymous woman. In Luke, she is an anonymous woman who was a sinner, and in John, she is named as Mary of Bethany. Chilton, via his belief that Mary Magdalene was the anointing woman in Mark, states that she was also Mary of Bethany. In Luke, however, in an apparent effort to minimize Mary Magdalene’s influence on the Christian story, the anointing scene is changed all around and a sinner woman–with whom Mary Magdalene is not to be confused–is introduced. Honestly, I’m still not sure what to think about the Lukan perspective on Mary Magdalene, being that it is the abberation among the synoptics. Chilton, however, appears to have it all figured out: the author of Luke intentionally minimized her role in order to denigrate her. In this, he joins the ranks of several other Magdalene authors.
Anointing, as a powerful ritual healing practice, was the subject of much concern for Chilton. Jesus apparently wasn’t confident of his abilities at times, but luckily for him, Mary Magdalene was nearby to teach him how to get things done. The two Markan stories of healing with spittle bring about a fascinating observation:
The Talmud of Jerusalem also speaks of anointing with spit with the intention to heal. Women were typical practitioners of this type of healing. In one case, the woman applies her unction of saliva seven times, much as Jesus had to repeat his healing to clear up the blind man’s sight (Mark 8:22-26). Matthew and Luke repressed these stories of healing with spit not only because they involved more magic than they were comfortable with but also because Jesus was following a practice of women’s household sorcery that he had learned, in all probability, from his most prominent female disciple–Mary Magdalene.
Of all the reasons to suppose that Mary Magdalene was a visionary, Chilton gives by far the oddest explanation I’ve come across. In Mark’s empty tomb narrative, he says that the women “perceived” (theoreo) that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, rather than physically saw that the stone had been moved (horao). Apparently the misplaced stone and the angelophany were sensed by the women spiritually but not witnessed materially.
..in the vision of the women, Jesus was no longer [in the tomb] at all, but in Galilee. That is where the young man directed them, and when the women turned away from the tomb, as they were told to do by the young man, they left the question fo Jesus’ physical body behind them, unanswered. It is quite possible his corpse remained where it lay.
This is a little puzzling to me in light of the fact that the next verse says that the women “entered into the sepulchre,” which would lead me to believe that they would have either seen a corpse or not. Presumably, they saw an empty tomb. They didn’t just see an angel outside of the tomb and take off running.
Mary Magdalene’s role as a visionary in the later Gnostic texts was an extension of her already-established identity as a seer according to Chilton. This brings us to the next portion of the book: Mary Magdalene in Gnosticism. I have to say that I wasn’t completely disappointed with this section. I thought his handling of the “companion” (koinonos) and “kissing on the mouth” controversies from the Gospel of Philip were well done and evenly considered. Not so with his treatment of the “becoming male” passage in the Gospel of Thomas, however. I found it terribly odd that Mary’s statement in the Gospel of Mary about how Jesus had made them “into men” was a positive indication of their spiritual maturity but the passage in Thomas about “becoming male” was a sign of sexism inherent in Gnosticism.
It’s obvious that Chilton has done his homework, citing a recent interpretation that androgeny at the time was masculine, but his treatment of the similar language in the two texts didn’t seem fully considered. Rather than really digging into a thoughtful analysis of the “making male” language, he appeared more interested in criticizing feminists and other readers who latch onto Gnosticism as a gender-inclusive answer to patriarchal Christianity. It’s tricky, I’ll admit, but scholars like Annti Marjanen, Marvin Meyer, Karen King, and Jane Schaberg have made much more headway in that area.
Overall, there were some uplifting moments of bright observation about Mary Magdalene’s role in early Christianity, which makes it at least possible that I will return to the book at a later date for a more in-depth read. Unfortunately, however, because of the speculative format and language, it’s going to get shelved with other “inspirational” volumes in my collection instead of “history.”
by Lesa Bellevie in Gnosticism, Mary Magdalene, Media sightings
Posted online today at the Napa Valley Register Online, an article of dubious value:
Mary Magdalene has had quite a run in fiction — but what are the facts?
By Richard N. Ostling
The article starts off strong:
The huge-selling novel “The Da Vinci Code” has given Mary Magdalene more fame lately than any biblical personality except Jesus. There’s even a “Complete Idiot’s Guide” to Mary and a forthcoming film version of the “Magdalene” comic books’ woman warrior.
I can forgive his mistaken rendering of the comic The Magdalena in the first paragraph because he plugs my book. Yay, me. Unfortunately, the rest of the article makes me shift nervously in my seat. The author of the article spills most of the ink on Bruce Chilton’s new book, “Mary Magdalene: A Biography,” and seems to convey a fairly sour outlook on the modern appreciation of Gnosticism. I have an advance copy of Chilton’s book on the shelf, but I haven’t read it yet…it’s getting higher in the queue though as it seems to be generating some buzz.
The contents of the article don’t live up to the promise made by the title; there aren’t many facts there, just Bruce Chilton’s opinions. The reporter even concedes:
…Chilton stretches things with broad speculations to spin the Gospel passages into a 160-page biography.
The last few paragraphs of the article leave me scratching my head:
Chilton disagrees with the Gospels’ account that Jesus was resurrected in a physical body, though in a glorified form different from simple resuscitation. Playing Mary off against the Gospels, Chilton thinks she felt a merely spiritual sense of Jesus’ ongoing presence.
Huh? A “glorified form different from simple resuscitation?” Mary Magdalene “felt a merely spiritual sense of Jesus’ ongoing presence?” Again, I say: huh? Would it have hurt the journalist to include just a little more detail? I’m not completely unfamiliar with different theories of the resurrection, including some of the more docetic ideas, but there’s really not much to go on here.
It goes on:
On that, Chilton basically sides with Jewish historian Alan Segal’s “Life After Death,” over against the primary Christian treatment, “The Resurrection of the Son of God” by Chilton’s fellow Anglican N.T. Wright.
Okay, some resources. I’m not familiar with these, so maybe I’d like to check them out. I have the vague idea that Segal discusses Mary Magdalene “sensing Jesus’ ongoing presence,” but am not sure, and that Wright does NOT favor a sort of ghostly resurrection occurance. I’m grasping at straws here though because our reporter, Mr. Ostling, doesn’t like to say too much.
Writing about that book, Anne Rice, vampire novelist and Christian returnee, says in her new “Christ the Lord” that Wright “answers solidly the question that has haunted me all my life.”
And that’s the last paragraph of the whole article! So, Chilton thinks MM sensed a ghost, Segal says something similar, Wright disagrees, and Anne Rice likes Wright. Neat. I know the purpose of my blog isn’t to critique writing styles, but I’m in a grump about this one. My husband, Chris, floated the theory that Ostling was on some sort of quest to use as many Google-able buzzwords and phrases as possible without actually saying anything worthwhile. I just think he was in a hurry, or maybe that he lost his notes.
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.