Sunday, July 23, 2017

Yesterday was the Feast Day of Mary of Magdala, otherwise known as Mary Magdalene

Georges de La Tour. Magdalene with the Smoking Flame. 1640

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653) - Conversione della Maddalena (Maria Maddalena penitente

Caravaggio, Martha and Mary Magdalene. 1598

 Yesterday was the Feast of Mary of Magdala, the Apostle to the Apostles, a saint whose memory has been much maligned over the millennia by misogynist clergy and laymen. The recently discovered gospel of Mary Magdalene is extremely important for it exposes the erroneous view that Mary of Magdala was a prostitute. This was and a piece of theological fiction; it presents the most straightforward and convincing argument in any early Christian writing for the legitimacy of women's leadership; it offers a sharp critique of illegitimate power and a utopian vision of spiritual perfection; it challenges our rather romantic views about the harmony and unanimity of the first Christians; and it asks us to rethink the basis for church authority. All written in the name of a woman.

Who was she? In the New Testament, we read that Mary of Magdala (her hometown, a village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee) was a leading figure among those attracted to Jesus. When the men in that company abandoned him at the hour of mortal danger, Mary of Magdala was one of the women who stayed with him, even to the Crucifixion. She was present at the tomb, the first person to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection and the first to preach the “Good News” of that miracle.

We should remember that four Gospels are not eyewitness accounts. They were written 35 to 65 years after Jesus’ death, from separate oral traditions that had taken form in dispersed Christian communities. Jesus died in about the year a.d. 30. The Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke date to about 65 to 85, and have sources and themes in common. The Gospel of John was composed around 90 to 95 and is distinct.

Caravaggio 1595

She was a popular figure in the early days of Christianity, too, for different reasons, and some Gnostic groups claimed that she was the leader of the Church rather than James or Peter. An early gospel has been discovered which gives credence to that belief. Mary of Magdala has become a popular Biblical figure once again, due to the popularity of the novel The DaVinci Code, a real hodge podge of a novel which many now take as fact. But the story is popular because that problem of “how”—whether love should be eros or agape; sensual or spiritual; a matter of longing or consummation—defines the human condition. (Smithsonian, 2006)

She was also a compelling figure to artists because of her combination of religious repentance (according to what became Church Doctrine) and eroticism. 

Images from Wikipedia

1 comment:

Carla Ives said...

Beautiful renditions of the Magdalene! They are all good and interesting in their own right, but I think my favorite is the Gentileschi. Not sure why, but this one moves me more than the others. I know the controversy over her in church history. I believe she was more important than the Gospel writers let on. In that era, I doubt they were in favor of a woman leader. Still, she was there and as more comes to be known of her, the truth will out.