Sunday, 24 December 2017


From The Quest for Mary Magdalene by Michael Haag:
Mary the mother of Jesus appears primarily in chapters 1 and 2 of the gospels of Matthew and Luke which tell the story of the nativity and the infancy of Jesus – the virgin birth in a Bethlehem manger, the shepherds in the field, the star in the east, the worshipping magi – a story entirely ignored by the gospels of Mark and John which begin with the baptism of Jesus the man by John the Baptist.

Various scholars, among them Geza Vermes, a leading authority on Jesus, consider the birth narratives as legendary and say they were added to Luke and Matthew at a later date.  These nativity stories, which in any case contradict one another (for example Matthew has the Holy Family, fearful for Jesus’ life, fleeing Bethlehem to Egypt, while Luke has them returning to Nazareth after spending forty days peacefully in Bethlehem and Jerusalem), are unsupported by the other two gospels.  Mark and John say Jesus came ‘out of Galilee’; Mark makes no mention of Bethlehem while John does not contradict the assertion of the pharisees that Jesus was born in Galilee, not Bethlehem (John 7:41-42).  Apart from these birth and infancy chapters of Matthew and Luke, Mary appears in the gospels only seven times, five of those times described as the mother of Jesus but otherwise unnamed, and once in Acts. 
Three of the references to Jesus’ unnamed mother relate to one event which is described in Mark 3:31-35, Matthew 12:46-50 and Luke 8:19-21.  Jesus has been healing and preaching and driving out devils and has attracted crowds of people up and down Galilee, but his friends and family fear that he is deranged and possessed by Beelzebub and they come for him.  Instead he dismissively waves his mother and brothers away, saying his true mother and brothers are those who do the will of God. 
The fourth time when the mother of Jesus is mentioned but not named is at the marriage of Cana where again she makes a nuisance of herself and Jesus turns on her and says, ‘Woman, what have I to do with thee?’ (John 2:4).  For other reasons the marriage at Cana (whose marriage is it?) is an important event and will be mentioned later. 
When she appears at the crucifixion in John 19:25 she is likewise not named, only identified as the mother of Jesus.  John is the only gospel which has Mary at the crucifixion of Jesus; she is not at the burial or the resurrection at all.
Mary the mother of Jesus is however named in the gospels of Mark and Matthew when villagers in Galilee are irate that Jesus should be preaching at their synagogue.  They believe him to be a carpenter, or the son of a carpenter, from Nazareth and do not realise that he is a rabbi: ‘Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us?’ (Mark 6:3; Matthew 13:55 also mentions Mary and her sons by name but makes no mention of her daughters.) 
And finally Mary the mother of Jesus is mentioned by name in Acts 1:14 at Pentecost where after the resurrection the Holy Spirit descends upon those in the Upper Room. 
Mary has the distinction of being the mother of Jesus, but there is nothing in their relationship to suggest that she had any understanding of what he was about.  In the end there was a reconciliation of sorts when according to the gospel of John, though no one else, Mary came to see Jesus hanging on the cross and he acknowledged her with his dying breath, saying ‘Woman, behold thy son!’ (John 19:26). 
In contrast, Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ constant companion throughout his ministry in Galilee and helped organise and finance the scores of people involved in his mission to heal and bring salvation to the sick and the poor (Luke 8:1-3).  She came with Jesus to Jerusalem, witnessed his crucifixion (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 20:1), watched to see where his body was laid (Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:47), returned to anoint him on the third day and witnessed his resurrection from the dead (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1, 16:9; Luke24:1; John 20:1, 20:11, 20:16, 20:18) – fourteen mentions of Mary Magdalene by name, as well as other mentions, as when she is included among ‘the women from Galilee’. 
Readers will be familiar with the notions of Mary the mother of Jesus as a perpetual virgin, the perfect mother and the Theotokos, ‘the mother of God’, of having been conceived immaculately, of ascending into heaven, of being an intercessor between God and man, the one who knows the deepest human suffering, the woman always gentle and obedient to God’s will.  But nothing of this model of the ‘perfect’ woman is found in the Bible where she is a somewhat irritating woman who has no comprehension of what her son is about; instead she is an invention who belongs entirely to later centuries, a relatively minor Biblical figure who was transformed into a major cult – while Mary Magdalene, the woman who knew Jesus, was turned into a whore.