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Mary Magdalene: A Biography, paperback

Author(s): Bruce Chilton

ISBN13: 9780385513180

ISBN10: 0385513186

Publisher: Doubleday

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  • After 2,000 years of flawed history, here at last is a magnificent new biography of Mary Magdalene that draws her out of the shadows of history and restores her to her rightful place of importance in Christianity.

    Throughout history, Mary Magdalene has been both revered and reviled, a woman who has taken on many forms, witch, whore, the incarnation of the eternal feminine, the devoted companion (and perhaps even the wife) of Jesus. In this brilliant new biography, Bruce Chilton, a renowned biblical scholar, offers the first complete and authoritative portrait of this fascinating woman. Through groundbreaking interpretations of ancient texts, Chilton shows that Mary played a central role in Jesus ministry and was a seminal figure in the creation of Christianity.

    Chilton traces the evolving images of Mary Magdalene and the legends surrounding her. He explains why, despite her prominence, the Gospels actually say so little about her and why the Catholic Church for thousands of years has sought to marginalize her importance. In a probing look at the Churchs attitudes toward women, he investigates Christian misogyny in the ancient world, including the suppression of women priests who patterned their activities on Marys; explores the impact of Gnostic ambivalence toward women on its depictions of Mary; and shows that these traditions still influence modern portrayals of her.

    Chiltons descriptions of who Mary Magdalene was and what she did challenge the male-dominated history of Christianity familiar to most readers. Placing Mary within the traditions of Jewish female savants, Chilton presents a visionary figure who was fully immersed in the mysticalteachings that shaped Jesus own teachings and a woman who was a religious master in her own right.

  • Bruce Chilton

    Bruce Chilton is the Bernard Iddings Bell Professor of Religion at Bard College in Annandale–on–Hudson and priest at the Free Church of Saint John in Barrytown, New York. He is the author of many scholarly articles and books, including the widely acclaimed Rabbi Jesus and Rabbi Paul.

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    Publishers Weekly

    With the popularity of The Da Vinci Code, Mary Magdalene has become the "it girl" of biblical studies. Bard professor of religion Chilton (Rabbi Jesus; Rabbi Paul) adds another volume to the already groaning shelves of books on the enigmatic woman. As Chilton admits, the gospels contain very little explicit information about her, but he uses what fragments are there to imaginatively reconstruct her life and world. Marys hometown, Magdala, was a wealthy Roman outpost, but contrary to legend, there is no indication that she was affluent. In fact, as Chilton points out, she came to Jesus in the garb of the poor; she was likely demon-possessed; and she was an outcast from her community. Drawing from the gospels (especially Luke 8), Gnostic writings and later Christian legends, Chilton shows the ways in which the Christian traditions have maligned Mary. Far from being simply the prostitute of legend, Chilton argues, Mary of Magdala offers us the spiritual gifts of dissolving evil (exorcism), providing unguents for sickness and sin (anointing) and understanding the truth of Resurrection (vision). While Chiltons rather stilted book is mostly speculative and offers little new information, it offers a satisfactory survey of attitudes toward Mary from the Middle Ages to today. (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

    Library Journal

    Episcopal priest Chilton (religion, Bard Coll.; Rabbi Jesus) and Roman Catholic independent scholar and feminist Starbird (The Woman with the Alabaster Jar) provide two different views of Mary Magdalene, both of which agree about her foundational role in early Christianity as an apostle and intimate companion of Jesus. Chilton likens her to a woman possessed by demons, poor and outcast but not a prostitute and not Mary of Bethany, as much medieval legend claims. Through a careful examination of available texts (canonical gospels, the most important noncanonical gospels, and other early Christian writings) and sober speculation, Chilton traces her relationship to Jesus and claims that it was she who taught Jesus the power of vision, anointing, and touch and the disciples that Jesus had overcome death; without her, according to Chilton, resurrection might never have become a central Christian teaching. He also traces her later legend, the ambivalence of Gnosticism toward her, her medieval cult and denigration, and 20th-century reassessments. In her book, Starbird seeks to reinstate what she believes to be early Christian teachings about sacred marriage. To her mind, Mary was wealthy, probably the sister of Lazarus (hence Mary of Bethany), Jesus spiritual partner, and perhaps even the mother of Sarah, his putative child, who was taken away from the Holy Land for protection. Starbird documents her study well, relying less on the canonical gospels and more on Gnostic literature, The Golden Legend, and diverse medieval sources. While Chiltons Mary teaches mainstream Christian doctrine, Starbirds-which includes a CD of The Greatest Story Every Told-leads to a more esoteric incarnation found in sacred conjunction. Chilton is highly recommended for all collections; Starbird is highly recommended for feminist collections and for all collections without her earlier books on Mary Magdalene.-Carolyn M. Craft, Longwood Univ., Farmville, VA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

    Kirkus Reviews

    Episcopal priest and prolific author Chilton (Rabbi Paul, 2004, etc.) argues that Mary Magdalene influenced early Christianity-but not by sleeping with Jesus. When they hear the name Mary Magdalene, most people imagine a prostitute or, if theyve read The Da Vinci Code, a secret lover of Jesus. Here, Chilton (Religion/Bard College) sets the record straight. The New Testament, he reminds us, tells us that Magdalene was possessed by seven demons, and Jesus healed her. The Gospels also depict her as the first person to get the news that he had been raised from the dead. Chilton further argues that Magdalene was the nameless woman who anointed Jesus just before his arrest and crucifixion. In his account, her early shaping of Christianity (in particular, its understandings of healing) was as crucial as that of Peter and other personal followers of Jesus. Because of its deep ambivalence toward women, the church-from its earliest days through the medieval period to the present-either ignored Magdalene or reduced her to a licentious vixen. No one knows when people started passing around the story that she was Jesus concubine, though heretics were punished for holding that view in the early-13th century. Chilton contrasts medieval church leaders, who were uncomfortable with the idea of a powerful woman shaping the faith, with Jesus himself, who embraced "the full feminine force of divinity." The author not only examines orthodox Christianitys treatment of Magdalene, he also looks at the Gnostics, some of whom held sacred a Gospel ascribed to her. But that legacy is ambiguous: The Gnostics Magdalene is both wise and hysterical, strong and submissive. Straightforward, bold, easy reading. Theauthors careful survey serves as a useful corrective to Dan Browns fiction, which seems to be taken as truth by an alarming number of people.


Mary Magdalene: A Biography, paperback