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(cross-posted from The Ones You Didn't Hear in Sunday School)

Personally I blame Pope Gregory the Great.

Don’t get me wrong; Gregory did some remarkable things during his papacy.  He was a prolific writer and made important contributions to the Catholic liturgy, including, it is said, inventing the Gregorian chant.  He sent St. Augustine (the other one) to Britain as a missionary to the Anglo-Saxons.  John Calvin, not an easy man to impress, called him “the last good pope”.  On top of that, Gregory was an able punster; a rare quality in pontiffs.  But against his notable accomplishments, there is one I have to question.  He was the one who decided that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute; an accusation which has hung on her ever since.

Why would Gregory want to malign this woman, whom some have called “the apostle to the Apostles”?  What did she ever do to him?

The answer is complicated and has a bit to do with what I call the Conservation of Marys.

There are several Marys mentioned in the Gospels, most of them popping in and out of the Passion and the Resurrection narratives.  There’s Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, Mary the Mother of Jesus, Mary the mother of James; I guess the name was popular then; almost as popular as it later became among Catholics.  And, as George M. Cohan once observed, It’s A Grand Old Name.

Still, the plethora of Marys can get confusing.  I once wrote a puppet play for our church’s Sunday School about the Resurrection story and I found it challenging to deal with all the Marys running around; so I can understand the impulse to combine some of them into a kind of Marian Composite.

But who is Mary Magdalene?

She is mentioned in Luke chapter 8 as one of a number of women who had been healed by Jesus and who helped support his ministry by their own means.  Luke says that she is called Magdalene; which most interpreters have assumed means that she came from Magdala, a large town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee; and that she had been afflicted by several demons.

People tend to forget about these women, except when they turn up again in the Resurrection account; but woman had a greater role in the early Christian Church than a lot of us realize.  The first Christian convert in Macedonia was an independent businesswoman named Lydia.  Priscilla and her husband Aquila were close friends of Paul’s who worked with him in Corinth and then later in Rome.  The personal greetings in Paul’s epistles suggest that women were key organizers in the congregations he founded.  And Luke’s mention here of Mary Magdalene and these other women show that this was true for Jesus’ ministry as well.

Mary Magdalene was one of the women present at the foot of the cross when Christ was crucified and when his other disciples were in hiding.  She was also among those who went to his tomb the following Sunday to finish the funerary preparations they didn't have time to complete before the Sabbath.  Mary was the first to see the Risen Lord, and returned to tell the Disciples, which is why she has been called “the apostle to the Apostles.”

The story told in John 20:10-18 of how she encounters the Risen Christ in the garden and at first mistakes him for a gardener is a touching and familiar one; but it also provides storytellers with something the Gospels otherwise lack:  a Love Interest.

The sorrow Mary felt upon the death of Jesus, the way he made a special trip to reassure her, and particularly the enthusiastic glomp she gave him when she discovered he was alive, have all led many readers to suspect that Jesus and Mary were particularly close.  All right; I’ll come out and say it.  They suggest that Mary Magdalene was the Girlfriend of Christ.

A lot of people would find that sort of blasphemous; and I have to admit that the idea of Jesus boinking one of his groupies doesn't really fit with how I envision the Pure and Sinless Son of God.  Then again, we are also taught that Christ became incarnate as True Man, meaning that he was subject to the same joys and sorrows, the same temptations and the same experiences as ordinary folks.  By that reasoning it’s not that implausible – in fact it’s quite likely – that Jesus might have been in love at some point in his life as well.  And either way, I hardly find it heretical to suppose, as many dramatists have, that Mary might have been in love with him.

Some have taken it even farther, speculating that Jesus and Mary were married in Milwaukee, secretly, and ran off to Gaul; but that this fact has been suppressed, first by patriarchal Church Fathers wishing to downplay Mary’s role in Jesus’ ministry, and later by a Bourbon conspiracy in order to deny that her children by Jesus are the Rightful Rulers of France.  The former might be somewhat plausible; the latter, not so much.

Personally, I've sometimes entertained the notion that Mary was carrying on a romance on the side, but that she was really fooling around with the Disciple John.  But I don’t think even Dan Brown would buy that idea.

The Resurrection account is the last mention we have of Mary Magdalene in the Gospels.  But wait, you perhaps are thinking; wasn't there a story about her and her sister Martha?  And the Raising of Lazarus?  And there was hair involved somewhere, right?

Now we get to the Second Mary in our composite.

In Luke chapter 10 we find the familiar story of Mary and Martha, two sisters living in the town of Bethany, who were friends of Jesus.  One time while Jesus is visiting them, Martha becomes annoyed with her sister because Mary is sitting and listening to Jesus teach instead of helping her with the housework.  Jesus tells Martha to cut her sister some slack:

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10:41-42 NIV)
I suspect that Jesus might have been thinking of the time he got chewed out by his family because he got so caught up in listening to the learned rabbis discussing Scriptures in the Temple that he stayed there for three days.

Mary and Martha appear again in John chapter 11 when they summon Jesus because their brother Lazarus is deathly ill.  By the time Jesus gets there, Lazarus has already died; but Jesus raises Lazarus from death.

Shortly after the Lazarus incident, Jesus is again visiting the family.  Mary takes a container of nard, an expensive perfume, and uses it to anoint Jesus’ feet, then wiping them off with her hair.

Judas disapproves of this display of devotion, grumbling that the perfume would be better used if it were sold and the proceeds given to the poor.  John didn't like Judas and never misses an opportunity to remind the reader what a jerk he was.  Jesus replies with one of the more misused quotations from the Gospels:  “The poor you have always with you.” (John 12:8 KJV).

This verse is sometimes used to deride secular attempts to fight poverty, but in its context I don’t see Jesus saying that at all.  He recognizes that Mary has done this out of devotion to honor him and that her sincere act of love deserves no rebuke.

Mary of Bethany is not mentioned as one of the women at the cross; that is, unless she is also Mary Magdalene.  But is she?

Well, both women are named Mary.  It’s an obvious point, but I might as well make it.  And both women seem to have dearly loved Jesus.  And Jesus seems to display a certain amount of affection to them both.  So why shouldn't we combine the two?  It would make the cast of characters a little less confusing.  And Mary Beth is so cute; she’s like the Kitty Pryde of Jesus’ followers.  The Mary Beth who anointed Jesus’ feet would fit so well in the story of Mary Mags in the Garden.

I might be willing to buy it, if not for that Luke 8 passage.  Luke is the one, remember, who introduces us to Mary Magdalene.  Then a couple chapters later he tells about Mary and Martha.  If the two Marys were the same woman, wouldn't Luke have told us so?

But let’s waive that point.  By his own admission, the author of Luke got his material second-hand; perhaps he got the story of the Mary with the Seven Demons and one of the Mary with the Bossy Sister from two different sources and didn't realize the two women were the same person.

More significantly, as I read it, the Mary Magdalene described in Luke 8 is an independent woman with her own income, or at least a sizeable nest egg, who can afford to help support Jesus’ ministry and who can accompany his other followers.  The Mary of Bethany described in Luke 10 is a stay-at-home, the dependent younger sister of an older, more responsible sibling.  I don’t see the two portraits matching.

But why would Pope Gregory think that either Mary Beth or Mary Mags was a harlot?  Especially since Mary Beth seems like such a nice girl.

If she was such a nice girl, then where did she get the money for that perfume?  A pint of nard doesn't come cheap.  And nice girls keep their heads covered.  And for that matter, where did Mary Magdalene get her money?  We tend to get the impression that women didn't own property back in Bible times, they were property; so if Mary Mags had that much disposable income, it must have come from someplace disreputable, right?

Well… maybe not.  I don’t think that society in First Century Judea was quite that rigid, even if perhaps some of the more conservative element wished it were.  She could have been like Susanna, another woman mentioned in Luke 8, who was a member of an affluent household; or she could have been a single woman, widowed or otherwise, who was able to run her own business, like Lydia of Philippi.

Another more subtle point is that perhaps Gregory found the Marys’ affectionate attitude towards Jesus suspect.  The Church has a long tradition of looking with disapproval at anything remotely hinting of sex.  I’d like to blame St. Augustine (of Hippo, not of Canterbury) for this, but some of it can be found in Paul’s epistles as well.

My Dad was once pastor in a small town that was equally divided between German Lutherans and Polish Catholics.  The previous Lutheran minister, who had served for something like twenty years, had been a life-long bachelor, so a lot of people in town regarded the idea of a Pastor’s Wife as something unusual, and my Mom always got the impression that some of her Catholic neighbors regarded her as a Scarlet Woman somehow for marrying a man of the cloth.

Likewise, I can imagine Gregory feeling uncomfortable with the public displays of affection both Marys show to the Son of God.  But perhaps I’m reading too much in here.

More significant is the story of the Anointing.  There is a parallel account of a woman anointing the feet of Jesus in the other three Gospels.

The accounts in Mark (Mark 14:3-9) and Matthew (Matt 26:6-14) are pretty similar to the story John tells, except that the woman who anoints Jesus is unnamed and the incident is said to take place at the home of a guy named Simon the Leper.  (Was that another name Lazarus went by?  Although in one of Jesus’ other parables he gives the name Lazarus to a fictitious leper).  Luke, however, tells the story differently.

Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.  When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town leaned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears.  Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.  (Luke 7:36-38 NIV)
The Pharisee, whose name is also Simon, looks at this scene with disapproval and mutters to himself that if this Jesus was as hot a prophet as he was made out to be, he’d know what kind of woman was fondling his feet.

Jesus hears his muttering and responds with a mini-parable; and then goes on to add:

“Do you see this woman?  I came into your house.  You did not give me water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.  You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much.  But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:44-47)
When we get multiple parallel stories like this in the Bible, there are a couple ways we can treat them.  One is to assume that they are separate events that just happened to be similar in some ways to each other; the other is to assume that they are accounts of the same events and chalk any discrepancies to a different writer telling the story from a different point of view and emphasizing different elements.

This latter view is how Gregory chose to interpret the stories of the Sinful Woman and of Mary at Bethany.  And so we have the following chain of reasoning:

Mary Magdalene = Mary of Bethany
Mary of Bethany = the Sinful Woman of Luke chapter 7
Mary Magdalene = a Whore
And people say that the Church has no place for Reason.

But as logical as Gregory’s argument looks when lined up in syllogistic form like that, I still don’t buy it.  For one thing, it depends on identifying Mary Mags with Mary Beth; and as I said before, I think there’s good reason to doubt it.  Neither do I think we have to identify the woman of Luke with the story in John.

Luke places his story near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry; and the Anointing at Bethany takes place nearly at the end.  Luke sets the story at the home of sanctimonious Pharisee; John has Jesus visiting friends.  The one story emphasizes the woman’s sorrow and her sinful past; in the other, Mary is simply performing an act of love.

None of these arguments, I’ll admit, are conclusive; and the other accounts in Matthew and Mark don’t really clarify things.  They name the host Simon, which links their version to Luke’s story; but they also place the incident in Bethany and include the criticism about wasting the perfume when it could be donated to the poor, which links it to John’s version.  And isn't it too much of a coincidence that the same thing would happen on two separate occasions?

Not necessarily.  Remember, this was a time when everyone wore sandals and traveled by foot on dusty roads.  It was customary for hosts to have a servant wash the feet of guests as they entered their home, or to at least provide water and a towel for that purpose.  Jesus alludes to this in the Luke account; and he uses the custom to make a point later in John chapter 13 when he washes the feet of his disciples.

It’s not surprising that Mary Beth, the youngest member of her household, would have been the one to wash the guests’ feet and might have wanted to do something special for Jesus.  It’s even possible that she had heard of the previous incident and used the perfume in imitation of the other woman’s gift.

And even if Mary of Bethany was the Sinning Woman of Luke 7, neither one of them was Mary Magdalene.

Nevertheless, thanks to Gregory, for something like fifteen hundred years Mary has been regarded as a prostitute and the term “Magdalene” synonymous with “whore”.  It was only in 1969 that the Vatican officially separated the three women comprising the Composite Mary.

I guess I’m of two minds about this.  On the one hand, I hardly think it fair that Mary Magdalene be tarnished with a reputation she doesn't deserve.

On the other hand, Jesus taught and ministered to and associated with all sorts of outcasts and sinners whom the Gospels never named:  the Sinning Woman of Luke 7; the Samaritan Woman at the Well; the Afflicted Woman who touched his garment; the Canaanite Woman with the sick daughter.

With his identification, whether right or wrong, Gregory gave a name to these women, upon whom Jesus shared his love and compassion.  I suppose that is worth something.

Originally posted to Street Prophets on Sun Jun 01, 2014 at 03:21 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight and Anglican Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  "The poor will always be with you" is Jesus (18+ / 0-)

    quoting the Torah, and in the Torah the verse continues by saying, essentially, "and therefore give liberally to the poor".

  •  Mariam was a common name at the time (20+ / 0-)

    as was Simon and even variations of the name Jesus.
    So it's probably not useful to conflate all the Marys (Mariams) into one lady.
    Also, the Coptic Gospel of Mary, assuming it's genuine, indicates that Mary Magdaleine was indeed a beloved disciple of Jesus and had no background of harlotry.
    I just think the medieval church didn't want to acknowledge that any unattached or independent woman could possibly be anything other than sinful.

  •  Lovely! Thanks so much - republished to (8+ / 0-)

    Anglican Kossacks.

    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Sun Jun 01, 2014 at 07:24:47 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for the diary! I'm soon going to try to (9+ / 0-)

    explain a bit about Mary Magdalene, as portrayed in Jesus Christ, Superstar, to my 15 year old son.  

    As a Jew, most of what I know about the Gospels comes  from the rock opera.

    We're all pretty strange one way or another; some of us just hide it better. "Normal" is a dryer setting.

    by david78209 on Sun Jun 01, 2014 at 07:39:59 PM PDT

    •  back when I became a born-again Christian, it was (5+ / 0-)

      listening to the rehearsals for that musical in the building next to my dorm room for weeks and then seeing the show that had really gotten to me. I had grown up with humanist parents who had been very open about letting me look into anything but didn't have anything to say about Gethsemane, so I could not fathom what the story was about. For years, later, I forced the family to watch the movie every Easter week so they could see what I saw. I'm not nearly so hard-nosed about anything now, but I still think it's best best way to encounter it if you're new and haven't got a clue.
          Just for fun, your son might enjoy the Stephen Colbert interview in which he breaks into Herod's Song.

      We are all pupils in the eyes of God.

      by nuclear winter solstice on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 04:05:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Mary's Song (10+ / 0-)

      I was a kid when Jesus Christ Superstar came out and I have vague recollections of listening to the album.

      I remember that my Dad was unimpressed by it.  As I've mentioned elsewhere, he was a Lutheran pastor, and he felt that any depiction of Christ which leaves out the Resurrection misses the point.  Also he disliked the way the musical portrays Judas as the Real Hero of the story.

      But one part of the musical he liked a great deal.  He liked the song that Mary Magdalene sings:  "I Don't Know How to Love Him."  He found it very moving and meaningful, both on the human level of how Mary might have felt about Jesus and on the theological level of how humans grapple with their relationship with God.

      He also regarded Simon & Garfunkle's "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" as a beautiful picture of Christ.  Our conservative Minnesota parish wasn't always sure what to make of Dad.

      Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at

      by quarkstomper on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 03:26:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  When I was at Brandeis (3+ / 0-)

        in the 60's, part of Humanities was reading some books from both testaments - King James Version. I felt as if I was doing something terrible. We read Luke and John. Luke seemed to have a very human Jesus and I kind of liked him, but John's antisemitism made me so angry I remember very little of it, except that it made Jesus more mysterious and other.

        I love this series, quarkstomper, but we miss you over at EofZ.

        We need a world in which we ask "What's happened to you?" more and "What's wrong with you?" less. (From a comment by Kossack nerafinator)

        by ramara on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 10:09:52 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  John (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ramara, Cassandra Waites, LSophia

          The Gospel of John is regarded by some as the most mystical of the four Gospels.  I've never really done an in-depth comparison of the four, so I couldn't say myself.

          John's denigration of "the Jews" has poisoned Church teaching and Christian attitudes even more than Gregory's marian conflation.  I can think of a couple reasons which, although they do not excuse John, might explain him a little.

          The explanation I've generally heard is that John was writing for a Gentile audience far from Jerusalem long, long after the events of Jesus' life.  For these readers, the distinctions between Pharisees and Sadducees, or even political leadership of the Temple, would have been meaningless.  For simplicity's sake, the argument goes, John simply lumped all of Jesus' enemies together as "the Jews".

          There might be some truth to that interpretation; but I think there's more to it than that.  Traditionally, John is portrayed as "the Gentle Disciple", meek and compassionate.  That's not quite true.  He had a temper.  Jesus called him and his brother James the "Sons of Thunder".

          On one occasion John asked Jesus' permission to call down fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village which had refused to let them come in.  Jesus told John to take a chill pill.

          Another example of John's ability to hold a grudge is his attitude toward Judas.  The other Gospel writers simply inform us the Judas betrayed Jesus.  John never lets us forget it.  He never mentions Judas without adding "...the Dirty Rotten Stinking Traitor, oh and by the way, did I mention he was a thief too?"  (Okay, I'm exaggerating there, but not by much).

          The Book of Acts tells us that Herod Antipas had John's brother James executed, in order to suck up to the Temple Establishment.  I'll admit that I'm speculating here, but I suspect that John was no more willing to forgive the men responsible for the executions of both his brother and of Jesus than he was willing to forgive Judas.

          It doesn't excuse his lumping all Jews together like he did; nor of the Church's doctrine extending that guilt to all their descendants until the End of Time.  But there we are.

          Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at

          by quarkstomper on Tue Jun 03, 2014 at 07:29:40 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I was a 17 year old (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            LSophia, quarkstomper

            girl who had never ventured into this territory before. I had a visceral reaction reading this Gospel, and remember the feeling far above anything in the book itself. Don't you think Christians reading it might have the same response for the opposite reason?

            We need a world in which we ask "What's happened to you?" more and "What's wrong with you?" less. (From a comment by Kossack nerafinator)

            by ramara on Tue Jun 03, 2014 at 08:04:36 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  John's Gospel (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            was written around 90 - 100 C. E., after the Temple had been destroyed and the nascent Christian cult had been kicked out of Judaism by the Rabbinic tradition.

            What this meant was that it was now open season on persecuting the Christians.  The Jews had enjoyed limited protections under the Roman Empire, but the Christians did not - and so, they ended up serving as lion snacks in the arena, as well as perishing in various other unfortunate ways.  This continued with varying degrees of enthusiasm until Constantine embraced Christianity as the state religion in 313.

            It made sense, back in 90 C.E., for the author of the Gospels to be slightly annoyed with the Jewish communities of his time.  It makes absolutely no sense now and certainly doesn't justify millennia of persecution.

            YMMV, but I learned in graduate school  that the author(s) of John's Gospel was most like not the Apostle John himself, who, these scholars supposed had died by the time the Gospel was written, but, rather, members of the community he had founded.  Again, YMMV.

            •  I didn't see this (0+ / 0-)

              in time to rec it. Thanks for the information. I had heard that the book was not written by the apostle.

              I understood that there were still Jewish Christians into the second century as well as non-Jewish Christians which became modern Christianity.

              We need a world in which we ask "What's happened to you?" more and "What's wrong with you?" less. (From a comment by Kossack nerafinator)

              by ramara on Fri Jun 06, 2014 at 10:04:46 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  David, thank you. Please explain, write a diary (0+ / 0-)

      Of course, the grammer police know these are both incomplete sentences?  

  •  Daddy had issues: (11+ / 0-)

    The Roman Catholic church was and is a patriarchy.  Patriarchies couldn't exist without female members, but the patriarchs have always felt it necessary to denigrate the females in the most severe, extreme ways possible.
    That's why I'm not one bit surprised that a Pope would slander one of the earliest female saints of the church.  In that context, it would seem that Gregory was actually letting Mary M. off easy.
    And look now at how the bishops and cardinals in the U.S. are
    castigating and threatening the Catholic nuns who have organized to minister to the poor.   I would say that it's shameful, but I know that, in fact, there is no shame in the priesthood, and there never has been.

    "Soylent Green is people too, my friend!" Guess Who

    by oldmaestro on Sun Jun 01, 2014 at 07:55:05 PM PDT

  •  Fascinating and very interesting diary, thank you (7+ / 0-)

    for this. It was a very enjoyable and insightful read.

    Keystone Liberals on Twitter @ KeystoneLibs , Join PA Liberals at

    by wishingwell on Sun Jun 01, 2014 at 08:26:37 PM PDT

  •  A wood engraving ... (5+ / 0-)

    ... from Germany

    perhaps, but I don't really know, and I'm guessing the 1500's. The perspective isn't what I'd call exactly precise.

    Millions of us – the majority – must come together to insist that President Obama and the Democrats stand up and fight for the things we sent them there to do ... Michael Moore

    by MT Spaces on Sun Jun 01, 2014 at 08:52:09 PM PDT

  •  "And nice girls keep their heads covered." (7+ / 0-)

    That is such a good point and I hadn't really focused on it myself before, except to think that it was a nice symbolic gesture, but hair wouldn't work as well as a cloth or towel for actual drying so what was that about?
        I used to have hair so thick and long that even with it braided I could sit on it, and with only an American attitude towards it I did wear kerchiefs, bandanas, etc. most of the time because it protected it it tremendously from sun damage at the crown allowing it to grow so long without breakage. And when it was down, I could have hidden in it naked- it was so thick, but unless I tucked it away with clips and ties I couldn't do anything because I was always sitting, leaning, pulling on or adjusting it.
       So as a much more 'fundamentalist' Christian in my young years, I did not know what to do with the admonition to ladies not to "braid your hair."  It was not presented to mean "only for adornment's sake" but just the simple "do not." I went with practical (there's no better way to manage it than one French braid) and just hoped they wouldn't get around to caring about it. Then I met a black woman named Opal, who had the teeny-tiny cornrows ending in long braids with beads, and she told me it took 26 hours to complete that style. Now she may have been exaggerating, but it was an image I never forgot.
         So anyway, to make a short story long..for those women to adore Jesus that way, they would have had to be on their knees, completely uncovered before him, in the presence of a roomful of other men. That's what impresses me now, especially in the recent daily kos context of men speaking over and drowning out women's voices even if they are not actually using and abusing them outright.
         And I do think it's beautiful that even as they gave it all to him they went away with the beautiful smell hanging on them even if they wrapped their hair back up.

    We are all pupils in the eyes of God.

    by nuclear winter solstice on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 03:55:34 AM PDT

  •  A tip o' the bowler to the Brits, who managed to (5+ / 0-)

    turn "Magdalene" into "maudlin."

  •  This Mary was the wife of the biblical Jesus. And (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    thanatokephaloides, ramara

    the wedding where water got turned into wine was the remnant of that ceremony. Also it was a sly reference to the early Christians cult use of psychotropics accounting for the transformation of plain water into another intoxicating beverage along the lines of the Greek rituals of Eleusis.

    Life is just a bowl of Cherries, that stain your hands and clothes and have pits that break your teeth.

    by OHdog on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 07:25:33 AM PDT

    •  Weddings and Wine (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, ramara, FarWestGirl

      I think I remember reading once the claim that Jesus was the groom at the Wedding at Cana and not just a guest, but I no longer remember the source.  It doesn't fit the story as it is presented in the Gospel of John.

      Another interpretation I've read of that wedding, which is purely speculative, is that Mary, Jesus' Mother, was a friend of the family getting married and was helping out with the catering, and so the family invited Mary's son the rabbi to the celebration as well.  They didn't expect Jesus to bring such a large pack of friends along with him and that's why there wasn't enough wine to go around.  Once again, this is speculation.

      As for the use of intoxicants in the early Christian church, I will grant that the development of the Early Church was influenced to a certain degree by Greek mystery religions like that of Eleusis, especially in the more gnostic flavors of Christianity; but I'm not sure how much farther I want to go with that.  

      You might be on firmer ground if you connected with the Love Feasts mentioned in Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians.  Apparently, a tradition had arisen in the church of Corinth where what we call the Sacrament of Holy Communion had been expanded into a kind of potluck dinner.  Some people would overeat and get drunk and others would wind up not getting anything.  This type of food-based worship might have a connection to the kind of thing you're talking about; but in his epistle, Paul condemned these excesses.  

      Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at

      by quarkstomper on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 06:56:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Not expanded. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        The early tradition was for communion to be a full meal with the bread and wine as part of the ceremony instead of the entire thing. That was the norm that would have been expected throughout the early church - a Christian traveling to visit another city's churches would have expected to be fed a reasonably filling meal as he shared communion with them.

        The problem in Corinth was that some were getting drunk and partying - not taking the religious ceremony seriously - and the poor in the congregation were being made to leave the table hungry while everyone else was full - against a whole list of commands Jesus gave to take care of the poor.

        So the general reaction of the church over time was to reduce the meal aspect. The feast model was banned outright eventually in most Christian traditions that have survived.

        Now, no one can get enough drink to be drunk even in churches that use actual wine and no one can get enough bread to not leave hungry. Which is technically fair, but not anywhere near what Paul wanted the Corinthians to shift their practices to.

  •  Conservation of Marys (5+ / 0-)

    In my SBC Sunday School way back when, I was taught that Mary, Mother of Jesus, and Mary, Mother of James, were one and the same.

    The teachers seemed to make a particular point of it, though I didn't know why at the time.  Later I realized it was to dispute the Catholic assertion that Mary remained a virgin.

    Do you really want to live in a county where a handful of billionaires control our economy and our political life while the middle class disappears? This is the question of our time. We've got to stand up and fight back. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

    by Scott Martin on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 08:00:01 AM PDT

  •  Speaking of forgotten women (7+ / 0-)

    Remember Phoebe from Romans  16:1:

    I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea...
    Now here is the interesting thing.  The Greek word translated here as "servant of the church" is "διάκονος" (diakonos). That is a hapax legomenon, a word that appears only once in a particular corpus (in this case the Bible) so it's hard to know exactly what it means.

    However... where that word appears in other ancient texts it is customarily translated as "deacon", an office which today is not open to women in certain Christian churches.

    I've lost my faith in nihilism

    by grumpynerd on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 08:25:34 AM PDT

  •  My favorite women in the Gospels (7+ / 0-)

    doesn't even have a name and she isn't part of the Lectionary.  We used to hear her story on Monday of Holy Week, but they replaced it with yet another Mary and Martha story (of course).

    It's Mark 13:3-9.  In this story, the woman is unknown, she comes in to the room, and anoints Jesus' head, not his feet.  No hair, kneeling, washing or penitence is involved.

    Of course, in that culture, this would be considered strikingly forward behavior, and she gets censured for wasting money/ointment.  

    But, what strikes me about this story, is that she was anointing Jesus, not just for his burial, but as king.  

    What I find so frustrating, is that this story is so often replaced with women in the "more traditional" role with which many men are so much more comfortable.  

    •  annointing as a prophet (or prophetess) (5+ / 0-)

      Like Samuel anointing Saul.

      10 Then Samuel took a flask of olive oil and poured it over Saul’s head. He kissed Saul and said, “I am doing this because the Lord has appointed you to be the ruler over Israel,
      I Samuel 10.1
      Ancient Kings were anointed by prophets, male or female. And, let us not forget Deborah the female Prophet and Judge, or the little known "prophet or witch" of Endor.   Seeing these female Bibical characters from a feminist angle, is helpful for women.  It's less a "text of terror." (Phyllis Trible)

      Wonder what the name Mary meant?   There are so many Marys.  Jesus' mother, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, Mary of Martha and Mary, etc.

      •  In the Book of Ruth (3+ / 0-)

        when Naomi returns to her people she tells the women not to call her Naomi, which means "sweet," but Marah, which means "bitter," because "life has dealt bitterly with me."

        Mary may come from that name.

        And the mara part of ramara is from my middle name, Mara.

        We need a world in which we ask "What's happened to you?" more and "What's wrong with you?" less. (From a comment by Kossack nerafinator)

        by ramara on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 10:22:35 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  For a good discussion of this issue (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ramara, FarWestGirl, quarkstomper

    see the old Catholic Encyclopedia article:

    From the same source, the women's order, The Hospitaller Sisters, were originally set up in the hospital of Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem:

    The Hospitaller Sisters of St. John of Jerusalem, early in the twelfth century, were established in
    the hospital of St. Mary Magdalen, Jerusalem
    , for the care of pilgrims. The year after the fall of Jerusalem (1188) a community was established at Sixena, Spain, by Sancha, wife of Alfonso II of Aragon, for the care of poor ladies of noble families, and the rule was confirmed by Celestine III in 1193. Except from 1470 to 1569, when they were under the immediate jurisdiction of the pope, the sisters were subject to the Grand Master of the Hospitallers. Other communities were soon founded throughout Spain, Italy, Portugal, and England. A reform was instituted in the hospital of Beaulieu in the first years of the seventeenth century; new constitutions were drawn up in 1636, and approved in 1644. After the fall of Rhodes the original habit of red, with a black mantle, embroidered with the cross of St. John of Jerusalem, was exchanged for one of black. On the suppression of the Templars, the few houses of sisters of that order were united with those of St. John of Jerusalem.

    The first house of the Hospitaller Sisters of the Teutonic Order in Germany was founded in 1299 at Kunitz near Bern, soon followed by others, none of which survived the secularization of 1803. The order was revived in 1841 by Maximilian III Joseph, Duke of Austria-Este. Besides the care of the sick, the sisters devote themselves to the work of teaching. There are four mother-houses: Troppau, with 2 filial convents and 123 sisters; Lana, 15 filial houses, 89 sisters; Freudenthal, 3 filial houses, 67 sisters; Friesach, 1 filial house, 29 sisters.

    Nuns of the Order of Malta:

    To be free and just depends on us. Victor Hugo.

    by dizzydean on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 08:35:59 PM PDT

  •  Who is the George M. Cohen of whom you speak? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ramara, quarkstomper

    I never knew there were two different composers of songs called "It's a Grand Old Name". In any case Mr Cohen's version -- whatever it is; I can't find it on Google -- would hardly be the one most people would recognize.

  •  Another interesting group of Mary's (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ramara, FarWestGirl, quarkstomper

    Commingled if not conflated.

    I was at the Philadelphia Museum of Art this weekend, and in the commentary on a medieval painting, it showed the (medievally constructed) three husbands of Anne, mother of Mary. The first is Joachim (father of the Virgin), the second Salomas (father of Mary, known as Salome), and third Cleophas (father of Mary daughter of Cleophas).

    These were the three Mary's at the foot of the cross.

  •  my mother has always stuck up for Martha (4+ / 0-)

    and felt that she has been unfairly criticized over the years. There she is, working away, to be sure that everyone is fed and taken care of. Mom is a Martha.

    •  I like Martha too (5+ / 0-)

      Hosting Jesus and his friends was a LOT of work - back-breaking, time-consuming exhausting work!  And it's not as if she can run to a first-century Whole Foods, just in case they start running short of food or wine.

      When she speaks up, it seems so obvious to me that she is just dying to join them, and never gets her chance.  :(

      I never conflated Mary of Bethany with Mary Magdalene, either.  I don't know why - they just don't seem like the same person.

  •  Two points... (0+ / 0-)

    You are talking about these stories as if they really occurred, these characters as if they really lived, and the recordings of both as if they were accurate.

    Pope Gregory simply did what thousands, especially in the RCC, did before him... take the stories, tweak them to his liking and present them as a new "truth".  If you stop and think about that for just one minute, how in the world can you write an analysis of these stories with any thought that they are or ever have been legitimate reality based reportings?

    Plus the Pope forgot about Mary Magdalene's gospel... oh, that's right... the church made sure those were buried in a jar in the desert.

    Seriously, how in the world do you buy into all this stuff without exercising at least two seconds of doubt?

    •  I am very sorry 'Troller (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I feel that your comment deserves an honest response; and I spent a good two hours this evening drafting one.  But because I was tired, I hit the wrong button and wound up wiping the reply without posting it.

      The fault is mine.

      The short version of the reply is that I like stories; I like reading them and I like telling them; and I like the meta-story about how other people relate and interact with these stories.

      That is what this series is all about.

      I do not ask my readers to accept the Bible as Unassailable Truth.  If I treat the characters and events of these stories as things which actually happened, it is because that is the nature of storytelling; if the story is any good at all, you engage what Tolkien called "Secondary Belief" and which is more commonly referred to as the "Willing Suspension of Disbelief".

      As it happens, I do believe in God and that the Bible is God's Word; but I acknowledge that not all my readers here on Kos share that belief, and that those who do don't necessarily believe the same things about him that I do.  That is a second reason why I try to present many different interpretations of the stories I tell, and that although I don't try to hide my own opinions, I try to make clear that they are my own biases and not the Law and the Prophets.

      (The main reason is that I find these differing interpretations interesting).

      Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at

      by quarkstomper on Tue Jun 03, 2014 at 07:42:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks for the reply. (0+ / 0-)

        But I think you paint yourself into a bit of a corner when you refer to the whole bible as "God's Word".  If that is so, then you must have a seriously hard time reconciling your innate sense of morality with what this god presents to mankind as his one time only message. Have you ever considered analyzing whether the idea of salvation is even worthy of a god of the whole cosmos?  Do you ever see that concept as divisive rather than something to be admired?

        That being said, I appreciate the fact that you allow challenges based on non-belief to be part of the conversation without taking them as an assault on you personally.

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