Bible Women

Mary’s Mother: Saint Anne in Late Medieval Europe

by Virginia Nixon

University Park, PA: Penn State Univ. Press, 2004, 36 b&w illus., 215 pp.
$35.00 (hardcover)

The Gospels of Mary: The Secret Tradition of Mary Magdalene,
the Companion of Jesus

by Marvin Meyer with Esther A. de Boer

San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004, 128 pp.
$17.95 (hardback)

Women in Mark’s Gospel

by Susan Miller

London: T & T Clark, 2004, 228 pp.
$39.95 (softcover)
Reviewed by Michael D. Swartz

Jesus’ maternal grandmother is not mentioned in the Bible, but she is nevertheless an important character in understanding the way the Bible has been studied. Anne is first named in the second-century Protoevangelium of James, which lists her in the genealogy of Jesus. By the late Middle Ages, there was a veritable cult of St. Anne.

Virginia Nixon, an art historian at Concordia University in Montreal, has studied hundreds of images of Anne in an attempt to understand her and her popularity.

Was Mary Magdalene a repentant whore? Marvin Meyer, a professor of Bible and Christian studies at Chapman University in Orange, California, provides us with the relevant Biblical and extrabiblical texts. According to Meyer, Mary was the disciple whom Jesus loved above all others.

Meyer introduces us to several Gnostic manuscripts, including the Gospel of Mary, known from a fifth-century Coptic copy (Papyrus Berolinensis 8502); the gospels of Thomas and Philip, as well as the Dialogue of the Savior, both found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945; and the Pistis Sophia, a fourth-century collection of Gnostic revelations and teachings that purports to contain Mary Magdalene’s teachings on Wisdom.

These texts portray Mary as Jesus’ closest companion and a “pure spiritual woman.” Whatever the facts, these texts illustrate the role of women in the early Christian Church.

Each of the canonical Gospels tells a different version of the life of Jesus. Mark’s Gospel has survived with two different endings. In the other Gospels, the resurrection is witnessed and announced by women, either Mary Magdalene alone or with others. In Mark in the shorter ending (which most scholars agree is the more original ending), the women see, but they do not tell.

Susan Miller, a professor at the University of Glasgow, surveys the role of the women in Mark in terms of discipleship. Mark’s emphasizes the women’s service, a word not used for the men. They are the anointers, the witnesses, the servants. They are with Jesus in Galilee, and are the only ones present at the crucifixion. They are the ones who go to the tomb and they are the first to see it empty. And although they are silent in the end, Mark knows that future discipleship is dependent on their witness.

Michael D. Swartz is professor of Hebrew and religious studies in the department of Near Eastern languages and cultures at the Ohio State University in Columbus.

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