It's amazing what reading the Bible will do to your thoughts of Scripture. Abraham, instead of the faithful follower, looks to be a bit more fiendish when he tells Pharaoh that his wife Sarah is really his sister and allows Sarah to be part of Pharaoh's harem. David doesn't look like a man after God's own heart when his son runs him out of Jerusalem. And Jesus looks a little more human when he weeps at Lazarus's tomb.
Well, it looks like Newsweek discovered some theologians who are taking a closer look at the Bible and discovering what's been there (and taught in Sunday school) for a very long time. But it's also finding a lot that for good reason has never been taught—it's not true. At any rate, "The Bible's Lost Stories" hops on The Da Vinci Code bandwagon to look at the "lost" stories of women in the Bible. Of course, it wouldn't be a story without something sensational, so there's the obligatory talk of Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene, and very little admitting that there is no proof of Jesus' matrimony.
With so many Marys in the New Testament, it can be easy to confuse them, and Newsweek dives right into the confusion between Mary Magdalene, who was possessed by demons, and Mary, Martha and Lazarus's sister, and Mary the harlot. Newsweek attributes the confusion, not to misreading, but to manipulation by powerful men who vied with Mary for control of the early church. And in order to wipe women from the scene, these men, including the Apostle Peter, falsely called Mary a whore and wrote the history themselves.
Maybe because of the sensation, the new interest in the ladies of the Bible is inspiring many, especially women in small Bible studies, says Newsweek writers Barbara Kantrowitz and Anne Underwood. "College student Frances Garcia, 26, of Orlando, Fla., was raised Catholic, but now attends a Baptist church. 'The Da Vinci Code' raised troubling questions for her about how women's contributions to early Christianity were suppressed by church leaders. 'My faith was really shaken,' she says. 'I started doing a lot of research on my own.' Learning more made her feel 'closer to God,' she says. Weblog guesses that Garcia's research uncovered some of the fiction in the novel.
There are plenty of women in the Bible, though fewer women than men, admits Kenneth L. Woodward in a complementary story. When reading that Mary visited Christ's tomb while the twelve disciples were off hiding, Woodward says, "Even a male reader like myself can't miss the implication: 12 men formed the inner circle of the Jesus movement and got titles to go with that privileged access, but it was women who were rewarded at the Resurrection because they were more faithful to Jesus. So much for patriarchal titles." Maybe the so-called conspiracy to cover up women's roles failed.
There's enough women in the Bible to make the once feminist-driven research a respected scholarly field of study. Newsweek says, "[Bernadette] Brooten, now a professor of Christian studies at Brandeis University, made the remarkable discovery by reading older versions of the Bible that Junius, one of the many Christian 'Apostles' mentioned by Saint Paul, was in fact a woman, Junia, whose name was masculinized over the centuries by translators with their own agenda. Brooten's discovery became 'official' when Junia's real name was incorporated into the New Standard Revised Version of the Bible, which came out in 1989."
However, Newsweek relies heavily on the Gnostic Gospels, which "were eventually suppressed as heresy," to discover the real Mary Magdalene. It's not enough that she was the first to see the risen Christ, even before he had returned to the Father. Newsweek postulates a power struggle with Peter and a marriage to Jesus. The magazine also uncovered the shocking news that Eve didn't give Adam an apple. "In fact, scholars say, the Bible never states that."
As Woodward, who brings some much-needed balance to the package, says, "The promise of feminist Biblical scholarship is that it can alter this imbalance [between male and female characters in Scripture] by interpreting the Bible from the perspectives of women's experiences. The danger is that feminist ideology will overreach the text." He notes the Gnostic Gospels weren't so much suppressed as heresy, but rejected by New Testament compilers. It's easy to look beyond the Bible however, because there is a lot that the New Testament doesn't tell us, and archeology doesn't fill in the gaps. Woodward warns of the temptation to fill those gaps with "historical imagination." He says,
Feminists aren't the first to approach the Bible with a political agenda. But it would be exemplary if women were to be the first to check contemporary ideologies at the Bible's door … The test of Biblical scholarship is not how user-friendly it makes the Scriptures to groups that feel neglected. Rather, it is how well it sheds new light on texts that millions hold to be authoritative.
Despite inaccuracies, women are looking again at Mary, Eve, Hagar, Rahab and other (even warrior) biblical women and finding inspiration in their stories. Of course, Newsweek doesn't mention that they might be in the Bible because they are "useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness." Weblog admits it picked that up in Sunday school. The problem with much of the story may be that Newsweek didn't have its religion writer (who may have attended such classes on assignment) write the story.
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