Archived from The Magdalene Review on Sunday 27 November 2005
Who the heck am I, and what gives me the idea that I’m qualified to blog about Mary Magdalene, anyway?
My name is Lesa Bellevie. I’m the founder of Magdalene.org, and the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Mary Magdalene. Yes, the title is part of the real Idiot’s Guide series, I didn’t rip it off. (Believe it or not, this is a common question.) I’ve been researching Mary Magdalene since 1997, when I first discovered that nothing in the Gospels says she was a prostitute. A software test engineer by trade, I naturally turned to the Internet to see what I could dig up, which, in 1997, was not much. I decided to start my own website to gather all of the information I was able to find about Mary Magdalene and just to see what would come of it. It’s been a fulfilling project and has led to other opportunities that allow me to explore my avocation as an amateur historian.
You read right: amateur historian. Or, armchair historian if you’d prefer. I have no long string of letters after my name to validate any of the work that I do, no institution to lend its credibility, no grants to fund my projects. It’s just a University of Washington Friends of the Library membership card, my husband/research assistant/cohort, and me. Everything I know about New Testament scholarship is entirely the result of self-education; although I like to defend myself by saying that many great people in history have been self-educated, I am fully aware that I probably have only just enough knowledge to get myself into trouble.
And still, I persist.
It’s difficult to say what drives me and my passion for learning about Mary Magdalene. Some people are interested in Raymond Burr, some people in the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and for me, it’s a 1st century woman who may or may not have actually existed. I leave it to the reader to determine the quality of my work, and add that I’m always open to polite criticisms. If there is something I can do better, or a resource I need to use, or a methodology that should be applied, I’d love to hear about it.
As for my spiritual background, I was raised in a very literalist branch of Protestant Christianity (read: evangelical, Pentecostal, non-denominational, whatever they’re calling it these days), and no longer consider myself a Christian. I’m not an atheist (on most days), but neither do I adhere to any particular system of faith. Point 15 of my Personal Manifesto sums it up: “Spiritually, I draw inspiration from Hermetic, Platonic and Neo-platonic philosophy, Christianity, and Gnosticism.”
As often as I’ve tried, I’ve been unable to remember being taught anything about Mary Magdalene in Sunday school, but somehow I acquired the notion that she was a prostitute, as do most other people who live in the Western world. Whether this was the result of my religious upbringing or immersion in this culture, I’ll never be able to say.
I’ve never been a Roman Catholic. (This is important. Occasionally, when I’ve taken a more conservative approach to a Mary Magdalene question, I’ve been accused of defending the Church. Heh.)
Contrary to what some believe, I have no “camp.” That is, I do not have a league of minions sitting around waiting to do my bidding so I may better carry out my diabolical plots to suppress views of Mary Magdalene of which I do not approve. As I said, it’s just me, my husband, and our ever-growing stacks of library books. When I don’t appreciate a particular idea about Mary Magdalene, I’ll say so directly and explain why.
Finally, I have a quick word on my place in the Magdalene movement. The movement itself seems to be made up of two branches: the historians and the mystics. Each levels criticisms at the other: the historians say that the mystics are making up history as they go, and the mystics say that the historians have forgotten that Mary Magdalene is a spiritual figure. I can appreciate both of these positions, and, as a result, I try to plant myself firmly between the two branches in order to more fully understand each.
That said, I do tend to lean more toward the historian side of things. It just seems that the world has gone a little crazy in the wake of The Da Vinci Code, and the mystics have taken this as some kind of popular mandate. Maybe it is, but that doesn’t mean everything isn’t still off-kilter. I doubt there is anything I can do to help tip the balance, but in fifty or a hundred years, when the world is looking back on the origins of the Mary Magdalene cult in Western society, I want to be named as a voice of reason.
Margaret Starbird once asked me if I feel like I’m tilting at windmills.
As a matter of fact, I do.