Archived from The Magdalene Review on Thursday 19 January 2006
In a recent post at Jesus Creed (“You and Jesus”), Scot McKnight discusses the concept that we make Jesus in our own image rather than make ourselves in Jesus’ image. “Everyone wants Jesus so much on his or her side that they make him fit,” Scot says.
I couldn’t agree more with this idea, and it occurs to me that people are now doing the same exact thing with Mary Magdalene. She is an apostle to those who seek acknowledgement as potential leaders, she is a “lost bride” to those who seek to be valued for their feminine qualities, she is a priestess to those who would make female sexuality a primary spiritual focus. Of course this is a simplistic view of the whole thing, but it remains true that Mary Magdalene’s identity is eerily dependent on the values of the person offering their interpretation.
Bruce Chilton’s Mary Magdalene is an exorcist and a healer. What does that say about Chilton?
Jane Schaberg’s Mary Magdalene is an “outsider” in the tradition of Virginia Woolf, and the successor of Jesus. What does that say about Schaberg?
Margaret Starbird’s Mary Magdalene is a woman who was forced into exile, her contribution devalued. What does that say about Starbird?
My Mary Magdalene is a loner, an anonymous woman who stands straight and tall amid much misunderstanding. What does that say about me?
The strangest thing, by far, that I’ve noticed about people involved in the Mary Magdalene “movement” is that they frequently recognize that this god-making occurs without acknowledging that they’re engaging in the same kind of behavior. A projection of self is inevitable in any kind of interpretative endeavor, but objectivity demands some amount of detachment. In the work of some scholars, I don’t have a problem remaining open to new ways of looking at old stories; in the work of others, an utter and complete revision of Christian history suggests deeper motives. Some authors have made themselves “open books,” so to speak, and it’s therefore possible to see how their evolving emotional and spiritual lives led to their observations about Mary Magdalene.
When readers have the same kinds of psychological and spiritual needs as a given author, that author’s work then “rings true.” This resonance, I believe, is what undergirds the popularity of The Da Vinci Code, for example, a case in which both Jesus and Mary Magdalene have been made in a new image. So while it’s absolutely productive to ask what the motives are of a given author, it is also important to consider the motives of the reader. They, too, are projecting their needs onto a text, and subsequently, onto the figure at hand. To explain the phenomenon of The Da Vinci Code, I think we first need to understand its readers. To explain the increasing importance of Mary Magdalene on Christian studies, we likewise need to understand the people to whom she has become so crucial.