tue 21/11/2017

Mary Magdalene: Art's Scarlet Woman, review - 'lugubrious' | reviews, news & interviews

Mary Magdalene: Art's Scarlet Woman, review - 'lugubrious'

Mary Magdalene: Art's Scarlet Woman, review - 'lugubrious'

In focusing on the titillating details, Januszczak misses a key question

Waldemar Januszczak hot on the trail of Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene: Art's Scarlet Woman (BBC Four) is, says art critic Waldemar Januszczak, a film about a woman who probably never existed. "So why,” he asks, “are we so obsessed with her?” He delivers the answer in breathy, lugubrious tones as if sharing a dirty secret. The story, he says, is “sweaty, sensuous and naughty... For 2,000 years we’ve been fantasising about this most alluring and intoxicating presence.”

So keep watching, folks. and join the “many men who, through the ages, have drooled over her.” It's enough to make anyone switch off, which would be a shame because the story that unfolds is an interesting example of how, throughout history, saints and martyrs, and heroes and villains, have been created for propaganda purposes and the stories told about them modified according to need.

Why entrust a nobody with knowledge of the most crucial event in your ministry?

Mary’s reputation grew, says Januszczak, from that of a biblical bit player mentioned only four times in the New Testament to the patron saint of prostitutes, gardeners, hairdressers and the Provence region of southern France. En route, she became the embodiment of unbridled female sexuality; cue paintings of her as a voluptuous temptress exposing the luscious flesh that seduced so many virtuous men. 

Januszczak follows the twists and turns of the story from the Holy Land to Aix-en-Provence, where she supposedly spent 30 years in a cave repenting for her “deeply regrettable and deeply attractive” sins and living only off celestial music; cue more paintings of her reclining in an erotic swoon since “in art, religious ecstasy and sexual ecstasy are always difficult to tell apart.”

While focusing on the titillating details of the story, Januszczak fails to address a key question. Why, if Mary Magdalene was so insignificant, was she chosen as the one to whom Christ revealed himself after the resurrection? Why entrust a nobody with knowledge of the most crucial event in your ministry – an event that makes sense of your life’s work and thereby forms the basis of a new religion? His decision only makes sense if Mary was his most revered disciple.

Women are routinely written out of history and their achievements minimised or forgotten, but Mary Magdalene has suffered a more complex fate. She has been transformed from the one chosen to play a key role in the founding of the Christian Church into a lascivious whore made to atone for her (never his) sins. She thus becomes a counterpart to the Virgin Mary and the twin roles, of virgin and whore, reserved by the Church for women are established. The repression of women by church and state is a much less titillating story, because it is about power even more than sex, but it needs to be told.

She became the embodiment of unbridled female sexuality; cue paintings of her as a voluptuous temptress

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The woman Jesus revealed himself to on his resurrection need not have been Mary Magdalene but one of the other wonen in the group named Mary

John 20.1-18 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look* into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, and ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew,* ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Januszczak and most others ignore ( or are ignorant of) recent biblical scholarship stimulated by the discovery and examination of the Gnostic texts at Nag Hammadi. As a result there is a sizeable group of scholars who think that Mary Magdalene was in fact a disciple, perhaps Jesus' favourite disciple which is why he appeared to her, and that misogyny covered this up and 'disappeared' her true role in the story of Christianity

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