Sunday, December 02, 2007

James Tabor on Jane Schaberg's Resurrection of Mary Magdalene

James Tabor's review of Jane Schaberg's Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha and the Christian Testament (2002 Crossroad) which he gave at the recent SBL meeting in San Diego is posted to his Jesus Dynasty Blog here.

Here's part of it. I'm going to use her book in future courses.

Schaberg’s final chapter, “Mary Magdalene as Successor to Jesus” is in my judgment one of the most impressive pieces of textual reading I have ever encountered. What she attempts to show is that the singular account in John 20:1-18, where Mary Magdalene encounters and speaks to Jesus in the garden tomb, preserves fragments of a tradition of Mary Magdalene as successor to Jesus—and thus, “first founder” of Christianity, in the sense of authoritative witness to resurrection faith. Whether this early tradition can be connected or not to later Christian texts that present Mary as a leading intellectual and spiritual guide, a beloved companion of Jesus and transmitter of his teachings, is a separate issue. What Schaberg shows, successfully in my view, is that the narrative structure of John 20 reflects an imaginative reuse of 2 Kings 2:1-18 where Elijah the prophet ascends to heaven, leaving his disciple Elisha as his designated witness and successor. This intimate personal appearance to Mary Magdalene, which focuses on ascent to heaven rather than resurrection of the dead per se, is parallel to, but sharply distinguished from, the more generic Synoptic accounts of angelic proclamations to the group of women.

Upon this foundation Schaberg offers a preliminary sketch of what she rather boldly labels “Magdalene Christianity,” both suppressed and lost in the Synoptic tradition, and particularly in Acts, much like the history of James and the Jerusalem community from 30-50 CE, Crossan’s “dark ages.” For some , such as Crossan, Schaberg’s reconstruction of John 20, as well as that of Schüssler Fiorenza and others, is “too optimistic” in terms of reconstructing what happened after Jesus’ death. His own reconstruction erases not only the empty tomb, but the memory of the women as first witnesses, and Mary Magdalene as his possible successor. Crossan once told Schaberg, as she recounts in her book, “Jane, if I could give you the empty tomb I would” (p. 252). Her response captures a characteristic of her wonderfully self-reflective style throughout her work: “I was stunned into silence by Crossan’s wish to ‘give’ me the narrative of the tomb; by the fact that it even occurred to him that he might. I wondered if I had to ‘take’ it. No, I knew I did.” And by that she meant she was obligated to offer her own reconstruction, attempting to be as clear about method as Crossan demands, and in particular to examine the assumptions behind his own reconstruction.

Schaberg’s academic contribution is much more than this ending. She applies her considerable analytical skills in taking the reader through the thick mass of archaeological and textual evidence related to Mary Magdalene. Her extended “profile” of Mary Magdalene in chapter four, drawn from a careful combing through all the apocryphal Magdalene materials (Nag Hammadi texts as well as the Gospel of Mary, Pistis Sophia, Gospel of Philip, Gospel of Peter, and fragmented sources), is one of the most sustained and thorough treatments available.

2 comments:

johnieb said...

This sounds very exciting. I'm glad to hear it's out; I've been looking forward to it: no more reviews!

But thanks a bunch for the Headsup.

johnieb said...

Oh, I see; this is a recent response to previously published work; I must have misinterpreted my informant.

Off to Amazon.