Saturday, July 21, 2012

Feast of Mary Magdalen(e)--July 22nd


A Miriamic Procession
The Miriamic procession is both auditory and visual. From it comes a map of both sight and sound. The sound map starts with the glorious song of Miriam. She sings the ancient "Song of the Sea" in Exodus 15 celebrating Israel's deliverance with music and dance. Her performance on behalf of the nation reflects a female musical tradition identified and described Israelite tradition. This Miriamic strand in the story of ancient Israel not only signifies a special place for women as those who first recognize and give voice to God's salvific deeds but also contributes to a wider understanding of the possibilities for women in Israelite society.
The Miriamic procession continues into the New Testament and beyond--from the birth stories through the ministry of Jesus and on to the empty tomb and resurrection accounts. Echoes of Miriam's song resonate in the Magnificat, the lament psalms of Pistis Sophia, the Manichaean psalms, Peter Abelard's Easter sermon, and medieval and baroque music of the east and west. Refracted images of Miriam's vision appear in the gospel of Mary Magdalen and in Christian art.
Mary Magdalen is first to discover the empty tomb and the first to proclaim the resurrection. John's gospel reports her subsequent meeting with and proclamation of the resurrected Lord to the apostles. In their meeting, each calls the other's name. This exchange of names becomes an interchange of sight and sound. We see them side by side. Noli me tangere is yet another classification of their visible and audible dialogue in Christian art. 
As already noted, the writer of Luke's gospel forges aural and literary connections between Miriam and Mary, the mother of Jesus. Luke's gospel and the extracanonical birth story of Jesus known as the Protevangelium of James exploit and subvert ancient images of virginity either to advance or suppress the Miriamic tradition.
The Miriamic Vision
Both the fourth gospel and Mary of the Gospel of Mary show Mary as prophet and originator of mission. Attention to Mary's vision as emblematic of early Christian prophecy helps to eradicate the overly rationalized division between resurrection and ascension proposed by Luke. In conjunction with a prophetic and charismatic Jesus movement, the experience of Mary Magdalen is continuous with the vision of John the seer in Revelation and the new prophets all of whom saw the risen Lord.
Vision however is not stasis. Quite the reverse. Christian iconography outlined by art historians and depictions of Mary in Christian Art identify an anonymous group of women processing to the tomb in early third-century frescoes. In the fifth-century a discrete Mary Magdalene emerges within the context of "women at the tomb." By the seventh century, she is singular witness and apostle in images that who she is and what she sees. Here, artistic evidence complements textual arguments for original anonymity and composite identity. In a sight map, Titian's Noli Me Tangere may result from the Chairete of Byzantine iconography.

The Miriamic Tradition

There were some in the early church who envisaged Mary of Nazareth as a teacher of secret wisdom who enlightened the apostles. Numerous early Christian apocrypha, including several so-called “gnostic” texts, include a character known as “Mary,” whose identity is usually otherwise unspecified. Generally, this “Mary” appears as an associate or, sometimes, as a rival, of the apostles, who is filled with knowledge of the “gnostic” mysteries. Although scholars have persistently identified this Mary with Mary the Magdalene, rather than Mary of Nazareth, this interpretive dogma is based on evidence that it at best inconclusive.  Many features of this character’s representation point also to Mary of Nazareth. The traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition (her “death”) in particular present Mary of Nazareth in a light that is strongly reminiscent of the gnostic Mary figure. Thus the gnostic Mary, it turns out, is best understood as a composite figure, drawing on the identities of both the Magdalene and the Virgin (among others), rather than being the representation of a single historical individual.
Subsequent Muslim exegetes of medieval Andalusia argued intensely for the priesthood of Mar, mother of Jesus and for women who received revelation through the angels or directly from God. Feminist analysis of the issues of Mary's prophethood not only betrays the androcentric readings projected onto the text by Muslim exegetes of the east but demonstrates the signs of Mary's prophet hood ('lamat nubuwwat Maryam) well established in the Qur'anic text. 

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