Sunday, March 11, 2007

Mariamne, Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany

One of the key claims made in the recent documentary on the "Jesus Family Tomb" is that the ossuary inscription "Mariamenou Mara" is likely to identify Mary Magdalene. The authority for this identification is the fourth century Acts of Philip and the programme makers appeal to François Bovon (bio on Discovery here) to establish the identification. The Discovery site, for example, says the following:
From the Acts of Philip, a fourth-century work ostensibly written about Mary Magdalene's brother, Phillip (sic), which recently was recovered from a monastery at Mt. Athos in Greece, Professor Franois (sic) Bovon (Harvard University) has determined that Magdalene's real name was "Mariamne"
But does this accurately represent François Bovon's view? In an earlier post, Mariamne and the "Jesus Family Tomb", I wrote the following:
On Apocryphicity, Tony Chartrand-Burke asked whether Mariamne of the Acts of Philip is indeed Mary Magdalene, raising the possibility that she is Mary of Bethany. I've done a little reading since then and it seems that scholars are divided on the issue of the identity of this character in the Acts of Philip. It is clear that she is Philip's sister, but it also seems that she shares traits commonly associated with Mary, Jesus' mother, and Mary of Bethany, as well as Mary Magdalene. Stephen Shoemaker, for example, argues in a couple of publications that "the Gnostic Mary" is a kind of composite Gnostic character with characteristics from these several Marys.
But at that point, I had not had the chance to check to see what François Bovon actually says about the identification of Mariamne in the Acts of Philip. Some kind anonymous person put a copy of his "Mary Magdalene in the Acts of Philip," F. Stanley Jones (ed.), Which Mary? The Marys of Early Christian Tradition (Leiden: Brill, 2003): 75-89 in my pigeonhole earlier this week (excerpts on Google Books) so now I've had the chance to check to see what Bovon's view is. Surprisingly, in the light of the Discovery programme's claims, he does not make a sole identification of the Mariamne character in the Acts of Philip with Mary Magdalene. Although he says "The woman, it is my contention, is Mary Magdalene" (80), he also recognises that this literary character also has traits of Mary of Bethany. Most explicitly, note his remark:
"The text presupposes that Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany are the same person." (82, n.33).
Note too that Bovon is clear that he is discussing a literary figure in this text. He makes no claims at all about any alleged historical pedigree of the character in question. He says:
To be clear, I am not interested here in the reconstruction of the historical figure of Mary Magdalene, but in her portrayal in literary texts, particularly the Acts of Philip (80)


Anonymous said...

Just a quick word to say in this semi-public what I have shared with you in private e-mail, about how much I do appreciate your continued helpfulness in all your postings here and on XTalk. It is most pleasant to be able to read words by someone who is informed and sane and interesting and never gets into the "personal exchanges" that sometimes escalate into "flame wars"! Thanks for your always helpful and sane information!


Anonymous said...

I want to believe that Mary Magdalene is Mariamne, that she is brother of Phillip, wife of Jesus and an apostle.

I don't think references in Gospel of Phillip or other works can identify her as Mary of Bethany or Mary mother of Jesus.

It's hard to wait for more scholarly research to come up on this subject. Please hurry.

Anonymous said...

It has been said that Nathanael was Phillip's friend. Nathanael is listed in the NT "of Cana" and in John the wedding took place in Cana. Maybe Phillip and Nathanael grew up together in Cana and if MM was Phillip's sister- she too is from there and it was indeed her wedding to Jesus.