Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mary Magdalene vase and accuracy in reporting

Deirdre Good mentions the following article from today's Telegraph:

Vase Discovery Linked to Mary Magdalene
Archaeologists have discovered vases of perfumed ointment which may have been used by Mary Magdalene to anoint the feet of Jesus.
By Nick Pisa in Rome

The find itself is genuinely interesting:
The Italian team have been digging for several months at the ancient Palestinian town of Magdala – from where Mary gets her name.

The archaeologists of the Franciscan academic society Studium Biblicum Franciscanum found the unopened vases dating to the first century AD conserved in mud at the bottom of a swimming pool in Magdala's thermal complex.
But the errors about the Biblical texts found in the report are remarkable; a bit of simple checking with an expert or even by spending ten minutes online would have revealed the problems:
Many believe that Mary Magdalene was the woman described in the Gospel of St Luke who anointed Jesus feet with oil and then wiped them with her tears and hair.
I don't know of anyone who thinks this, let alone "many". It is, of course, a famous identification in subsequent film and fiction based on Luke 7.36-50, but the woman in that text itself is anonymous. The article continues:
She is also described as a prostitute and is also present at the foot of the Cross when Jesus is crucified and was also the first witness to see Christ following his Resurrection.
As scholars over the last generation or so have been stressing repeatedly, Mary Magdalene is not "described as a prostitute" in early Christian literature. It is correct, however, that in one account, Mary Magdalene is one of the women reported as first seeing Jesus (Matthew Matthew 28.9-10) and in another, she is the first person to see him (John 20.10-18).

Updates (9.04 and 14.48): excellent comments by Todd Bolen on Bible Places Blog: Perfume Bottles Found at Magdala and by Jim Davila on Paleojudaica.


Anonymous said...

Please note (and make the necessary correction) that those very "excellent comments" were by Todd Bolen, master of the Bible Places blog. My only contribution was to circulate notice of some articles on the subject (and also to note in my e-mail that "It's always interesting when (too often) the headline is so positive and the article is so tentative.").

Doug said...

It doesn't say "many scholars" Mark, it just says "many". I'd say that's probably true: there are a great many people influenced by various retellings, who identify the woman with Mary. Most people, sad to say, do not get their views of scripture from either close and accurate readings, or the people who've done them. I expect someone, this year, as in many previous years, to tell me about the star that guided Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. (Sigh)

You should mix more with the great unwashed.

Mark Goodacre said...

Hi Doug. Yes, absolutely, though the question is whether the Telegraph should be peddling the views of "the great unwashed" or of people who are actually knowledgeable about the issues. My guess is that there is a greater laziness with respect to topics like this than there would be with politics, for example.

Richard Fellows said...

Another problem, Mark, is that we have no real evidence that Mary the Magdalene was from a place called Magdala (even if there was such a place in the first century). I have argued that this benefactor was given the epithet "Magdelene", meaning tower/stronghold to simbolize her role as a protector of the movement. See
Why have commentators been slow to explore this possibility? Have they been under the influence of hundreds of years of sexist interpretation?