Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Danger: Exploding Myths

Connected to the upcoming release of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code in paperback, the most recent New Yorker (dated 2/13 and 2/20) contains Joan Acocella's excellent essay titled "The Saintly Sinner: The Two-Thousand-Year Obsession with Mary Magdalene."

As someone who works with texts and deals in interpretations of them, I read the article with scholarly interest; Acocella's discussion of artistic iconography was an added bonus. I suppose what I'm saying is: you don't need to be a practicing Christian in order to "get" and appreciate what the writer has accomplished in this essay. Acocella's piece didn't serve any religious function for me, and I'm certainly not posting this in order to push any religious agenda. (Full disclosure: I was raised a Catholic, though I'm not practicing, now.)

As a historian, I've been very much intrigued by the widespread public fascination with the Da Vinci Code; I've even had several students speak to me of the book as if it were a work of non-fiction. (Part of the storyline of Brown's book hinges on the "fact" that Jesus actually survived the crucifixion, settled down with Mary Magdalene in the south of France, and raised a family whose descendants persist to this very day.)

While Acocella's essay serves as a nicely annotated primer on feminist biblical scholarship, it also worked for me on a purely hedonistic level. I believe one of life's simple pleasures is to engage with writing that confronts entrenched, erroneous views and, through the use of evidence and persuasion, just blows them out of the water. (For example, Acocella shoots down the myth that the Magdalene was the prostitute who washed Jesus' feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. The woman who did this is never referenced by name.)

Finally, the article provides a cogent discussion of recent scholarly work related to the Gnostic gospels, a corpus of ancient texts (unearthed in 1945) in which Mary Magdalene plays a major apostolic role.

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