Been doing some reading lately that requires integration of new ideas. Three books, which I'll mention in no particular order, and will mention highlights only. So, here's the first of the three:
I'm discovering a new vision of the historical Jesus through Bruce Chilton's "Mary Magdalene." I have a friend who has had for many years a mighty fascination with Mary Magdalene, not as prostitute or consort, but as 'friend of the Lord,' and teaching companion. Well, what we know about the early disciples of Christ is next to nothing by today's standards of knowledge, and everything that has been written in the past is pure speculation. This book is also speculation, but it is educated speculation, and what I would call 'historical reconstruction' - something like those reality shows on PBS, where people try out life on a ranch or an early American colony. These reconstructions are based in historical documents we do have: lading slips, diaries, and supplemented by what people experience today when they try on 'period-life' like a costume. The new historical research into the life of Christ and early christianity is a complex reconstruction of storytelling-styles and traditions, coupled with snippets found in letters, alternative gospels, written homilies, and other traces of information that have been painstakingly collected and analyzed over the past hundred and fifty years or so of 'historical criticism.' Well, it turns out my friend was probably right about MM being a teaching companion of Jesus, something I certainly never encountered in my early religious education as a Roman Catholic, ie the Petrine tradition, which from the start was opposed to the Magdalene tradition.
What I really get from the book is a new and, to my mind, realistic picture of jesus. In Chilton's book Jesus is a healer and exorcist, living in a poor country occupied by foreign troops with all the ills such occupation brings on a place. Not only are the values of the Romans different in many respects from those of the Jews, with their many purity laws, but the needs of armies conflict with the needs of ordinary home-dwelling tribal people.
Whenever a culture is smashed by invaders and occupiers, who impose their own culture, (and even if tolerant of the culture of the occupied, relegate the latter to an 'inferior' and powerless status), there is going to be an increase in mental illness, and hence a need for 'exorcism.' The Jews who had to deal directly with the Romans were particularly defiled, rejected by their own culture, and living in a sort of in-between place, and these were the Jews Jesus belonged and ministered to. I've certainly known communities like that here in the states: people who have come to the United States, or were dragged here in slave-ships, only to discover that they are never going to belong to the strata of power and prestige. (Well, I'm talking about my personal past here). These communities also do a lot of praying for exorcism, or have a voo-doo tradition, or whatever, some way of trying to gain some control in their lives, trying to restore their own sense of culture and identity. Anyway, there's a nice little gem in the book where Chilton explains that the names of Jesus and Mary were linked in their own day, and in the following way: Nazarene (one from Nazareth) is a double-entendre for 'Nazir - ene' (one who 'purifies') and Mary, being from Magdala, a supply town for the debauched Roman city of Tiberias, bore the epithet 'Madgalene,' which signified all that was ritually unclean and needed purification by Jewish standards. So, 'he' was the exorcist, and 'she' was delivered of seven demons.
Just as the Native American ghost-dancers in the late nineteenth century discovered, in the midst of their own hopeless situation, that they could still be connected with their tradition 'inside,' Jesus, too, discovered that the kingdom of God could be experienced 'within.' This insight became abundantly clear to me as I was reading this book.
I'm still reading this book, and will pass along gems and snippets as I encounter them.
More on the other two books I'm reading, soon. They are "The Issa Valley" by Czeslaw Milosz, a quasi-memoir of a boyhood in Lithuania, with a few interesting remnants of Lithuanian pagan culture, and "The Uncollected Stories of Mary Wilkins Freeman," short stories from the turn of the last century, wonderfully told.