BR’s X-rated Articles
I will not be, renewing my subscription. Reasons: “Did Sarah Have a Seminal Emission?” BR 08:01, “Susanna—Sexual Harassment in Ancient Babylon” BR 08:03, “Epispasm-Circumcision in Reverse” BR 08:04, “How Mary Magdalene Became a Whore,” BR 08:05.
It is this type of sexually explicit and oriented articles that have turned me off from your publication. You have some interesting articles, but none that I would care to share with any friends, because of the other articles that are in the issue, such as the above.
State College, Pennsylvania
Worth the Price
The artwork reproduced in your magazine alone is worth the price of the subscription.
Mount Clemens, Michigan
Praise from a United Bible Societies Consultant
I recently received the
You deal with scholarly, technical matters in such an interesting and understandable way that people such as my wife who have no training in biblical studies can read and appreciate the articles. And obviously I do too. I intend to recommend this publication in an in-house publication in my many colleagues who work as translation consultants throughout the world for the United Bible Societies.
PC in BR?
Bible Review is largely a pleasure to read. However, I do not appreciate your new guest columnists, who suggest their social and political views are derived from and sanctified by Scripture. Less PC propaganda in BR, please.
Inspired, Not Copied!
It is ironic that you expound the Bible, but in a manner of ridicule and stupidity. In Helmut Koester’s column, “Finding Morality in Luke’s Disturbing Parables,” BR 08:05, he cites some parables and then says that Luke must have “copied” them from someplace else. Copied? The Bible tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” Not copied !
You stopped reading too soon. Professor Koester went on to say that Luke’s parables are “some of the most genuine parables of Jesus.”—Ed.
Koester’s Column a Breath of Fresh Air
What a breath of fresh air Helmut Koester’s column was in the October issue of BR (see “Finding Morality in Luke’s Disturbing Parables,” BR 08:05). He made me feel less “out of it.” For most of my thinking life, I’ve based my actions and beliefs on the idea that Jesus was speaking to us and was bringing the message(s) from God and not all about God. I haven’t found a lot of concurrence at retreats and Bible classes. I appreciate the tenor of Koester’s column.
After reading the October BR articles, and especially “How Mary Magdalene Became a Whore,” BR 08:05 and “Feminist Interpretations of the Bible: Then and Now,” BR 08:05. I thought perhaps you should rename BR Bible Rebuke.
Doesn’t Waste Words
Appreciates Multiple Views
I really enjoyed the articles in the feminist perspectives section in the
I am sure that we all know people, both male and female, who would immediately page past any article labeled as feminist. This is most likely due to their own preconceived notions of what the word feminist means. Many articles have appeared in the press on how men and women think differently. Men have often identified with the conquerors, while women have identified with the oppressed. This is not to say that one way is right while the other is wrong, or even that one way is superior to the other. What is being said is that there is more than one way to see a situation. By labelling these articles as being from a feminist perspective, we are acknowledging that difference.
However, by labeling articles written by female scholars as feminist without also labeling articles written by males as masculine perspective, we seem to be implying that the masculine perspective is the norm. If the masculine is normal, we also imply that the feminine is abnormal. I feel that a great service would be formed if an occasional article written by a man were labeled as masculine perspective. This would serve to remind us that there is more than one way to interpret a situation and that multiplicity of views might give us a better understanding of our past. Keep up the good work!
End the Men’s Club
Let’s hear more from women about the Bible. It has been the domain of a men’s club for much too long. The Bible needs to be rescued from the literalists, selective fundamentalists, and allowed to speak to intelligent people of our age. Are the women always right? The men certainly aren’t. It is time for people to discuss the really basic truths that the Bible contains. We need the perspective of all people.
Schaberg Is Biased
Jane Schaberg is correct to point out that Mary Magdalene is not presented as a whore in the New Testament (“How Mary Magdalene Became a Whore,” BR 08:05). However, her discussion of the reasons for the Magdalene’s later depiction as a whore is tendentious and unconvincing.
The Gnostic works she cites are without value for settling the matter. It cannot be determined that Gnostics knew more about Mary Magdalene than orthodox Christians of that era, and Schaberg merely heaps her suppositions upon the slanted speculations of feminist scholars.
Her repeated suggestion that the legend derives somehow from “a Christian reaction against female power” is a far-fetched and myopic slander on Christianity. Is she unaware of the many unflattering depictions of females in Hosea, Proverbs (passim), Ezekiel 23 and other Old Testament passages, all of which would have influenced early Christian thinking? Does she find the petty and vindictive goddesses of Greek and Roman mythology to be uplifting? Would she find the Islamic state of Iran a comfortable place to ply her scholarly trade today? What does she make of the Christian exaltation of Mary, Jesus’ mother, and of numerous female saints? More convincing as regards the Magdalene legend is the opinion of Jacobus de Voragine, whom she cites but abandons: “Her story [Magdalene’s] … shows that anyone, even the most sinful, can be forgiven.” That 046explanation is consistent with Christian tradition — it is Gospel good news — and it lacks the trendy imputation of “fear” on the part of Christian men.
Mentioning that the works of Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples were placed on the Index is a cheap shot, and it does nothing to advance her thesis. To be honest, Schaberg would have to situate this action within the theological discussions of the time and to explain why Lefevre d’Etaples was censured by the theological faculty of the Sorbonne.
Schaberg’s bias is evident. Never adequately exposed are the reasons for the transformation of the Magdalene’s legend.
Sacred Heart Church
Jane Schaberg replies:
I’m glad that my bias (angle of vision) is evident to Mr. Kesterson. What is his bias? And what explanation does he offer for the Magdalene’s transformation into a whore?
Was Mary Magdalene Married to Jesus?
I greatly enjoyed the historical insights provided by Jane Schaberg’s article, “How Mary Magdalene Became a Whore,” BR 08:05. It is clear from references cited that Mary had not only an important role in the primitive Christian community, but held significant spiritual influence as well. The apochryphal citations from the Gospels of Philip and Mary, describing Mary as “the intimate companion” of Jesus, that “He loved her more than us [the male disciples]” and of his often kissing her, all raise an obvious question that was not addressed in the article: Was Jesus married to Mary of Magdala?
Although most of the early apostles were married (Clement, Stromata 3:52), the later development of the monastic movement and celibacy for the clergy in the Catholic Church led to the almost unchallenged assumption that Jesus remained unmarried all his life. Yet such an assumption does not make good sense in the context of his life and work as a rabbi to his Jewish followers. He began his teaching as a rabbi (John 1:38, 6:25) at age 30, an age in keeping with Jewish law and tradition for rabbis at the time. (The term “rabbi” is often translated “Master” in English Bibles.)
He had also abided by the traditional law as a youth. Noncompliance with the rules of Jewish law would have aborted his ministry from the start, and he counseled his disciples to similarly comply to avoid legal action by the Jewish councils (Matthew 23:2–3). Such wide recognition of Jesus as a rabbi (before the fourth century A.D.) would have required ordination, after being found worthy and compliant with the necessary prerequisites of the Jewish law.
One of those prerequisites was that a rabbi must be married, and to be unmarried would have severely hampered his functioning credibly in the rabbinical role. (This requirement was changed only in the past century, primarily among Reformed and Conservative Jews, but not among Orthodox Jews.) If Jesus had remained single, traveling with unmarried women, particularly “often kissing” them, his enemies would have used such “indiscretion” to great advantage against him, and his credibility with the people would have been very different. Jesus said he came “to fulfill the law,” and he attempted to exemplify the ideal life as depicted in ancient Jewish law. Celibacy into mid-life was not considered a virtue in talmudic law, and in fact wag clearly called a defect, cursed by God (Kiddushin 29b).
Of further interest, a careful reading of the marriage account at Cana (John 2:1–12) suggests a strong possibility that Jesus ma have been the bride groom. Parents usually made marriage arrangements, and the groom usually provided the wine. Clearly Mary, the mother of Jesus, was involved in those arrangements at Cana. Her instructions to the servants, “Whatsoever he [Jesus] saith unto you, do it” and the comments of the master of ceremonies to the bridegroom, “Thou hast kept the good wine until now,” suggest Jesus may not only have provided the last wine, but the first also.
In any case, contrary to traditional assumptions, it is highly probable that Jesus was married. When Mary Magdalene recognized Jesus after his resurrection, she said “Rabboni” an Aramaic term sometimes reserved for one’s husband (John 20:1–18). The constant traveling of Mary With him, her vigil at the cross and presence when he was taken down, her coming to anoint his body with spices, his tender appearance first to her after his resurrection (restraining her from embracing him), and her central role in the following 047events, all suggest that Mary was his wife.
Associate Professor of Medicine
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, Utah
Jane Schaberg replies:
The theory that Jesus was married is explored in William Phipps’ Was Jesus Married? The Distortion of Sexuality in the Christian Tradition (Harper & Row, 1970). It is an old theory as well as a modern one (as is the idea that Mary Magdalene was his wife). Several of the points that Mr. Smith makes are the only “evidence” we have, and it falls short of being convincing. Celibacy was unusual, but not unknown or denigrated in Judaism of the first century C.E.: witness the descriptions of the lifestyles of the people of Qumran and of the Therapeutae (a first-century B.C.E. Jewish monastic group in Egypt). The Gnostic texts do describe Mary Magdalene as the intimate of Jesus, but they must be evaluated in the light of Gnostic understandings of sexuality, and spiritual metaphors. Further, there was no formal ordination of rabbis or rules for them in Jesus’ time. Explaining the significance of Mary Magdalene in terms of romantic love of Jesus is to my mind a reduction of her importance.
Mary Magdalene’s Leadership
In “How Mary Magdalene Became a Whore,” BR 08:05, Jane Schaberg cites Gospel evidence for her argument that Mary was important in the early Jesus movement. But she neglects what seems to me an important piece of Gospel evidence for Mary’s leadership.
In both Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels, Mary is entrusted with the message that after the crucifixion the disciples should return to Galilee, while in Luke’s Gospel the disciples are told by the risen Jesus to remain in Jerusalem. Might we see here a division among the disciples about what to do after Jesus’ death, with Mary arguing that they should return to Galilee, and someone else (perhaps Peter, since he is her rival in the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Philip) arguing that they should stay in Jerusalem? We know that Mary lost this argument, since it is recorded in Acts that they did not depart from Jerusalem.
Lewisburg, West Virginia
Professor Disputes Feminist Views
Jane Schaberg’s mistitled “How Mary Magdalene Became a Whore,” BR 08:05, does not explain how the notion of the Magdalene’s sexual misbehavior evolved; the author admits that no record of the development of this error exists. It simply appears. Nevertheless, the author falls back on the convenient secular feminist ideology and asserts that it must have appeared because Christianity “fears women” and particularly “female power.” She then predictably turns to Gnosticism for a more comfortable interpretation.
Schaberg’s whole perspective is as arbitrary as that of her opponents. She says that Mary Magdalene isn’t a prostitute on the basis of scripture, but when scripture fails to support her view of the woman, Schaberg says scripture “can’t be accepted as accurate historical memory.” Schaberg criticizes Origen and Chrysostom for taking a dubious negative view of the Magdalene, but praises Gnostic texts for an equally dubious positive view. Schaberg has made up her mind in advance of the of evidence, so to her “evidence” is what ever supports her opinion.
It doesn’t seem to occur to Schaberg that Gnostic texts would be unlikely to admit sexual adventure in the Magdalene’s history. Gnosticism — not Christianity in the early period — was what feared and distrusted female sexuality, specifically because of its power as manifested in childbearing. Gnostics, not orthodox Christians, formulated the docetic myths of the birth of Christ involving painless parturition and Mary’s inviolate hymen. If there is anxiety in medieval Christianity about female sexuality, it is the legacy of Gnosticism, not orthodoxy.
And of course the Gnostic Magdalene wasn’t a “sinner.” Gnosticism distorted the idea of sin, so Mary Magdalene was presented as an adept, “a visionary, praised for her superior spiritual understanding.” Such a person could be admitted to the sinless Gnostic elite. This is no advance for women; this is spiritual snobbery. For Schaberg to announce that Mary Magdalene “can no longer be identified as a sinner” is to renounce the Christian belief that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That renunciation is, I am afraid, a large part of what feminist theologians are about.
The problems in Pamela Milne’s essay on feminist biblical interpretation (“Feminist Interpretations of the Bible: Then and Now,” BR 08:05) are more subtle. Milne ignores important 19th century Protestant women who argued on behalf of female equality in the church; among them are lionesses of biblical exposition, Phoebe Palmer and Catherine Booth. By the time Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote her “Feminist Bible,” she was like the dwarf who can see farther because she is standing on the shoulders of giants-in this case, two generations of Christian women.
Lecturer in Literature and Religious Studies
Jane Schaberg replies:
Who are my “opponents”? There are no New Testament scholars today who argue that the historical Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, or that she should be identified with the sinner in Luke 7. I did not contend that Mary Magdalene was not a sinner.
Bible Reflects Ancient Spin Control
Phyllis Trible (“If the Bible’s So Patriarchal, How Come I Love it,” BR 08:05) does not have to choose between feminism and the bible. Instead of accepting that the “Bible was born and bred in a land of patriarchy,” she should look more closely at the meaning of the stories for the original audience, before the ancient spin-control experts redefined them. An analysis of the meaning of a story cannot ignore the context in which it was written.
In the same vein, Pamela Milne (“Feminist Interpretations of the Bible: Then and Now,” BR 08:05) writes: “The stories Trible examines contain very oven and obviously misogynist elements.” Total, absolute nonsense. If the story, for example, is the one where “Jephthah sacrificed his daughter to remain faithful to a foolish vow,” then why assume it is a text of terror only to us? The sacrifice of an adult female was a particularly offensive act back then (Canaanites sacrificed only children and, occasionally, adult males). Didn’t the ancient author know that? Doesn’t the dialogue reflect the anguish? Is Alfred Hitchcock unique to the 20th century? Or did some ancient author write an Israelite Psycho to criticize a military hero who dared to make vows before 048Yahweh without a priest present? What would this story mean in a time when Saul nearly did sacrifice his son because of a foolish vow (1 Samuel 14:24–30, 43–45)?
Port Chester, New York
Feminist Hermeneutics in Canada
I am, on the whole, pleased with the
While Fell’s interpretation is bound by the wording of the 1611 Authorized Version text her hermeneutical method is impressive compared with 17th century norms. She examined, in its context, the 1 Corinthians 14 text used to deny women’s speaking. She analyzed in it in terms of the audience and the purpose of the epstile as a whole. She concluded that the Corinthian Church was in confusion, shattered into feuding factions in need of firm discipline. In that situation, particular women were aggravating the problem by undermining Church leadership. Thus the apostle’s comments cannot be generalized to all cases of women speaking, and especially not to women’s preaching of the Gospel.
Christian concern for abolition and suffrage began as an evangelical concern. Since our liberty in Christ is liberty from the slavery of sin and a liberty to respond to God’s call to righteousness, then any human-made (usually male-made) social structure that restricts our ability to choose the right and reject the sinful, including the marginalization of minorities and women, is a threat to the progress of the everlasting Gospel.
London, Ontario, Canada
Pamela Milne’s “Feminist Interpretations of the Bible: Then and Now,” BR 08:05, is informative and interesting, but, to my thinking, it contains an important omission, particularly since her focus is on American women. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, was a contemporary of the feminists Milne describes, and she shared many of their views.
By the Dozen
Frank Moore Cross mentions the number 12 as having marked the leagues not only of Israel but also of Edom and Seir (“Frank Moore Cross: An Interview,” BR 08:05). Twelve also characterizes the league of Nahor Abraham’s brother (Genesis 22:20–24).
A Colleague’s Praise
The second round of the interview with Frank Cross (“Frank Moore Cross: An Interview,” BR 08:05) was excellent! I hope the third one is as good!
Director, Cobb Institute of Archaeology
Mississippi State University
Mississippi State, Mississippi
Unfair Attack on New World Translation
Bart D. Ehrman, in his review of The English Bible from KJV to NIV: A History and Evaluation (Bible Books, BR 08:05), goes out of his way to attack the New World Translation, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
Rather than being famous among translators for “its ignorance, or deliberate distortion, of Greek grammar,” as Ehrman claims, the New World Translation has been praised for its accuracy by unbiased translators who have examined it objectively. For example, renowned Greek scholar and Bible translator Edgar J. Goodspeed wrote to a Jehovah’s Witness regarding the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures: “I am interested in the mission work of your people, and its worldwide scope, and much pleased with the free, frank and vigorous translation. Its exhibits a vast array of sound, serious learning, as I can testify.”
The Differentiator of April 1952 said of it: “The translation is evidently the work of skilled and clever scholars, who have sought to bring out as much of the true sense of the Greek text as the English language is capable to expressing.”
Steven Byington, in Christian Century, November 1, 1950, noted concerning the New World Translation: “If you are digging for excellent or suggestive renderings, this is among the richer mines.” I could cite similar other reviews.
Apparently, Professor Ehrman was not aware of such facts as noted above. Obviously, the statement that the New World Translation is “famous among translators for its ignorance, or deliberate distortion, of Greek grammar” was unwarranted. Could religious prejudice have prompted the attack?
Brooklyn, New York
New Testament Book Review Editor Elizabeth Johnson replies:
Mr. Bowen objects to a specific line in Professor Ehrman’s review for which I, rather than the reviewer, am responsible. Mr. Ehrman originally wrote of the book: “Nonetheless, in only scattered instances does Lewis’ evangelical orientation influence the tone of his evaluation—as when the NIV is occasionally praised for clarifying obscurities that are in fact problems embedded in the text—and rarely in any circumstances are his judgments heavy-handed (except where one might hope them to be, e.g., the New World Translation).” In an attempt to clarify Professor Ehrman’s sentence, I added within the parentheses the phrase that concerns Mr. Bowen: “… famous among translators for its ignorance, or deliberate distortion, of Greek grammar).”
The tone of that added explanatory phrase is unintentionally and unnecessarily hyperbolic and therefore inflammatory, and I regret it. It is important, however, to say, first, that the author of the book being reviewed was highly critical of the New World Translation’s rendering of numerous Greek constructions in the New Testament, and that Professor Ehrman concurs with the author in that criticism.
Although it is important to reiterate that all translation is interpretive, the New World Translation is (among some other Bible translations) well known to be particularly marked by the dogmatic interests of its translators. One case of manipulated Greek grammar in the New World Translation that is indeed “famous” among teachers of Greek grammar as well as among translators concerns the opening verse of the Gospel of John. After the first two clauses, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,” the Greek text reads kai theos en ho logos (“and the word was God”). The lack of a definite article ho with “God” has been the linchpin in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ description of Jesus as “a god” (“and the Word was a god”). A simple principle of Greek grammar, however, states that predicate nominatives such as this are generally anarthrous (Blass, Debrunner, Funk, Greek Grammar,
Mr. Bowen invokes several laudatory reviews of the New World Translation and his own correspondence with the esteemed New Testament scholar Edgar J. Goodspeed as “facts” with which he assumes Professor Ehrman is unacquainted, and he wonders if Professor Ehrman (or the editors of BR) are motivated in the review by “religious prejudice.” I can assure. Mr. Bowen that neither is the case. Criticism of the New World Translation’s handling of Greek grammar is widespread and commonplace, other favorable reviews of it notwithstanding, and such criticism is a function of disputes over grammar and lexicography more than theology.
The Good, the Bad and the Funny
I must join with other readers in suggesting that your new columnists add little to BR. Each clearly has an axe to grind. Yet the results of their efforts to be inoffensive are much like civil religion: too religious to be civil, and a good deal too civil to be truly religious. What you do best you do awfully well. I’d suck with that.
On other aspects of BR, I rather like the new cover design. It seems to me to represent beautifully what the magazine offers—a magnificent array of art as well as some of the most interesting of recent biblical scholarship. The Hebrew and Greek columns don’t do anything for me—I guess I’m just too slow of understanding—but I’m willing to give over these two pages to those folks who benefit from them.
Finally, please continue your open advertising policy. It always affords me at least one laugh per issue.
The picture of the stela from Ugarit, in the
You are right. The stela is about 4.5 feet high and 1.5 feet wide.—Ed
Either the reproduction of the Eden scene in the
Professor of Religion
You are right, too. The printer reversed the photo, and we did not catch the error.—Ed
BR’s X-rated Articles