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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus

This is an interesting graphic novel with the subtitle of "Prostitution and religious obedience in the Bible." The author previously wrote an account of his experiences as a "john" and is concerned with the rights of sex workers.  So, the subject matter would be of special significance for him.  He also self-represents as a Christian, so biblical matters and specifically how it would apply to his concerns about sex work would be of importance.  See, e.g., this interview.  [As an aside, his subject matter welcomes some nudity, but he adds a bit more than necessary -- prostitutes wouldn't be hanging around topless as he portrays it, I think.]

The Bible has a lot of material that can be examined in various ways, especially if you work with guess work and try to fit in what we know from various sources.  Consider, e.g., my recent brief discussion of a recent book that tried to "search" for Sappho from the little we know about her and scattered other sources regarding women at the time.  This requires a lot of supposition, such as the nature of the Gospel of the Nazoreans and references like the 105th saying of Thomas or Mark 6.3.

Chester Brown here seems to push too hard at spots.  First, is the fragments we have of that "lost gospel" really an early Aramaic version of Matthew?  Plus, does this excerpt really help his case that in the "parable of the talents," the kicker is that one of the servants (or slaves) spent the money on prostitutes and it was deemed a good thing?
But since the Gospel (written) in Hebrew characters which has come into our hands enters the threat not against the man who had hid (the talent), but against him who had lived dissolutely - for he (the master) had three servants: one who squandered his master's substance with harlots and flute-girls, one who multiplied the gain, and one who hid the talent; and accordingly one was accepted (with joy), another merely rebuked, and another cast into prison - I wonder whether in Matthew the threat which is uttered after the word against the man who did nothing may not refer to him, but by epanalepsis to the first who had feasted and drunk with the drunken.
He skips over the prologue (which goes against his point!) to the translation which without more seems (in the order that translation is written at least) to match up with the prostitute buying one as the good guy. But, the Christian writer being cited surely isn't neutral enough to blithely let that go. It makes more sense that he is suggesting Matthew (and Luke) simplified by having two people who invested the money (getting different amounts in return) and one who buried it -- as Chester Brown notes, it makes more sense for each slave to do something else.  But, the writer says the one "who had lived dissolutely" (harlots/flute girls) is the bad one.

The book starts with an account of Cain and Abel. The notes -- an Afterword and long notes section is a key charm to the volume -- convincingly argues that it's likely that the author of the story supported herding animals, explaining why (without clear justification) Cain's offering was rejected. The book also argues that the Bible's God favors those who think for themselves, which would explain how people like Jacob (the founder of the Jewish people) won out against his more rules following if boorish/boring brother.  There is also repeated cases of concern about the core over the letter of the law (or Law; e.g., Tamar's story).

The author believes Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a prostitute. The genealogy of Matthew having various women who broke sexual norms is seen as a sign.  The inclusion of women at all is notable. Bathsheba on one level (to me) is not surprising -- at least, as the mother of Solomon. Matthew emphasized his parentage though -- "whose mother had been Uriah’s wife."  David had slept with someone else's wife and in the end had the husband killed to get him out of the way. The resulting baby died; Solomon came letter.  The reference in some sense seems gratutious.  The others are Tamar (sex with father-in-law to obtain rightful heir), Rahab (foreign prostitute who protected two Jewish spies) and Ruth (foreigner involved in a veiled seduction to attract her husband).  It is interesting that at least two of these people are foreigners (Rahab and Ruth).

There has been various discussions over the parentage of Jesus, including the true nature of his birth. There were some stories that Jesus was really the son of a Roman.  Hints like Mark 6:3 supposedly help the case that Jesus is in effect a single child.  But, see the discussions at the links above. For instance, a reference to the "son of Mary" in 30CE can also mean that Joseph was long dead.  Mary really isn't mentioned that much either (other than the birth narratives, you basically have the wedding scene and a few references late).  The book's suggestion that the birth narratives provide a way to explain Mary's pregnancy is possible, I guess, but the usual idea that it is to give a special meaning to Jesus' birth seems more likely.  

And, the book (not by a religious scholar or anything, let's note), ignores how it avoids the original sin problem --- all humans follow in the footsteps of Adam and Eve, but if Jesus was created a different way, that might not be a problem. Anyway, Mark and John avoids the narratives. Stray references that might help in those gospels can easily be interpreted a different way.  Another one offered: "said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God." This analysis references "fornication" as an allusion to Jesus' alleged idolatry, a connection (to temple prostitutes in particular) the book deals with in other places.  If they were suggesting his own mother was a prostitute, Jesus' reaction comes off a bit weak. 

The anointing of Jesus by Mary of Bethany is also given special place, it being a "prophetic" gesture of his true role ("the anointed one") and a preparation of his own burial. An important factor here is the use of her hair to do so, such a public exposure a sign she is a prostitute. This fits okay in the synoptic accounts, especially Luke's reference to a "sinful" woman.  However, John links her with Martha (the quiet one) and there is no implication the sisters Martha and Mary are prostitutes.  John's account has mention made to the expensive nature of the perfume used but not the washing of the feet with her hair, which sounds messy. Finally, it is far from clear that simply because she exposed her hair in this way that the woman in each case (or any case) was a prostitute. 

So, I question various conclusions he makes, even though sometimes his arguments might be possible. (This discussion isn't meant to be comprehensive.) But, overall, the book is worthwhile, including his particular religious views expressed therein. Graphic novels (and non-fiction volumes) repeatedly provide a promising way to tell different things, especially when this amount of commentary is included. 

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