Minutes of Meeting

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Date: April 1, 2001

Location: University of Dayton, Alumni Hall

Meeting Topic: Mary Magdalene: Dangerous Memories and Liberating Re-membering

Facilitator: Dr. Pam Thimmes, Dept. Of Religious Studies, Univ. Of Dayton

Hosts: Agnes and Eugene Hannahs


PRESENT: Agnes Hannes, Vice-Chair, presiding; Judith Baker, Donna Bealer, Connie Breen, Bert Buby, Shirley Flacks, Debra Geier, Lillian Gillespie, Eugene Hannahs, John Magee, Eileen Moorman, Jack Pitsinger, Ken Rosenzweig, Sophie Rubenstein, Jack Sederstrand, Mark Verman, Dieter Walk, Suzie Walk.


Prior to the meeting, John Magee passed around some notes from the Clergy Institute that was held at Temple Israel recently.

Agnes opened the meeting at about 7:55 PM. As the opening prayer, she delivered a poetic and colorful meditation on the month of April. She noted that this is the first day of April. It marks the season when we can believe that spring has truly arrived. There can still be cold rain, but we know the days really are getting warmer. Agnes asked us to think about spring in southwestern Ohio. This is when we get reacquainted with people we havenít seen all winter. We can follow the beautiful pathways in such natural reserves as Glen Helen and know that we are very fortunate to have such reserves. We can go and listen to the water spilling in the streams and listen for the first birds of spring to return. The Phoebe is one of those, and it sings in a buzzy voice. At night, we can take a flashlight and go to a vernal pool. During the day, we can look for the ephemeral flowers of early spring that come out quickly and go away. Agnes closed her meditation with a poem by Emily Dickinson, "Nature is What we See."

Suzi Walk announced that the Israel Independence Day Festival will be held at the University of Daytonís Frericks Center on Sunday, April 29 from 12 noon until 4:00 PM. There will be many booths, providing Israeli food and gift items.

Pam Thimmesís Presentation

At this point, Agnes introduced Pam Thimmes.

Pam stated that when Felix and Ken initially contacted Pam, she was asked why Mary Magdalene would be appropriate for discussion by the Dialogue. Pam replied that the Gospels tell one story about Mary Magdalene and the Gnostic texts tell another story. This is a classic example of how diverse sources cast light on any tradition. Examining both sides makes for a richer community. Pam noted that she is a closet sociologist and anthropologist.

Apart from the other Mary, the mother of Jesus, no other woman character in the Christian Scriptures has received as much attention as Mary Magdalene. Also, interest in Mary Magdaleneís presentation and characterization seems to have spanned multiple communities in early Christianity. Most of the scholarly work on Mary Magdalene in the last 25 years has attempted to discredit the "Mary Magdalene as whore" image.

Pam suggested that we examine the influence of Mary Magdalene on early Christian groups through two frames: the symbolic frame and the political frame. Within the symbolic frame, groups find meaning and express their culture. Within the symbolic frame are group stories which are narrative forms that provide explanations, reconcile contradictions, and resolve dilemmas. Within the political frame, groups are seen as coalitions of various individuals and interest groups. This results in intra-group conflict. Group goals and decisions emerge from bargaining, negotiation, and reinterpreting traditional positions.

There were two major contemporary social influences on the presentation and characterization of Mary Magdalene for these early Christian groups: Gnosticism and attitudes toward women as religious leaders. Gnosticism was an esoteric religious movement that flourished during the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD and presented a major challenge to orthodox Christianity. Most Gnostic sects professed Christianity, but their beliefs sharply diverged from those of the majority of Christians in the early church. The term Gnosticism is derived from the Greek word gnosis ("revealed knowledge"). To its adherents, Gnosticism promised a secret knowledge of the divine realm. Sparks or seeds of the Divine Being fell from this transcendent realm into the material universe, which is wholly evil, and were imprisoned in human bodies. Reawakened by knowledge, the divine element in humanity can return to its proper home in the transcendent spiritual realm.. The Gnostic tradition emphasized individual spiritual exploration which was inconsistent with organized Christianity. In the Gnostic traditions, Mary Magdalene is a spiritual tradition, on a par and often in conflict with Peter.

With respect to attitudes of women as religious leaders, early Christian writings reflect alternative interpretations of the relative influence of Peter and Mary Magdalene. For example, there are alternative presentations of who saw the resurrection first (Christophany), Peter or Mary Magdalene. Another issue was how much of a confidante of Jesus was Mary Magdalene. For centuries, Mary Magdaleneís stories were conflated with the anonymous sinful woman of Luke 7:36-50 and with the story of Mary of Bethany in John 12:1-8. As opposed to some of the other gospels, the John Gospel is fairly favorable to women. However, the John Gospel was the last of the gospels and had a hard time getting in to the Christian Scriptures because the Gnostics loved this gospel so much. The Roman Church seems to have been somewhat more favorable than the Eastern Church to Mary Magdalene as religious leader in that they called her "apostle to the apostles."

Pamís presentation included side-by-side comparisons (concordances) of references to Mary Magdalene in the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It also included references to Mary Magdalene in the Christian Apocrypha (non-canonized books). These included the first century Gospel of Thomas, the second century Gospel of Mary (Magdalene), Coptic texts, the third-century Pistis-Sophia, the Epistula Apostolorum, and the Gospel of Peter from the 8th or 9th century CE.

Discussion of Pamís Topic

Mark Verman pointed out that for Gnostics, sexuality was a barrier to spiritual development. Pam replied that there is a spiritualization of everything in Gnostic theory.

Ken asked about the authority of the Apocrypha for Christians. Pam replied that the Apocrypha have no authority for the organized church. There was a discussion of whether there was an intimate relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

Pam noted that the woman who founded her community in 1835 was a Dutch woman who took the name Mary Magdalene. Pam was always troubled by this identification of the leader of her community as a sinner.

Mark Verman asked whether any of these gospels could have been written by a woman.

Bert observed that Pam had performed a great service for the Dialogue by educating us on this important and fascinating topic.

The meeting adjourned at 9:50 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary

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1 "The Catholic Church; Between this World and the Next," The Economist, Jan 27, 2001, pages 21-23.