In Search of the Real Mary Magdalene

Discussion Held at Marianum Faculty

ROME, MARCH 8, 2006 ( A group of women theologians and a woman journalist met to try to sketch a true portrait of a saint parodied in one of the best-selling novels of all time.

A round-table discussion “Mary Magdalene beyond ‘The Da Vinci Code'” took place last Friday as part of the cycle of talks of the Chair “Woman and Christianity” at the pontifical faculty Marianum, directed by the Servants of Mary.
Marinella Perroni, a New Testament professor at Athenaeum of St. Anselm and president of the Coordination of Italian Women Theologians, opened the discussion admitting that she had not read Dan Brown’s novel because “it does not warrant my attention.”

She warned, in particular, against the temptation “to take Mary Magdalene involuntarily out of the Gospel.”

“Out of respect for what is written in the texts and for what the Gospels tell us she must never be taken out of the Gospel,” stressed Perroni.

Maria Luisa Rigato, a New Testament professor at the Gregorian University, said she had read “very carefully this interesting ‘thriller’ of Dan Brown” — before she proceeded to dismantle the novel’s contradictions.

Rigato explained that “according to the canonical Gospels, it is clear that Jesus was celibate and capable of friendships with women and men.”

“According to the canonical Gospels Mary Magdalene was not Jesus’ wife or lover,” she said. “Mary Magdalene is not the same as Mary of Bethany, or Mary the sister of Martha.”

A positive announcement

Jesus was an innovator in respect to the Torah and “the Gospel is a positive announcement for women,” she continued.

Rigato went on to speak of the Mary Magdalene that appears in the synoptic Gospels and in John’s Gospel, saying that in her judgment Mary was not from Magdala in the topographic sense because “Magdala is not a known geographic place.”

The theologian believes that this name was coined by Christ’s disciples after Pentecost, as it makes reference literally to “migdal,” which means tower, and to “gadal” — “to be large.” In other words, it was their wish to express that Magdalene is the one who has been magnified, Rigato said.

Miriam Diez i Bosch, a lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Center on Social Communications of the Gregorian University, said that “Mary Magdalene is an intriguing and enamored woman who leaves no one indifferent and obviously even less the media world that surrounds us.”
Diez i Bosch, who is also a journalist who writes for ZENIT, explained the way in which Mary Magdalene is seen today in the media and highlighted “the communicative mechanisms that have made this woman a media figure, but distorted.”

“‘Magdalenemania’ or ‘Mary Magdalen according to Brown’ are only small fruits of a worldwide operation that challenges believers, in the face of which the Church cannot close her eyes,” said the journalist.

Better catechesis

In this connection, she presented some responses that appeared in the international media, and suggested teaching how to distinguish better between reality and fiction, and to improve catechesis.

Diez i Bosch recommended that theologians “explain clearly the figure of Mary Magdalene, going beyond the tragic image of the repentant prostitute and reflecting further on her role as ‘apostola apostolorum’ [apostle of the apostles] through an endeavor of interdisciplinary transmission that will enable results of the theological research to reach the greater public.”
The journalist also called for an endeavor to restore Mary Magdalene to her true role of witness of the Resurrection, stating that “the media — and Dan Brown — have a counterfeit icon of Magdalene.”

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