The Method of Magdalene Scholarship: (Second in a series on Mary Magdalene)

Last Monday I was previewing the shocking conclusions Lynn Picknett draws in The Secret History of Mary Magdalene: Christianity’s Hidden Goddess, London: Magpie Books, 2003. In this posting I promised to say something about Picknett’s method which leads her into forbidden territory. It strikes me that her method yields some insight into the way that modern scripture scholarship works. Those  interested in such matters should keep that in mind.

Basically, Lynn Picknett’s method is to reverse scholarship’s usual procedure. That method privileges biblical sources, while approaching extra-biblical and heretical fonts with a skepticism and suspicion bordering on contempt. Why should this be so, Picknett asks? Was Nicaea’s choice of the Synoptic Gospels and John over the Gospels of Thomas, Mary, Philip or that of the Egyptians somehow inspired by God or specially guided by the Holy Spirit?

Actually, she observes, the choice was directed by the vested interests of an exclusively male patriarchy and by doctrinal convictions that were and remain completely debatable. In fact, The Gospel of Mary, with its brief for the Magdalene’s feisty leadership and power is as sober and apparently “inspired” as Mark, Matthew, Luke, or John. Church father, Clement of Alexandria admitted as much, but still chose to keep its teachings secret from ordinary Christians (51). The church similarly treated many of the other Gospels that came to light in 1945 with the Nag Hammadi discoveries.  In other words, Nag Hammadi’s 52 mostly Gnostic texts as well as Gospels which had earlier been unearthed have as much claim to “inspiration” as their canonical counterparts.

As for the heretics, why denigrate or exclude their voices? After all, the early Christian Councils of Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), and Chalcedon (451) artificially reduced Christian belief to a single dogma. The Councils thereby proved false to decidedly pluralistic understandings of Jesus and his message that emerge from the official Christian Testament. Even excluding John’s idiosyncratic version of the Jesus story, there are distinctly variant perceptions found among the so-called “Synoptics.” The variations touch upon key items such as Jesus’ origins, family tree, his miracles, words, and the nature of the resurrection itself. Why not let a thousand flowers bloom now as they did then instead of uprooting all but one while anathematizing the rest as heretical and perversely deviant?

With such reasoning, Lynn Picknett replants and cultivates the flowers that over the ages have refused to die despite the poisonous herbicides so freely applied by the church’s malevolent gardeners. So she defers not only to The Gospel of Mary, but to The Gospel of Thomas, to the beliefs of the Cathars, the Priory of Sion, the Knights Templar, the Mandaeans and others.

Meanwhile Picknett classifies canonical sources as mere “propaganda” no more worthy of literal interpretation than the pamphlets that fill mailboxes just before election time (54). Accordingly, she treats those “official” sources with the same skepticism and “ideological suspicion” that orthodox apologists generally apply to heretics and their gospels. She does so without apology. After all, “the canon” was selected by a coterie of male patriarchs without any female input whatever.

Moreover, the old boy efforts at suppression have resulted in endemic deceit that has kept and continues to keep Christians ignorant not only of the Bible generally, but of Nag Hammadi, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the findings of scripture scholarship over the last hundred and fifty years.

Such “leadership” has resulted in ignorant congregations, the imperialization of Christianity, the violent persecution of “heretics,” the Inquisition, the Women’s Holocaust, innumerable wars, sexual scandals, pedophilia, and unrelenting misogyny. “By their fruits you shall know them,” Picknett soberly reminds her readers. It is time to change course.

Next Monday: “The Magdalene Code”

“Everyone’s Talking about Mary Magdalene” (First in a Monday Series on Mary Magdalene)

Not long ago a friend asked me about Mary Magdalene. Yes, Mary Magdalene. Thanks to Dan Brown and others, she’s been cropping into conversations lately much more than she used to. In any case, the observation had been made in this particular exchange that there existed animosity between the Magdalene and Peter the apostle. From there it was a short step to sharing opinions about Mary’s relationship to Jesus. Were they married? Were they lovers?

After a while, my friend asked in apparent frustration. “But how do they know these things?” The Gospel of Mary Magdalene was mentioned, and then the conversation trailed off into more mundane topics. As a theologian, I was left wishing I was more informed about the Magdalene part of the discussion. I knew there were plenty of recently published books on the topic, but I hadn’t read them. Shortly afterwards, almost by sheer chance one of those books dropped into my lap. It was written by esoteric researcher Lynn Picknett and called The Secret History of Mary Magdalene: Christianity’s Hidden Goddess.  I devoured the volume immediately finding it every bit as interesting and just as much a page-turner as The da Vinci Code.

Unlike Daniel Brown’s work however, Picknett’s work is a largely successful effort at serious scholarship. Though not writing for academicians, she uses non-canonical gospels and heretical sources as well as their biblical counterparts to substantiate her surprising conclusions. Basically, they are that far from being a reformed and eternally penitent prostitute and sinner, Mary Magdalene was actually the spouse or lover of Jesus, possibly an Egyptian priestess, and very likely black.  She is the one whom Jesus often “kissed upon the mouth,” and whose intimate relationship with the Christ enraged Jesus’ male companions, especially Peter who actually threatened to kill her. Even more, in words attributed to Jesus in that Gnostic Gospel of Mary (Magdalene), she was “the All,” “The Woman who knows all,” the “apostle of apostles.” Such apostolic primacy makes the Magdalene the true founder of the church and rightful possessor of Peter’s throne. In fact, as the anointer of Jesus, Mary Magdalene may have been his equal – a true Egyptian goddess, an incarnation of Isis. Possibly, she was even Jesus’ superior.

According to Picknett, such pre-eminence even over Jesus should not astonish, for a close reading of the Synoptics and John show that even those Christian propagandists present a Jesus with feet of clay. He was often self-promoting, petulant, irrational, vindictive, and generally unpleasant. The Jesus hidden in those “sacred texts” was a bitter rival of John the Baptist, and may even have been part of a plot which ended in the Baptist’s beheading. In any case, on Picknett’s analysis, Jesus was not the Messiah; John was. And although branded as heretics, John’s followers survive to this day as bitter  opponents of the Jesus Movement. Most prominent among them was Leonardo da Vinci.

Even readers of The da Vinci Code would find such positions not only surprising but shocking. But how does Picknett arrive at such conclusions, what are the details of her argument, and how is one to evaluate the evidence she marshals?

Tune in next week to find out. . . .

Next Monday: “The Methodology of Magdalene Scholarship” 

Golfing for Enlightenment (Conclusion of Series)

For the past several weeks, I’ve been writing off and on about my love-hate relationship with golf. Now in my declining years, my affair with the game remains as tangled as ever.

For example, when I retired a little over two years ago, I decided to get serious about the game. I bought a couple of books, subscribed to some DVDs, and for stretches played about four times a week. Of course, with all of that my scores lowered. A couple of times, I almost shot par on the easiest of the courses we play – and once (for nine holes) on a more difficult course. But mostly my scores remained in the 90s, sometimes, early in the season and on the tougher courses, creeping again above 100. More than once, I’ve threatened to pack it in completely.

But then I read Deepak Chopra’s Golf for Enlightenment: the seven lessons of the game of life. My golfing history and a life-long commitment to meditation made me pick up the book. Come to think of it, I’ve had a relationship with meditation that somewhat mirrors the golfing account I’ve been sharing here. This brings me to the ”life” and “enlightenment” part of these reflections.

You see, I had always been a religious boy. In fact, I entered the seminary to study for the priesthood at the age of 14. (Yes, the Catholic Church used to run what they called “minor seminaries” for aspirants that young despite an extremely high attrition rate.) I persevered though and was ordained in the Society of St. Columban at the age of 26. My training for the priesthood (along with the guidance I had received from the Sisters of St. Joseph in my earliest schooling) introduced me to the spiritual life about the same time my dad was acquainting me with golf. During my novitiate, at the age of 20, I was introduced to meditation in a serious way. I continued meditating every day for the next 12 years. I stopped that practice about the time I stopped playing golf – and for similar reasons. I had convinced myself I didn’t have time for it, what with job, family obligations and all.

But then 15 years ago – about the time we were in Zimbabwe and the boys were learning golf (See Part 2 of this series) – my wife showed me the error of my ways and got me meditating again. Peggy showed me a whole new approach to life – one based on the writings of Eknath Easwaran, a meditation teacher from the Kerala state in India. (Actually, the spirituality wasn’t wholly new, but a more mature reclaiming what I had been introduced to early on). Easwaran’s approach to spirituality combined the best of eastern and western traditions. All of that was completely resonant with the Catholic mysticism that had been so much a part of my training for the priesthood. Easwaran wrote of “enlightenment,” “one-pointed attention,” “slowing down,” “detachment,” and “leela” (i.e. “divine play”).

Golf for Enlightenment centralized all those concepts and more. But it not only taught spirituality; it reinforced a connection between golf and spirituality that had occurred to me independently, as well as to so many others: there is something quite spiritual about the game. Its ups and downs, its unpredictability, its frustrations and joys play out the drama of life and reveal what we are made of. Mastering the game is not about winning competitions or shooting par; it’s about conquering oneself and surrendering to life in the spirit of detachment. That’s what “enlightenment” means.

Chopra’s book is really a novel. It’s the story of Adam, a hacker just like me, and his encounter with Leela, a twenty-something golf instructor who takes him under her wing. Leela gives Adam seven lessons that change not only his golf game, but his very life. She teaches him  (1) Be of One Mind, (2) Let the Swing Happen, (3) Find the Now and You’ll Find the Shot, (4) Play from Your Heart to the Hole, (5) Winning is Passion with Detachment, (6) The Ball Knows Everything, and (7) Let the Game Play You. Those are the chapter titles. And their content shows Chopra not only to be an enlightened spiritual teacher, but a skilled novelist as well. Both Adam and Leela (really the only two characters in the book) are likeable and credible.

And they made me realize that my approach to golf (and to life?) has for the most part been. . . well, unenlightened. As I said, I’ve been frustrated by the game. Like Adam in Chopra’s book, nothing I do in golf ever seems good enough. Despite my best efforts, when I step up to the first tee, I’m concerned what those watching me might be thinking. Even when I hit the ball straight, it’s never long enough for me. I might drain a 25 footer on the green; but I chalk it up to “luck” never to my skill. If players are waiting behind me, I feel pressure for playing too slowly. As I set up for my 50 foot approach shot, I find myself praying, “Don’t let me shank this.”  If I have a good round going through the sixth hole, I’m convinced it will all fall apart on the seventh, and that my final score will be 45 or 46 – again. It usually is. Don’t even talk to me about bunkers and traps. In short, apart from bonding with Brendan and Patrick, there’s little joy in my game. Little fun. Lots of stress and strain.

Golf’s not supposed to be like that, Chopra reminds us. Life’s not supposed to be like that. Yes, both should be marked by dedication and devotion. But paradoxically, true dedication and devotion involve surrender, detachment, forgiveness of self and others, not worrying about results or score. They’re about transcending sorrow, jealousy, self-importance, fear, and self-criticism. What hard lessons those are to practice in a culture as restricted, unforgiving, and bottom-line focused as our own.

 Chopra’s own words say it best:

When you can laugh at a bad shot, you’ve transcended sorrow. When you can take genuine pleasure in some else’s victory, you’ve transcended jealousy. When you can feel satisfied with a round of ninety-seven instead of eighty, you’ve transcended self-importance . . . only when you set your sights to go beyond outcome can you allow in the possibility of defeating the voice of self-criticism and ending the frustration that holds in check deeper, darker fears. (Chapter 7)

All of this, I hope will increase my love for the game in the future and lessen my antipathy for it. Chopra’s insights might even make me more compassionate while watching someone like Tiger Woods. You see, it’s all relative. In his own way, Tiger’s as unenlightened as I am. He’s as unhappy with his game as I am with mine. When I see him swing so hard and slice his ball into an adjacent parking lot, when I hear the expletives that follow, I realize that his game is even more filled with strain, stress and unhappiness than my own.  And despite his millions, Tiger might be even less happy with his life than I am with mine.

After all, even for him, it’s not about lower scores, winning majors, or being the greatest golfer in history. For him as for me and everyone else, it’s about enlightenment.

How My Sons Brought Me Back to the Game (of Life)

It’s been nearly a month since my last “Golfing for Enlightenment” posting. That realization along with this week’s PGA “Major” brings me back to the topic. My last entry had me rehearsing my love-hate relationship with golf. Given my frustrations, around the age of 30, I threw in the towel.

But then for some reason, in my mid-fifties, I introduced the game to my two sons, Brendan and Patrick. Their uncle, Gerry encouraged and instructed them further and from then on there was no stopping them. As early teenagers, they spent a year in Zimbabwe, while my wife, Peggy, was doing her Fulbright at the University there in Harare. In Zimbabwe, Brendan and Patrick’s after-school activity was playing golf. Their venue was the Royal Harare, where (with an extremely favorable exchange rate), the annual membership fee was something like $150 USD. In no time at all, they were threatening to break par and winning golf tournaments.

They also lured me back to the course. I remember playing with Patrick early on in Zimbabwe. He was 12 at the time. It was at about the thirteenth hole, that he realized he was going to beat me for the first time. I recall the confusion in his eyes when our conversation made that apparent. He wasn’t sure it was right to beat his dad. But he forged ahead and whipped me soundly. Soon my pre-teen was instructing his 58 year old father on the differences between what he called “effortless power” and the “powerless effort” he saw in my swing. Since 1998 I’ve never even come close to challenging Patrick. His drives of 300 yards + make my 180-200 yard efforts laughable. Still he and his brother like me to play with them. And they’re usually pretty kind about their dad’s pedestrian performances. If it weren’t for the bonding between the three of us on the course, I’d have quit the game for good long ago. 

When I retired two years ago, I decided to get serious about golf. I bought a couple of books, subscribed to some DVDs, and played about four times a week. Of course, with all of that my scores lowered. A couple of times, I almost shot par on the easiest of the courses we play – and once (for nine holes) on a more difficult course. But mostly my scores remained in the 90s, sometimes, early in the season and on the tougher courses, creeping again above 100. More than once, I’ve threatened to pack it in completely.

But then I read Deepak Chopra’s Golf for Enlightenment: the seven lessons of the game of life. My golfing history and a life-long commitment to meditation made me pick up the book. Come to think of it, I’ve had a relationship with meditation that somewhat mirrors the golfing account I’ve just shared. This brings me to the”life” and “enlightenment” part of these reflections.

 I’ll deal with those in my next golf posting.

Books That Have Shaped My Life

 

 

 

 

A few years ago, a student in Costa Rica asked me to share a list of books that have been important to me. I wrote down what came to me at that time. For what its worth, here they are in no particular order (despite the numbering on the left). The list may offer some clue about why my postings take the tack they do. Consider this an addendum to my series on why I left the priesthood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

The Holy Bible Various

2

Food First Frances Moore Lappé

3

Hunger for Justice Jack Nelson Pallmeyer

4

Is Religion Killing Us? Jack Nelson Pallmeyer

5

Saving Christianity From Empire Jack Nelson Pallmeyer

6

Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time Marcus Borg

7

Manufacturing Consent Noam Chomsky

8

Binding the Strong Man Ched Meyers

9

Who Will Roll Away the Stone? Ched Meyers

10

A Theology of Liberation  Gustavo Gutierrez

11

Meditation Eknath Easwaran

12

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying Sogyal Rimpoche

13

God Makes the Rivers to Flow Eknath Easwaran

14

The Communist Manifesto Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels

15

Letters and Papers from Prison Dietrich Bonhoeffer

16

The Ideological Weapons of Death Franz Hinkelmmert

17

And God Said What? Margaret Ralph

18

Communism in the Bible José Miranda

19

Marx and the Bible José Miranda

20

Theological Investigations Karl Rahner

21

The  Secular City Harvey Cox

22

Christ the Sacrament of Encounter with God Edward Schillebeeckx

23

Palgrave’s Golden Treasury of Poetry  Various

24

The Second Sex Simone De Beauvoir

25

The Art of Loving Erich Fromm

26

A People’s History of  the United States Howard Zinn

27

The Open Veins of Latin America Eduardo Galeano

28

Hard Times Charles Dickens

29

Looking Backward Edward Bellamy

30

Antigone Sophocles

31

The Divine Comedy Dante Alighieri

32

Jesus, Symbol of God Roger Haight

33

Triumph of a People Black

34

I, Rigoberta Menchú Rigoberta Menchú

35

Confronting the Powers Walter Wink

36

The Power of Now Exhart Tolle

37

The New Earth Exhart Tolle

38

Practicing the Power of Now Exhart Tolle

39

A Kinder and Gentler Tyranny Peggy & Mike Rivage-Seul

40

Grassroots Postmodernism Gustavo Esteva

41

Escaping Education Gustavo Esteva

42

Teaching as a Subversive Activity Neil Postman

43

Pedagogy of the Oppressed Paulo Freire

44

Education for Critical Consciousness Paulo Freire
45 The Autobiography of Malcolm X Malcolm X with Alex Haley
46 Letter From a  Birmingham Jail Martin Luther King
47 Christian Attitudes Towards Peace and War Roland Bainton
48 “How Poverty Breeds Overpopulation” Barry Commoner
49 World Hunger: 12 Myths Frances Moore Lappé
50 You Shall be as Gods Erich Fromm
51 What a Difference could a Revolution Make? Joseph Collins
52 Small is Beautiful E.F. Schumacher
53 Limits to Growth Club ofRome
54 Invisible Man Ralph Ellison
55 When Corporations Rule the World David Korten
56 Patents Vandana Shiva
57 Globalization and its Discontents Joseph Stiglitz
58 Are you Running with Me, Jesus? Malcolm Boyd
59 The Imitation of Christ Thomas Kempis
60 The Story of a Soul Theresa of Liseaux
61 The Way of a Pilgrim Anonymous
62 A Theology of Hope Jűrgen Moltmann
63 Demythologizing the Gospel Rudolph Bultmann
64 Civilization and its Discontents Sigmund Freud
65 Beyond Belief Elaine Pagels
66 Adam and Eve and the Serpent Elaine Pagels
67 The Gnostic Gospels Elaine Pagels
68 Liberation Theology Rosemary Ruether
69 The Starry Messenger Galileo Galilei
70 Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina Galileo Galilei
71 Principia Sir Isaac Newton
72 The Origin of Species Charles Darwin
73 The Descent of Man Charles Darwin
74 The Ascent of Man Jacob Brownowski
75 Western Civilization Jackson Spielvogel
76 1984 George Orwell
77 At Play in the Fields of the Lord Peter Mathiessen
78 Storming Heaven Denise Giardina
79 Rules for Radicals Saul Alinsky
80 Who Runs Congress?  
81 Myths (to or Men) Live By Allan Watts
82 Hero with a Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell
83 The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown
84 Classical Mythology Edith Hamilton
85 Marx for Beginners Ruiz
86 Honest to God Bishop Robinson
87 Honest to Jesus Robert Funk
88 Cry of the People Penny Lernoux
89 Social Analysis Joe Holland & Peter Henriot
90 Analisis de Coyuntura Helio Gallardo
91 Roots Alex Haley
92 Bitter Fruit Stephen Kinzer
93 El Hurucán de la Globalización Franz Hinkelammert
94 La Critica de la Razón Utopica Franz Hinkelammert
95 El Asalto as Poder Mundial Franz Hinkelammert
96 Why ? The Untold Story Behind the Terrorist Attacks o f Sept. 11,2001 J.W. Smith
97 Democratic Capitalism J.W. Smith
98 Crossing the Rubicon Michael Ruppert
99 Bread for the World Bread for the World Organization
100 Rich Christians and the Poor Lazarus Helmut Golwitze
101 The Unsettling of America  Wendel Berry
102 Man’s Search for Meaning Victor Frankl

Recommended Authors/Read Everything by:

v  Noam Chomsky

v  Erich Fromm

v  Franz Hinkelammert      (Spanish Only)

v  Helio Gallardo (Spanish Only)

v  Eknath Easwaran

 Favorite Web Sites      

v  OpEdnews

Information Clearing House

v  Znet

Golfing for Enlightenment: An autobiographical review of Chopra’s book (in three parts)

It’s summertime. And although it may seem out of character to many of my friends – and somehow misplaced in these pages – I must confess I am a golfer. My son, Brendan, gave me a new set of sticks (Adams “Speedline Fast 10”) for Christmas. I love the clubs, and have been breaking them in all summer. So golfing is on my mind.

Let me begin by correcting that opening line. I said I’m a golfer. To phrase it more accurately, my life has been cursed by golf! Yes, I love the game. The beauty of golf courses truly brings me back to the Garden.  When Tiger’s playing, I feel compelled to monitor his every shot. When he’s “on,” his game reminds me of the near perfection that’s possible in life itself.

And yet, I hate the game too. I wonder about a sport that’s so white, so elitist, that uses so much water, and that’s so chemical-dependent in terms of fertilizers and pesticides. In those respects, it’s like the world in general. As for the game itself, whoever called it “a good walk spoiled” was right. For me its downs are so frustrating; its ups so few by comparison. I guess that’s like life too.

In Golf for Enlightenment: the seven lessons of the game of life, Deepak Chopra agrees. He shows how the two – golf and life – are deeply interrelated and connected with the spirituality that none of us can escape. Reading it caused me to reflect on my own experiences of all three – golf, life, and spirituality.

Let’s begin with golf. . . . I inherited the game. All the men on my father’s side of the family were avid golfers. And when I was in grade school, my dad often took my brother Jim and me to a course near our home on the northwest side of Chicago to introduce us to the game.

That doesn’t mean that I come from the country club set. I don’t. My background was working class. I grew up in the 1940s. My father was a truck driver. His three brothers (he also had four sisters) were brick layers, bar tenders, and construction workers; one was a sometime bookie. But they all started out as caddies at Butterfield Country Club just west of Chicago. And that’s where my father, Ray, and his brothers, John, Leonard, and George learned the game – as caddies.

That’s where I learned the game too. In my early teens, I caddied at Bryn Mawr Country Club in Lincolnwood, just north of Chicago. I was Caddie # 339, when the best caddies would be #1 or #2. Somehow though the caddie master, Jack Malatesta, took a shine to me, and throughout my years at Bryn Mawr, Jack kept calling me “339,” even though he ended up giving me some of the best “loops.”  Later, beginning in high school, I worked on the grounds crew at Arrowhead Country Club in Wheaton, Illinois. I remained there for fifteen years. As I said, golf’s in my veins.

In fact, I’ve been swinging a club since I was seven or eight. And by the time I got to Bryn Mawr, older caddies were telling me that I had one of the best swings they’d seen. That made me feel good. Little did I know such compliments would represent the high point of my golfing life. Problem was, my swing looked great, but it never got me straight shots or low scores.

Let me put it this way:  it wasn’t till my 21st birthday that I broke 100 for the first time! And it’s pretty much stayed like that till about the age of 30 when I walked away from the game.  Its frustrations along with my work and family obligations (not to mention the high cost of playing golf) made me stop.

Next week: How my sons brought me back to the game (of life)