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Mary Magdalene: A Biography

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After two thousand years of flawed history, here at last is a magnificent new biography of Mary Magdalene that draws her out of the shadows of history and restores her to her rightful place of importance in Christianity.Throughout history, Mary Magdalene has been both revered and reviled, a woman who has taken on many forms—witch, whore, the incarnation of the eternal femi After two thousand years of flawed history, here at last is a magnificent new biography of Mary Magdalene that draws her out of the shadows of history and restores her to her rightful place of importance in Christianity.Throughout history, Mary Magdalene has been both revered and reviled, a woman who has taken on many forms—witch, whore, the incarnation of the eternal feminine, the devoted companion (and perhaps even the wife) of Jesus. In this brilliant new biography, Bruce Chilton, a renowned biblical scholar, offers the first complete and authoritative portrait of this fascinating woman. Through groundbreaking interpretations of ancient texts, Chilton shows that Mary played a central role in Jesus’ ministry and was a seminal figure in the creation of Christianity. Chilton’s descriptions of who Mary Magdalene was and what she did challenge the male-dominated history of Christianity familiar to most readers. Placing Mary within the traditions of Jewish female savants, Chilton presents a visionary figure who was fully immersed in the mystical practices that shaped Jesus’ own teachings and a woman who was a religious master in her own right.


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After two thousand years of flawed history, here at last is a magnificent new biography of Mary Magdalene that draws her out of the shadows of history and restores her to her rightful place of importance in Christianity.Throughout history, Mary Magdalene has been both revered and reviled, a woman who has taken on many forms—witch, whore, the incarnation of the eternal femi After two thousand years of flawed history, here at last is a magnificent new biography of Mary Magdalene that draws her out of the shadows of history and restores her to her rightful place of importance in Christianity.Throughout history, Mary Magdalene has been both revered and reviled, a woman who has taken on many forms—witch, whore, the incarnation of the eternal feminine, the devoted companion (and perhaps even the wife) of Jesus. In this brilliant new biography, Bruce Chilton, a renowned biblical scholar, offers the first complete and authoritative portrait of this fascinating woman. Through groundbreaking interpretations of ancient texts, Chilton shows that Mary played a central role in Jesus’ ministry and was a seminal figure in the creation of Christianity. Chilton’s descriptions of who Mary Magdalene was and what she did challenge the male-dominated history of Christianity familiar to most readers. Placing Mary within the traditions of Jewish female savants, Chilton presents a visionary figure who was fully immersed in the mystical practices that shaped Jesus’ own teachings and a woman who was a religious master in her own right.

30 review for Mary Magdalene: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kristi Duarte

    Bruce Chilton does an excellent job of creating a believable portrait of Mary Magdalene, a woman whose reputation has been sullied for far too long. Chilton uses his advanced knowledge in biblical studies to draw an image of a close companion of Jesus whose spiritual expertise included exorcism, healing with ointments, and perhaps above all, teaching the other disciples. Most of the conclusions in this book are mainly drawn from what we can read in the Bible. Mr. Chilton rejects any notions of an Bruce Chilton does an excellent job of creating a believable portrait of Mary Magdalene, a woman whose reputation has been sullied for far too long. Chilton uses his advanced knowledge in biblical studies to draw an image of a close companion of Jesus whose spiritual expertise included exorcism, healing with ointments, and perhaps above all, teaching the other disciples. Most of the conclusions in this book are mainly drawn from what we can read in the Bible. Mr. Chilton rejects any notions of an amorous relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus, as well as any possibility of her living her last days in France. Still, it's a worthwhile and very interesting read for anyone interested in learning more about the historical aspects of Mary Magdalene. Highly recommended!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Crawford

    The author is noted as a Biblical scholar. He is that but I don't think his scholarship includes one in logic. There are a number of times in this book that statements are made as if they are fact, yet they aren't. These include: 'What she (Mary Magdalene) has are demons.' (page 4). Excuse me but there is no scientific proof than demons actually exist. Also, some forms of mental illness in those days fell into the 'demon' category since psychology as we know it today didn't yet exist. 'She (Mary The author is noted as a Biblical scholar. He is that but I don't think his scholarship includes one in logic. There are a number of times in this book that statements are made as if they are fact, yet they aren't. These include: 'What she (Mary Magdalene) has are demons.' (page 4). Excuse me but there is no scientific proof than demons actually exist. Also, some forms of mental illness in those days fell into the 'demon' category since psychology as we know it today didn't yet exist. 'She (Mary Magdalene) had no doubt been ostracized in Magdala in view of her many demons.' (also on page 4).. Again, no proof that demons exist. Also, no proof she had been ostracized. She might have been but she might not have been. 'Jesus could not read or write.' (page 12). Just because nothing has been found in his writing does not mean he couldn't read or write. Again, this is presented as a fact yet there is no proof. Maybe he wrote things and they have been lost to time. Another book I read noted that around 85% of written material from that time period no longer exists. 'The multiple exorcisms that Mary underwent took over a year...' (Page 26) What multiple exorcisms? Where does he get the figure of a year? Further, the author writes that Mary was taught had to do exorcisms by Jesus and that she did a lot of them. Again, where does this come from? '...theories that Jesus somehow physically survived the cross represent a combination of fantasy, revisionism and half-baked science.' (page 75). This is not the only time the author used the term 'revisionism.' He also misses the point. To have revisionism you must have a historical certainty that is being altered. Yet there is no absolute historical certainty to what happened to Jesus and those around him at that time. The Gospels were written after his death and sometimes decades after his death. This means that those writing the gospels were using their memories to write about what happened and memories cannot always be depended upon. Consider crime trials and how often people's memories are called into question. Also, the men who wrote the Bible had an agenda in doing so. That means that the 'truths' they were writing about were carefully picked to support their religious position. The things they are saying might have been true but again they might have done their own 'revisionism' of what actually happened. If there were historical certainty then there would be no writings in the Bible about Jesus that contradicted other writings about Jesus yet those contradictions exist. What happened then is speculation based on what 'evidence' can be found yet, again, the vast majority of writings from those times have been lost (sometimes literally lost and sometimes destroyed on purpose.) Further, he used the term 'half-baked science' in referring to the 'theory' that Jesus survived the cross. (I personally have no set position on whether he did or not.) It would be nice if he got his scientific terms correct. It is a hypothesis that Jesus survived. That's the lowest level of scientific knowledge. A hypothesis is an educated guess based on what the person knows overall. A theory is the next step up in scientific knowledge and to have a theory you have to have substantial proof backing you up. This proof does not exist about Jesus surviving the cross so the people who hold that position have a hypothesis and not a theory. He should get his terms straight. (The top level is a scientific law which is basically a theory that has so much evidence supporting it that it becomes a law such as the law of gravity. Pick up a book and let it go and what happens to it? It falls to the ground (or table or wherever.) Do that one million times and how many times does it fall (assuming you don't interfere with it)? One million times. He refers to Mary reaching the age of seventy (page 91) and probably dying in her homeland. Since the Bible basically writes off Mary Magdalene after the tomb incident then who knows how long she lived? There are people who believe she and others went to France and lived out their lives there. Granted, there is no 'proof' she did but there is no proof she stayed in her homeland, either. There are some good things in the book, especially the relationship between the Jewish people and the Roman occupiers and how the Jewish people had to be very, very careful in what they said and did. Otherwise they could very well end up dead. (As very many of then actually did.) Another good thing: he discusses the Gospel of Mary. Overall, though, I don't like the book since the author presents so many things as factual yet they do not actually fall into the 'fact' category. We will never (baring the invention of some kind of time-travel device) know what really happened back then. We have some archaeology to support certain assumptions but there is even controversy about just what has been found that way and what it means exactly. (For example; has the tomb of Jesus' brother actually been found or not?) We can make what may be reasonable speculation about those times but we can't been absolutely sure. Did Mary, for example, die during a Roman attack or did she die somewhere in France of old age? Did Jesus die on the cross? Probably, but again we can never be absolutely sure. There is just too much that is not known and may never be known to come out saying a lot of things are facts when they aren't and that's why I don't really care that much for this book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    There are lots of books out there seeking to share insight about they mysterious New Testament figure of Mary Magdalene. The challenge with any and all attempts is the simple fact that we have limited resources from which to glean. This book faces that same dilemma as all others. However, this one was a cut above most. First off, the author does a nice job of honestly reviewing the Gospel texts themselves, noting the progression of thought and interpretation of Mary from the first gospel (Mark) t There are lots of books out there seeking to share insight about they mysterious New Testament figure of Mary Magdalene. The challenge with any and all attempts is the simple fact that we have limited resources from which to glean. This book faces that same dilemma as all others. However, this one was a cut above most. First off, the author does a nice job of honestly reviewing the Gospel texts themselves, noting the progression of thought and interpretation of Mary from the first gospel (Mark) through the last (John). Later in the book, he also examines extra-canonical books such as the Gospels of Phillip, Thomas and Mary. These books are extra-canonical for a reason, and so we have to tread lightly upon any conclusions or insights. Still the review of the literature was nicely done. But there was a wonderful review of how Mary's role changed from being the pivotal witness to the resurrection in the early tradition, and how the attempt was made to exclude her totally from later renditions. Secondly, the author makes a strong argument for Mary's keep role within the community of Jesus' disciples, particular in a role of anointing and exorcism of demons. He goes so far as to argue that Mary was a key person in shaping much of Mark's gospel. There is a nice treatment of how her perception as the prostitute developed, and how that may not be an accurate representation of Mary based upon the earliest biblical texts. Lastly, the author does a nice job of noting how Church tradition and theology has molded, changed, and often-times twisted the role of Mary in the gospels to support the political agenda of maintaining a male-dominated priesthood and church hierarchy. Again, much of Mary's life and role is unknown and a matter of speculation. Yet Chilton does a very credible job of reviewing the texts we have, noting what they both say, and do not say, about Mary. For any person interested in the root of Christian faith and tradition, this will be a fascinating read. The reader must simply keep in mind, however, that most of the questions we simply cannot answer.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kent Winward

    So reading a "biography" of a biblical character after reading The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone - Especially Ourselves was an interesting exercise. The historical view on Magdalene were interesting, particularly the intersection of mysticism, sexuality, and female/male interactions. Yet, Chilton, as so many do with a religious world view, painted everything in the light of the particular portion he wanted to paint. I'm sure he felt he was dishing the honest truth, rather So reading a "biography" of a biblical character after reading The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone - Especially Ourselves was an interesting exercise. The historical view on Magdalene were interesting, particularly the intersection of mysticism, sexuality, and female/male interactions. Yet, Chilton, as so many do with a religious world view, painted everything in the light of the particular portion he wanted to paint. I'm sure he felt he was dishing the honest truth, rather than his own truth constructed to reconcile a sparse history that is probably not reconcilable. The more interesting "biography" would be how different religions have spun the Magdalene legend to push their own particular view and those were the best parts of Chilton's narrative.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mary-Ellen

    This book offers very interesting context to what is known of Mary Magdalene and her relationship with Jesus. Historical facts about Jewish life & customs during the time in which Jesus lived adds a level of understanding that goes beyond anything that many modern-day Christian faiths offer. It speaks to the humanity of the individuals in this story.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Misty

    Supposition presented as facts, while cherry-picking data from his sources that fits his intentions, all while ignoring data that doesn’t support his stance. A disappointment.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

    This book follows Mary Magdalene's history through the Christian and Gnostic churches, revealing what it can about what she may really have been like, and what her role in Jesus's ministry might have been. The biggest weakness this book has is that it was quite obviously written after such books as The Da Vinci Code and Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Much of the book is spent lamenting the blatant disregard modern revisionists have for what the probably history of Mary's life was. Well, yes. Mr. Chilton This book follows Mary Magdalene's history through the Christian and Gnostic churches, revealing what it can about what she may really have been like, and what her role in Jesus's ministry might have been. The biggest weakness this book has is that it was quite obviously written after such books as The Da Vinci Code and Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Much of the book is spent lamenting the blatant disregard modern revisionists have for what the probably history of Mary's life was. Well, yes. Mr. Chilton belabors this point beyond what I would expect in a scholarly text. True, this is written for the layman, and I'm a bit more well-read than what Mr. Chilton appears to believe his audience is. Still, I found it to be rather tiresome to read his rebuttal of Mary's unknown personal relationship with Jesus and the utter ridiculousness of the theory that they together sired the line of Merovingian kings. As with the book on Gnosticism that I recently reviewed, I was reading for what is, not what it is not. Spending large chunks of the book defending against what most biblical scholars agree is at the very least fantastically unlikely is a waste of pages. Additionally, Mr. Chilton comes at Mary's ministry from a rather peculiar angle. He postulates that Mary's role in the formation of the early church was to hand down specific rites from Jesus and general Jewish practice of the time: namely exorcism, annointing, and visions. It's an intriguing idea, but it was poorly documented and supported. Again, it's possible that Mr. Chilton was addressing a readership that is less inclined to biblical studies than I am, but I found it frustrating that he would mention how passages of the gospel carried Mary's unique "voice" without mentioning how, exactly, they did that. He referred to these passages as "Mary's source." Unfortunately, the argument was presented with about as much evidence as the Merovigian conspiracy theorists put forth. Some analysis of the text - however distasteful to the "beginning reader" - is necessary to expand upon Mr. Chilton's arguments. Mr. Chilton is also only slightly conversent in the Gnostic tradition that he speaks of, and it shows. He would have done well, I think, to read the book on Gnosticism I did, if only to give him a better basis for comparing Mary to Sophia. All in all, the book suceeded in presenting many interesting theories and talking points. However, due to the extreme simplicity this book was apparently aiming for, I feel it necessary to see if some of these arguments can be furthered by other sources before I give them too much weight. The most redeeming portion of the book for me was the historical data about where Mary came from, how her childhood in Magdala would have been influenced by the closeness of the Romans, and how she likely returned to Magdala to die in a subsequent uprising.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Angela Forfia

    Mary Magdalene: A Biography is a fascinating portrait of one of the central disciples in early Christianity--a woman sometimes called "the disciple to the disciples"--through incisive analysis of the gospels, gnostic sources, ancient fragments, and social history. The author's stated aim is to heal a "scar" in the fabric of Christianity caused by the excision of Mary Magdalene, the marginalization of other women who followed Christ, and the exclusion of traditionally woman-led practices of exorc Mary Magdalene: A Biography is a fascinating portrait of one of the central disciples in early Christianity--a woman sometimes called "the disciple to the disciples"--through incisive analysis of the gospels, gnostic sources, ancient fragments, and social history. The author's stated aim is to heal a "scar" in the fabric of Christianity caused by the excision of Mary Magdalene, the marginalization of other women who followed Christ, and the exclusion of traditionally woman-led practices of exorcism, annointing, and vision that were key Christian and Jewish practice. If you want to know just how central, consider that Christ itself derives from the term "annointed one" and that what remains of annointing in the Christian tradition ("extreme unction") is a pathetic shadow of this once rich practice. On nearly every page, Chilton provides a new way of seeing these texts--enriching my understanding of the apostles, the effects of Roman colonization on Jewish life, the oral "signatures" of key stories within the gospels, and even how Jesus conceptualized the divine. If you have ever secretly rolled your eyes at "Mother-Father God" as a clunky modern addition, Chilton will show this is closer to Jesus's understanding of God, Wisdom, and Spirit than you might think. If you're looking for a Da Vinci code thriller, this is not the book for you. But if you would like a thoughtful, well-reasoned, accessible (and sometimes funny!) analysis of early Christianity through a follower who central to the early Christian movement, this is a great book. I look forward to adding Chilton's books on Rabbi Jesus and Paul to my to-read shelf.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    Mary Magdalene: A Biography attempts to push aside what is currently perceived about Mary Magdalene (namely, that she is a whore and possible wife of Jesus) and delve into biblical and non-biblical sources to see what Mary Magdalene was really like (that she was a female disciple who was closely associated with Jesus and led the charge of exorcisms and anointing). My father-in-law Warren recommended this book to me. He was really impressed with it and thought I'd enjoy reading it, what with my ba Mary Magdalene: A Biography attempts to push aside what is currently perceived about Mary Magdalene (namely, that she is a whore and possible wife of Jesus) and delve into biblical and non-biblical sources to see what Mary Magdalene was really like (that she was a female disciple who was closely associated with Jesus and led the charge of exorcisms and anointing). My father-in-law Warren recommended this book to me. He was really impressed with it and thought I'd enjoy reading it, what with my background in theology. And, it is true that I found some aspects of the book interesting, most notably his interpretation of Mary Magdalene's perception of the rock bing rolled away at the conclusion of Mark's gospel, on the whole I was not particularly impressed with this book. I felt that Chilton was a bit repetitive and that his conclusions were definitely reaching. Additionally, I don't subscribe to the gnostic beliefs that Chilton seems to espouse, so the last couple of chapters, especially, were missing the mark for me. I suppose it is a noble aim to want to right a wrong to uncover the importance of one of Jesus' female disciples, but on the whole I just don't agree that the sources can substantiate that.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Gabrielle

    Chilton writes: " if we want to get at the truth about Mary, we need to examine what we know, not invent what we don't know, and refrain from dressing up yesterday's piety as today's revisionism." He brings this level of integrity to the entire book. It is a thoughtful, cautious, clear, and reasoned argument about the historical aspects of women in early Christianity. Most of the chapters dissect the gospels, other historical documents, and the Gnostics to create arguments about what Mary's role Chilton writes: " if we want to get at the truth about Mary, we need to examine what we know, not invent what we don't know, and refrain from dressing up yesterday's piety as today's revisionism." He brings this level of integrity to the entire book. It is a thoughtful, cautious, clear, and reasoned argument about the historical aspects of women in early Christianity. Most of the chapters dissect the gospels, other historical documents, and the Gnostics to create arguments about what Mary's role with the other apostles most likely was like. I enjoyed some aspects more than others -- Chilton has also written a book about Jesus as Rabbi, and there were chapters in this that seemed like they might have been lifted from that earlier work. Yes, the thread of thought was there, but at times the purpose seemed almost exclusively to veer to the historical Jesus rather than the historical Mary. Still, this is scholarly without being daunting or pedantic. A good read.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sherrie

    It was interesting, but the author kept drawing conclusions and making assertions without a Scriptural foundation that I could see. As in any literature, if you make a point about a text, you really must refer to the place in the text where you got the basis for the conclusion you are drawing. Maybe the author did that, minister and college professor that he is and all, but I didn't see it. Maybe i read it too late at night when my brain was tired. Maybe he wasn't doing it! At any rate, I might It was interesting, but the author kept drawing conclusions and making assertions without a Scriptural foundation that I could see. As in any literature, if you make a point about a text, you really must refer to the place in the text where you got the basis for the conclusion you are drawing. Maybe the author did that, minister and college professor that he is and all, but I didn't see it. Maybe i read it too late at night when my brain was tired. Maybe he wasn't doing it! At any rate, I might have finished it, but it was due back at the library and I didn't feel it was worth renewing.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rick Edwards

    Chilton does a remarkable job of developing a credible portrait of the Magdalene from the biblical and archaeological materials available. He also disposes nicely of the fabrications which The DaVinci Code popularized. New to me: the Magdalene Source in Mark and Luke, and the suppression of Mary in the four canonical gospels. He also spins a credible connection between the Magdalene of the Gospel According to Mary and the Mary we meet in John and the synoptics. There is much food for thought her Chilton does a remarkable job of developing a credible portrait of the Magdalene from the biblical and archaeological materials available. He also disposes nicely of the fabrications which The DaVinci Code popularized. New to me: the Magdalene Source in Mark and Luke, and the suppression of Mary in the four canonical gospels. He also spins a credible connection between the Magdalene of the Gospel According to Mary and the Mary we meet in John and the synoptics. There is much food for thought here, and Chilton's Magdalene will drive me to further exploration.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Stacye

    I wouldn't necessarily characterize this as a traditional biography. Chilton gathers the handful of sources about Magdalene and sets them against the religious, cultural and political backdrop of her time. He also spend a great deal of time addressing myth surrounding her, the early christian movement and even the gnostics. It is an extremely interesting book from an informational standpoint but doesn't read as a seamless story of her life. I wouldn't necessarily characterize this as a traditional biography. Chilton gathers the handful of sources about Magdalene and sets them against the religious, cultural and political backdrop of her time. He also spend a great deal of time addressing myth surrounding her, the early christian movement and even the gnostics. It is an extremely interesting book from an informational standpoint but doesn't read as a seamless story of her life.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Tammy

    I was really disappointed by this book. Expected it to be more of a Scriptural exposition on the passages mentioning her, and commentary on them. Instead it was a lot of conjecture based on legend, etc. Not many facts at all and a lot of guesses about who she was...wasn't even worth finishing. I was really disappointed by this book. Expected it to be more of a Scriptural exposition on the passages mentioning her, and commentary on them. Instead it was a lot of conjecture based on legend, etc. Not many facts at all and a lot of guesses about who she was...wasn't even worth finishing.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Julie Ferguson

    An interesting study on how the church(es) have manipulated Mary Magdalene over the centuries and why. Written by a theologian, Bruce D. Chilton, for those who like to learn the latest biblical scholarship and opinion, this book is an easy and enjoyable read. It may surprise you, too!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kirsten

    Horrible. Couldn’t finish. I kept pushing through even though I didn’t like it, but the last straw was the discussion of the possible erotic relationship between MM and Jesus and the mention of the “resuscitation” of Lazarus.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Deanna

    This book is sometimes over my head, but that said some of the things written ring true. I'll continue reading it for the small insights I can gain. This book is sometimes over my head, but that said some of the things written ring true. I'll continue reading it for the small insights I can gain.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Enjoyed this so much I want to read his Rabbi Jesus. His research into Mary Magdalene is fascinating.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Cuts through all of the sensationalism, providing a contextual explanation of Mary Magdalene and her relationship with Jesus.

  20. 4 out of 5

    edm

    Mary Magdalene: An Idea would have been a more apt title.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Monica

    I saw the author interviewed ... any research that takes away some of the myths surrounding Jesus is good in my book. Plus it looks like a Pollaiuolo painting on the cover.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    A fascinating look at one of the most interesting and controversial women in the gospels who was a disciple, and may have been an apostle.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Paul Lindstrom

    Scholarly work. Written without pop psych philosophies.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tom Gray

    Good effort to get 150 pages of "history" out of a character who is referenced only vaguely in gospels. Good effort to get 150 pages of "history" out of a character who is referenced only vaguely in gospels.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    Not bad, but not good.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Alysha

    Interesting story, just glad it was short. The author's style is more like a boring lecture. Interesting story, just glad it was short. The author's style is more like a boring lecture.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Michele Winger

    The first few chapters were mind-boggling and offered a lot of “facts” with no citations. I was left several times scratching my head and thinking, “is this guy serious?” I almost didn’t finish the book. After a few weeks I picked it up again. It definitely got better. Very informative.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Thing Two

    I will need to reread this one.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kate

  30. 5 out of 5

    Eira Karlsson

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