My Search for the Historical Mary began in the 1960s though I didn’t know it at the time. At first, with no religious inclination, I became an avid reader of everything published on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Those books led me to the hundreds of Search for the Historical Jesus books that came out in the 70s and 80s. I soon discovered that each male author’s historical take on Jesus was different –slightly or radically–and his mother’s life was tailored to fit her son’s life. Often the women of the story were given a grudging obligatory mention only. There were very few books written on the “real” Mary. Even the Feminist wave of female scholar upstarts who infiltrated the male field of biblical research in the late 60s and 70s tended to ignore Mary the Virgin and concentrated instead on Mary Magdalene, the “bad” girl of the New Testament…as they were the “bad girls” of New Testament research. Mary was a little too compliant for them…
Another set of scrolls discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945—but not available to the public until the 70s—gave speaking roles to some New Testament men AND elevated Mary Magdalene to the rank of disciple but more or less ignored Mary, herself. The scrolls also elaborated on the cosmos and the feminine principle…(Jesus and Mary Magdalene being the yin and yang as virtual equals illustrating the concept.) Some of the writings were the science fiction of their day…and were declared heretical and were buried in the desert sand.
One woman who wrote a book about Mary in the 70s said this in her Prologue:
I have not pursued the historical Mary, the woman of Nazareth, because theology and belief have only rarely focused on her. The reader will find nothing about life in Galilee in the first decades of our era. I have concentrated on the different aspects the Virgin assumes at different times and have attempted to uncover the convergence of circumstances that might have made such a symbol satisfying. The Virgin Mary has been formed and animated by different people for different reasons, and is a truly popular creation…
From Alone of All Her Sex by Marina Warner, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., NY 1976
And so I glossed over her also.
And then something serendipitous happened. In 1984 in a dusty collectibles shop in Painesville, Ohio, I found an old book of 800 pages of tiny print almost 5 inches thick containing the collected works of Flavius Josephus. I remembered that he had been sometimes quoted in various Historical Jesus books but that was all I knew about him. I bought the book for $13, a lot of money for me then but it was a life-changing purchase. It turned out that Josephus was born about the time that Jesus died. He lived in Jerusalem. He had royal blood “from his mother” and personally knew the kings and queens mentioned in the New Testament. While a commander in the Jewish army in Galilee about 65 A.D., preparing to fight an apocalyptic war with Rome who had occupied Palestine since 63 B.C.—100 years—Josephus went over to the Roman side and tried to convince the zealous Jewish militia/insurgents/terrorists not to start a fight they could not win. They would not listen, feeling that God was on their side and if they fought to the death, God would save them. The War to End all Wars came to its dire predictable end in 70 C.E. For his help the Romans gave Josephus access to the political journals of Herod’s kingdom and the Roman records of their occupation of Palestine. He used those records to write his Jewish histories at the same time that the earlier of the Gospels were being written in ca 90-100 C.E.
I started reading Josephus’ first book, Wars of the Jews…and as I had also by then been reading some of the feminist authors on New Testament women, my consciousness was raised enough to ask myself:
I wonder if Josephus’ index lists anyone named Mary?
That question and the Marys I found in Josephus’ index, sent me off on a new path…one that has only deepened with time. The Mary/Mariamnes were queens and princesses and played a role in the politics of the nation. I have chosen to tell their story in historical context…a history of the Queens of Israel…how they came to have queens in a nation ruled by priests…and why they mattered…and how they illuminate the role of Mary in the New Testament story.