My Search for a Political Mary

Black Madonna
A Black Madonna…Our Lady of Czestochowa…see Page “Mary as the Black Madonna” for her story.

This blog is about my search for a Mary that made sense to me…a Mary that fit into the patriarchal culture of her day…but also a Mary that could travel with her son and tell him what to do… something only a queen mother could get away with. She had to be a Mary that could help explain why her son, a Galilean citizen brutally killed by the Roman Occupier of Palestine in Jerusalem at the behest of the Jewish High Court and the High Priest…all the forms of political power of the day…died with a sign over his head saying “King of the Jews.” All four versions of the story in the gospels include the sign but do not explain in real time why it was there and why the first question Pilate, the Roman governor and his judge, jury and executioner, asked him was “Are you a King of the Jews?” to which Jesus answered, “Yes” all four times.

 

Being a king in a Middle Eastern monarchy even in the first century A.D. required a royal bloodline….even to be a puppet king in an occupied nation…as we will see. As a curious layperson, after years of studying Christian “Search for the Historical Jesus” books, I literally stumbled across an 800-page book of The Collected Works of Josephus, a Jewish historian born 4 years after the death of Jesus who wrote Antiquities of the Jews and Wars of the Jews in basically the same timeframe that the earliest gospels were being written (ca 90 A.D.) but using Jewish court records. Josephus spoke at length about a Jewish Royal family–other than the legendary Davidic one–that included queens with the dynastic name of Mariamne, often translated in Christian documents as Mary.

I have re-written this manuscript a hundred times over thirty-plus years and continue to at least look at the indexes of books still being written on the Historical Jesus…or less common…Mary…to see if my “idea” holds up…so far, so good but others are starting to take a hard look at the women also. I will share their ideas as we go along.

Simply comparing the rich and royal women and their stories in Josephus with the New Testament story does reveal a time of liberated women that answer the questions…Why are there so many women in the New Testament? Was Jesus a feminist? Or…more to my theory…was Jesus accompanied by his royal mother and her handmaidens who supported him? If so, then a certain amount of “veiling” on both the Jewish and the Christian side has been going on, as we will see…

By simply comparing Josephus’ histories of the New Testament era from the Jewish side…with the story of Jesus “son of Mary” as it has come down to us from the Christian side…and by studying a history of Jewish queens and their role in the politics of their nation…gives much needed context to the New Testament Mary and her role in the life and death of her son…see what you think. Even if you disagree, with “my Mary,” you will have to agree that looking at the women’s history…changes our understanding of the era and the role that royal women were expected to play…and did play…and that they were  relevant…

In the nature of blogs…begin at the end if you want to read it like a book. Start with the earliest post under “Archives” October 2014 and come forward…if you want to look at queens from a specific time frame look under menus “Queens of Israel” as a sidebar. Under “Pages” are personal stories of my search and research and further topics that caught my interest but don’t flow chronologically. This blog presupposes a strong level of interest in the reader…a reader with some level of knowledge of the New Testament story…

Cleta Marie Flynn

Searching for Mary in all the Wrong Places…

r6-15crowningwwwcatholictradition
Mary as Queen in Heaven

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.

911640514 Josephus
Portrait of Josephus from The Works of Flavius Josephus, The Learned and Authentic Jewish Historian to which has been added three disertations, Concerning Jesus Christ, John the Baptit, James the Just…with a complete index to the whole. Translated by William Whiston, A.M. Complete in One Volume. New York, Leavitt and Allen, 1855

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.