#MeToo and Mary Magdalene Movie Put a Spotlight on Women in the Bible as Easter Draws Near

Rooney Mara stars as the title character in the new film “Mary Magdalene.” Photo courtesy of IFC Films

It seems like the women of Scripture are having a moment in the days leading up to Easter (April 21), celebrated by many Christians as the day they believe Jesus rose from the dead.

Mary Magdalene is getting the Hollywood treatment in a film that bears her name.

Both she and Mary, the mother of Jesus, command their own episodes in the new History Channel series “Jesus: His Life,” which tells the story of Jesus through the eyes of those around him.

“Consider the Women” by
Debbie Blue. Image courtesy
of Eerdmans

And the stories of other women in the Bible are getting attention from recent books and podcasts.

There’s something in the air, said the Rev. Debbie Blue, co-founder of House of Mercy in St. Paul, Minn., and author of  “Consider the Women: A Provocative Guide to Three Matriarchs of the Bible.” She said she’s hearing more about those women’s stories this Easter than in past years and thinks the #MeToo movement deserves some of the credit.

“I think it does have something to do with the #MeToo movement. We’ve been so aware that we’ve not listened to women’s stories, and that’s so much in the air now,” Blue said.

The Bible also deserves some credit, said the Rev. Shively Smith, assistant professor of New Testament at Boston University School of Theology and one of the scholars featured in “Jesus: His Life.”

The attention to women in the week leading up to Easter comes from the way the Gospels themselves are set up, Smith said.

Women take center stage in all four books when Jesus enters Jerusalem for the final time at the start of Holy Week, the days leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection in Christian traditions: anointing Jesus with costly perfume, standing at the foot of the cross as Jesus dies and finding his tomb empty when they arrive to care for his body.

“I think we’re really sort of following the cues of the Gospel narratives themselves when we pay attention to women this week,” Smith said.

The Rev. Shively Smith. Courtesy photo

Three women stand out to the scholar among the women following Jesus, just as Peter, James and John hold a special place among the Twelve. Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother of James and Joseph; and Salome are described in the Gospel of Mark as watching the crucifixion from a distance.

Mary Magdalene is singularly important among them, Smith said, and is named more frequently than some of the disciples in the Gospels. She is the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection and the first to proclaim the news to the other disciples.

Her role has been diminished over the centuries as she’s been recast as a repentant prostitute or as Jesus’ wife — things not found in the biblical text, Smith said. She’s also been conflated with Mary of Bethany, another biblical figure, often depicted alongside her sister Martha.

Smith said she sees that treatment of Mary Magdalene as a “dismissal of women’s power and women’s agency in a real way.”

Holy Week is a time to slow down and clarify who’s who in the Gospel accounts, especially among the women, she said.

“I think of Mary Magdalene as sort of spanning the gamut of all that womanhood can and does bring historically to the world,” she said.

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Source: Religion News Service