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Tuesday, November 21, 2006
The Real Mary
Paraclete Press will soon be sending my husband, Mike, a copy of Professor Scot McKnight's latest book The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus to review for his blog. They also offered a link to a sample chapter online. It begins this way:

“Why are you—a Protestant—writing a book about Mary?” I’ve been asked this question many times. In fact, one person asked me the following question: “Wasn’t Mary a Roman Catholic?” (No kidding.)

Why write a book for Protestants about Mary? Here’s why: Because the story about the real Mary has never been told. The Mary of the Bible has been hijacked by theological controversies whereby she has become a Rorschach inkblot in which theologians find whatever they wish to find. In the midst of this controversy, the real Mary has been left behind. It is time to let her story be told again. Over the past ten years I have read shelves of books and articles about Mary, and I have discovered that almost no one is interested in what the real Mary was like in her day. The Real Mary attempts to fill in that gap and underscore the real Mary.

Why a book about Mary?
Because while Mary’s story is that of an ordinary woman, it is also the story of a woman with an extraordinary vocation (being mother to the Messiah) who learned to follow this Messiah Jesus through the ordinary struggles all humans face. In this sense, Mary represents each of us—both you and me—in our call to follow Jesus.

Why a book about Mary?
Because for years the view of Mary in the Church has been unreal. Mary has become for many little more than a compliant “resting womb” for God, and she has become a stereotype of passivity in the face of challenge, of self-sacrifice at the expense of one’s soul care, and of quietude to the point of hiding in the shadows of others. Nora O. Lozana-Diaz, a professor at the Hispanic Baptist Theological College, traces the influence of what she calls marianismo on Latin culture and claims this false view of Mary (marianismo) oppresses women instead of challenging them to live with courage before God—as Mary herself did! If a false view damages all of us, a more accurate view can encourage all of us, women and men.

Why write a book about Mary?
Because she was the mother of Jesus, and being the mother of Jesus ought to matter to each of us.

Read the rest of this chapter here.

It's great to have a book coming out that looks at Mary as a real woman and not as some docile caricature. You can order a copy of the book from the publishers, Paraclete Press for 20% off before December 3rd. There is also a free study guide available online.

BTW, if you're in the Chicago area, the Emergent cohort my husband leads (up/rooted) will be joined by Scot McKnight himself to discuss the book on Monday, December 11 from 7-9pm at Redeemer Church in Park Ridge, IL. Join us if you're able.

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posted by Julie at 5:13 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 11/21/2006 07:53:00 PM, Blogger lydia

    If you read this, Mike, I'd be interested in reprinting your review at The Ooze.

  • At 11/21/2006 07:56:00 PM, Blogger lydia

    And now for an on-topic comment. :)

    The Real Mary attempts to fill in that gap and underscore the real Mary.

    Sounds like a fascinating book.

    The churches I grew up in weren't very friendly to Mary. Sure, we'd hear about her every Christmas as part of the Nativity story...but that was about it.

    When I was a kid I thought that Catholics worshipped the mother of God because they talked about her so often and with so much admiration.

  • At 11/21/2006 10:06:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

    Hey Lydia,

    I'm looking forward to reading the book and I'd be happy to submit my review to theOoze.

    Personally, I don't see how anyone can read the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) and come away with an impression of Mary as a passive woman. Mary was a social and spiritual revolutionary! IMHO, the Magnificat is one of the most powerful pieces of religious poetry ever written. She wasn't just a passive vessel. She knew exactly what she and her son were getting into, and she welcomed it.

    She's an example to all Christians, male or female, Protestant or Catholic.


  • At 11/21/2006 10:45:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    This looks really neat. I haven't had a chance to read the full chapter yet, but it's downloaded and waiting for me. Sounds like a good read for EW book club...

    Mike, I also really like the Magnificat

  • At 11/22/2006 08:46:00 AM, Blogger suz

    Hey. I'm new to your site via RevGalPals.

    Thanks for recommending this book. NT scholar Beverly Roberts Gaventa, (a former prof of mine at PTS) also wrote a book on Mary that came out last year. It's wonderful.

  • At 11/22/2006 03:07:00 PM, Blogger Nancy

    Welcome, suz and thank you for the additional recommendation for reading on Mary.

  • At 11/23/2006 05:21:00 PM, Blogger Past the Wishing

    Magnificat is one of the most powerful pieces of religious poetry ever written. She wasn't just a passive vessel. She knew exactly what she and her son were getting into, and she welcomed it.

    I wanted to explore this comment a little because I'm working/studying with Mary for our Dec. 'Kavura' here in VA Beach.

    Magnificat - powerful, yes. But how original? This peasant girl, very young and not educated would have this come out of her mouth, a psalm that bears uncanning similarity to Sarah's psalm along with some extreme similarities to a few select parts of other psalms? How would this come to be? She wouldn't have had privilege to Hebrew writings. She wouldn't have been in the synagogue to hear them read and then have this memory to build on.

    If I assume it's an utterance under the prompting of the Holy Spirit, why not something original? Okay, of course the H.S. can repeat Herself! Possible, granted.

    Either of these cases leaves me pretty much with her not having originally said it and I can't make the jump, either way, to her knowing/understanding/comprehending the totality of anything lying ahead of her. (Her recorded speech and actions in the subsequent gospel narratives would seem to bare this out.)

    Of course I like the idea of women revolutionaries, but Mary as one of them? I don't see it in. Instead, I am fascinated with the many roles/hats that she was forced to wear in the course of her life and her children's lives.

    Although I love siding with narrative theology, in this case, I just can't seem to shed the critical analysis of the Magnificat and feel it's more likely an insertion into the text, placed in her voice. If so, then I at least find comfort in the fact that Luke put such a powerful psalm in 'her' mouth.

    But ... perhaps it was hers originally and somehow still all remembered some 60+ years later for Luke, a gentile outside the community, to record.


  • At 11/23/2006 06:02:00 PM, Blogger Past the Wishing

    Correction: I meant to say "Hannah's Psalm" (not Sarah's). I had another conversation going at the same time! oops.

    (PS: Currently I don't see that my previous post has appeared yet ... if it doesn't come up before this, this comment will seem really strange!! ha.)

  • At 11/24/2006 01:58:00 PM, Blogger lydia

    NT scholar Beverly Roberts Gaventa, (a former prof of mine at PTS) also wrote a book on Mary that came out last year. It's wonderful.

    What was the name of her book?

  • At 11/24/2006 05:07:00 PM, Blogger Nancy

    I am about to express something I have never said aloud. This thought occurs to me on occasion as I read certain verses in scripture. I have to wonder, when I am reading supposed recorded private moments that have been put into print in the Bible, how various authors presume to know what was thought or said by certain others. In this specific case, who would actually know what Mary said? There is no recorded history by Mary herself. And WHY is that, by the way? Didn't she have something important to tell us about? I mean, there was no film crew there to record her utterance. Reality TV was so far off in the distance. Did she relate this after-the-fact to the NT writer? And how accurate would Mary's memory be 33 + years later? Or does the Holy Spirit kind of narrate events and we just have to accept that Mary thought or said such and such while she was alone in her room or conversing with angels? I'm sincerely wondering this aloud...anyone have any thoughts or explanations they would like to posit?

  • At 11/25/2006 12:12:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

    Most scholars I've read assume that Mary was one of Luke's sources (cf. Luke 1:3) in writing his gospel. In other words, at some point he likely sat down with her and had her tell him her story. How else would he be able to record the birth narrative from her perspective? (assuming we accept them as accurate) And how else could he know a detail like Luke 2:19? - "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."

    Personally I have no problem assuming that the Lukan accounts are accurate, that they are directly recorded from Mary's first hand experiences, and that she really did originate the text of the Magnificat. Even if Hannah's song was an "influence", I don't see how that diminishes her personal hand in creating it. Doesn't every artist have their influences?

    What it tells me is that she understood the history of her people (however she came by that knowledge - perhaps in a backwater like Nazareth the women weren't so completely isolated from the teaching of the Torah as we might assume - in some synagogues wasn't there an outer gallery for women where they could hear the teaching of the Torah but where they couldn't be seen by, and thereby distract, the men?), and she understood her role in this ongoing history as the bearer of the promised Messiah who was to overthrow injustice and establish the upside-down kingdom of God.

    But that's just my perspective.

  • At 11/25/2006 07:28:00 AM, Blogger Nancy

    Thanks, Mike. That is a reasonable explanation for this particular bit of scripture and I appreciate you sharing what you know about it.

  • At 11/26/2006 04:38:00 PM, Blogger Past the Wishing

    Reflecting on Mike's questions and maybe addressing Nancy's wonderings, "How else could Luke record the narrative from Mary's perspective?", I suggest that many biblical stories have been recorded from someone's perspective without personally interviewing them first hand (every biblical story of the entire Pentateuch, for example.) There are many details of a person's feelings (like Lk 2:19) without them having been directly interviewed ... this wouldn't be the first. It was the acceptable form of historical record keeping ... passing down the stories verbally, person to person, generation to generations

    Like all authors, biblical authors had the liberty to write stories in whatever 'person' they chose. Often the choice to write in first person was to give weight/authority to their writing. So, for Luke to have written this birth narrative as he did, without 'interviewing' Mary, is a very reasonable possibility, I submit.

    I have not ever read/heard/studied about an 'outer area' for women in the synagogues ... the temple maybe, in Jerusalem.

    As for her understanding of her role, I think I'm still leaning toward the imaginations that Scot McKnight puts forth for her in his new book: "...a Mary who knew her son was the Son of God, ... a Mary for whome every prophecy and event that happened made sense to her as it happened ... was not the real Mary and it is not the Mary we discover in the Gospels themselves." (pg48) Scot uses verbs like Mary was stunned with Simeon's words, ... Mary struggled with her son's actions and words, ... Mary being ambivalent most of the time ...
    I'm leaning in this direction, too.

    Scot K. suggests continuity between her son, James and the Magnificat. Interesting link ... perhaps Luke interviewed one of Mary's other sons, James, to get his story?

    Hmmmm... :-)

  • At 11/28/2006 08:44:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

    I agree that Mary didn't fully understand her son's nature or role. Who did in Jesus day? (Or ours?) But I don't think a full understanding would be necessary to write something like the Magnificat. It seems to me to express a very common longing among oppressed peoples like the Jews for liberation, for a reversal of existing power structures, for God's justice. The Magnificat is not a fully developed Christology. IMHO, it is simply an expression of Messianic longing and expectation. But, again IMHO, it is thereby no less remarkable or (literally) revolutionary.

  • At 11/28/2006 12:36:00 PM, Blogger suz

    Dr. Gaventa actually has two books out:
    Mary: Glimpses of the Mother of Jesus (1995, Fortress)

    Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary

    Also check out a transcript of PBS's religion and ethics weekly:


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