Chapter 7: Jesus and a Woman of Power

Chapter 7 is about how Jesus valued women’s leadership, and even trained a woman, Mary Magdalene, to be an apostle.

In the New Testament, Mary Magdalene was healed by Jesus, she supported his movement financially, she was one of the last of his followers at the cross, and the first to speak to him after his resurrection.

In the Gnostic text, “The Gospel of Mary,” newly discovered with other such extra-biblical texts in the 19th century, Mary Magdalene appears as a disciple, singled out by Jesus for special teachings.

Karen King, the Gospel of Mary of Magdala

She is portrayed as being in a struggle for leadership of the Jesus movement, especially with Peter, after Jesus’ ascension. Mary Magdalene was venerated by members of the early church, but in the late 6th century CE, she was attacked by the hierarchy.  Pope Gregory identified her, with no evidence from the New Testament, as a prostitute.  This ‘woman of power’ in the Jesus movement was apparently too powerful, and she was sexually shamed by the church.  But women have been “occupying” scripture since the suffrage movement, and their biblical insights help illumine how Jesus’ understanding of power and economic equality includes gender.

These struggles are very relevant today, as this photo, that went viral on the Internet, reveals.

All male panel in House of Representatives on contraception

The sexual shaming of women, like what happened to Mary Magdalene, continues into the 21st century. This can be seen in 2012 with the controversy surrounding radio personality, Rush Limbaugh, and his attacks on Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University student who attempted to testify about women’s need for health care contraceptive coverage.  Women, and their male allies, successfully pushed back at Limbaugh, indicating a new era in how we think about women and power.

The fact that Jesus of Nazareth respected women’s leadership, as shown in his teaching, healing, and friendship with Mary Magdalene, is another way to understand how power for economic and social change needs to be exercised today.


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