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Mary Magdalene: A Biography Paperback – November 21, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With the popularity of The Da Vinci Code, Mary Magdalene has become the "it girl" of biblical studies. Bard professor of religion Chilton (Rabbi Jesus; Rabbi Paul) adds another volume to the already groaning shelves of books on the enigmatic woman. As Chilton admits, the gospels contain very little explicit information about her, but he uses what fragments are there to imaginatively reconstruct her life and world. Mary's hometown, Magdala, was a wealthy Roman outpost, but contrary to legend, there is no indication that she was affluent. In fact, as Chilton points out, she came to Jesus in the garb of the poor; she was likely demon-possessed; and she was an outcast from her community. Drawing from the gospels (especially Luke 8), Gnostic writings and later Christian legends, Chilton shows the ways in which the Christian traditions have maligned Mary. Far from being simply the prostitute of legend, Chilton argues, Mary of Magdala offers us the spiritual gifts of dissolving evil (exorcism), providing unguents for sickness and sin (anointing) and understanding the truth of Resurrection (vision). While Chilton's rather stilted book is mostly speculative and offers little new information, it offers a satisfactory survey of attitudes toward Mary from the Middle Ages to today. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

The success of The Da Vinci Code (2003) has focused renewed attention on Mary Magdalene. Chilton, a writer experienced in biblical history, is among the latest to focus on the woman called "the apostle to the apostles." Chilton, who has previously written about Rabbi Jesus (2000) and Rabbi Paul (2004), says his goal is to use the texts but to get behind them. In Chilton's book on Paul, his own writings could be used as source material, but here Chilton has less to go on, forcing him to rely on speculation, sometimes almost ridiculously so. In reference to Mary's anointing of Jesus with her hair, for example, he writes, "Given the elegant gesture with her hair, it is more likely she pursued the proscribed profession of a hairdresser." Still, he does a good job of explaining Mary Magdalene's role in the male hierarchy and the symbol she has become in her own right.

Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Image; Reprint edition (November 21, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385513186
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385513180
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,126,705 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Stephen L. Smith on December 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I found this book a fascinating read. Chilton has taken limited information about Mary Magdalene from gospel, gnostic, and other sources and drawn some educated conclusions about her as a person, her relationship with Jesus, her centrality in his movement, and her significance in the development of the Christian faith through the centuries. He has also posed an interesting theory about the legends about her and her supposed marginalization in the growth of the faith and church. Childton admits, more than once, that much of what he says cannot be proved decisively, yet he uses the little information available, along with his understanding of culture and history, to present a compelling portrait of Mary Magdalene, her relationship to Jesus, and her influence on the development of the Christian movement. Whether this portrait is on target or not, it is certainly interesting and plausible enough to bring some human spice into our reflection on the faith and its beloved Jesus. After all, we interpret history all the time using the information available, and that's what Chilton has done here in interesting fashion. I find it helpful to reflect on the human possibilities about Jesus, his movement, and those who first loved and followed him. It's fuel for the imagination and brings excitement to the faith, at least it does for me. As for me, such reflection helps me love all the more the one I call Christ, and gives me a new and inspired appreciation for the woman named Mary from Magdala.
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24 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Smallchief on December 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Chilton is a recognized authority on early Christianity and his biography of the romantic figure of Mary Magdalene is clearly and concisely written. His earlier book "Rabbi Jesus" was enlightening, so he has some credibility with me. That being said I wasn't overwhelmed by the quality of his scholarship in this book.

I'm no biblical scholar and I haven't read a great deal on Mary Magdalene so I can't pretend to evaluate this book competently, but my impression is that the author makes up for a paucity of authentic material with an active imagination. Chilton perceives Mary Magdalene as one of Jesus' most important apostles. With little real evidence, for example, the author asserts that Mary Magdalene was Jesus's assistant and expert on the practice of exorcising demons. So, it may be. He accounts for the fact that she receives only scant mention in the Bible -- when Jesus cast our her demons and when she, with other women, discovered his empty tomb -- by male chauvinism on the part of the writers of the Gospels. Again, so it may be -- but it also seems possible that Mary Magdalene is not prominent in the Bible for the valid reason that she was not one of the most prominent of the apostles of Jesus. It seems impossible to me to know which scenario may be true.

It was inevitable, I suppose, that myth-makers would speculate about Jesus's love life and given the alliterative quality of Mary Magdalene's name seize on her -- from among several women mentioned in the Bible -- as his consort, lover, and perhaps his wife.
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39 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Giftgiver on November 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The first reviewer really does sum up this book. This the usual very thorough scholarly and very unenlightening look at Mary Magdalene...no new questions asked, no myths consulted, no real ideas entertained. Why did he bother? With the wealth of the gnostic codices now before us, Mr. Chilton still talks about demons in the Magdalene? He still talks about demons at all? He airily assumes that Mary is from the city of Magdala when quite a few of his fellow scholars question whether the town that exported salted fish was actually called Magdala at the time of Mary? He pays no attention to the ancient documentation that calls her a "priest." He assumes it was she who annointed Jesus with her hair? The book is tiresome. It could have been written fifty years ago. For all I know, it was. Bruce just dragged it out now to catch a little star dust.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By C. B. Park on August 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Chilton provides an excellent review of the church's response to the faith of Mary Magdalene. I appreciated his commentary on gnostic thought and, as always, his scholarship is impeccible. This book doesn't read as easily as did his almost-novelesque Rabbi Jesus. Chilton takes much more liberty in drawing conclusions about the Magdalen than the research should allow. Still, the book is well written and provides plenty of food for thought. If your church book club read the DaVinci Code, they should follow it up with Mary Magdalen: A Biography.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful By amanuensis on March 24, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This text was a major disappointment to read. The author uses so many "mights", "coulds", "maybes" and "perhapses" that it seems like a text in speculative biography. Maybe she did this. Perhaps she did that. This could have happened. It might have been the case...

He claims that Jesus was not able to read or write, though most scholars give him some capacity for that. Frustratingly, he offers no reason for his statement. Also, he states that since Mary was possessed by seven demons it took Jesus at least a year to exorcise them all. Sadly I got so frustrated with his writing that I didn't even finish reading it. But my margins are riddled with question marks and exclamation points at parts where I was befuddled or frustrated.
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