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Strange Heaven: The Virgin Mary As Woman, Mother, Disciple And Advocate Hardcover – September 1, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Pious devotions to Mary the mother of Jesus, once derided as superstitious by non-Catholic Christians, are reconsidered by award-winning Protestant author Sweeney (Born Again and Again). Drawing upon excellent scholarship, Christian history and spiritual traditions, Sweeney recounts how a humble Palestinian teenage girl came to be revered by many Christians as the "mother of God." While there is a dearth of historical facts about Mary, it matters not to the Christian imagination, for "It is her myth that draws us: her power to fascinate us intellectually is only surpassed by her ability to inspire devotion." Sweeney is clear that Mary's significance transcends even her role as the mother of Jesus. Mary's virginity influenced the development of Christian sexual ethics, she is praised in the Islamic Qur'an and some would say that her role in redeeming humanity is equal to her son's. Sweeney is very evenhanded when addressing some of the more controversial Catholic beliefs about Mary—his prose comes across as earnest and respectful, while remaining informed and unafraid of critique. This book may not convince Protestants that Mary deserves the privileged place that the Catholic Church gives to her, but it is a fascinating and well-researched exploration of a powerful female archetypal figure. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Protestant religious writer Sweeney (Born Again and Again, 2005) respectfully analyzes the woman and the myth in this well-rounded tribute to the Virgin Mary. Examining Mary's profound effect upon religion, art, literature, and social and sexual mores during the past 20 centuries, he ponders Mary's role in the Bible, her central position in Catholicism, and the influence she has wrought on society and other religious cultures. Chock-full of legends, lore, factual information, and fascinating tidbits, this treasure trove of all things Mary also addresses the fact that "her power to fascinate us intellectually is only surpassed by her ability to inspire devotion." With the subject of myth and symbolism in the church a la The Da Vinci Code still a hot topic, this digestible contribution to Marian scholarship should appeal to a broad readership. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Leaving aside these major omissions, the book has several sins of commission.
. On page 14 McSweeney claims that referring to Jesus as "son of Mary, implying that there was no real father." Wrong! In 1st Century Israel, the use of the term "son of Mary" meant that Jesus was a bastard and the phrase had nothing to do with the assumption there was no "real" father and hence a divine father.
. On page 59 he says that Paul "...is speaking of the teachings of Christ..." The fact is that Paul almost never talked about the teachings of Jesus. Paul had his own theory of religion which had very little to do with the historical Jesus, but rather revolved around the belief in Jesus, with little reference to Jesus' life or his teachings. What was essential to Paul was his death and resurrection, not his teachings.
. In talking about the apocryphal texts (p. 64) McSweeney claims that some of their stories "are downright frightening." I think most scholars would refer to them as downright silly, rather than frightening.
In any event, as an historical book McSweeney's text has much to be desired. But that's not the whole story, which is why this is a "strange book." McSweeney does cover a lot of historical material about Mary, most of it from the middle ages, and he covers it well. This is an excellent place to find material which is not easily available elsewhere.
So if you approach this book as a collection of resources on the life of Mary in literature and art, you will be rewarded with a great little book. On the other hand, if you are looking for information about Mary and what her life was actually like, you need to look elsewhere.