My Appearance on
Something About Mary Magdalene
on THE HISTORY CHANNEL
by Ramon K. Jusino, M.A.
My internet article entitled Mary Magdalene: Author of the Fourth Gospel? was featured in a documentary entitled Something About Mary Magdalene. This documentary premiered on The History Channel on April 5, 2007 here in the United States. It was also broadcast in Canada, parts of Europe, and Australia. My thesis was featured very prominently in this documentary.
The featured speaker was Esther de Boer. She is the author of several scholarly books and articles about Mary Magdalene. She concurs with most of my thesis and, in fact, incorporated some of my ideas into her Ph.D. dissertation which was subsequently published as her book The Gospel of Mary: Listening to the Beloved Disciple. She is an ordained minister of the Dutch Reformed Church in Holland.
In the documentary, she tells about how she "had a lot of questions" about the identity of the anonymous Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John prior to reading my essay. She then goes on to relate how she felt encouraged to look further into my thesis after having come across it.
[NOTE: Esther de Boer is from Holland and English is not her primary language.]
But in 2000, Esther discovered a lone voice on the Internet that encouraged her questions about the identity of the Beloved Disciple.
ESTHER DE BOER:
I remember it very good. I was already gone to bed. And my husband came with a bunch of papers and he said, "Well, I've printed it from the Internet. It might interest you."
It was an essay written in 1998 by Ramon Jusino, a Catholic high school teacher with graduate training in Biblical Studies.
ESTHER DE BOER:
When I read his article I thought, "Wow! If he has the guts to put it like this, I will have the guts to explore it further."
I am very grateful to Esther for taking the time to look at my work. The fact that she concurs with most of it means a lot.
There are very few people who know as much as she does about Mary Magdalene and her role in the Bible as well as the documents of Nag Hammadi.
They also interviewed a scholar who raised some objections to my thesis.
Dr. Giulio Silano, Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. He is also very knowledgeable and well respected. His perspective is more traditional.
He is very good at making the case for more traditional interpretations of the Bible and history.
Dr. Silano seems to believe that my thesis, and other opinions like mine, cannot be relied upon because, as he puts it, these opinions begin with “agendas.”
It’s the kind of history that seems to begin with agendas in the now. And then looks back in order to justify the conclusions one wants to reach in the now.
I would suggest, however, that historical accounts are never just the telling of facts. The telling of history always involves the interpretation of those facts as well. First there are the objective facts – names, dates, places…etc. Then there is the interpretation of those facts. Who are the heroes? Who are the villains? Which people are significant? Which people are irrelevant? The answers to these questions are all opinions. They are not matters of fact.
For example, it is a fact that on October 12, 1492 an expedition at sea led by Christopher Columbus landed on the American continent. It is the opinion of many that Columbus was a hero. But that is not an objective fact. It may be an opinion with which most people agree. It may be the correct opinion. But it is an opinion, an interpretation nonetheless. The indigenous people of America and many of their descendants might disagree. It is also an interpretation to say that Columbus discovered America. This is an interpretation that does not work from the Native American perspective. One can dismiss these varying interpretations of Columbus as “revisionism” only if one has decided that the perspective of the Native Americans does not matter and, therefore, should be derided and dismissed.
The same can be said for just about any historical storytelling. Think of all the people you learned about in history classes. You were told who were the heroes and good guys. You were told who to despise as villains or evil. And, granted, in most cases the interpretation of who is good and who is evil in traditional historical interpretations is something we all can or should agree on.
My point is that all historical storytelling begins with an agenda. The agenda is always to get the listener of the stories to adopt the worldview of the storyteller. The storyteller is trying to get the listener to see the people whom the storyteller regards as good – as good. And the people whom the storyteller regards as evil – as evil. And the agenda always involves resisting interpretations of history that conflict with the worldview of the storyteller.
In fact, even the New Testament Gospels were written with an agenda in mind. The Gospel of John 20:31 says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” Now this is an agenda that I happen to believe in. And I know that Dr. Silano believes in this as well. But it is an agenda. The Gospel was written to persuade its readers, not just inform them.
Dr. Silano speaks, in this documentary, as if he believes his interpretations of history to be agenda-free. Those that disagree with him have agendas that should be disregarded.
I would respectfully submit that there is no such thing as agenda-free history. Everyone who teaches history promotes their own perspective, that is, their worldview or agenda.
Ultimately, the truth may be reached by sifting through all of the credible evidence presented. The evidence should stand or fall on its own merits regardless of the worldview or agenda of the presenter of the evidence.
While 100% objectivity is impossible. Students and teachers of history should make every attempt to weigh the facts as objectively and impartially as they can.
The documentary went on to describe the part of my thesis where the Beloved Disciple and Mary Magdalene were made to appear as though they were two separate individuals at the Crucifixion and the Tomb on Sunday morning. I say that, in reality, they were one and the same. (For more details on this, please read the essay.) They did this to preserve the anonymity of Mary Magdalene as the Beloved Disciple. Dr. Silano commented on this part of my thesis as follows --
To make unwarranted assumptions about the bad faith, about the lying nature of a whole bunch of people whom I happen to regard as smart and holy and willing to pay with their lives for the truth of what they assert I, you know, more than hesitate to say, “Oh sure, yeah, that’s convincing.”
Silano appears defensive here because he assumed that I was imputing bad faith or ill intent on the part of the Gospel editors. I was not. But notice that his main reason for disagreeing with me is that he thought I was attacking the integrity of “people whom I happen to regard as smart and holy…” In other words, he was defending his own agenda even though he probably does not believe that he has one. He thought I was portraying his heroes as villains, so he jumped to their defense.
Actually, I’m not sure if Dr. Silano had read my thesis or was just responding to a synopsis of it given to him by the interviewers.
My thesis makes it clear that I am not calling the Gospel writers or editors liars. As a Catholic, I too believe that the Sacred Scriptures are inspired by God and credible.
I simply maintain that the final Gospel editors were most likely men who wished to play down the leadership role of Mary Magdalene because they felt that
full disclosure of her role in those days would hinder the spread of the Gospel message in their patriarchal world.
Did St. Paul lie when he told the Christians in Corinth that Peter (a.k.a. Cephas) was the first to witness the Risen Christ? (see 1 Corinthians 15:5). He listed Peter as first on
his list of witnesses -- a list that only recognized male witnesses. Paul conveniently left Mary Magdalene off of his list even though
all four of the New Testament Gospels specifically name Mary Magdalene as the primary witness to the Resurrection of Jesus.
Paul either chose to conceal Mary Magdalene's role as the first witness to the Resurrection of Jesus or he did not know about it himself.
Either way, by 56 A.D. or so, when Paul wrote his epistle to the church in Corinth, we see evidence of Paul being part of a trend to minimize the role of Mary Magdalene and the other women as the first proclaimers of the Risen Christ.
Esther de Boer, on the other hand, is a woman who is an ordained minister. She knows that, even today, she has a ministry that is seen by many as belonging to men only. She has a different take on the motives of the Gospel editors for obscuring the role of Mary Magdalene as the Beloved Disciple.
But, perhaps, the revisions to John’s Gospel weren’t a question of bad faith.
ESTHER DE BOER:
In my opinion it’s also possible that the very first authors of the Gospel of John decided to keep Mary Magdalene anonymous. Not to downplay her role, but to give their Gospel a chance to get heard. Like I myself in the early days of my ministry used to sign my letters as Rev. de Boer not saying Mrs. Rev. de Boer [because] I wasn’t sure I would be taken seriously.
Her own experience, from which her perspective flows, leads her to conclude that the minimization of Mary Magdalene by the Gospel editors has a ring of truth to it.
Dr. Silano responds here to what he believes is the fallacy of relying on any of the Nag Hammadi texts for research into the history of the Bible.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John we all now seem to agree all over again are pretty much all written within 50 years of the events they describe. The Gnostic Gospels might be written as late as the 4th or 5th century, 400 years or more after the events they describe. What historian, you know, with a healthy mind would want to ever argue that documents that are produced by people that might very well have been eyewitnesses, and documents written by people with an agenda 400 years later, should be read side-by-side as being possibly of equal value?
Again, Dr. Silano uses the agenda argument. It is true that many of the Gnostic gospels “might be written as late as the 4th or 5th century.” But the dates for some of them, including the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Philip are believed by many scholars to have been written as early as the mid 2nd century. Also, these Nag Hammadi documents are all Coptic translations of earlier documents that were written in Greek. And, most importantly, the earliest Greek documents probably reflected beliefs within certain Christian communities that precede the written texts by some time.
I do not consider the Nag Hammadi texts to be of equal value with Sacred Scripture. I’m simply saying that the mere existence of some of these documents proves that there were Christians in the earliest centuries of Church history who did believe Mary Magdalene to be the Beloved Disciple of Jesus. This does not necessarily contradict the Gospel of John because the Gospel of John, in fact, goes out of its way to maintain the anonymity of the Beloved Disciple within its text. The anonymity and certain inconsistencies within the Gospel of John, when brought together with some of these Nag Hammadi texts, raise questions about whether the Beloved Disciple of which they both speak are really the same individual.
In all, I felt that the documentary was very well done. They covered a lot of ground. They summarized my thesis about as well as can be expected with the time allotted in this kind of documentary.
I am also grateful for having had the opportunity to participate in this televised discussion with Dr. Esther de Boer, Dr. Giulio Silano, and everyone else who appeared on the program.
Posted on April 8, 2007