A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Mary Magdalen (e)
Tuesday, June 19, 2007

He suspects the woman is a prostitute, not because he is particularly good at guessing people's professions at first glance, besides, not that long ago he himself would have been identified as a shepherd by the smell of goat, yet now everyone would say, He's a fisherman, for he lost one smell only to replace it with another. The woman reeks of perfume, but Jesus, who may be innocent, has learned certain facts of life by watching the mating of goats and rams, he also has enough common sense to know that just because a woman uses perfume, it does not necessarily mean she is a whore.

The Gospel According to Jesus Christ
José Saramago translated from the Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero


Much has been written lately about Mary Magdalene. If that name has an e or not is one of the matters in dispute between the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, where the colleges dedicated to her bear the rival spellings. To my granddaughter Mary Magdalene is very real. But this Mary Magdalene is many Mary Magdalenes. She is Rembrandt's The Woman Taken in Adultery and John the Evangelist's unamed woman of Verse 7:53-8:11 where he relates Jesus having a confrontation with scribes and pharisees over whether a woman accused of adultery should be stoned.

Traditionally Mary Magdalene has also been the Mary of Bethany who annoints Jesus's feet with oil using her hair and the first person to see Jesus after the crucifixion. It's all a muddle if you consider that we cannot prove that John the Apostle is John the Evangelist! But from my New American Bible (with Rembrandt's paintings and sketches illustrating it) I quote one of the most fascinating passages. I first learned about them from Brother Edwin Reggio CSC in the late 50s in Austin Texas. The passages (when Jesus saves the adultress from stoning) describe the only two occasions when we learn that Jesus perhaps knew how to write.

Jesus bent down and started tracing on the ground with his finger. When they persisted in their questioning he straightened up and said to them, "Let the man among you who has no sin be the first to cast a stone at her." A second time he bent down and wrote on the ground. Then the audience drifted away one by one, beginning with the elders. They left him alone with the woman, who continued to stand there before him. Jesus finally straightened up and said to her, "Woman where did they all disappear to? Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir," she answered. Jesus said, "Nor do I condemn you. You may go. But from now on avoid sin."

Magdalene is real to Rebecca since we saw the extremely large painting inside the church of San Cayetano in Guanajuato, Guanajuato, Mexico two years ago. She was so taken by the 19th century painting that featured a blonde (just like Rembrandt's) Mary Magdalene facing Jesus and with a prominently large stone at her feet. What was about to happen was graphically ominous. We had to return twice to see the painting. Back in Vancouver I bought Rebecca the English Rose, Rosa 'Mary Magdalene' seen above.

All this brings to mind one of the most exquisitely written novels on the subject, José Saramago's The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. I have the novel in Spanish, El Evangelio Según Jesucristo (1991) but I dared not translate some of he passages from the chapter where an 18 year-old Jesus spends 8 days with Mary Magdalene in fear of not doing justice to Saramago. After all Giovanni Pontiero (from Manchester!) was (alas he died) one of the most lucid translators of Saramago into English. So this morning I went to the Vancouver Public Library to get a copy in English.

After they had eaten, Mary helped Jesus into his sandals and told him, You must leave if you're to reach Nazareth before nightfall. Farewell, said Jesus, and taking up his pack and staff, he went out into the yard. The sky was covered with clouds as if lined with unwashed wool, the Lord must not be finding it easy today to keep an eye on His sheep from on high. Jesus and Mary Madgalene embraced a long time before exchanging a farewell kiss, which did not take long at all, and little wonder, for kissing was not the custom then.

The Gospel According to Jesus Christ
José Saramago translated from the Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero


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Bill, Bob, Mike & Jack & The Boys From St George

William Gibson - Pater Familias

Armand Jean du Plessis

Bars, Drinking, My Father & Les Wiseman Remembers ...

L.M. Gottschalk & The Dutch Tilt

A Study In Red (& Purple)

Ian Davidson's Yves Klein

Jennifer Froese's & My Mother's Red Rebozo

On Being A Texan

Dr. Kevin Vaughn's Concord Grapes

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