March 24th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Media ensure a comfy rise for Bill Shorten

CANBERRA OBSERVED Can Liberals' broad church survive schism?

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Middle-East time bomb: youth unemployment

ENVIRONMENT Europe's freeze further proof of global warming!

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cashless debit card records positive results

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Liberals' Tasmanian victory: the implications

OPINION The height of absurdity: education as business

ECONOMICS AND CHINA Eyes averted from the dragon in the marketplace

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM The state attacking the Church: lessons from history

FAMILY POLITICS A Trojan horse for monitoring children

NORTH AMERICA The cultural and political mosaic that is Canada

CINEMA Mary Magdalene on film: a new interpretation

MUSIC Audio-visual: or, how to watch your music

CINEMA The Adventures of Tintin: A light amid the bleakness

BOOK REVIEW Taking arms against the gender fluid fad

BOOK REVIEW Narrative history from a great writer



INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Sexual exploitation at Oxfam symptom of culture of death

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Mary Magdalene on film: a new interpretation

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, March 24, 2018

As we approach Easter, it is appropriate that a new film on Mary Magdalene should be released, encouraging people to reflect on the person of Mary Magdalene, one of the group of women who accompanied Jesus on his mission, and who was the first eyewitness to Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead.

This film, directed by well-known Australian director Garth Davis, is a beautifully crafted attempt to re-tell the life of Mary Magdalene (played by Rooney Mara), who came from the village of Magdala on the Sea of Galilee.

As the New Testament contains little about her or family life, the film makes a fictional attempt to fill in the gaps.

Although filmed in Italy, the spectacular scenery closely resembles that of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus spent much of his time preaching, and shows stunning views of the beautiful sea surrounded by rocky and arid mountains and wilderness.

For a person who wants to see a film centred on Mary Magdalene, but is not too concerned about the detail, this film is enjoyable. But those who expect historical accuracy will leave with a sense of dissatisfaction.

The New Testament accounts contain 12 references to Mary Magdalene, and she is mentioned by all four evangelists.

The references are significant because they indicate that Mary Magdalene was regarded highly by the evangelists, and therefore was esteemed in the early Church, contrary to the impression that the film intends to inculcate.

The fact that churches, colleges and hospitals have been named in her honour over two thousand years confirms the universal esteem in which she has been held.

Death and Resurrection

The New Testament references relate to Mary Magdalene’s presence, along with Jesus’ mother Mary and other women, at Jesus’ death. Then several women, including Mary Magdalene, went to the tomb on the first Easter Sunday to clean and incense Jesus’ body properly, but found the tomb empty.

However, these references contain other tantalising hints. Matthew tells us, in passing, that the women “followed him and ministered to him” when he was in Galilee, and came with him to Jerusalem, where he was crucified.

Mark’s gospel recounts that Jesus’ first appearance after his Resurrection was to Mary Magdalene, “from whom he had cast out seven demons”. Luke also states that Mary Magdalene has been healed of demonic possession and, separately, tells of another woman, a “public sinner”, who when Jesus was at dinner in the house of Simon the Pharisee, washed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair and covered them with expensive ointment. Beyond that, we know nothing.

From a religious perspective, the film has a number of problems.

While Jesus is portrayed, accurately, as an itinerant rabbi, and his disciples saw him as a secular Messiah who would free Israel from its Roman occupiers, Jesus’ affirmations that he is the Son of God, the “crime” for which he was crucified, is ignored. In fact, the movie suggests that Jesus was arrested and executed because his disciples had incited an insurrection against both the Temple and the Romans in Jerusalem.

The many times that Jesus spoke of his own death and Resurrection are also ignored, as are Jesus’ references to his “Father in Heaven”, from the time when his parents discovered him in the Temple to his last words on the Cross.

In summary, the movie shows Jesus preaching love your neighbour, forgive your enemies, and the kingdom of heaven is within. Jesus’ teaching is reduced to a form of secular wisdom, stripped of its supernatural content. Even his miracles – the few shown in the film – are reduced to the level of natural healing.

Although this interpretation is congenial to the fashionable, rationalist view so widely accepted in the Western world today, it is totally at odds with Christian belief and with the first-century Judaism from which Christianity emerged.

There are other aspects of the movie that are ahistorical.

It shows a number of instances of Jesus baptising in the Sea of Galilee, including a baptism of Mary Magdalene.

The New Testament accounts do not record any instances of Jesus performing baptisms. They do recount John the Baptist performing baptism, which were conducted to cleanse people of their sins. Jesus himself underwent John’s baptism.

After his Resurrection, Jesus commanded his disciples to go out to the entire world, baptising in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The baptism that Jesus enjoined on his followers was always understood to involve both forgiveness of sins and initiation into the Christian faith.

The final scenes in which Mary Magdalene preaches the “true” interpretation of Jesus’ teaching to the apostles, and corrects Peter, repeats claims made in the heretical fifth-century Gnostic Gospel of Mary Magdalene.

Despite this, the film will have served a good purpose if it encourages us to think about and discuss Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene is on limited release around Australia from March 22, 2018.

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