Cadbury Lectures | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Cadbury Lectures

The Cadbury lectures are off to a flying start this year! Every year, esteemed academics in the field of Theology and Religion come to the University of Birmingham to give lectures...

The Cadbury lectures are off to a flying start this year! Every year, esteemed academics in the field of Theology and Religion come to the University of Birmingham to give lectures on these topics, and on Tuesday 29th January 2013, Mark Goodacre gave his lecture, ‘Myths of Mary and the married Jesus: how popular culture is affecting scholarship’ to an enthusiastic crowd. Both funny and incredibly informative, he held everyone’s attention and taught even the most learned of listeners a thing or two.

His lecture raised some interesting points about how the woman commonly known as Mary Magdalene has been transformed into a wife, the carrier of a blood-line, a prostitute, a writer of secret Gospels, and many other things besides. Most of these arguments he managed to unravel in his hour-long lecture, and it left me wondering how, and, more importantly, why these myths have emerged. What is it about her role in the story of Jesus that made people so threatened that they had to call her a prostitute, despite a lack in any Biblical evidence for her being so? Why, when the modern versions of the Bible are built, to some degree, on shaky translations, are some people so certain in asserting that she was definitely his wife?

There are, of course, a plethora of ‘secret’ or ‘lost’ Gospels that are claimed by some to hold all the answers about the relationship between Mary and Jesus, including one brought to media attention last September by Professor Karen King. However, very few of these ‘secret’, recently discovered scrolls have been found to be genuine artifacts from the time of Jesus’ life – some have glaring inaccuracies that can place them in a much more modern context – so can we base our entire attitude towards this woman based on texts that are less than historically sound?

Professor Goodacre – a Brit now working in Duke University, North Carolina – analysed a wide range of cultural adaptations of Mary, from scholarly certainties from Jesus Christ Superstar. There are such varied versions of her character, it is a wonder that the general consensus has arrived at one of the most unlikely conclusions, i.e., that she was without doubt a prostitute. The whole wife-of-Jesus argument seems to have been almost unanimously disregarded after Tom Hanks told Audrey Tautou that she was Jesus’ long-long-long-long-very-long-lost grand-daughter, and yet people are still certain that Mary charged by the hour. Nothing in the Bible says that she was. Indeed, it seems very likely that a number of women mentioned in the Gospels seem to have merged in the public psyche to become the woman we know as Mary Magdalene. The exploits of other women have been attributed to Ms Magdalene, if that WAS her real name, (highly unlikely, if I may say so…), and she has been blamed for all the actions of the women-who-sin featured in the various Gospel accounts. It’s all there in the book itself – how is it that devout followers of said text have come to misinterpret her character so drastically?

The lecture was delivered with humour and panache, and this article is certainly a testament to the lasting effect it has had on this listener. The other lectures are sure to be just as thought-provoking, so I would encourage anyone with even the slightest interest in Theology and Religion to go along to any of the up-coming talks.


20th February 2013 at 11:09 am