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Women of the Gospels: Meeting the women who followed Jesus

27 February 2007

Book title: Women of the Gospels: Meeting the women who followed Jesus
Author: Mary Ellen Ashcroft

Publisher: Bible Reading Fellowship
Church Times Bookshop £6.30

“I DON’T know how to love him” are words made familiar by the Webber and Rice song in which Mary Magdalene expresses her inability to understand and cope with Jesus. Mary Ellen Ashcroft’s emphasis is rather different, in this book first published in 1997 in the USA as The Magdalene Gospel. The scene is Holy Saturday, and the women followers of Jesus are gathered, in shock and solidarity, to comfort each other and share their stories. It is Mary of Magdala, in the intensity of her grief, who seems closest to understanding what has happened, piecing together the experiences of the others, and purposefully setting off for the tomb with spices and ointment. Walter Hollenweger and Gerd Theissen are the proven practition-ers in this kind of narrative theology, which retells the Bible stories with fresh angles and insight. Ashcroft’s agenda is specifically to reclaim the Bible for women, and raise the public profile of these women for their lessons in spirituality. She does this not by academic argument, but by using stories (mostly faithful to their sources) as vehicles for her message of hope, focused in the Magnificat. So we have the stories of Lydia (the woman with the haemorrhage), Rhoda (the woman bent double), Mary Magdalene, Salome (the mother of James and John), Mary and Martha of Bethany, and Mary the mother of Jesus. An examiner might ask candidates whether they are just retelling the Bible story, or are advancing it to a fresh level of understanding. From the point of view of theological scholarship I have some misgivings here, which are not about gender; but, as a different kind of spiritual study for Lent or Holy Week, I would recommend it, not least for its emotional intensity. Dr Court is a former Senior Lecturer in Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Kent.

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