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Love and kisses

04 March 2016

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IT IS not exactly the way we were taught it at Sunday school: the disciples, Professor Joan Taylor said, had a “touchy-feely, kissy” relationship. Thus Jesus is betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane by a kiss; and it explains why there is so much canoodling going on in the Gnostic Gospels. Pace Dan Brown, there was nothing in it but natural affection.

Come to think of it, there was not much “pace” to Brown in In Our Time (Radio 4, Thursday of last week), which looked at the life and afterlives of St Mary Magdalene. Professor Eamon Duffy said what needed to be said on the theory of Mary’s siring of the Merovingian dynasty, and thus, by extension, the whole French nation: “There’s a five-letter word for that.”

Indeed, he is no big fan of the Gnostic Gospels, regarding them as lacking any kind of historical texture, and presenting Jesus as a kind of spaceman. Yet the portrayal of Mary Magdalene in the Gospels, and in later legend, tells us much about the ambitions of those institutions that promoted her.

The art historian Dr Joanne Anderson told the story of her usurpation at Vézelay of the saints originally established to patronise this important pilgrimage site. Pope Gregory the Great was a big fan of Mary Magdalene: from him comes the convention of identifying her with Mary of Bethany, and the Mary who washed Jesus’s feet.

In short, if you want to brush up on the subject, then Bragg and his guests can be relied on to give you enough to see you through your average PCC Trivial Pursuit evening.

Stories of the travails of Christians in the Middle East have become depressingly familiar over the past few years, but the World Service’s programme Assignment (Thursday of last week) added Thailand to the list of countries to which Christians in the West should pay heed. In Chris Rogers’s report we learnt that there were currently thousands of Christian refugees from Pakistan living in Thailand in appalling conditions and with little hope of resettlement.

Unlike most of Pakistan’s near neighbours, Thailand requires only a tourist visa for entry; it therefore becomes the obvious choice for the persecuted minority. And yet Thailand does not subscribe to the UN’s directive on treatment of refugees: many of them are thus treated as criminals, and detained.

The UNHCR appears helpless in the face of a growing health and sanitation problem in the refugee ghettoes, while, for the Thai authorities, it is the familiar excuse of there being too many for their meagre resources; and, besides, some of them are not real refugees. Judging by Rogers’s report, which included a chilling secret recording from a detention centre, this is turning into a story that cannot be ignored for much longer.

One also wonders how long the work of the author and translator Kader Abdolah will avoid the attention of the mainstream media. After all, it would seem an act of egregious courage to append to your translation of the Qur’an an additional chapter. But, as he demonstrated on Free Thinking (Radio 3, Tuesday of last week), Abdolah has no qualms. “I am a novelist,” he declares. And, if the Qur’an is the work of Allah, then so, also, is Allah.

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