What If Women Had Written the Gospels?
What IF women had written the Gospels? A loaded question, right? Well, maybe not.....read on.
Obviously it would have been extremely unlikely for the Gospels to have been written by women. It would have violated all social and religious norms of first century Judaism. Women were not generally given the opportunity to be schooled and were considered unworthy to even study religious manuscripts, much less author them. In fact, the Talmud (a collection of ancient Jewish writings) suggests "Let the Torah (the founding religious document of Judaism) rather be destroyed by fire than imparted to woman." Women learned about the sacred through their fathers, their husbands and the rabbis.
The inspired gospel accounts, authored by men, have of necessity been expressed and conveyed in male imagery. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the masculine view, but the feminine perspective sometimes remains unspoken.
Several years ago, I emerged from a restrictive religious environment. I had been immersed in this closed community from age seven to age fifty. Strange as it may seem, I had never read any books, written by men or women, on spiritual topics other than what had been published by my former denomination. "Outside" reading was highly discouraged.
Once freed from these limitations, I felt somewhat lost and was eager to hear what other women had to say about their own spiritual journey. We, as women, receive courage from hearing each other's stories, told with openness, in the language of our own hearts. It gives value to our feminine nature because we sometimes find it difficult to believe our unique views as women are worthwhile. I found myself pleasantly overwhelmed with the volumes of material out there by Christian female authors. One book title in particular intrigued me--The Magdalene Gospel with the subtitle "What If Women Had Written the Gospels" by Mary Ellen Ashcroft. It was one of the first books I read.
The Magdalene Gospel is an imaginative retelling of some of the gospel narratives that refer to Jesus' female followers. It provides feminine insight to the Gospels and offered me a new way to see Jesus. It gives voice to the group simply referred to as "the women" who were so close to Christ during his ministry.
In the time frame of the book, Mary Magdalene and "the women" are together scant hours after the death of their beloved friend and teacher. Envisioning myself sitting silently in the shadows of their candlelit room, I listened as they, stricken with grief, each tearfully shared cherished memories of their experiences with Jesus. They had just witnessed the horrors of the crucifixion and the premature death of their champion. They didn't fully understand that he would be raised up, so the loss of their master was suffocating. These women, through the heartfelt telling of their individual stories, introduced Jesus to me in a personal and touching way.
The inspired words of the gospel writers remain the same, but in this book, these words are filtered through the eyes and the hearts of "the women" Jesus befriended. They had been healed, comforted, lifted up and valued by Jesus in an oppressive society where women were viewed as second-class citizens. Their lives were overturned by his gentle and tender treatment of them. And they responded with emotion and devotion to their master. And so did I. These ladies opened the door for me to begin to view Jesus in a deeper, more relational context. I was motivated to launch my own personal in-depth and ongoing study of "the women" in the Gospel accounts.
The stories in this blog emerged from reading between the lines and going behind the scenes. Each one is based on the Gospel accounts, historical and cultural realities as well as the probable feminine reaction to individual situations. But most importantly, Jesus' extraordinary unconditional love and compassion is clear for all to see, uniquely expressed within the framework of a woman's needs.
No, women couldn't have written the Gospels. That was not possible in the first century. But women were a vital and influential part of the gospel stories. Their voices can be heard today.
(C) Joyce Catherwood 2010