“One Woman with Many Faces”: Imaginings of Mary Magdalen in Medieval and Contemporary Texts
Elizabeth C. Harmer
McMaster University: Master of Arts,Open Access Dissertations and Theses, Paper 4678 (2005)
In recent years, an interest in religious (especially Christian) discourses has resurged, as evidenced by the popularity of the conservative Catholic film, The Passion of the Christ (2004) and Dan Brown’s Church-conspiracy thriller The Da Vinci Code (2003). My thesis explores the character of Mary Magdalen within such texts, comparing her contemporary imaginings with the imaginings of late medieval English texts. This comparison emphasizes the similarities between each archive–both eras are intent upon adding to the content and meaning of Mary’s story-and their differences in purpose-medieval texts are largely devotional, contemporary ones much more iconoclastic. I examine such disparate texts as The Golden Legend, a late-medieval play called Mary Magdalen, films Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Jesus (1999) and The Passion of the Christ, thriller The Da Vinci Code and Nino Ricci’s novelization Testament (2003).
Each text depicts Mary with a different role, and she often plays more. than one role in the same text.The narrative impulse is so similar in both archives that I believe it is not possible to read the medieval archive as a less progressive version of the contemporary one-neither is immune to misogyny, neither is entirely misogynist. The constant reinterpretation of Mary Magdalen engenders a hybridity in her characterization; using Bakhtin’s concept dialogism and some mythographic theory, I argue that the paradoxality and plurality of these reimaginings allow her to become a central part of the unfixing ofmeaning in the gospels. Using feminist theology I argue that Mary’s marginality makes her an ideal site for such imaginings.