Magnificat Xmas: Mary the Mother of James 2.0

Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed highlights the vocabulary of deliverance in the Magnificat. As McKnight mentions in his book (see my previous post), Mary’s son sings a harmonic note of his own in his letter to the exiled twelve tribes:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress . . . to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.* (James 1:27 NIV [modified])

*Note also my earlier post about the inclusion of “and” in the ellipsis above.

Blessed Valorous Mary, Mother of James

Mary visits Elizabeth, by Hanna-Cheriyan VargheseWe recently received Scot McKnight’s book, The Real Mary, at the library where I work. Since I work there, I got first dibs on the book. It’s a good read – meaty enough for a good mental chew and cooked enough to get rid of the academic gristle.

Now, I’ve posted before about McKnight’s mashup of Mary’s Magnificat and James’ letter. (See my comments regarding his post.) So, I am pleased that he addresses the connection a bit more fully in his book. He encourages his readers:

Sometime read the Magnificat quickly and then read the letter of James quickly. You’ll notice at least the following similarities, and if we want to know about the real Mary and the real James, it is worth our time to ask if some of this is a family connection. Surely one sees such potential influence of Mary in James’ blessing of the poor and then his stiff warnings for the rich and his call to care for widows, as well as in his emphasis on mercy, faith, humility, peace, and wisdom. But, when in James’ letter he quotes Proverbs 3:34 in his fourth chapter, saying “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble and oppressed,” and when he goes on to say, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up,” he’s reintroducing pure Magnificat. This is probably the message he heard at home his entire life. (McKnight 2007, 104-105 [hyperlinks added])

Given the affinities between Mary’s song and James’ letter, I decided to prepare my Sunday school lesson on the Magnificat as a subversive declaration of God’s victory over the powers of this world. I actually picked up McKnight’s book specifically to prepare for the lesson, and I was not disappointed. He states:

…by reading the Magnificat in context, we can imagine Mary to be wiry and spirited and resolved and bold and gutsy. Maybe we should call her the Blessed Valorous Mary instead of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (McKnight 2007, 19)

Indeed! It is a fun exercise to imagine young James on the floor playing with his big brother while Mary quietly sings to herself this gutsy song of victory. James and Jesus overheard this bold tune that resounded with the same notes of Miriam’s song at the Red Sea and Deborah’s song after the defeat of Sisera. Perhaps the tune informed James’ eschatology. In this great reversal, the proud would one day be dispersed, taking the low place of the once dispersed twelve tribes. For James the cosmic revolution promised in the song was initiated by the birth, death and resurrection the Lord of Glory, while the righteous and wise are to wait patiently and prayerfully for its consummation.

Who knew that James’ Epistle (when paired with Mary’s Magnificat) could be an appropriate Christmas text?

May we heartily celebrate the birth of James’ older brother – who was humbly born as a babe, was exalted in his obedience and who now stands at the door ready to return. May we sing our subversive Christmas songs – declaring the victory of the soon coming King.

Veni, veni Emanuel!
Captivum solve Israel!
Qui gemit in exilio,
Privatus Dei Filio.
Gaude, gaude, Emanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Mary the Mother of James the Just

Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed has an interesting post on Mary (looking at what we know about her life and how it impacts our theology of women in ministry). In it he observes:

Mary “taught” her children — both Jesus and James. . . .

A neglected influence can be found by comparing the Magnificat and the letter of James: the minimum one can say is that both James and Mary breathed the same Jewish, biblical theology; it is more likely that Mary had a direct influence on James’ concern for the poor and for his critique of the rich. But what about this: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and Father is this: to look after the orphans [this means “fatherlessness” more often than it means “parentlessness” in Judaism] and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27). Mary was most likely a widow; her children therefore “orphans” in Judaism; Jesus was deeply concerned with widows. Not hard to put together.

I’ve researched the themes of the “Great Reversal” in James in the past on a paper I wrote on James’ use of Isaiah 40 in 1:9-11 (PDF available). While writing that paper I noticed that the themes of reversal in Hannah’s song (1 Sam 2) corresponded rather well with James’ own teaching. Many have noted the thematic and even verbal similarities between Hannah’s song and the Magnificat. While writing that paper, I often wondered if James could hear his mother humming the tunes of Hannah’s and her own songs as he wrote his letter. It’s nice to think that a scholar such as McKnight recognizes the similarities as well. I’m looking forward to reading more in his soon to be published book, The Real Mary.

On the perpetual virginity of Mary (follow up)

Scot McKnight lists the following verses as evidence against the perpetual virginity of Mary:

  1. Mark 3:31-35: “His mother and his brothers.”
  2. Mark 6:1-6: “Is this not the ’son of Mary’ and his brothers Yakov, Yosef, Yehudah, and Shimeon? Are not his sisters here with us?”
  3. John 2:12: “he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples”. (Sisters stay back in Nazareth?)
  4. John 7:3: “His brothers said to him…”
  5. John 7:5: “For even his own brothers did not believe in him.”
  6. Galatians 1:19: “save only James, the Lord’s brother.”
  7. Acts 1:14: Mary “and with his brothers.”

He notes that the burden of proof rests on those who would say that “brothers” or “sisters” would mean anything other than blood-brothers or blood-sisters. To this list can be added the references compiled from Richard Bauckham’s work on Sean du Toit’s blog, Primal Subversion. As I mentioned in my comment on Scot McKnight’s post. My feet are squarely planted in the protestant camp. I just found Rice’s argument “interesting.” As McKnight concludes:

Protestants should not be bothered if Mary and Joseph chose to remain virginal. Their decision would not be an attack on marriage or on sexuality. It would be a sacred vow of celibacy on their part, not because of their sainthood but because (and here we are guessing) they sensed an overwhelming awe at the majesty of what God chose Mary to do. Her body, in other words, became a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit for both of them. That’s how I’d see it from that perspective. I don’t think that view, however, is what we find in the NT.

Scot McKnight on Mary’s Perpetual Virginity

Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed comments on the “perpetual virginity” of Mary. This topic would seem to be completely off base on my own blog (as it seems to be unrelated to James the Just). On the contrary, if James the Just was Jesus’ brother, then Mary’s virginity has a lot to do with the topic. McKnight notes the following Christian sources that support the perpetual virginity of Mary, and then comments:

2d Century text Protevangelium James
Origen, Commentary on Matthew 10:17
Athanasius, Virginity, can’t locate reference in my NPNF text.
Augustine, Nature and Grace, 36.42.
Martin Luther, Works, 22.23.
John Calvin, NT Commentary on Synoptics, at Matthew 12:46-50.
John Wesley, in A.C. Coulter, John Wesley, 495

In text-critical terms, belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity is early, widespread, and found in every major tradition of the Church. One might say it was the universal faith of the Church, apart from rare exceptions, until the post-Reformation era.

My own two feet are squarely planted in the Protestant tradition of the non-perpetual virginity of Mary. It has been a view that I have never questioned, until I read Anne Rice’s work, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. Rice develops the story of Mary’s perpetual virginity from Joseph’s standpoint rather than from some view that Mary was “holier than thou.” If I can recall correctly, Joseph asks in essence, “How can I ‘touch’ someone who has given birth to the Son of God?” From that standpoint, I guess perpetual virginity takes on a more “human” explanation. Given that Joseph could have very well fathered Jesus ‘brothers and sisters’ in a previous marriage, I don’t have too much of a problem with the idea. Either way, my faith does not stand or fall on the concept.