In addition to his twelve disciples Jesus had a group of devoted women followers. Mary Magdalene stands out by the number of times her name is mentioned in the Gospels. She’s the first among all the disciples to acknowledge the resurrected body of Christ. Throughout history her image has been popular in art, celebrated by gnostic advocates and recently praised by the magisterium. To this day there is no theological or academic consensus on her identity. Since the turn of this millennium, tailwinds are stirring up her Spirit. Her role in spreading the Good News is at last recognized, conferring upon her a rightful status similar to Peter. The disciple who was once called Simon whom Jesus gave the metaphorical name of rock. Similarly, Mary’s surname of Magdalene has an etymology that is linked to the Hebrew word migdal, meaning tower. The literary device that the narratives apply to Simon is here applied to Mary. Both are metaphorical attributes: Simon as rock and Mary as tower. The Gospels reveal that Jesus uses parables and metaphors in his teachings. They are central to his message. As such, how essential are literary devices to revelation and the underlying dynamic of the “truth”?
Mary Magdalene is mentioned more times than any other disciple except Peter. The sum would be greater if one takes into account the number of occasions her identity has been obscured by misrepresentation. In the eight times that a list of women is cited, on every occasion Mary Magdalene is named first. Only at the crucifixion is Mary the mother of Jesus mentioned first and Mary Magdalene last. Mary whose womb gave birth to Jesus is present at his death, whereas it is Mary Magdalene who finds the empty tomb who is witness to the risen Christ.
Although these women remained in the background they nonetheless provided financial support to Jesus and his mission. All four Gospels describe a group of women that accompanied Jesus until his last week and were present at his crucifixion. They alone remained until the end, whereas the male disciples fled.
Before I get into Mary Magdalene and the significance of metaphor in establishing her identity, I would like to say a few words about the historical context of the narratives.
The setting: the Gospels
The hero: Mary Magdalene
The quest: the dynamic of “truth”
The adversary: materialism and literal sense of the Word
The mentor: metaphor
The outcome: the tower of the flock (1)
The Gospels vary in their description of an enigmatic female follower of Jesus. Three synoptic Gospels, namely Matthew, Mark and Luke, share a common perspective and chronology of Jesus’ ministry. However, Luke is a bit of a devil’s advocate in his description of a woman’s anointing of Jesus. The event in Mark and Matthew takes place in Bethany in Simon’s house before the Passover. In Luke, the scene is in a different city, in a Pharisee’s house at another time. As for the fourth Gospel of John, the text only shares a similar chronology of Jesus’ mission in these events: The baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, the multiplications of loaves and fishes, the crucifixion, the anointing of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene’s presence at the empty tomb. In Luke and John, Mary anoints the Lord’s feet. In Matthew’s and Mark’s she pours the fragrant oil over his head. Although the woman at the anointing scene remains unnamed in Matthew, Marc and Luke, in John she is described as Mary the sister of Lazarus and Martha from the town of Bethany.
The Gospel of Mark is the oldest text, written between ~65-75 CE. Whereas Matthew and Luke are dated approximately between ~80-90 CE. The Gospel of John was written circa ~90-100 CE. Mark relies mostly on oral tradition for his source and inspiration. Matthew and Luke have two common sources; Mark and “Q” ‒ from the German Quelle meaning source. Matthew is more descriptive than Mark whereas Luke’s version is more embellished and at times confounding. Although Matthew and Luke complement each other, they differ in many factual details. There is no academic consensus on the identity of the authors. None of the Evangelists knew or met Jesus.
The accounts were likely written in Antioch Syria, Ephesus ‒ now Turkey‒ and Rome, outside the confines of Judea, and for the most part after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD. In a period where Greek culture ‒Hellenism‒ was dominant in the Greco-Roman empire. The extent of the cultural influence of Hellenism is reflected by Greek gods that were adopted by the Romans as their own. They were given Latin names and made part of their pantheon.
The Gospels were likely written by Jewish men who were knowledgeable of holy scriptures. This is evidenced by their extensive references to the Septuagint ‒ a Greek translation of Hebrew texts, known as the Old Testament in its canonical compilation. The texts use a wide range of literary devices to convey their view of events. The authors were likely spiritual leaders in their respective communities. They shared their lives and celebrated religious practices with Jews and Gentiles alike. They lived by Jesus’ all-embracing commandment of love your neighbor like yourself and obeyed the instruction to teach the Good News to all nations.
The texts were written in Koine, a Greek dialect that became the dominant language in the Mediterranean and the Middle-East after the conquests of Alexander the Great. It is assumed that Greek rather than Hebrew was chosen because it was the lingua franca of its time. And because the Evangelists lived in a cultural environment populated by Greek speaking Jews and Gentiles. Perhaps, these texts were written in Koine as a way to avoid Roman suspicion in the aftermath of the Jewish rebellion and the destruction of Jerusalem. Another reason might be that reading and writing were closely guarded skills and privileges held by Jewish priestly dynasties and scribes.
In the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem the political environment changed. Jewish people who were not imprisoned, enslaved or executed fled the city to varied communities of the Diaspora. Those who remained in Judea were under tighter Roman control and monitored for any sign of insurrection. In general, Jewish religious practices were tolerated by the authorities as long as it did not cause any public disturbance. The priestly orders that were affiliated with the Temple were dispersed and dwindled in importance. Surveillance of the Jewish population in the empire increased. Any text or letters addressed to varied churches carried by messengers were likely confiscated by Roman patrols and checked for any sign of rebellion. The irony is that parables and metaphors were used to deflect any misapprehension that the message of the Good News was politically motivated. Jesus chides and explains to his disciples that only enlightened few understand the meaning of his words.
After the crucifixion of their beloved teacher and the destruction of Jerusalem, worshipers could no longer rely on the priesthood of the Temple for religious guidance. Political circumstances shifted the worship to a theology connected to the Jewish experience of exile. Centered on the principle that God does not only reside in the Holy of Holies located in the Temple but is symbolized by the chariot of God. The movable presence of Yahweh, accessible to whom he chooses for his mission.
The Jewish people of the Diaspora more than ever required spiritual direction and hope. To many, Jesus the Nazarene was considered an outsider chastised by the priestly orders of Jerusalem. As such he represented a spiritual model in a post Second Temple era for many Jewish people who heard his message. During his mission, Jesus directed his attention to people who suffered as outcasts, who yearned for hope, integration and salvation. Jesus healed people who suffered a loss: He cured the blind, the deaf and the paralyzed. He brought back to life the dead. He praises the alien like the Samaritan and the occupier like the Roman centurion on their faith. And Jesus welcomed women as his followers. He praised Mary Magdalene for anointing him, foretelling she would play a key role in the aftermath of his death.
There is no scholarly consensus as to the origin of the surname Magdalene. The magisterium’s position is that the name refers to a place named Magdala. A word derived from the Hebrew word migdal. As a result certain versions of the New Testament translate Mary’s surname of Magdala, implying that her name is connected to the city of her origin located on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
The assumption inspired a deep-seated conviction about a connection between the city of Magdala and Mary. However, this relation may not be entirely factual as it does not reflect historical data and the geography of Palestine of the time. Such a place on the banks of the Sea of Galilee no longer existed at the time of Jesus. Writings by Flavius Josephus (~37-100 CE), an historian and author of the The Jewish War, who lived during that era, does not mention a city known as Magdala/Migdal. Instead the site is referred as Taricheae, a prosperous city known for its production of salted fish. In addition the Greek geographer Strabo (64 BCE – 24 CE) in his Geography of Palestine describes the city of Taricheae without any mention of a town named Madgala. Nonetheless, the city later became known as Magdala and led to the support for the popular conviction about Mary’s surname.
Confounding as it may be, recent archaeological findings at the location of Magdala revealed the existence of an ancient city called Migdal Nunia, meaning tower of the fish. A structure that consists of a lower basin built out of rocks. The vessel was filled with water where fish were kept after an abundant fishing expedition.
The name Migdal or Migdol in Hebrew means tower. Other translations render it as fortress, stronghold or watchtower. The word is derived from the root gaddal meaning growing up, and to become great or important; figuratively implying pride and authority. In Exodus (14:2), Migdol is the location of an encampment near where Moses crossed the Sea of Reeds. In Jeremiah it refers to a chastised Jewish colony in Egypt. In many other instances Migdal indicates a tower in conjunction with a geographical location: Midgal-Gad the tower of Gad and Midgal-Eder to tower of Eder. In Joshua (19:38) Migdal-El signifies the Tower of God. And in Micah the term is associated with flock:
Mc 4: 8 And you, O tower of the flock,
hill of the daughter of Zion,
to you shall it come,
the former dominion shall come,
kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem.
Seven Evils Spirits
In 1969, shortly after the conclusion of Vatican II, the Catholic Church officially disclosed that the long held view that identified Mary Magdalene as a prostitute was not based on any factual or scriptural evidence. Cleared of being a prostitute she is nonetheless mostly remembered as a sinner and the woman whom Jesus cast out seven evil spirits, even though the cure’s description consist of two phrases. Mark (16:9) simply states from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons. Whereas Luke (8:2) mentions briefly that; Mary surnamed Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out. This event and the mischaracterization of her as a prostitute overshadowed her more important role in the spreading of the Good News.
Luke describes Mary Magdalene as a sinner. This description likely led to her being depicted in the West as a prostitute. However, sin in the Old Testament does not necessarily convey moral or carnal debauchery. Sin originally meant to miss the mark, to do evil against somebody, especially Yahweh. Sin above all is related to revolt, offense and contempt, especially in violation of the covenant: It is mostly related to idolatry.
The cure of evil spirits is often referred to as exorcism. The term is misleading as it conjures up images of wild and harmful possessions portrayed by the media. This idea of possession does not convey what the original meaning of casting out evil spirits may have been about. It consisted in a process to cleanse a person of unclean spirits in order to allow he or she to be accepted in a community or an inner circle of followers. Evil spirits are also described by the Greek word demons. The term refers to spirits that hover between terrestrial world and the realm of the gods and are not necessarily harmful. Demons in those days did not represent cinematographic images of horrific and dreadful possessions.
Possession of evil spirits was a condition perceived by most devout Jews of the time, including Jesus and his disciples, as unclean and impure. A condition that must be kept out of reach in order to avoid contagion. It conforms to the practice of an orthodox believer in setting himself apart from Gentiles and non-compliant Jews by a strict application of holy instructions, separating what is clean vs unclean, pure vs impure. The instructions dictate how one eats, who he shares meals or who he associates with, who he could touch or who can touch him: the woman he could marry, when to have sex, and what type of sex; how to farm; what type of animals he could eat, and how to kill them, etc.
Back then a wife was man’s property. A woman was typically identified as a sister, a wife or as a mother of some man. Because of Mary’s status and her behavior, she breaks established religious customs of her time. Being unmarried at a late age was viewed with distrust. And her single status might have been at the origin of the suspicion of her evil possession. She is wealthy as noted by the very expensive perfume she uses on Jesus. She throws herself at Jesus’ feet, she touched him, violating religious practices, displaying a wild nature and strong minded character. And most daring of all, she anoints Jesus: An act full of significance and daring.
Jesus’ message of love your neighbor like yourself supersedes all commandments and instructions. It is applied to everybody, including women. Was Jesus’ casting out Mary’s evil spirits a process of removing all restrictions and biases regarding a woman becoming a close follower in an observant Jewish context? Luke (10:39) describes Mary of Bethany listening to Jesus’s teachings instead of helping her sister Martha preparing the meal for the guests. This indicates that she is more interested in absorbing Jesus’ words and becoming a disciple than behaving according to prescribed rules of her time. During the first century of Judaism it was unusual for a woman to sit down and listen to a Rabbuni, meaning teacher in Aramaic. More so for a teacher to accept a woman as a disciple.
The anointing of Jesus is described in all four Gospels. This in itself is a significant event. Nonetheless, each version recounts what happened in varied details. Overall the scene depicts a woman holding in her arms an alabaster vial containing very expensive perfume walking in a room filled with dinner guests. She moves toward Jesus and kneels in front of him. She pours the costly nard over Jesus’ feet and then rubs them. By some accounts the value of the perfume is estimated to be worth as much as one year’s wages. She then wipes his feet with her long lush hair. She does this in full view of Jesus’ disciples and guests in a show of utter submission and love. She deliberately chooses to make the anointing an act of public display.
Lk 7:36 One of the Pharisees invited him to a meal. When he arrived at the Pharisee’s house and place at the table, suddenly a woman came in, who had a bad name in town. She had heard he was dining with the Pharisee and had brought with her an alabaster jar of ointment. She waited behind him at his feet, weeping, and her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them away with her hair; then she covered his feet with kisses and anointed them with ointment.
By her actions she recognized Jesus as her Lord and teacher. The scene has a significant symbolic reference in terms of the anointing of Jesus as Messiah. The disciples are scandalized by such an act of devotion and symbolism. They question why so much money should be spent frivolously instead of feeding the poor. Plus, it is considered a violation of religious practice for a woman to touch an unmarried man. Nonetheless, Jesus tells them to leave her alone, because she has done a good work.
In the Old Testament the ritual of anointing relates to pouring scented oil over a person’s head as a sign of divine election to a position of power. Biblical examples depict the ritual being performed on high priests or kings. The Hebrew word for “the anointed one” is Mashiaẖ. It is translated in Greek into Christ and the term was rendered as Messiah in English. King David is a befitting example of Mashiaẖ. As a young man he killed Goliath and grew to become a successful military leader who united the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. He was a poet, a good orator and a musician. As a result of his military skills and political maneuvering he rose in ranks and was anointed king by prophet Samuel. Hebrew prophets regard Kind David as the ancestor of a future Mashiaẖ.
The translation of Hebrew texts into Greek represents a cultural departure from the original religious experiences lived by the Jewish people; especially for Gentiles who were introduced to the Holy scriptures and who did not share the historical background as a people. This also applies to the translation of the Bible in numerous other languages. The term Mashiaẖ does not convey the same meaning for Jewish people as its translation into Christ/Messiah does for Christians. For the Jewish people the term has a religious, historical and geopolitical meaning. For Christians, the word Christ relates more to Savior. And is connected to the commandment of love your neighbor with the mission to teach the Good News to all nations, underlying a universal manner of being as the core of its message.
Mary’s anointing has a symbolic reference to Jesus as a spiritual Messiah and Savior. In retrospect, Mary’s actions show a sign of prophetic insight. Christians a few centuries later would, with the conversion of Emperor Constantine, take over Rome and spread their message to the whole empire and beyond reaching all nations without the help of an army, tax collection or central government.
In Matthew, Mark and Luke the identity of the woman at the anointing scene is unnamed. This is a mystery, especially considering that the event is reported in all four Gospels, all of which describe the behavior of a person filled with symbolic significance. There is one exemption. John does reveal her identity: She is Mary from the town of Bethany, a woman he describes as Mary Magdalene who is present at the tomb.
Jesus says this about his anointing: Let her alone, in order that she may keep it for the day of My burial. He is giving us a clue by revealing a connection between the woman at his anointing and Mary Magdalene with fragrant oil kept in preparation for his burial. Hence, the unnamed woman in Matthew, Mark and Luke and referred to as Mary of Bethany in John, is hypothetically the same person. (2) She is Mary from the town of Bethany also known as Mary with the metaphorical attribute of Migdal.
Jesus’ fate unraveled shortly after his last supper. He was betrayed by one of his followers, abandoned by his disciples, and arrested by the Roman occupying forces. He was denounced by the priests and judged and condemned by the mob under the supervision of Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect. He was tortured, humiliated and forced to carry the instrument of his death. He was finally nailed to a cross as a violent display of the sanctioning power of the Empire. Finally, he was left to die between common criminals. Throughout his ordeal the only people that stood by his side were Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joset and Salome.
In John’s version, Mary Magdalene finds an empty tomb and witnesses the appearance of Jesus whom she does not recognize and mistakes for a gardener. Mary asks the gardener if he took the body away? And if so, to tell her where he put it. Suddenly, Jesus calls out; “Mary”. And at the sound of her name she cries out “Rabbuni” in Aramaic. Mary Magdalene, a novice of Jesus’ teachings, has a revelation. She did not recognize Jesus at first because the risen Lord after his death is a different body.
Magdalene was the first to proclaim that Jesus has risen from the dead. She is the chosen messenger to spread the Good News. As it happens, the root word apostle in Greek means messenger. As a result on June 3rd 2016, by the express wish of Pope Francis, the Church gave Saint Mary Magdalene the same rank of Feast celebration that was given to the Apostles in the General Roman Calendar. Stating; the special mission of this woman should be underlined, she who is an example and model for all women in the Church. The Church also acknowledges the opinion of Rabanus Maurus and Saint Thomas Aquinas who called Mary Magdalene apostolorum apostola or the Apostle to the Apostles. Although Mary
Magdalene is considered a Saint by several Christian denominations, her status is pre-Congregational, meaning, she is a saint whose beatification or canonization occurred before the institution of the modern investigations performed by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
In mythology, the first to inaugurate a new reality is elevated in status and consecrated as a supernatural being, a deity or a saint. Myth is essentially a story that describes the events that are at the origin of a new reality created by civilizing people in the beginning of time. The Gospels recount the events that ushered a new era of Christianity, inaugurating a new time with the separation between Before Christ (BC) and After Death (AD). A secularized version of these acronyms are rendered as Before the Common Era (BCE) and Common Era (CE). To sum it up, myth records meaningful events of the world. These events evolve in a time beyond history, in a fuzzy boundary between the supernatural and the ordinary world, between mythology and history. In this respect Mary Magdalene being the first to witness the risen Christ plays a preeminent role in Christianity.
The Metaphor as Code
In order to be able to write in Koine the Evangelists must have been educated in Greek. Among the more noteworthy teachers of Classical Greek schools of thought is Aristotle, who’s writings cover a wide array of subjects including Rhetoric and Poetics. Rhetoric is the art of speaking or writing in an eloquent manner in order to convince and influence an audience. One essential component of both treatises is metaphor: A figure of speech that is as old as Greek literature and can be traced back to the writings of Homer. Metaphor consists in giving the thing a name that belongs to something else.
Metaphor is not the exclusivity of Greek literature, it is extensively used in Hebrew holy scriptures. The following are only a few samples:
Pr 18:10 The name of Yahweh is a strong tower;
the upright runs to it and is secure
The wealth of the rich forms a stronghold
a high wall, as the rich supposes
Ps 18: 2 Yahweh is my rock and my fortress,
my deliverer is my God
I take refuge in him, my rock,
my shield, my saving strength,
my stronghold, my place of refuge
Literary critic Northrop Frye is a guiding source when he states that: Within the Bible itself, all the values connected with the term “truth” can be reached only by passing through myth and metaphor. He is not alone in making the assessment. Literary theorist Kenneth Burke explains that literary devices like the metaphor have their role in the discovery and description of “the truth”. While mythologist Joseph Campbell sees the metaphor as a dynamic way of looking at narrative. During an interview Campbell asked an interviewer this question: What is a metaphor? Bemused he answered: My friend John runs very fast. People say he runs like a deer. There’s a metaphor. Campbell replied; That’s not a metaphor. A metaphor is: John is a deer.
This is what Jesus says:
Jn 10:9 I am the door/gate
Jn 14:6 I am the way
Jesus’ tells Simon that he is rock. He will be known as the foundation on which Jesus will build his community.
Mt 16:18 So now I say to you: You are Peter ‒ rock‒, and on this rock I will build my community. And the gates of the underworld can never overpower it.
During the Last Supper Jesus shares his last meal with his disciples. Jesus picks and holds a loaf of bread, cuts it into twelve pieces and shares it with his followers. He pours wine in a cup and shares it with his disciples and says.
Mk 14: 22 Take it, he said, this is my body…this is my blood
Jesus words are symbolic actions: The bread is his body, the wine is his blood. By taking the bread in his hands, cutting it into pieces and sharing it with his Disciples, Jesus’ biological body becomes a different body and signifies the group of Disciples holding the symbolic pieces of bread formerly made of one loaf. Each individual member makes up the assembly known as the Church, defined by a papal encyclical as the Mystical Body of Christ. The cup of wine is Jesus’ blood, sacrificed for the life of the community after his death. The cup holds an additional symbolic attribute in terms of being a container: A physical object that holds a beverage for consumption. In this sense the mythical Holy Grail is only one material component in the metaphorical equation. The other, is the content of wine turned into blood as a symbol of Jesus’ sacrificial death to give life to his Mystical Body.
A metaphor is a figure of speech that consists in using a word~image to convey~embody something else. It is a break in the normal use of language that modifies habitual social conventions and religious practices. In the case of the Gospels, it is a shift in meaning and in being: A transport from a literal, material and visible level into a metaphorical, intangible and invisible level. The process involves a carrying-over of a material condition into a spiritual state to inspire revelation ‒ to unveil what is hidden. Unraveling a dynamic interaction between the material and the spiritual state of understanding the Word.
Mk 8:18 Have you eyes and do not see, ears and do not hear?
The name Mary Magdalene, depending on the translation, is used at least twelve times in the Gospels. Similarly, the name of Simon Peter, used with a metaphorical attribute, is used fifteen times in the Gospel of John. The narratives show that Jesus privileges the use of literary devices to reveal his message. Simply put, the metaphor is the door to the Good News. It enable us to see Mary as a metaphorical tower. In the same way we see Peter as metaphorical rock. Furthermore, Simon’s surname represents a single element as opposed to a more elaborate structure defined by tower. The distinction suggests a more complex character of Mary Migdal.
Luke, who at times is confounding, is nonetheless helpful when he describes Mary as surnamed the Magdalene, adding support to the idea that Migdal is a metaphorical attribute of tower. Similar to one that is given to Peter, or John the Baptist, or James and John as the Sons of Thunder.
Lk 8:2 With him went the Twelve, as well as certain women who had been cured of evils spirits and ailments: Mary surnamed the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out…
Furthermore, it is surmised that the term Migdal might also allude to tower of the fish, and is made in connection to the ancient city of Midgal Nunia. Even though this city was known as Taricheae at the time of Jesus. It is presumed that Jewish people, as an act of defiance against the Roman occupier, did not call the city by its Latin name but continued to referred to it as Migdal. This type of rock basin holding fish were likely found in many other fishing towns around the sea of Galilee.
In another metaphorical example in Matthew (4:8) Jesus says he will make his disciples fishers of men. As it happens the Greek word for fish is ichthys. The word was converted into an acronym during the first century CE meaning; Jesus, Christ, Son of God, Savior, and was depicted by the symbol of a fish. Second-century theologian Tertulian explains: we, little fishes, after the image of our ichthys, Jesus Christ, are born in the water.
Christians were not the only ones using the image of a fish as a religious symbol. It was a common pagan symbol as well. As a result, Christians used the image in times of persecution in order to avoid attracting suspicion from the Roman authorities. It was customary for a believer to mark meeting places and tombs with the icon to differentiate followers from unbelievers. It was also used as a secret meeting code between Christians. One faithful would draw an upper arc and the other would complete the image by drawing the lower arc forming an image of a fish.
To conclude, Simon was named Peter to signify he was the foundation of the Church. Whereas, Mary surnamed Magdalene, is the first to recognize the resurrected body of Christ. According to a literary interpretation of the narratives she is Migdal, a symbolic tower, implying strength and vision. Perhaps alluding to tower of the fish, and as such she embodies the sacred vessel symbolized by the tower of the flock.
Mary Magdalene’s portrait can only be made with a patchwork of evidence found in varied Gospels. Her identity will be subject to continued scholarly scrutiny and debate. Nonetheless, literary devices are essential tools that provide clues in finding the truth about Mary’s metaphorical identity.
Mk 14: 9 In truth I tell you, whenever throughout all the world the Good News is proclaimed, what she has done will be told as well, in remembrance of her.
(1) The original idea of the thematic sequence is taken from A.L. Greimas, Structural Semantics: An Attempt at a Method, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1983. I have introduced my own sequence which may not be endorsed or approved by the author.
(2) The Church’s position about Mary Magdalene’s identity is split between an old tradition dating back to Pope Gregory I (540-604 CE), who identified Mary Magdalene, the sister of Lazarus and Martha of the town of Bethany, and the woman who anointed Jesus as the same person. According to the Church this interpretation continued to influence western ecclesiastical authors, Christian art and liturgical texts relative to this Saint. However, the magisterium’s current position is that Mary Magdalene should not be confused with Mary the sister of Lazarus and Martha, from the town of Bethany
Bourgeault Cynthia, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene, Boston, Shambhala, 2010
Burke Kenneth, Four Master Tropes, JSTOR.org
Chilton Bruce, Mary Magdalene, A Biography, New York, Doubleday, 2005
Frye Northrop, The Great Code, Toronto, Academic Press Canada, 1982
Frye Northrop, Words With Power, San Diego, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990
King Karen L., The Gospel of Mary of Magdala, Santa Rosa, Polebridge Press, 2003
Kirby John T., Aristotle on Metaphor, JSTOR.org
Ricoeur Paul, La Metaphor Vive, Paris, Seuil, 1975
Sabar Ariel, Unearthing the World of Jesus, Smithsonian.com
Starbird Margaret, Mary Magdalene, Bride in Exile, Rochester, Bear & Company, 2005
Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people’s masters.
President Grover Cleveland, State of the Union Address, December 3, 1888
We live in a corporatized world. Most of us either own stocks, have an IRA account, are a member of a union or church, live in an incorporated city, work for an NGO, own or work for a small, medium size business or a transnational corporation. These are different types of corporations. Some are non-profit (501c3), like unions, churches, NGOs, etc, and other are for profit corporations. The non-profit bodies are organized for public good and don’t have earnings as an ultimate concern, whereas moneyed corporations are comprised of shareholders who have an interest in profit oriented enterprises. That being said, moneyed corporate power has increased consistently ever since court challenges brought into question the nature of a human being, a natural person, versus that of a corporation, an artificial person. This began during the era of the robber barons with legal battles that have created a favorable environment for corporations eventually leading to the emergence of the Investor State. An outcome made possible by promoting an ambiguous understanding of the term person.
Many of the legal challenges began in the nineteenth century by lawyers who filed successive legal challenges on behalf of dominant railroad corporations, arguing that a corporation is a legitimate person with similar Fourteenth Amendment rights that were granted to former slaves. Since then, moneyed corporate influence has increased in proportion to its economic power as evidenced by successive Supreme Court victories in favor of corporate rights. These victories were matched with the successful corporate lobbying of congress. All of this has led to a corporate doctrine that has permeated our cultural mindset and changed the social, religious and political landscape of power.
Keep in mind that a corporation is invisible, immortal and in the case of the body of the transnational corporations, it is omnipresent and omnipotent. These attributes endowed this emerging power as a quasi-religion, making the transnational corporations the most powerful economic body in the world. As a result it functions like a subliminal deity. In that capacity it has replaced institutionlized religions as the major purveyor of mediated doctrine settings the standard for human models of behavior. Role models that were typically managed by traditional religious institutions.
The following is a brief interpretation of how it happened.
Prior to his nomination as Supreme Court Chief Justice in1874, Morrison Remick Waite was a successful attorney representing large corporations and railroads companies. In 1886 he presided over the Santa Clara County v Southern Pacific Railroad Company supreme court case involving unpaid property taxes by the Southern Railroad Company. The case was ruled in favor of the defendant based on the argument that the Santa Clara county had no jurisdiction including the value of fences siding the tracks in its tax assessment of property value levied on the railroad company.
Nothing about this ruling is remarkable in itself and would have been lost in the annals of jurisprudence, except for a controversial comment made by Chief Justice Waite which has been used as legal justification in favor of moneyed corporations ever since. The statement was not part of a ruling, nor part of the opinion of a majority or minority of the Court; nonetheless it’s been accepted as quasi-legal precedent. Keep in mind that the Santa Clara County v Southern Pacific Railroad Company case was not about a ruling on the meaning that any person, including a corporation, had equal rights protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.
The chief legal adviser for the Southern Pacific Railroad Company was a lawyer and former judge named S. W. Sanderson. He was know for his view that a corporation was a person under the Constitution and should be treated the same as natural person ̶ a human being. He used this argument to prove that the provisions of the Constitution and laws of California are in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, an opinion that was most likely shared by the Chief Supreme Court Justice who made this comment in the case:
The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.
The lead lawyer for the Santa Clara County was a man named Delphin M. Delmas, also known as the silver-tongued orator of the west. He made a passionate plea against the fallacy put forth by the defense:
To my mind, the fallacy, if I may be permitted so to term it, of the argument lies in the assumption that corporations are entitled to be governed by the laws that are applicable to natural persons. That, it is said, results from the fact that corporations are [artificial] persons, and that the last clause of the of the Fourteenth Amendment refers to all persons without distinction.
One of the reasons the quote by Chief Justice Waite gained accepted legal status is because it was recorded by a court reporter named J. C. Bancroft Davies as a head note and published in a collection of Supreme Courts Reports (1885-1886). Davies held several jobs throughout his career. Among them he was a journalist, an assistant secretary of State and a US diplomat. He was also the president of the Newburgh and New York Railway Company. In 1883 he became the Reporter of Decision of the Supreme Court of the United Sates. In his capacity of recorder he published and interpreted Waite’s statement above as follows:
The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
To this day the non-ruling head note of corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment has been inadvertently accepted as a matter-of-fact.
I leave it to the reader to interpret Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment and make his or her own mind as to the meaning of any person which is believed here to refer to all persons born or naturalized in the United States.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
In order to redress what is considered to be a misinterpretation of the meaning of any person, various semantic and literary analogies are used to help clarify essential differences between a natural and artificial person.
Dr. Frankenstein and the creation of a person in his own image
In Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus, the author recounts the story of a science student named Victor Frankenstein who creates a person in his own image; an Adam of his labors. This creation turns out to be a vindictive killer responsible for the murders of Victor’s brother and his childhood friend. The killings were committed by the creature as an act of revenge for being lonely and rejected by society because of his hideous looks. As a result the monster demands that Victor create a female companion to cure his loneliness and to enable him to procreate like a human being. Feeling threatened, Victor at first agrees and proceeds to create a mate, but then relents and destroys the female companion out of fear that they will procreate and create havoc in society. The monster finds out the doctor’s action. In retaliation he murders Victor’s newly wed wife Elisabeth. The story ends with Dr. Frankenstein in pursuit of the monster in order to destroy his wretched creation. After a long chase Victor dies in the North Pole without completing his mission. Upon finding out of his creator’s death, the creature wanders in the freezing wilderness seeking death.
Shelley’s book is a literary creation and the creature is a fictional person. In a similar fashion a corporation is a literary creation, more precisely a juridical artifact described as an artificial person. Both of these creations are fictional and are made in the image of man. The term man here does not relate to gender but to the creative properties of an individual being.
There is an essential distinction between a naturally born being and an artificial person, a creature of the law. The first is a unique individual while the second consists of two or more individuals, referred to as a body which is synonymous with corporation.
The original meaning of person -persona- is a mask used by an actor playing a role in a drama or in life. Hence, it is a guise played by a character in a play or movie. This sense has somehow changed since the nineteenth century when the term person came to be understood as a human being. The period corresponds to the growth of moneyed corporations during the Industrial Revolution exemplified by the Southern Pacific Railroad Company legal case.
The first thing to understand is the difference between the natural person and the fictitious person called the corporation. They differ in the purpose for which they are created, in the strength which they posses, and in the restraints under which they act.
Man is the handiwork of God and was placed upon earth to carry out a Divine purpose; the corporation is the handiwork of man and created to carry out a money-making policy. William Jennings Bryan
What relevance does a quote from a congressman who lived in an era when it was acceptable to make Christian references to God to a world that is overwhelmingly secularized? Foremost, it shows how far secularization has unfolded in our cultures today.
Secondly, a corporation is man’s creation. In this sense it is a legally modified organism that is challenging the premise of creation described in Genesis that God created Adam and Eve in his image. He created them male and female in order that they procreate the divine essence of life to reproduce, multiply and take dominion over the world. The argument here is that although the corporation is comprised of human beings, and as such is a body, it is not an individual and does not have the biological capacity to reproduce.
For the purpose of this analysis, I rely on basic functions of religion as they are appear in our cultures. They relate to the Roman experience of religio centered on a dynamic attribute of the sacred that establishes a separation, a buffer zone if you will, between beings and things that are sacred from beings and things that are common and ordinary. The word religion has many definitions and varies with various religious perspectives and experiences. The function of separation between the sacred and the profane is nonetheless found in most religions past and present. As a parenthesis, there are several examples of separation between the chosen/holy/sacred, and the common/unclean/impure in the Jewish holy scriptures, but there is no Hebrew word for religion. Whereas, in the New Testament the term is used as the scriptures were written in Greek by people who lived under the influence and control of the Roman empire.
Let’s steer away from a Judeo-Christian concept of procreation and use a more pagan example of fertility. We owe the Romans the terms for religion, person, corporation and Genius. The meaning of soul ̶ animous/anima ̶ is closely related to the word Genius, meaning to cause to be born. Genius is a specific attribute of male fertility distinct from the female property of giving birth represented by the goddess of childbirth Juno/Lucina. Genius is a unique personality, a physical and moral sum each one of us embodies at birth. According to the Romans, this essence of life has a divine origin. Hence, Genius signifies two converging principles, life common to all human beings and the unique aspect of life each individual incarnates when we are born. Every human being is unique yet part of the whole mystery of life. The essence of life is immortal. And although the individual dies, life goes on after his or her death through the natural and human capacity to procreate.
In a more related context, the Declaration of Independence is considered a sacred text. It is sacred precisely because it is set apart from other ordinary documents on the grounds that it outlines the creation and the historical foundation of the United States of America. In similar fashion to our analogies of religion, the text describes the act of Separation from the Political Bands of the king and corporations that have abused and usurped the rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness of We the People. More to the point the document was signed by the Founding Fathers. In terms of literary criticism the term Fathers is a metonymy. A figure of speech that refers to procreating fathers and mothers having children born in the United States constituting the people.
A metonymy is a figure of speech that uses one word of one thing for another of which it is an attribute; like, the White House for the people working in the oval office; or, church as the physical building referring to the worshipers in the temple.
Before we go any further, the meaning of secularization needs clarification. It is commonly understood as a decrease in church attendance and a declining role played by institutionalized religion in society. This idea about secularism is somewhat misleading and is the result of an assimilation of religion with Christianity, the consequence of Christendom having dominated the western cultures for many centuries. However, secularization does not mean that the secular world is devoid of any religious dimension or that contemporary culture has rejected the sacred. What the term implies is that the core function of religion has morphed elsewhere. In periods of cultural change the sacred inconspicuously metamorphoses in other hierarchical power schemes.
The Surfing Madona Mural – Incinitas, CA
The following are some examples of the sacred from one religious/sphere to another. They show how corporate empowerment was made possible by the conversion of language. Words and symbols that are the creative endeavor and human heritage are being converted into highly protected logos and corporate trademarks that are legally protected with unlimited financial resources.
The first Olympiads were essentially a religious ceremony created in honor of Zeus, the dominant god of the Greek pantheon. Today the Olympiad is an international sporting event involving most countries on the planet. They have been taken over by official sponsors consisting of the biggest transnational corporations in the world. The games have the same function as they did originally; namely celebrating competition, victory, and instituting order and hierarchy. This is accomplished by not only separating the contestants from the audience, the victors from the competition, but also separating the special status of the gods and winners from the masses. Mainly, the Games were a ritual to commemorate the status of the gods. Today the separation consists in elevating corporate trademarks and logos from the masses of ordinary words and symbols. Nike for instance, who was the Greek god of victory, is today the name of a powerful transnational corporation.
December 25th was originally a pagan festival celebrating the winter solstice. It later became the date of the celebration of the birth of Christ, although there is no historical data to support that Jesus was born on that day. Now Christmas has reverted back to a period of consumerism. The change shows that the sacred dedication of a holiday switches back and forth between different religious belief systems. It is not the intrinsic nature of certain beings and things or their representations that are sacred, it is the underlying incursion of power established by hierarchy that proceeds to separate and confer different levels of status of sacredness on beings and things.
The word economy has evolved from its original theological meaning of the divine government of the world to the art of managing the resources of the people and of its government. The conversion is attributed to renowned anti-clerics like Voltaire and his contemporaries who were successful business men. Following the aftermath of the Reformation and the development of the Renaissance, a wave of freethinkers and monarchs from various countries challenged the moral and political power of the Church in Rome. During the declining power of the Holy See, kings felt justified in confiscating the Church’s vast property in order to finance their conquests and wars. Hence, the original meaning of secularization was the confiscation of Church property by potentates or worldly powers for monetary ends. This confiscation also applies to religious language, symbols and icons.
In most minds Santa Claus is an American Icon. This notion overshadows the fact that Santa is a conversion of Saint-Nicholas. The result of fictional alterations of an historical figure created by advertising, framing the image of the Santa as we know him today. Only since 1773 has been known as Santa Claus and perceived as a secular figure rather than a saint. The transformation of Saint-Nicholas was made possible with the help of various media; newspaper articles, poems, books, postcards, sketches and advertising. Santa became a mythical icon conjured from a patchwork of different sources no longer Saint-Nicholas or Sinterklaas. He is an entirely different person transformed into a venerated icon by the media. His mission is no longer to help children in distress but to be a consecrated agent of marketable goods.
From its early settlement and until the nineteen sixties, the US was a predominantly Christian nation. Sunday was still observed as a day of prayer, of church going and of rest. The Lord’s Day was considered a religious holy-day. Like the Sabbath, it was set apart by God for a time of worship and rest, separate from the other ordinary days. With the spread of TVs in people’s living rooms the sacred attribute of Sunday would slowly change and be phased out of the religious framework of the nation. The day of rest was converted into a day of business as usual, enabling an additional day of consumer spending. A change was taking place in the religious fabric of America. Market forces and secularism was shifting the sacred allocation of time and worship elsewhere.
In Kanye West’s song I am a god. It is not West who is a god but the media that consecrates the singer as god.
The decline of institutional religious influence over the population was made possible by the advent of TV. The preaching of the Word shifted from the clergyman in church to the medium in people’s living rooms or the temple referred to as the theater/cinema. This event promoted a proliferation of new religious movements (NRM). Some examples include, the Hollywood star system, the pop-rock stars phenomenon and the professional sports system. These NRMs are endorsed by a consumer oriented culture propagated by the media. The important thing to remember is the function of the sacred to separate and establish a boundary between the sacred sphere of the promoters/idols/stage and the followers/fans/audience.
Marshall McLuhan explained;
The “content” of any medium is always another medium;… the “medium is the message” because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and forms of human association and action.
The content of mass-media is a myriad of moneyed corporations. Its message shapes human association that eventually evolved into the Investor State. Although a new comer, the Investor State is the result of consistent legal battles, political lobbying and media promotion of the artificial person impersonating a human being. The corporate empowerment has currently assumed a dominant function in the economy and in politics as evidenced by the involvement of the Investor State in trade agreements with countries around the world.
As we conclude we as citizens have a civic duty to question the incursion of transnational corporations in the public sphere and inquire about the impending challenges posed by the Investor State. Among the questions we need to ask is: What legitimacy does this Investor State have? A state is by definition an organized political community living under a single system of government. On whose authority did the Investor State become a state? Who are the members of this corporate body and who are its financial backers?
It is important to stress that transnational corporations are indispensable and have an essential role to play in the world economy. However, their role is to be the servant of the people not the people’s masters. A public debate is needed in order to clarify the function and limits of the Investor State in respect to elected governments to establish a balanced and healthy relationship between the rights of human beings and those of artificial persons.