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Fact or figment?

And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it to me according to your word... Luke 1.38

It might sound surprising to count Jesus' mother, Mary, among his disciples. In many parts of the Church, Mary enjoys a status alongside, rather than below or after, Jesus - as Queen of Heaven. However this has more to do with hagiography than with history. Most of what we think we know about Mary has developed around the sparse references we have to her in the Bible. Even the Qur'an has more to say about her! Much else comes from the Protevangelium of James, a second century introduction to the Gospels, which was probably written for the benefit of pagan converts.

What appears to have happened is that Mary was elevated to fill in the lack of female divinity in the Judaeo-Christian faith tradition. This may have been a serious deterrent to those approaching from other belief systems which enjoyed a "better" gender balance. But it has had the unhappy consequence of intruding so much nonsense about Mary, such as her "immaculate conception", while obscuring her exemplary obedience, not to mention the miraculous circumstances of her conception of Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit as announced by the Angel Gabriel.

As a result Mary has become an embarrassment in some quarters of the Church, or simply ignored as if she, herself, has been tainted by legends others have burdened her with. This, too, is wrong. Rehabilitating Mary must involve stripping away the accretions, in order to appreciate afresh the extraordinary witness of this remarkable woman, who was plucked from obscurity for an essential role in God's plan of redemption which, while the greatest honour, cost her dearly.



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