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Book Review

The Real Mary, by Scot McKnight (Paraclete Press, 2007)

In Christian tradition, one startling change has been a new Protestant openness to honoring Mary, the mother of Christ. So long the domain of the Catholic Church, veneration of Mary is now accepted, in degrees, as biblical scholar Scot McKnight explains in The Real Mary.

(If a fairly dogmatic protestant believer has trouble accepting this change, it is well to remember that traditional veneration of Christ is often accompanied by a focus on early disciples and church leaders, especially Paul. And, if this is acceptable, it becomes difficult to defend that idea that the mother of Christ could be any less important.)

Scot McKnight has given new depth to our understanding of Mary in much the same way that Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and Margaret Montreuil’s God in Sandals let us learn to mistrust the meek and mild statuettes of Christ. He presents Mary as a strong and courageous woman, and skillfully uses historical documents to support his position.

The virgin birth of Jesus is a prime example. In this context, it illustrates Mary’s terrible risk in saying “Let it be!” when the angel Gabriel let her know that God would place Jesus in her womb even though she was betrothed to Joseph. In our western way of thinking, she thus risked Joseph’s anger, losing him as a husband, and perhaps some degree of embarrassment. But McKnight explains to us what we try to forget, despite today’s arcane reminders from the world of terror, that her pregnancy could easily have required her to “drink the bitter waters,” to be taken to a public area for public humiliation in torn clothing, and possibly to be stoned to death.

McKnight documents the somewhat sparse record that we have about Mary in historical records of the times – including the early church - and shows that Mary had to be strong in supporting her son in many ways. For example, she was one of only two followers who remained with him during the gruesome and tragic crucifixion, and few of us will forget the portrayal of her at the cross in The Passion.

McKnight contrasts this with the scene today where believers sit in air conditioned churches singing “The Old Rugged Cross,” and asks what Mary would think of the Christian church today. What a contrast!

McKnight has done a masterful job, mixing scholarship with today’s perspectives, in a fresh look at Mary that anyone would appreciate.


- Bruce Cook, Ph.D.

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