'The Virgin Mary'
December 22, 2002 1:19 PM   Subscribe

Tonight, the BBC took the controversial decision to screen a documentary which investigated the plausability of the life of The Virgin Mary as it appears in The Bible. As someone who's spiritual without commiting to any one religion, it was a fascinating look at a people and a time. But I can understand why Christians would be offended, especially since the programme suggested that Mary (or Miriam) wasn't a virgin at all, that she was a 'mother bringing up a wayward son under difficult circumstances'. Was this the kind of programme which should be shown at Christmas time?
posted by feelinglistless (26 comments total)
If it has value at all, which I cannot comment upon because I didn't see it, why shouldn't it be shown at Christmas. Is there an unwritten rule somewhere that says we should shut off our critical faculties for the duration of the bacchanalia? I would have thought that in these secular times the church would welcome any opportunity to bring discussion of Christianity to the forefront, especially at Christmas.
posted by Fat Buddha at 1:28 PM on December 22, 2002

Woah... she wasn't a virgin? That's pretty controversial! I think that assumption is going to have to be there in any historical account. Why be offended? Miracles aren't a part of history (the field) any more than physics (the field.)
posted by Wood at 1:46 PM on December 22, 2002

I didn't see this either, but I guess it follows in the same vein as Moses and Jesus of Nazareth documentaries that they produced. I found them to be very interesting, and at the end of the day it is just speculation.
posted by ajbattrick at 2:02 PM on December 22, 2002

The BBC documentary raises doubts about other traditions, including the birth of Jesus in a stable at Bethlehem and the presence of three wise men.

Well, that really f***s the annual nativity play (can we still have los cagones?).

Bishop Hollis said he plans to write the director general of the BBC, Greg Dyke, to express his concerns on behalf of the Catholic community of England and Wales.

Assuming that there is an omnipotent deity, wouldn't such a gesture be of little added value to any retribution that he, or she, might take? Very Life of Brian-ish.
posted by jamespake at 2:05 PM on December 22, 2002

Well, I only saw the last half of it while dawdling and being teased about posting here in #mefi, so here I am. Contrary to the poster, I felt the program was propping up a whole host of biblical mythology and textual re-readings in a Sunday-night-BBC way! And justifying this by adding in some utterly non-controversial stuff read out by an ex-Brookside actress. Where did all the stuff come from about her "behaving with dignity", "wouldn't have wanted him to leave home", and all the other soap dramatisation? All we have is a few texts written 80 years after he died, with little cross-reference from other contemporary texts, and then some other texts that weren't allowed in the bible that claim, for instance, that he "kissed Mary Magdalene on the mouth" and the other disciples complained. That would have been a little more controversial, but even then, hardly unheard of in academic circles. But obviously "not suitable" for the Sunday before Christmas.

To be honest I turned over near the end and watched the Queen Mum documentary on Channel 4. I found myself getting confused between the two mums. Which one could fly again?
posted by honeypea at 2:10 PM on December 22, 2002

Speculation it is. Besides, christmas is rapidly turning into xmas these days - more consumerist than ever.. I even heard someone call it 'crimbo' last week, urgh..

Ah well, the BBC are showing It's a Wonderful Life again at 5.50pm on BBC2 Christmas day - as long as they show a happy movie like that for the family, they can do no wrong..

What I want is a documentary looking into wheter Jesus (pbuh) had any brothers or sisters.. That could be interesting..
posted by Mossy at 2:12 PM on December 22, 2002

What I found disappointing about the programme was that it made implicit assumptions about the 'truth' of the parts of christian mythology that have no historical evidence.

It brought up some of the blatant inconsistencies in the Jesus story, but stuck with the core assumption that the main story is true. Impartial discussion of christianity does not seem to be wanted by christian groups, especially the Catholic church.
posted by daveg at 2:19 PM on December 22, 2002

Two things did urk me. Sue Johnson wasn't a bad presenter, so much as it was supposed to appear that she was discovering the story for herself, when it was pretty obvious that she was reading a script. Second was a moment towards the end, when discussing whether Mary was there at the crucifixion when all of the experts looked on in quiet contemplation; it looked false and silly rather than poiniant. For some reason though I'm compelled to watch Walking Life again ...
posted by feelinglistless at 2:39 PM on December 22, 2002

you think this is scandalous? just wait til they get around to investigating the easter bunny's pedigree...
posted by quonsar at 2:57 PM on December 22, 2002


The Pagan origins of the Easter Bunny
posted by jamespake at 3:03 PM on December 22, 2002

I'm with Fat Buddha, and see nothing inappropriate about the documentary being shown at this time. No one owns Mary's story, so why shouldn't the BBC run it now when lots of people are in the mood to be watching something like this.

A lot of the points made were hardly controversial though. Like Mary not being blond and blue-eyed - being Mediterranean she more than likely wasn't. And the three wise men not being at the stable? Well, the Bible never says they were - that's a popular misconception. The wise men arrived in Bethlehem about two years after the birth of Jesus, and visited Mary, Joseph and Jesus in the house they were living in. This is covered in the second chapter of Matthew, which also never states that there were three wise men - that's been inferred from the fact that there were three kinds of gifts.
posted by orange swan at 3:28 PM on December 22, 2002

Plastic thread
Google News
posted by feelinglistless at 3:55 PM on December 22, 2002

Mother Mary was short, swarthy, and had a hint of a moustache. She wasn't the sexed-up little tart shown in most bible pictures. Of this, I'm quite certain.

Jesus french-kissing Mary Magdelene certainly would explain the protests from the apostles. I mean, really, no one wants to witness that sort of behaviour at the dinner table, no matter how generous the host is with the wine.

I saw a great image of Christ the other day - this one exactly, in fact.

My guess is that Jesus is saying "Hah! You always fall for that trick, Judas!" after giving him yet another wedgie. Christ the Practical Joker.

I do so wish that churches would gain a clue about the fellow's complexion. I am simply astounded that so very many Christians figure the guy was Scandinavian. Give your head a shake, guys! He undoubtedly looked more like a Sharon, Arafat, Hussein, bin Laden, or any of the other popular-media Middle-East faces we see on our TVs every night.

Heh. Kind of ironic, that. The self-same people who have a hate-on for all those "uncivilized towelheads" worship one.
posted by
five fresh fish at 5:21 PM on December 22, 2002

The whole virgin theology is interesting when you understand that the prophecy in Isaiah was "young maiden" in the Hebrew. When it was translated into Latin and Greek it was changed to "virgin." Only in the Gospel of Luke does the Bible refer to Mary's virginity (but does so extensively).

I'm not arguing about the validity of the claim but I think we have to look at literary issues, like when and to whom it was written, as well as historical issues. I believe there is more important stuff going on in the story of Jesus than the veracity of the miracle claims.

As for the appropriateness of the showing this at Christmas, as a pastor I can only be thankful that people are being prodded to pay more attention to their faith and what it means for them.
posted by ziklagz at 7:17 PM on December 22, 2002

People can be offended at the suggestion that maybe, just maybe, it might be slightly more likely that Mary had an illegitimate child and fed on mass gullibility by claiming it was a miracle as long as I may remain offended that people can be silly enough to refuse to even consider that possibility.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:26 PM on December 22, 2002

My belief is that people who are adamant in saying that the "facts" the bible gives us are indeed facts and not stories written by men who may or may not have witnessed the actual events have less faith than someone who is unsure of the facts but believes in the concepts of peace, love, charity and inclusion that Jesus espoused.

I don't know if it was a virgin birth and I don't care. I don't know if Mary really thought that he was the son of God and I don't care. Jesus lived in a time that was rife with religion and politics and he saw a great injustice being done by the Temple priests and set out to change it. But unlike other revolutionaries of his time he chose not to do it with the sword and anger but by telling people that God loved them all equally. That you didn't have to be rich or pure or without sin to be loved by God. That you should love your neighbor as yourself and give to those who have less than you (and it didn't matter if you had earned it or not, all you had to do was be in need and he helped) and speak for those that have no voice.

I like the the stories of the bible because of the message, not the facts involved. So if the BBC wants to examine these stories and make people think, I think that's great. It shouldn't matter what time of year it's presented. I'm sorry I missed it.
posted by bas67 at 7:59 PM on December 22, 2002

The Virgin Birth and Childhood Mysteries of Jesus explains why the virgin birth mythology is not a cornerstone of Christianity nor predicted in the Hebrew teachings, and why it was added to the Jesus story. Interesting reading.
posted by Mack Twain at 8:09 PM on December 22, 2002

honeypea: "I found myself getting confused between the two mums. Which one could fly again?"

That would be The Flying Mum who was portrayed by Sally Field over here in the states back in the 1970s.

If we're not gonna talk about Mary & the virgin birth at Christmas time (allegedly the anniversary of the event) when ARE we allowed to talk about it? Of COURSE the BBC was right to broadcast it now. When else? July? No one would tune in.

As for dissing the Virgin Mary at yuletime, I think aetheists should be allowed to celebrate this season too. Christmas is all-inclusive. It even can include people who need something to exist for them NOT to believe in. I think that's cool. Now that shroud of Turin thing? That's a fake. See? I need something to exist for me not to believe in too. =)

They're not telling anything new really with the documentary. I have it on good authority that the three wise men were not THAT smart. I mean if they were really smart they wouldn't have bothered with frankensense and myrrh. Diapers. Real wise men woulda brought diapers.

And what about that Little Drummer Boy? He isn't mentioned in any of the biblical texts, and yet he was there. How'd that happen? I suppose he flew in at the last moment with the help of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, whose nose is actually red due to an obsession with scotch.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:11 PM on December 22, 2002

Thank God it wasn't a show questioning anything about Islam, the fatwas would have been issued and the blood would be running in the streets by now. Not to get into Muslim bashing or anything but I doubt the BBC would put out a show at Ramadan that delved into Mohammed taking a 9 year old bride.
posted by MikeMc at 8:50 PM on December 22, 2002

The BBC doesn't have to delve into that. Our American Fundimentalists have pretty much exhausted that line of thought.
posted by bas67 at 9:08 PM on December 22, 2002

IF this has been mentioned already I appologise (It's monday morning FFS) but I was lead to believe that the word transalated as 'virgin' could also be translated as 'young'. Kind of like Maiden could now...
posted by twine42 at 1:20 AM on December 23, 2002

I love this tidbit in the first link:

His comments coincided with a survey carried out by the Sunday Telegraph, which suggested more than a quarter of Church of England clergy did not believe in the virgin birth. The paper asked the opinions of 500 clergymen and women, 27% of whom said they did not accept the traditional account.

So it's ok for one-fourth of the *clergy* to think the virgin birth is, er, overhyped, but not ok for the laity to talk about it at Christmas? Whatever.
posted by mediareport at 6:08 AM on December 23, 2002

Here's the story about the survey:
Many clerics doubt the virgin birth

Here's another one from July:
One third of clergy do not believe in the Resurrection

Also, one of the folks behind Roadside America, Ken Smith, has written a hilariously skeptical Guide to the Bible.
posted by mediareport at 6:24 AM on December 23, 2002

Gee, here's some documentary fodder that Ken Burns hasn't covered yet! Mr. Burns, white courtesy telephone, please...

five fresh fish, it's interesting that you bring up Laughing Jesus. It's more than just a novelty item; my pastor and I have discussed how the Messiah has been miscast as a sort of dour kvetch when his message is a lot happier -- "Hey, guess what...you're loved and you're worthwhile!" -- and easy to picture being delivered by somebody who'd have an upbeat outlook on life, the universe and everything. (Except for losing his cool at seeing the moneychangers.)

One incident I think of is St. John's version (chap 21) of the calling of the first apostles, when Jesus sees the guys fishing. They hadn't caught anything all night long, so Jesus tells them, "Try throwing the net out the other side of the boat." When the net's about breaking and the boat's nearly swamped from all the fish they're suddenly hauling, I can just imagine the Lord's barely-concealed smirk breaking into a mirthful grin -- "Gotcha!"

This was-she-a-virgin-or-was-she-raped-by-a-Roman-soldier-named-Pantera stuff is entirely beside the point unless you think God Himself wrote all sixty-six books in contemporary English, in which case you're an imbecile or fundamentalist -- they're the same thing, except fundies are also control freaks. The point is whether you believe that God, having tried everything else to repair His relationship with His people, would invert that relationship on their behalf by becoming vulnerable, coming to us in the humblest of circumstances and dying a criminal's death.

And if the laity are supposed to evangelize (i.e., "Go therefore" and act as the marketing department), it makes sense to me that they should be educate themselves enough to participate in theology (quality control) as well.
posted by alumshubby at 7:18 AM on December 23, 2002

My belief is that people who are adamant in saying that the "facts" the bible gives us are indeed facts and not stories written by men who may or may not have witnessed the actual events have less faith than someone who is unsure of the facts but believes in the concepts of peace, love, charity and inclusion that Jesus espoused.

So why not Buddhism? This is probably going to sound a little like a troll however I word it, but I'm genuinely interested as to how people choose one moral system over another. I'm wondering specifically how much environment plays a part. Are people (in general) who believe[...] in the concepts of peace, love, charity and inclusion more likely to be influenced by what they're regularly exposed to, or to take a look at many different cultures and choose what best fits their own model?

As to the Mary topic, and distancing myself as objectively as I know how, I think the likelihood is that Joseph was the father. Why else take her in with so little fuss, in a culture where the contemporary solution was a stoning?

disclaimer: am agnostic
posted by walrus at 7:29 AM on December 23, 2002

So why not Buddhism?

I don't know why not. I never said anything about it. The topic was about Jesus and Mary and the virgin birth. I like the ideas of Buddhism as well. In my opinion, what ever you need to do or to believe in that makes you think of others first is a good thing.

It's a shame that fundamentalists of all religions have caused so many people to have a poor perception of what it's supposed to be about. Just for me, I believe that God doesn't care if you call him Buddha, Allah, Goddess or a wonderful tree in your backyard. Just so long as you think about Him/It at times and feel a comfort in the fact that maybe, just maybe someone or something is looking after you and is there for you to turn to when needed.
posted by bas67 at 1:40 PM on December 23, 2002

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