Mary Magdalene:
Female Disciple, Witness, Icon

Religion 343b, Prof. Anne McGuire, Haverford College; 896-1028

This course syllabus will be revised regularly. Students should check this webpage regularly and follow the links to any additional assigned or recommended materials before class.

Course Description: Mary Magdalene: Female Disciple, Witness, Icon. This seminar will focus on a critical examination of the varied representations of Mary Magdalene as disciple, witness, and icon in religion, literature, and the arts. Images of Mary Magdalene will serve as a lens through which to examine changing conceptions of gender, sin, sexuality, spirituality, the body, and salvation. Sources include literary and artistic representations from antiquity to contemporary culture.The central question of the seminar is not "Who was Mary Magdalene," but rather how can we read the images of the Magdalene as reflections of varying religious, social, & cultural norms?

Readings in the course will focus on primary textual sources from antiquity, literary and artistic representations from the history of Christianity, and contemporary images of Mary Magdalene. Sources will include representations of Mary Magdalene in: the New Testament and non-canonical gospels, such as the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Philip; post-New Testament legends, sermons, and stories about the Magdalene; artistic representations in medieval and Renaissance art; and images of Mary Magdalene in contemporary literature and film. The final selection of materials will depend in part on the material covered in our major secondary source, Susan Haskins, Mary Magdalen and in part on student interest

Required Readings

These books are available for purchase in Haverford College Bookstore unless otherwise noted

Course Requirements

  • Participation in class discussion and in online Discussion Board (10%).
    • This is a seminar course. All students are expected to come prepared to participate in discussion, to make presentations in class, and to respond actively to others' postings, comments, and reports.
  • Three seminar papers of 4-6 pages (60%), one on textual, one on artistic, one on cinematic images. A draft of these papers should be prepared by the Tuesday evening before class. Papers will be revised and turned in by the next class.
  • A final research paper of 12-15 pages (30%).

Syllabus of Readings

Week I: 1/17 Introduction to the Course: Images of Mary Magdalene and the Earliest Sources

I. Mary Magdalene in Christian Literature;
Week II Mary Magdalene in New Testament and Other Early Christian Sources

Week III Mary Magdalene as Visionary in Early Christian Tradition: The Gospel of Mary

Week IV Mary Magdalene as Companion and Disciple of Jesus: The Texts from Nag Hammadi

Week V Mary Magdalene in the Writings of the Early Church "Fathers": Bridal Imagery, Eve, and the Conflation of Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany, the Unnamed Sinner of Luke 7, and others

Week VI Medieval Legends and Images of Mary Magdalene: The Golden Legend and Other Medieval Representations

II. Artistic Images of Mary Magdalene
Weeks VII-IX or X Images of Mary Magdalen in the Art of the Later Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and Later

III. Contemporary Images of Mary Magdalene
Weeks XI-XIII Mary Magdalene in Twentieth Century Literature, Film
, Music, Contemporary Religious Contexts

Films, Novels, Poems, Music, Sources to be announced, depending on student interest

Among the films: Jesus Christ Superstar, The Last Temptation of Christ, The DaVinci Code, The Magdalen Sisters


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