The real Mary was an unwed, pregnant teenage girl in first century Palestine. She was a woman of courage, humility, spirit, and resolve, and her response to the angel Gabriel shifted the tectonic plates of history.
Join popular Biblical scholar Scot McKnight as he explores the contours of Mary’s life, from the moment she learned of God’s plan for the Messiah, to the culmination of Christ’s ministry on earth. McKnight dismantles the myths and also challenges our prejudices. He introduces us to a woman who is a model for faith, and who points us to her son.
If you go to the Paraclete Press homepage, you can view the information for a discount if you pre-0rder the book before December 3rd, 2006.
If you are interested in reading an excerpt from the book, you can read the first 2 chapters here.
A correlating study guide is also available for download.
Click here to hear an interview with the author, Scot McKnight. (for Windows Media Player)
In addition: pastors, professors, college and seminary students, and Christians across the U.S. will be hosting forums on Sunday, December 3 to discuss who Mary was, centering around The Real Mary by Scot McKnight, as well as the movie "The Nativity Story," which releases on December 1 on 8000 screens across the country. If you are interested in learning more about how you could be involved in hosting a forum, please contact email@example.com.
In the subsequent 10 chapters (Part I) McKnight writes about the various characteristics of the real Mary, starting with her trait as a woman of Faith. He lays the foundation about the Torah society that Mary would have lived in, and that despite all the things that could happen to her by accepting God’s offer to bear the Messiah—including the possibilities of enduring the “bitter waters” test (from Numbers 5), being exposed to public humiliation at a conspicuous location, or at worst, facing death by stoning. In addition, she had to face how her family and Joseph would react to the news, as well as if she did survive to bear the Child, to deal with Jesus’ treatment by being considered an illegitimate Son and perhaps being left as a single mother if Joseph divorced her. Her act of saying “May it be” to Gabriel, consenting to God’s plan, was that of courageous faith and trusting that God would protect her as He has other Biblical women in years past.
Mary was also a woman of Justice. In her well-known song, the Magnificat, we find what some consider subversive verses as she proclaims that the humble will lifted up and the rich brought down. Mary understood Gabriel’s words meant that her Son would fulfill the Davidic Kingdom, and thus expected God’s justice to come with the new King. Her words would have also meant much to anyone in Israel under the oppression of the rules of Rome and King Herod, hoping for a physical salvation as much as a spiritual one. Her statements in the Magnificat show her to be much gutsier than the meek Mary as she is often portrayed. She was as hopeful for the Messiah as anyone, reminiscent of Isaiah 11, and trusted in God’s promises that He had fulfilled and would continue to fulfill.
McKnight goes on to discuss Mary as a woman of Danger. McKnight says this because of Mary’s confidence that her Son would be King, not Herod or Caesar Augustus. Looking at her Magnificat, it could be considered subversive to the Roman Empire. When the birth of Jesus was announced, there were terms that were associated with Augustus, including his being the Son of God (adopted son of Julius Caesar), his bringing the Pax Romana (Roman Peace) to the Empire as its savior, and his rising to the throne was the Good News. Having these terms applied to her Son and Mary’s proclamation of them could bring about her death for treason, which did actually happen to Jesus. Mary was the first to spread the Gospel (Good News) about Jesus. When the Bible says that Mary pondered everything that had happened to her in her heart, she didn’t just reflect on memories, she was contemplating them in order to narrate and to interpret them.
This made Mary a woman of Witness. She witnessed to the promises of her Son, and viewed His coming as the Messiah that most Jews anticipated—overthrowing Israel’s enemies and inhabiting an earthly throne in peace. She witnessed the reality of Gabriel’s announcement when Jesus was born in real flesh; when the Magi came unexpectedly with their gifts; and when the Star appeared to lead the Magi to Jesus; all of which pointed to the Davidic throne that she saw her Son inhabiting as King. Everything surrounding the birth of Jesus was witnessed by Mary as she contemplated the kind of Savior Jesus was to be.
However, this conquering view of the Messiah changed when she became a woman of Sorrow, when she first went to the Temple to dedicate Jesus and purify herself after the birth. There she encounters the elderly priest Simeon, who speaks of Jesus’ bringing peace, comfort, and redemption to Israel, but he also illustrates a different type of Messiah that Mary (and other Jews) were likely expecting at that time of oppression—a political liberator of their people. Jesus would bring the triumph instead through sorrow and suffering, and that the sword would bring suffering to her as well. This caused her to ponder about the idea Who her Son would be, perhaps not quite the conquering ruler she may have imagined.
Mary was also a woman of Wonder. When Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and family went to Jerusalem every year for the Passover celebration, they perhaps wondered how Jesus was to liberate Israel from Rome much like when the Hebrews wanted freedom from being slaves in Egypt. During one particular Passover visit to Jerusalem, when Jesus was 12 (likely his bar mitzvah age), He was conducting Himself as an adult by staying in the Temple and was “lost” from the caravan going back to Nazareth, much to the horror of His parents. As Mary and Joseph went back and after a day’s searching found Him in the Temple, Mary expressed to Him their terrifying fear of losing Him and asked Him why He treated them this way. Jesus’ response was nothing more likely than shocking to what Mary expected in return, causing her to again rethink what kind of Messiah her Son was going to be, and realizing He knew that God—not Joseph—was His Father. His statement that His Father’s business was above being with His parents caused Mary to wonder. In addition, Jesus position of listening and teaching—at age 12—also would have caused Mary to wonder and to realize that she would have to follow her Son as well as He served a different Father in a different House.
Mary was also a woman of Surrender. Not only did she surrender to God at the very beginning of Jesus’ conception, she had to learn to surrender to Jesus as well, especially when His ministry started and He needed to honor God before His family. This first came into play when Jesus and Mary were attending the wedding at Cana, and Mary came to Jesus with the observation that the wine had run out, putting the family’s honor at risk. However, this also conflicted with God’s timing that Jesus sensed He was to fulfill, and in their exchange, He essentially asked Mary to honor (and to surrender) Him by allowing Him to do what He needed to do in His own way in accordance with the Father’s will, which she did, shown in her words for the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do. She had to surrender to her own Son in order to honor God.
A trait of Mary that we don’t often consider is that she was a woman of Ambivalence. Mary and her family must have been ambivalent about Jesus as a family member and Jesus as the Messiah when He began his ministry, especially in light of their understanding from the Old Testament Messianic prophecies. Jews expected the Messiah to be like Moses, to be greater than the prophets, to be a Davidic King, and to be wise, as well as to conquer enemies and to establish peace. However, Jesus didn’t act like this Messiah, and seemed like an ordinary man to his townspeople. He appeared to challenge well-known Jewish traditions and laws (mixing with sinners, breaking Sabbath laws, etc.) and generally offended the Jewish leaders—not what Messiahs were supposed to do. Eventually, Jesus’ family—including Mary—considered Him “out of His mind” and even went with her other children to Capernaum to confront Him about this. Jesus’ response that everyone who does God’s will is His family, right in front of His own mother and siblings, establishing a new family of God. Hearing this, and other references to conflict within a family by following Jesus, Mary would have to decide whether Jesus was the Messiah she had hoped for and to follow Him. It appeared that she did shift her view of who the Messiah would be and joined the new family of Jesus, since she was next recorded as present at His crucifixion and later with the disciples at Pentecost as the Holy Spirit empowered them for ministry.
Lastly, Mary is a woman of Faithfulness, as shown by her appearance at Jesus’ Crucifixion with other women disciples. Despite the circumstances, she held firm that God was in control and stood by her Son. She remained faithful to Jesus as He remained faithful to her even from the cross, entrusting her to His disciple John, presumably because His family did not yet believe in Him as Messiah and John did. Jesus honored her both as His mother and a member of His new family in the Kingdom of God. At the cross, Mary had to come to terms with the fulfillment of Jesus’ messianic vocation—His sacrifice for man’s sins—even if it was something she would not have expected, since Jewish teaching & literature didn’t teach of a sacrificial Messiah. Having to change her Messianic view as the events unfolded at the end of Jesus’ life would have taken considerable faithfulness. This was all rewarded with the Resurrection and with her presence at Pentecost.
In part II, from chapters 11-13, McKnight explores the characteristics of Mary in the Church and how they match up with the real Mary of the Gospels. He first talks about how Mary was a woman of Influence, particularly through the teachings of Jesus and the writings of his half-brother and disciple James. Both of them, including Jesus, would have grown up with the influence of their parents. Jesus’ teachings about caring for the poor, downtrodden, widows and orphans, etc. are very similar to the statements in Mary’s Magnificat. Mary’s influence was also great in the early church, being with the disciples at Pentecost, and she was also influential in the New Testament, within 217 verses in which she plays some part.
Mary has also been a woman of Controversy, particularly between the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. McKnight begins by looking at the main doctrine that Catholics and Protestants agree upon: the supernatural conception of Jesus. Regarding Mary, however, Protestants generally rely on the Bible alone, while Catholics consider both the Bible and centuries of tradition to form what they believe. McKnight highlights major early Catholic beliefs about Mary: that she was sinless, that she was the mother of God, that she was perpetually virgin. Later developments in the Catholic church’s beliefs about Mary included her immaculate conception, her Assumption into heaven, her role as Mediatrix, and devotion to her. He goes into detail about these doctrines to make them clearer to the reader, and also discusses some of the Protestant responses to them.
Part III, the last chapter, is where McKnight discusses about embracing the real Mary. She was, lastly, a woman to Remember. Over the years, especially since the Reformation, Protestants have distanced themselves from giving Mary her due. McKnight suggests five themes of faith on which to focus in honoring Mary: faith leads to Jesus; faith is uniquely personal; faith is real; faith develops; and faith is courageous and dangerous.
Ending the book, McKnight includes Appendices for reference and further study:
Appendix 1: Old Testament Parallels in The Magnificat
Appendix 2: Suggestions for Reflecting on Mary
McKnight writes a compelling book that causes us to look at the Mary of the New Testament, challenging ideas that we may have accumulated about her through tradition and hearsay. He addresses each of his chapters with scholarly expertise, writing in a way that neither condescends to nor transcends beyond his readers’ intelligence. Throughout the book, McKnight uses both Scripture as well as extrabiblical sources to illustrate his points. His focus of the book is to allow Protestants to look at who Mary really was and to encourage them not push a very important figure in the Bible away just because their Catholic brethren give her much more attention. McKnight also knowledgably addresses the Catholic beliefs and traditions about Mary, quoting Catholic scholars, fathers, and catechesis for support. His challenge is for Protestants to honor Mary more than she has been in recent years and to use her example to help point people to Christ.