• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


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    Tuesday, November 28, 2006

    Secrets of Mary Magdalene - Documentary

    The phenomenal success of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code", and the film adaptation earlier this year has led to a new wave of interest in Mary Magdalene. This is no doubt why Hidden Treasures Productions have released their documentary on Mary Secrets of Mary Magdalene onto DVD. It's directed by Rob Fruchtman and features a host of Magdalene experts including Elaine Pagels, Lesa Bellevie, Deidre Good, and Dan Burstein who also wrote the corresponding book.

    Secrets of Mary Magdalene is another docu-drama, built largely around interviews with a host of, mostly female, writers and academics, but also containing dramatised footage to accompany the narrator's commentary. The dramatised footage is fairly well done, although the length of Jesus's hair is a little distracting, and shows episodes from the canonical gospels, footage of Mary leading and teaching, as well as some of the more legendary episodes such as her flight to France.

    Whilst the programme does explore some these legends it certainly keeps its feet on the ground a lot more than either Dan Brown or the authors of "Holy Blood and the Holy Grail". For example, it never gets into fantastical analysis of "The Last Supper" and whilst it covers the theories about The Holy Grail, it moves on fairly quickly.

    The film goes on to discuss the Gnostic gospels and their presentation of Mary as well as social / historical evidence that Jesus would have been married. It also looks at the role of femininity within the history of religion, notably Christianity.

    Unfortunately the documentary loses a bit of credibility with its lax attitude to historical methodology. It builds a little too heavily on "history is written by the winners" scepticism, and offers no real analysis on the historical veracity of the various gospels. Deidre Good starts going down that road at one point, but the film quickly moves on.

    This is a mistake in my opinion. Whilst there are no gospels dating from the time Jesus was alive, Mark, widely accepted as the earliest canonical gospel was written within the lifetime of many of his followers, with the other three reaching their final form in the subsequent 30 or so years. The Gnostic gospels are harder to date, and appear to be written across a longer period. Whilst some scholars claim the the Gospel of Thomas may be contemporary with the canonical gospels, others are significantly late. Antiquity is not definitive proof of historical accuracy, but in general there is a good correlation between the two. This is a crucial issue, which much of the rest of the film's information depends on.

    The DVD contains a couple of significant extra features. Firstly there is a "round table" with six of the experts from the film, where they further discuss some of the issues covered by the film. This lasts for about 50 minutes. There is also an additional, half-hour feature, "More Secrets of Mary Magdalene" as well as a trailer and a scene selection menu.

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