Early portrayals of Mary and their function in Christianity's spread
One of the few Protestant women to write a study of the mother of Jesus, Beverly Roberts Gaventa takes a fresh approach to the beloved biblical figure about whom we have such slender evidence. Rather than attempt to reconstruct Mary's life or assess her theological significance, Gaventa employs literary analysis to explore Mary's varying characterizations in four early Christian narratives—Matthew, Luke-Acts, John, and the Protevangelium of James. Gaventa contends that each document offers offers a distinct portrait and that John's Mary is no more interchangeable with Luke's than a painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe is with an icon of the Queen of Heaven.
According to Gaventa, Matthew portrays Mary as the mother whose maternity threatens the status quo; Luke assigns three roles to Mary but uses her persona of pondering mother to enliven the story; the Johannine Mary serves to heighten awareness of Jesus' humanity; and the Mary of the Protevangelium is so pure she seems scarcely human. Without diminishing the individuality of these portrayals, Gaventa shows how each is colored by the dynamic of scandal that runs so powerfully through early Christian writings.
Beverly Roberts Gaventa is professor of New Testement Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary, author of From Darkness to Light: Aspects of Conversion in the New Testament, and coauthor of three volumes of Texts for Preaching.