One hallowed British Easter tradition is that, over the Easter weekend, there's a TV programme which casts doubt on Jesus resurrection/existence/sanity/marital status. This year it's the turn of the BBC, where Melvyn Bragg 'goes behind the myth' of Mary Magdalene. Yes, you know what's coming next...
That's right, Bragg is this years graduate from the Dan Brown School of Historical Speculation, yet another victim to the modern virus which insists that the most important thing about people is who they're having sex with.
Bragg has written an extensive piece in preview to the BBC programme: reading it will save you the trouble of watching the telly. It's most glaring piece of foolishness is Braggs own admission that he doesn't believe in the resurrection, nor in God. If he's right on that, then everything else about Jesus is irrelevant, as is everything the church says about him. A dead Jesus is also a deluded Jesus, and makes liars of Jesus himself, and the gospel writers, and the rest of the writers of the new testament. In that context, who cares what kind of relationship he had with Mary? It's a footnote to a footnote, written in pencil.
But somehow Bragg is far more interested in whether Jesus snogged Mary Magdalene than whether he rose from the dead. Because that's clearly the most important fact in all of this.
Another piece of bizarreness:
If you think that the gospels are – minus miracles – reasonably convincing accounts of a unique man and his followers, then the least we owe them is a historical debt. I agree with Graham Greene and others that what makes them convincing is the density of detail. They were written at a time when fictional, that is mythological, writing simply did not have this kind of detail. And further we underestimate the power of oral history, which is what the gospels were recording. We have no problem accepting the accounts of men who fought in the First World War and yet there was a shorter gap between the events the gospels depicted and their inscription then there is between 1914 and now.
i.e. Bragg is prepared to accept that the gospels are convincingly historical. Except for the bits he doesn't agree with. I don't even know where to begin to start critiquing that as a historical method. At the same time he gives the 'Gospel' of Philip just as much weight as an authority on Mary, despite the fact that it is a Gnostic tract written 200+ years after Jesus. Bragg mentions a 'Mary of Egypt' in a section on 'Marys in the Bible', but there's no such Mary in the Bible - she's a 4th/5th century saint. Bragg just appears to have Googled 'Mary, Christianity' and stitched together the results.
It really is very depressing and annoying. I'd be happier if there was something in the BBC's Easter output that didn't root the true retelling of Easter in high culture and classical music. Ah well, I'll just have to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus with real people. There are some things TV is no substitute for.