Jane Schaberg, Feminist Theologian, Has Died

Jane Schaberg died last night at her home, in the company of friends.

Schaberg, a feminist biblical scholar, was perhaps best known for her controversial book The Illegitimacy of Jesus: A Feminist Theological Interpretation of the Infancy Narratives, in which she contends that Jesus was not conceived by a virgin, but was the product of a rape by a Roman centurion.  More recently, she has focused her attention on the gnostic Gospel of Mary (about Mary Magdalene), lecturing and publishing books on the subject: Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament (2002) and Mary Magdalene Understood (2006).

To understand her, you needed to know that she was pro-abortion, and brought pro-abortion speakers to address students at the University of Detroit Mercy, where she taught.  She was a member of the group Catholics for a Free Choice and the National Organization of Women.  She was a former nun who had renounced the faith of her youth to follow the path of Gnosticism.  And she considered Virginia Woolf to be her greatest mentor.

Jane Schaberg was actually a thorough researcher, a compelling writer, and a popular teacher, even though she often strayed far from Catholic teaching on matters that interested her.  I first learned of the work of Jane Schaberg in 1973.  Our daughter was graduating from high school and had applied to attend the University of Detroit Mercy in the fall.  Recognizing the tangible benefits of the school’s tuition remission program, I had applied for an administrative position there.  And then the story broke in the Detroit Free Press about Schaberg’s controversial theories: that Jesus was a child of rape; that Mary Magdalene was his companion, his lover and most likely the mother of his children.

Schaberg was serving at the time as Chair of the Department of Religious Studies.  The response to the Free Press feature was overwhelming; hundreds of alumni and donors wrote and called to voice their disagreement and to demand that she be replaced in her position.  Jane was tenured, though, and she enjoyed the support of the University’s president and administrators.  She was replaced as Department Chair by Dr. George Pickering, a Unitarian-Universalist; but she continued to teach fulltime.

Whatever she thought and taught about Jesus, about His Mother and about His Church, Jane knows now.  May God in His infinite mercy show her Himself as He truly is.  May her soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace.  Amen.

  • Maggie Goff

    How many did she lead astray. You are truly a much kinder person than I.

    • paul

      The first reply of a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal-you choose.

  • Dr. David Tee

    The Bible teaches that ‘anyone who brings a different gospel than the one Jesus and His disciples brought were accursed.’ There is a reason the Bible speaks about false teachers and such should not be elevated in the sight o fmen but ignored. Sadly, the world is full o ffalse teachers who receive praise and honor when they should be dismissed.

    As for mercy, that is to come before a person dies NOT after. If this woman had truly repented before her death then she probably would have received mercy and salvation. Now it is too late and she needs to face the judgement in her sin and rejection of Jesus.

    • Sue from Buffalo

      No one knows whether or not she truly repented before her death. She could have raised her eyes to the heavens and spoke the words “I’m sorry” or “Jesus, have mercy” (in her heart) in that split second before death. Only God knows. Mercy can come after death in the form of purgatory.

    • George Grubbs

      Why should she repent of telling the truth as she saw it? Surely, you people who have a false righteousness shall “face judgement” for that transgression. I didn’t know this person, but I am certain she is just fine. From what I gather from other sources, she pursued the truth with a pure mind and heart. Jesus would have loved her for that, and would have loved her for just being herself. Some people here, especially Dr. Tee, need to get over a few things. Peace be upon you, Jane, and thanks for being among us and enlightening us.

  • http://writingaboutrenneslechateau.blog4ever.com Val

    I agree with all her findings, but I’m not sure Mary was raped by the Roman soldier and have found no evidence to hint at this. It’s known the soldier, Pantera, came from Tyre, and there’s a story in St. Mark about Jesus going there and trying to hide from people who needed healing. Mark 7, 24 – 31. It seems to me he was looking for his blood father, but Pantera had been sent to Germany around the time of Jesus’s conception and died there in 16AD. It is evident that Jesus loved his other father Joseph, for all his references in his teachings are to a loving father. That Joseph loved Mary and Jesus out of the goodness of his heart makes him a great man who could well have influenced Jesus who empahsised forgiveness in his teachings. You to all

  • http://writingaboutrenneslechateau.blog4ever.com Val

    Please change the end above to “LOVE to all”!

  • shula fleischer

    Jane was a true scholar and an amazing researcher. She did not take her writings lightly, and her work should not be considered blasphemy. Please reserve judgement until you have read her books. Only then you can appreciate or dispute her conclusions.

    Jane was the kindest human being, taking in children who lived on 12th street in Detroit and giving them an opportunity of an education and exposure to a better life, which their parents could not have done for them.
    Jane was kind to animals and found beauty in all of God’s creatures even in those deformed and handicapped that most of us would have long walked away from.

    In my eyes she merits to sit right next to God. I personally lost a mentor, a colleague and a very dear friend.
    May her memory be a blessing!

    • Kathy Schiffer

      Shula, Thanks for your comments regarding Jane’s generous spirit and her kindness to animals. Please note that I did not say she was not kind–for I know that she was. I said she did not teach with the mind of the Catholic Church. I have read her books, and I stand by my article.

      I’m sure she was blessed to have you as a friend. I’m very sorry for your loss.

      • Ken

        I had a crush on Jane when I was 17 and she was 21. She had a sparkle in her eye, intelligence to spare and a wonderful smile. May God embrace her forever.

      • Scott W

        Just so were clear, in the first nineteen centuries of the Church that would be little doubt as to the eternal destiny of a person with such a, um, resume…

    • http://findingmyground.wordpress.com Sarah MacLeod

      Shula, I’m delighted to see you here, remembering the amazing woman Jane was. Jane thought and researched beyond the bounds of the Catholic Church and brought the true message of Jesus’s compassion to the lives of so many. Here’s another take on remembering this fine woman who served as friend, teacher, and mentor to my mother and thus to me, along with countless others. Jane Schaberg: Friend, Teacher, and Mentor of Mentors

  • Pingback: TaborBlog » Blog Archive » My Beloved Friend Jane Schaberg Has Died

  • Barbara Miller

    I am the mother of Sarah in the posting above. Jane was my friend, teacher, collegue and mentor of mentors. Jane’s classes were a life changing event for me. At one point she wrote “you have a talent for this” on a biblical exegesis paper. This boosted my self-esteem and I was able to attain a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies and then taught at Edgewood College, Madison, WI (Dominican). Jane was a trail-blazer for a new approach to the Bible that enlightened the field of Feminist Biblical Studies. I witnessed her compassion as she financed the education of several inner city children in Detroit. She saw these children through difficult times as well. She lived her life in the path of Jesus of Nazareth.
    I am very proud that my daughter Sarah is passing along Jane’s legecy to yet another generation.
    May her memory be for a blessing.

  • Pingback: Jane Schaberg translates “kebar enash” as “us,” the “Human One” and the “Tyrant” « BLT

  • Carolyn J.

    Hi Shula, Barbara, and everyone else,
    I am one of the children that Jane took in as her own. Jane has touched my life and many others in numerous ways. Jane was so compassionate and giving of herself.
    I will forever miss the wonderful moments of laughter that she and I shared.
    Carolyn J.

  • (The Rev.) Barbara A.T. Wilson

    Jane was also a beloved mentor to me, without whose kind and intelligent support I would not have had the courage to go on to graduate school and pursue my calling as priest in the Episcopal Church. Her scholarship was impeccable and her feminism fierce—in all my years subsequent to my time as her student (even at Yale)I encountered no instructor who was her equal. I disagree with Kathy Schiffer’s comment that Jane “followed the path of Gnosticism.” Also, “to understand” Jane, one needs to know that she was a Feminist—defending women’s rights included the option for abortion, yes, but that is hardly the point. I am pretty certain Jane is/was a follower of the Rabbi Jesus, who she loved all the more for the fact that the situation of his conception put him further out into the margins of what was considered proper society. In the margins is where she insisted on living her life, too, where her generosity, her many kindnesses, her courage and intelligence make her life as a Christian (never in a “victorious” sense) well worth emulating. Jane lived her faith though she didn’t talk much about it. I look forward to seeing her again.

  • (The Rev.) Barbara A.T. Wilson

    Jane was also a beloved mentor to me, without whose kind and intelligent support I would not have had the courage to go on to graduate school and pursue my calling as priest in the Episcopal Church. Her scholarship was impeccable and her feminism fierce—in all my years subsequent to my time as her student (even at Yale)I encountered no instructor who was her equal. I disagree with Kathy Schiffer’s comment that Jane “followed the path of Gnosticism.” Also, “to understand” Jane, one needs to know that she was a Feminist—defending women’s rights included the option for abortion, yes, but that is hardly the point. I am pretty certain Jane is/was a follower of the Rabbi Jesus, who she loved all the more for the fact that the situation of his conception put him further out into the margins of what was considered proper society. In the margins is where she insisted on living her life, too, where her generosity, her many kindnesses, her courage and intelligence make her life as a Christian (never in a “victorious” sense) well worth emulating. Jane lived her faith though she didn’t talk much about it. I look forward to seeing her again in that place where truth, love and justice prevail.

  • http://jamestabor.com James Tabor

    One correction here Kathy, Jane never believed that MM was a wife or mother of Jesus’ child. She never implied any sexual relationship, though she did think they were connected spiritually.

    • Kathy Schiffer

      Thanks for the clarification, James. I never read her work, although I drew this from what others had written about her.

  • NF

    I heavily engaged Jane Schaberg’s “The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene” for my thesis in DePaul University’s Religious Studies program. She made significant contributions to Early Christian Literature scholarship, and emerging scholars routinely discuss her feminist perspectives in their arguments, not as a minority voice, but as part of the general historical scholarship on a subject. The footnotes of my thesis were littered with references to her work. When I finished my paper two years ago, I wanted to contact her and send her my work, but I wasn’t sure of the proper etiquette, so I refrained. I regret this.


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