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.