I had this wonderful response to “Mary, Did You Know?” drawn to my attention and I had to share it:
As a response that accepts the traditional story as given, it strikes me as excellent, managing to make its point forcefully while remaining lighthearted. When writing What Jesus Learned from Women I wrestled with the fact that there are many places where, if we are to say anything at all about women’s perspectives in the life of Jesus or anywhere else in antiquity, we have to rely on materials that cannot be demonstrated to be historical if standards of extreme skepticism are applied. The miracles (which includes things like the annunciation and virginal conception) are in principle simply outside of the realm of what historians could even pronounce on. When we add to the equation the fact that Paul’s letter to the Romans assumes that Jesus is of David’s seed, i.e. descended from David on the male ancestral line, and the fact that the Gospel infancy stories are incompatible with one another, things get more complicated. Yet material that is unhistorical or of uncertain historicity, if early enough, still needed to stay within the bounds of what people remembered and had heard, and that served as a constraint on their creativity.
From a historian’s perspective the debates about the song are misguided on both sides. For a historian, the choice is not between a patriarchal assumption that Mary didn’t grasp even things that she alone of all people was likely to, and a literalistic rebuttal that of course she knew, the angel Gabriel told her. The song focuses on miraculous events and theological interpretations of historical events that at best lie outside the domain of history, and in some instances are simply unlikely to have occurred. Within the framework of my book, I assert something that elevates Mary to her rightful place historically. The question I address is not whether Mary foresaw Jesus being an exorcist and healer, or even the kind of person about whom stories of a miraculous conception and portents foretelling his birth might appear, but how Mary influenced Jesus to become the adult who made such an impression on his contemporaries and created ripples that continue to be felt down to the present day. That’s a story that not only the songwriter and the song’s detractors miss, but most historians do as well. I’m eagerly looking forward to the book being out so that you can read what I have to say on the subject!
In the meantime, here are some other things related to New Testament women (including but not limited to Mary) from around the blogosphere, as well as a few previous posts on this blog related to this topic:
A new book:
I also cannot make reference to a parody of “Mary Did You Know?” without making sure you’ve all heard the holiday classic “Vader Did You Know?”
Previously on this blog: