Sometimes I find the inspiration for a blog post in the most unlikely places. Earlier this evening I took Jenny out to the after hours medical clinic at Darwin Private Hospital for treatment for a persistent migraine.
Being a rather expensive establishment, it doesn’t get the sort of dubiously-ill malingering clientele who flog all the latest magazines from the waiting room before anyone has a chance to read them. Consequently I found myself reading a fascinating article about Mary Magdalene in a very recent edition of Time magazine (premium web content so I can’t quote from it verbatim).
Mary, it seems, has been given a bum rap not unlike Pauline Hanson. Contrary to popular Catholic Church-inspired belief, she wasn’t a harlot after all.
In fact she was just a wealthy woman who became the benefactor and patron of Jesus and his disciples. Mary of Bethany was actually the one with a propensity for prostitution, and there may even have been a couple of other Marys prone to giving the occasional horizontal folk-dancing lesson to eke out the housekeeping money. But Mary Magdalene wasn’t one of them. A later unscrupulous Pope (tautological?) decided to conflate the sundry Biblical Marys into the single persona of Mary Magdalene to avoid confusing the lumpen faithful of the times.
The Catholic Church apparently fessed up to its shameful defamation of Mary Magdalene years ago, but it must have been a pretty low-key confession because it certainly escaped my attention.
All this is interesting and credible, but the story goes downhill from there. The Time story went on to recount other claims that Mary Magdalene was pregnant to Jesus at the time of his death, and that Diana, Princess of Wales, is among Jesus’s Marian blood descendants. But don’t scoff too soon. It might not be as unlikely as it sounds. It would certainly explain Diana’s remarkable instinct for self-sacrifice; from marrying a jug-eared inbred halfwit; through slashing her wrists with vegetable peelers; affairs with caddish military officers on the make; to her spectacular exit with a short, fat, ugly Arab playboy while being pursued at high speed by dozens of paparazzi.
One telling point the Time article makes is that the modern Bible, like all histories, was written by the winners. The losers were Mary Magdalene and various sects of early Christians, especially the Gnostics. With a history written two thousand years ago, the “traces” of the spin doctors are very difficult to find. Even with Princess Diana’s death, despite its temporal proximity and the fact that it occurred in the immediate presence of the world’s media, many details remain unclear.
How much more difficult is it to be certain about whether, when and how lots of unknown, obscure and illiterate Aborigines died 150-200 years ago in Tasmania? Yes, you guessed where I was heading. Keith Windschuttle. The latest shot in the history wars was fired by “black armband” historian Henry Reynolds in today’s Age newspaper. It’s apparently an edited extract from his chapter of the just-published Windschuttle-debunking book titled Whitewash: On Keith Windschuttle’s Fabrication of Aboriginal History, a collection of essays edited by Robert Manne.
Reynolds doesn’t attempt directly to retrieve the badly soiled reputation of his colleague Lyndall Ryan. Instead he embarks on a very effective counter-attack, completely demolishing Windschuttle’s tattered credibility in the process. A definitive interpretation of history’s traces of what happened in Tasmania may in many respects be impossible, but one thing is absolutely certain. Windschuttle may have holed Ryan below the waterline, but he’s undoubtedly taken a mortal torpedo in the powder-magazine in the process. Only someone with an ideological or other obsession so severe as to fatally impair any capacity for rational thought could now treat Windschuttle as an even remotely authoritative source on matters of indigenous history.
Of course, all this is bound to re-ignite the seemingly interminable and increasingly farcical blogospherical history wars as well. I’m looking forward to it, in the same sense that I’m looking forward to prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease.