Adamo THE GOSPEL OF MARY MAGDALENE

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LIBRETTO

Commissioned for San Francisco Opera David Gockley, General and Artistic Director Adapted from the texts of, and research on, the Canonical and Gnostic Gospels

An opera by MARK ADAMO

THE GOSPEL OF MARY MAGDALENE

Copyright Š 2013 by G. Schirmer, Inc. (ASCAP) New York, NY All rights reserved. International Copyright Secured.


When religion becomes artificial, it remains for art to salvage the true essence of religion by perceiving its mythical symbols—which religion would have us believe to be the literal truth—only according to their figurative value, in order to make us see their profound, hidden truth through idealised representation. RICHARD WAGNER

The religion of one age is the literary entertainment of the next. RALPH WALDO EMERSON

Why is there still a continuing sense, ranging from unease to revulsion, that arises in us when we hear the suggestion that Jesus might have been married? I suggest that far more than any of us realize, we are subconsciously victimized by the historic negativity toward women that has been a major gift of the Christian church to the world. J. S. SPONG

If the Savior considered her to be worthy, who are you to disregard her? THE GOSPEL OF MARY

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A NEW TESTAMENT The Gospel of Mary Magdalene in the Opera House Drawing on the Gnostic gospels, the canonical gospels, and over fifty years of New Testament scholarship, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene reimagines the story of Jesus through the eyes of its most substantial female character. At first, this Mary Magdalene, like so many moderns, searches for meaning and purpose in erotic love alone. But her entanglement with Jesus of Nazareth—as mentor, soulmate, and co-minister—teaches her to distinguish love from possession, even as it teaches him to see the moral dignity of women. I use Mary’s clashes with Jesus’s disciple Peter (minutely described in the Nag Hammadi scriptures) to suggest how the personal politics within Jesus’ movement may have played out in their own place and time. And this opera imagines a version of Mary’s vision at Jesus’s tomb which—had it shaped the Christian story the way Peter’s version of it did— might have left us a radically, radiantly different Western world. The most startling premises of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene either hide in plain sight in the canonical gospels or enjoy widespread consensus among Biblical scholars. No evidence—none—indicates the Magdalene was a prostitute. But clues in Matthew, Mark, and Luke strongly hint that Jesus was seen as an illegitimate child. Theologians from John Dominic Crossan through Karen L. King shrug to agree that Jesus and Mary Magdalene may well have been sexually involved—see the Gospel of Philip’s description of Mary as Jesus’ “companion,” its accounts of his constantly “kissing her on the mouth.” Peter’s resistance to women burns bright in Pistis Sophia and Dialogue of the Savior (in which Mary admits “I am afraid of Peter, for he hates me and all of my sex:”) and Peter’s intent to banish Mary—as well as Jesus’ mollifying counteroffer to “make (Mary Magdalene) male—” comprise the stark final verses of the Gospel of Thomas. The heart of this story, though, is Mary’s vision of Jesus at the tomb: thus, any Magdalene opera must account for that scene’s signal line, among the more bewildering rebuffs in literature. Mary, rapt, reaches for her risen beloved. “Noli me tangere” (“Do not touch me”) Jesus replies. This line, read in Latin, inspired a thousand paintings of a tearful grasping wench thrust aside by an angel bent on higher things: the very image of the Church’s ancient equation of women with sex and sin. But translate the line from its original Greek. Now you read “Do not hold on to me,” or “Let me go.” Disgusted dismissal becomes gentle plea: a Gnostic plea not to confuse person with message, flesh with spirit, possession with love. Might this be the point of the Magdalene legend? Might Noli me tangere crown a story in which a morally ambitious woman learns to distinguish love from need—and, so enlightened, tries to persuade her fellows not to confuse the message with the messenger, or inner transformation with tribal politics? By the fourth century, Christianity—now imperially triumphant—was carefully crafting its own master-narrative. Omitted from that narrative were the Gnostic Gospels, with their transformative visions of ethnic equality, of the soul-nourishing potential of sexual love; even, nascently, of the separation of church and state. At a moment when too many of us are still willing to use these stories to punish and exclude, rather than ennoble and unite, all of our fellow citizens, have we no need to re-examine these treasured but treacherous legends? Or might it be time to look again to The Gospel of Mary Magdalene?

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THE GOSPEL OF MARY MAGDALENE SYNOPSIS ACT ONE Prolegomenon. Tonight. An empty space, ringed in stairs: perhaps an archaeological dig in Israel. Five modern disaffected Christians try to stop themselves from burning their Bibles: they’re desperate to escape the negativity towards sex and women that poisons their tradition for them, but they don’t want to leave that tradition behind. Their anguish summons a Chorus, which promises that recently-discovered versions of the New Testament, centering on the character of Mary Magdalene, can “correct and complete” their story. Mary Magdalene herself appears, in the guise of the goddess Wisdom from the Book of Proverbs. During the course of an aria drawn from the Song of Songs, the Old Testament’s poem of the sacrality of erotic love, she enters history and materializes in her dwelling in Capernaum. One. Midnight. Mary’s apartment. Mary Magdalene suffers the end of another of the relationships through which she’s sought transcendence. Her lover’s vengeful wife Tamar storms Mary’s bedroom and drives her into the street, terrifying Mary into near-madness: she’s about to have Mary stoned when the driven, haunted preacher Yeshua (Jesus) interrupts. When Tamar accuses Mary of adultery, Yeshua asks Tamar if she, herself, isn’t living with another man? Caught out, Tamar stalks out: gently, but also patronizingly, Yeshua talks Mary down from her trauma. She defends her affair as part of her search for meaning: Yeshua, oddly vehement, tells her she’s mistaken to look for it in erotic love alone. Unswayed, Mary asks how she can reward him for rescuing her: Yeshua tells her to find him at the synagogue at Capernaum. Two. The next day. The synagogue at Capernaum. Mary finds two other itinerant rabbis, as well as Yeshua, preaching. But he disgusts her—he’s all fire-and-brimstone, wanting to bring not peace, but a sword—except at the end of his lecture, when he utters a brief, inchoate message of renunciation so beautiful, and so reminiscent of what she wanted in the scene before, that she halts, transfixed. But a smooth Pharisee questions Yeshua’s credibility, hints he’s illegitimate. Yeshua’s mother Miriam, and his brothers, appearing, try to avert an impending fracas: but Yeshua eludes his family and flees, rejecting them with such fury it shocks Mary. Miriam, recognizing Mary from Yeshua’s description of her, warns her to stay away from her son before he ruins her life: she claims that, while Yeshua preaches love, he doesn’t practice it. Mary counters that maybe the true Yeshua is the man who saved her, not the angry preacher she’s just seen: and maybe she can teach him something. Miriam, impressed, blesses her and leaves: Mary decides to try to join the group. Three. Days later: a café. Peter, Yeshua’s principal disciple, tries to repel Mary as Miriam did: he affirms that Yeshua’s going to be a political leader and free the Jews from the Romans, not merely preach of personal salvation. Mary, determined, dangles before him an offer of the kind of financial support she knows the group needs. Peter demurs: but Yeshua entering, recognizes Mary, and offers her an audition of sorts—if Mary can hold her own in the fractious, all-male group of his followers, they’ll accept her. Unseen by them all, the two

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Police from the first scene, suspicious that Yeshua’s group may be plotting political rebellion, have recorded their every word. Continuous: the group’s safe room. Yeshua leads Mary into the group: over time—though she disagrees often with Yeshua on matters like divorce, brings in female followers, and often dominates the discussion—she earns their welcome. Peter worries that Yeshua is growing too close to Mary, and that the more Yeshua listens to her, the less he’ll want to challenge the Romans. He plots to banish her. Mary struggles not to become too attached to Yeshua. The Police disrupt a meeting of the followers with their report of John the Baptist’s murder. By subtly quoting Peter, they hint they know of the group’s subversive plans, and that Yeshua could be murdered next if they continue. Yeshua flees: Mary pursues him. Yeshua confides the anguish of his abandonment of John the Baptist, his mentor, whom he did not defend. Mary consoles him with the same gentleness he showed her when they first met. They kiss: and walk to Mary’s apartment. Four. Dawn. Mary’s apartment. Waking the next morning, Mary finds Yeshua withdrawn. She claims her desire for him makes her neither wrong nor insincere about striving for something higher. He doesn’t respond. Feeling she’s ruined things, Mary makes to go: Yeshua asks her to stay. Five. Miriam’s apartment. The night of Mary’s wedding. Miriam dresses Mary’s hair. It’s against tradition, but Mary, trailed by Miriam, impulsively goes to Yeshua’s quarters to see him. Yeshua is being toasted by his followers when a haggard Peter bursts in. Yeshua dismisses the other men. Outside, Mary overhears Peter telling Yeshua to reject Mary, quoting Yeshua’s own words to remind him that women aren’t worthy of a life like theirs. Yeshua placates Peter by claiming he’ll “make Mary male”—that she’ll become less female as she evolves spiritually. Mary wants to burst in: Miriam drags her away, claiming Yeshua’s cruelty is her (Miriam’s) fault. Mary demands to know why Miriam consistently takes the blame for her son’s actions. Miriam confesses that Yeshua was illegitimate: she’d gotten pregnant by someone else while engaged to Joseph, and Yeshua blames Miriam for their resulting life of shame. As Mary comforts Miriam, Yeshua’s followers bear him across the courtyard to begin the wedding. Mary and Miriam withdraw. The followers cue Mary, who doesn’t appear; after repeating their summons, Mary appears. Yeshua dismisses the party. Mary excoriates Yeshua for his treatment of Miriam and herself, claims she’s had enough. Yeshua protests that he needs her. Mary retorts that Yeshua needs Peter, who doesn’t accept her; she threatens that, unless Peter makes peace with her, she’s gone. Yeshua summons Peter, forces him to kneel to Mary. Yeshua and Mary marry.

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ACT TWO One. Day: A hillside. Yeshua, Mary, Miriam, Peter, The Two Police: a crowd. Yeshua, transformed by joy, teaches with Mary and Miriam on a hillside. Now Yeshua dismisses the need for fasting or circumcision, claims God is for all nations, agrees that his Jewish forbears of centuries ago were right when they claimed “The only rule is to love your neighbor as yourself.” The crowd, energized, claims Yeshua as their political, as well as spiritual, Messiah: the Police attempt to quell them by leading the people in a hymn to the Emperor, but the people won’t be cowed, at which point the Police break up the rally by force. Two. Peter spirits Yeshua, Mary, and Miriam to safety, and attempts to persuade Yeshua to accept the people’s coronation. Yeshua refuses: his movement is to remain spiritual, as Mary advocates, not political. Peter insists that saving souls can’t matter if people’s bodies are still enslaved: contends that if Yeshua wants to do what’s best for women, as well as for men, he’ll make sure that innocent girls like his mother will never be shamed by their oppressors again. Cornered, Mary reminds Yeshua of his promise never to abandon her, but Peter argues that if Mary truly loved Yeshua, wouldn’t she “let him go” to fulfill his mission? Mary threatens Yeshua that if he storms the Temple, she’ll not be here when he returns. Yeshua tells them both to leave him alone. Interlude. The dark before dawn. Yeshua prays. Peter has gathered the followers further down the hill: they wait for Yeshua to make a decision. Night falls. Yeshua decides; follows them back to the safe room. They are dressing and preparing themselves for the Temple demonstration when Mary appears, carrying a tall alabaster jar. Three. Dawn. The safe room. Yeshua dismisses the followers. Mary accepts that she must lose Yeshua, anoints him as a blessing. Four. Months later: the morning of Yeshua’s execution outside of Jerusalem. As the Chorus intones passages from Zephaniah, Peter denies he knows Yeshua so as to elude suspicious questioners. Yeshua, trailed by Mary and Miriam, drags his cross to the Hill of Skulls. The two police render to an unseen superior their report of Yeshua’s ride into his arrest, torture under Herod, and crucifixion. Yeshua dies: Mary cradles his body. Five. Before sunrise, the next morning. The ruined safe room. Peter relives the guilt of denying Yeshua. Mary enters, consoling him the way she consoled Yeshua for abandoning John the Baptist. Peter warns her to flee: Mary reminds him she must anoint Yeshua for burial. Before she goes, Mary offers to make peace. Peter salutes her wisdom, but still withholds total reconciliation. Miriam, her hair gone white, joins Mary: she scorns Peter for rejecting Mary. Mary restrains her. The women set out for Yeshua’s tomb. Interlude. On the way to the garden. The Chorus wonders what Mary will learn at the tomb. We leave time for a moment and leap to the end of the story as recounted by The Gospel of Mary: the disciples, terrified by the news of Yeshua’s crucifixion and wondering what awaits them, are interrupted in the ruined safe room by a radiantly confident Mary, who informs

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them that she has seen Yeshua in a vision at his tomb and that his grace will always be with them as they preach the good news. Peter discredits Mary’s story: the disciple Levi reproofs Peter for his “constant inclination to anger” towards Mary, and urges the disciples to believe her and take her advice. Mary reënters the story, supporting Miriam on their way to the tomb. On their walk there, Miriam falls twice: Mary helps her to her feet. Six. Dawn. A green garden: in it, an elegant stone tomb, the stone blocking its opening rolled away. Mary warns Miriam that she may be too weak to manage the staircase to the crypt: Miriam tries, but falls a third time. Mary asks Miriam what she would tell her son if she could: Miriam says a final farewell, admits she still believes all this happened for a reason. Mary leaves Miriam at the top of the staircase leading to the crypt. Seven. Inside the crypt: a pale stone bier bearing a shrouded corpse. Mary, distraught almost to madness, unwraps the head of the body on the bier, but doesn’t recognize it as Yeshua’s. Yeshua’s ghost appears behind Mary: she doesn’t see him. “Why are you weeping?” he asks. As in the Gospel of John (and The Song of Songs,) Mary, not turning, asks three times of the ghost, “Where have you taken him?” before he says her name, and she recognizes him. She moves to touch him: gently he tells her, “Let me go.” Mary cries that she did let him go, and look what’s happened: what was it for? Yeshua’s ghost tells her that she still has what she was looking for with him—that “something high, pure, strong.” Mary claims everything died with him: Yeshua reminds her that there’s still the story to tell, and Peter will only tell his version. Mary demurs, doubting her own strength; but Yeshua crowns her with his crown of thorns, charges her with telling their story, and reminds her that he will always be with her. Yeshua vanishes. Mary, crowned, makes her way to the stairs, atop which the waiting Miriam stands amazed; she climbs out of the tomb and into the morning light.

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THE GOSPEL OF MARY MAGDALENE PRINCIPAL RÔLES. MIRIAM, soprano.

Mother of YESHUA. Forty-five years of age. steely: possessed of a private grief.

MARY MAGDALENE, mezzo-soprano.

Companion of YESHUA. Not yet thirty. joyous: worldly; yearning to transcend herself.

PETER, tenor.

Follower of YESHUA, and younger than he. single-minded, visionary, resistant to women.

YESHUA, high baritone.

Son of MIRIAM. Thirty. haunted, severe, yet longing for joy.

PHARISEE, bass.

Lay guardian of the synagogue of Capernaum. attentive, witty, detached.

TWO POLICE, tenor, baritone.

Agents of Herod Antipas. smooth, dry, watchful.

SIX NEWSCASTERS

...who report the discovery of the Gnostic Gospels.

ENSEMBLE RÔLES. FIVE SEEKERS, s, mz, mz, t, b. TAMAR, s. THREE GIRLS, s, s, mz. TWO PREACHERS, t, t. SIMON, bn. ONLOOKER, bn. FISHMONGER, bs-bn.

of our own day; bitterly disappointed, but openly yearning. vulgar, vengeful. (Also sings Girl 2, Seeker 2.) rude, giggly at first: later, Yeshua’s Female Followers. (Girl 1 sings Seeker 1; Girl 3 sings Seeker 3.) one mystical, one wrathful. (Preacher 1 sings Follower 1 and Seeker 4 [Levi;] Preacher 2 sings Follower 2.) sympathetic, but firm. ((Also sings Follower 3 & Onlooker.) gleeful, jeering. (See Simon.) blunt, casual. (Also sings Follower 4 and Seeker 5.)

NON-SINGING RÔLES. JAMES and JOSES. A SQUAD OF POLICEMEN. TWO EXECUTIONERS. A SLAVE WOMAN. ONLOOKERS .

Sons of Mary. Young, strong, severe. …who disperse the crowd at Yeshua’s second sermon. Agents of Rome. At Yeshua’s execution. Suspicious and shrewd. …at YESHUA’s sermons and his crucifixion.

CHORUS

SATB. The audience. The time is now. The place is Galilee, the first century C.E.

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THE GOSPEL OF MARY MAGDALENE RÔLE DOUBLING PLOT If needed, the following combinations of rôles may be cast with single singers. SEEKER 1/GIRL 1/FEMALE FOLLOWER 1. SEEKER 2/TAMAR/GIRL 2/FEMALE FOLLOWER 2/SLAVE WOMAN. SEEKER 3/GIRL 3/FEMALE FOLLOWER 3. LEVI/SEEKER 4/PREACHER 1 or 2/FOLLOWER 1 or 2. FOLLOWER 2 or 1/PREACHER 2 or 1. SIMON/FOLLOWER 3/ONLOOKER. SEEKER 5/FISHMONGER/FOLLOWER 4.

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THE GOSPEL OF MARY MAGDALENE RÔLES BY SCENE. ACT ONE. PROLEGOMENON.

SEEKERS†, CHORUS†.

SCENE 1.

TAMAR, MARY, SIMON, TWO POLICE, YESHUA.

SCENE 2.

CHORUS WOMEN, MIRIAM, THREE GIRLS, MARY, PREACHERS 1 & 2, TWO POLICE, PHARISEE, ONLOOKER, YESHUA, FISHMONGER, *JAMES, *JOSES.

SCENE 3.

MARY, PETER, TWO POLICE, YESHUA, ALL FOLLOWERS, CHORUS, SEEKERS.

SCENE 4.

MARY, YESHUA.

SCENE 5.

MIRIAM, MARY, PETER, YESHUA, FOLLOWERS, CHORUS.

ACT TWO. SCENE 1.

MIRIAM, THREE GIRLS, MARY, PETER, PREACHERS 1 & 2, TWO POLICE, FOLLOWERS, YESHUA, ONLOOKER, FISHMONGER, *A SQUAD OF POLICE, CHORUS.

SCENE 2.

*MIRIAM, MARY, PETER, YESHUA, *FOLLOWERS.

FIRST INTERLUDE.

MARY, PETER, YESHUA, *FOLLOWERS.

SCENE 3.

MARY, *YESHUA, CHORUS.

SCENE 4.

*MIRIAM, *MARY, *SLAVE WOMAN, PETER, TWO POLICE, YESHUA, *ONLOOKERS, *TWO EXECUTIONERS, CHORUS.

SCENE 5.

MIRIAM, MARY, PETER.

SECOND INTERLUDE.

*MIRIAM, MARY, PETER, LEVI (SEEKER 4,) SEEKERS, CHORUS.

SCENE 6.

MIRIAM, MARY.

SCENE 7.

*MIRIAM, MARY, YESHUA, CHORUS.

† CHORUS and SEEKERS may be present in every scene of the opera, at the director’s discretion. * non-singing, either throughout or the given scene.

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to David Gockley, with infinite gratitude

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PROLEGOMENON (Sunset. An empty space, ringed, in stairs: perhaps the site of an archeological dig in Israel. A bonfire flickers. FIVE SEEKERS—two men, three women— assemble, dressed as we are: students, bankers, mothers, moderns all. One holds a clearly recognizable Bible. They make to fling the book into the flames. They falter.) SEEKERS (a prayer) Tell me, Father: tell me why I should not burn this. I know: the world as family1, I know: that love is all in all, I know: embrace your sufferings2; be reborn, from within.3 So beautiful, this story! I have loved it all my life…But, Why then, Father, does it ask of me to learn this: MALE SEEKERS That we were born unholy, 4 FEMALE SEEKERS That through me, mankind came to fall5; ALL SEEKERS That my body, through which all life springs, Is the source, the very source of sin.

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Galatians 3:28; “…all are one in Christ Jesus.” This libretto first states here a theme to which its sources insist it return; i. e., that the internationalist Christian message is a post-Resurrection (if not Pauline) invention. More on this in I-3. 2

Luke 9:23. “Then (Jesus) said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must take up their cross daily and follow me.” See also Matthew 16:24. 3

John 3:5. “Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” 4

In his 1986 Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, Pope Benedict XVI (then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) cites Genesis 19:11 (the story of Sodom,) Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 (abominating homosexuality,) and the letters of Paul (I Corinthians 6:9 and Romans 1:18-32)—but no teaching of Jesus’s---to conclude that “Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.” 5

The second-century Church Father Tertullian (155-245 A.D.), De Cultu Feminarum, book 1, chap 1. “…And do you not know that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You (emphasis Tertullian’s) are the devil's gateway; you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him (Adam) whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's image, man. On account of your desert---that is, death---even the Son of God had to die…”

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ALL SEEKERS So poisonous, this story! It has hurt me all my life. I do not want to lose this story; But nor will I apologize For noticing—among its truths— Its thousand lies. I cannot bear to lose this story! Cannot throw it away—but, Unless it is corrected, Unless it is completed, How can I stay? Tell me, Father: tell me why I should not burn this! CHORUS (off) Because we can correct it. Because we can complete it. (Magically, the bonfire blows out; and white noise—cymbals, muted brass— bursts from the orchestra. The SEEKERS pause. Through the sonic haze, more and more clearly, we hear excerpts of crackling, hissing radio broadcasts that sound as if they’re from the late 1940s.) NEWSCASTERS (recorded, variously) â€œâ€ŚFor Tuesday, May 6, 1948. News from Egypt: our correspondents have confirmed that the scrolls unearthed in the Upper Nile town of Nag Hammadi late last year have been identified as early Christian gospels, possibly dating from as early as the first century, A. D.—and containing versions of the stories of Jesus, Peter, and, most surprisingly, Mary Magdalene, that differ radically from the versions canonized in The King James Bible‌â€? (As the newscasts fracture into a Babel of languages the CHORUS, also in modern dress, looms into view, fills the stage. NEWSCASTERS " % # % $ ! ““Speak, Mary, you whose heart is more turned to the Kingdom of Heaven than all your brothers,â€? raises the question of whether the (continued)

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NEWSCASTERS (continued) Magdalene may have been not only Jesus's closest companion, but also his principal disciple…/“Ich habe Angst vor Petrus, denn er bedroht mich und hasst mich und alle meines Geschlechts", in der Pistis Sophia werfen verblüffende neue Fragen über die persönliche Politik der Jesus-Bewegung auf…/Il Vaticano ha rilasciato una

dichiarazione che nega qualsiasi asserzione circa l’autenticità storica o teologica dei cosiddetti Vangeli gnostici… ‫أنھا تضم ترجمة لقصة مريم المجدلية التي تختلف جذريًا عن ترجمات كتاب‬ .‫ قداسة الملك جيمس‬/…Lines such as “I am afraid of Peter, for he threatens me and

hates me and all my sex,” in the Pistis Sophia raise startling new questions about the personal politics of Jesus's movement… /“En de metgezellin van de

Verlosser was Maria Magdalena: Hij hield meer van haar dan van de andere leerlingen”, staat in het Evangelie van Filippus... ‫מעלים שאלות חדשות ומטרידות בקשר לפוליטיקה האישית‬ ..‫ הוותיקן פרסם הודעה המכחישה כול טענה‬.‫בתנועתו של ישו‬/ (Percussion clangs—the newscasts go silent.) CHORUS Her story’s one we thought we knew. What’s left to learn? The mad whore,6, healed by the preacher’s hands, Her shattered urn7; Her silent vigil, as he dies; The strangely darkened noontime skies, Then—in the tomb—before her eyes, His radiant return. SEEKERS But who was she? The girl: the Magdalene woman? No way to know; No way to tell… (Some members of the CHORUS approach the SEEKER with the Bible: take it, gently; and offer a new book in its stead.)

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No Canonical or Gnostic Gospel describes Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. The tradition of describing her thus begins with an influential sermon of 594 CE given by Pope St. Gregory I (the text of which is given in Patrologia Latina, a collection of the work of the Church Fathers from Tertullian through Pope Innocent III), in which he stated that he believed "that the woman Luke called a sinner and John called Mary was the Mary out of whom Mark declared that seven demons were cast" (Hanc vero quam Lucas peccatricem mulierem, Joannes Mariam nominat, illam esse Mariam credimus de qua Marcus septem damonia ejecta fuisse testatur:) thus conflating the sinner of Luke 7:37 and the Mary of John 11:2 and 12:3 (the sister of Lazarus and Martha of Bethany) with the demon-haunted Mary Magdalene described in Mark 16:9. The Eastern Orthodox Church never accepted Gregory's identification of Mary Magdalene with the sinful woman: and since 1969, any mention of Mary Magdalene as a sinner has been omitted from Roman Catholic liturgical materials. 7

All four canonical Gospels cast Mary as the first witness of the Resurrection, but only Mark 16 and Luke 24 have Mary Magdalene travelling to Jesus’s tomb specifically to anoint his body for burial. So it was custom, not scholarship, that had long identified Mary Magdalene as the nameless woman in Matthew 26:2-13, who shatters open an alabaster jar of expensive unguent and anoints Jesus with all its contents as a kind of pre-funeral rite, two days before his crucifixion.

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CHORUS Now, Egypt: after World War Two, Another shattered urn,8 Inside the cave—beneath the sands—so much to learn! Twelve crumbling scrolls that overthrew Ev’rything we thought we knew— Yes, the healing, yes, the vigil, yes, the tomb, the urn, the winding sheet— (All the story) very likely true: Surely not complete. (The CHORUS leads the SEEKERS out of the center, up to the perimeter...) SEEKERS So: who is she? The girl: the Magdalene woman? SEEKERS, CHORUS Yes, who is she? The girl: the Magdalene woman? What does she know? What can she tell? What does she know?

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In 1945, in the Upper Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi, twelve leather-bound papyrus codices were found sealed in a jar within a limestone cave: these were translations into Coptic of the Greek originals of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Philip, Pistis Sophia (Faith-Wisdom) and Dialogue of the Savior, from which many of the premises of this libretto are drawn. (Two fragments of the actual Gospel of Mary had been unearthed earlier, between 1896 and 1906.)

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ACT I SCENE 1 (As the CHORUS and SEEKERS recede from the center to the perimeter of the stage, a woman looms into view. We are out of time, out of place: the woman is cloaked, elegant, as much a seeker as the moderns who have summoned her. This is MARY MAGDALENE as the goddess Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs, or the Shulamite in The Song of Songs.) MARY This I know: You bring me to life. Radiant man, answered pray’r, You bring me to life: Back to life! The nights I wasted, searching, Asking watchmen in the square: 9 “Have you seen him? Have you seen the one I love?” The narrow streets, the alleyways: I sought you ev’rywhere! “Have you seen him? Have you seen the one I love?” And now I’ve found you. I have kissed the one I love: Kissed your eyes, your throat, your wrists… And what these kisses tell me, What my body tells me Is that God exists: And here, through you, He brings me to life. Radiant man, answered pray’r, He brings me to life: Back to life! Come back, then, my lover, Strong as the leopard, Tall as the cedars of the Levantine: (continued) 9

The Song of Songs, Chapter 3, Verses 2-4 (trans., Chana Bloch and Ariel Bloch; hereafter, Song, 3:2-4.) “I must rise and go about the city,/the narrow streets and squares, till I find/my only love./I sought him everywhere, but could not find him. /Then the watchmen found me as I went about the city/Have you seen him? Have you seen/the one I love?” Note that John’s version (20:13) of Mary’s final search for Jesus at the tomb—asking first the angels, then (an unrecognized) Jesus where they’ve hidden his body--is prefigured in the repeated questions to the watchmen in Song 3:3.

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MARY (continued) Come back to my garden, Open my apricots, Feast on my honeycomb, Taste my wine. Kiss me! Make me blind with your kisses.10 Wake the night! And when you do, I shall have lost myself. But when I lose myself, I find myself, 11 I find myself In you… Elsewhere onstage, a bedroom materializes: as the MAGDALENE enters it, she reënters history. We are in Capernaum, ca. 30 CE, in her bedroom; lamplight laps its snowdrifts of linen with flickering shadows of mauve and rose. The MAGDALENE embraces seraphic SIMON, her lover: but he unclasps her arms from his shoulders, rummages for his clothes among hers. MARY stays his hand.) And only you Can bring me to life. Radiant man, answered prayer— You bring me to life: Back to a life that love makes holy, A life aglow. Let me hold you. If you let me hold you, I shall never, never let you go— SIMON (anguished, but firm) But I can’t give you what you need: No lover can, my love. 10

While all these images—cedars, leopards, gardens, honeycombs, apricots, wine—thread throughout Song of Songs, I have directly quoted only the poem’s very first line (Song, 1-2)—“Kiss me! Make me drunk with your kisses!” substituting only “blind” for “drunk” for motivic reasons. 11

Luke, 17:33: Matthew 10:39. (All scriptural quotations from The Complete Gospels: The Annotated Scholars’ Version: Polebridge, 1992-1994; Robert J. Miller, editor.) “…Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, but whoever lets himself lose his life will find it.”

6


MARY (deaf to him) I shall hold you, hold you all my life— SIMON Have I not told you I cannot be your life? MARY (weakening) I shall never— SIMON You have to let me go: SIMON, MARY Back to my/your wife.12

Too late.

Husband.

Tamar.

TAMAR (appearing) (TAMAR, veiled, vengeant, has burst into the bedroom, flanked by TWO POLICEMEN.) TAMAR (gelid) SIMON (gelid) (SIMON stares her down. TAMAR quails. Unrestrained by either TAMAR or the TWO POLICE, SIMON stalks out.)

TWO POLICE (in unison) The penalty is stoning. TAMAR (a gleeful echo) The penalty is stoning! 12

Adultery: Contemporary scholarship concludes that the story of the adulterous woman is not original to the Gospels, though in some editions it is placed after John 7:52. Nor was this woman Mary Magdalene. It was only the aforementioned sermon in 594 C.E. of Pope St. Gregory I that conflated the Magdalene both with this woman and the woman who interrupts Simon the Pharisee’s dinner to wash Christ’s feet with her hair (Luke 7:36-50.) I use it here for the dramatic (not scholarly) purpose of establishing Mary as a woman whose sexual autonomy makes her unusual for her time and place.

7


(The TWO POLICE drag MARY out of her bed, out to the street, down to a crumbling wall. TWO POLICE (droning) Deuteronomy13: Exodus; Leviticus14 as well. “Adulterer, adulteress: slay them both. Purify Israel.” Exodus: Deuteronomy; Each one of them advise: “Adulterer, adulteress: slay them both. Sacrifice purifies, Sacrifice purifies,”

MARY (pleading)

But I loved him. And I meant her no harm. You see I mean nothing to them… (re the absent SIMON) “Both?” Kill me if you must. You kill a dead woman— (The TWO POLICE have thrust MARY to her knees. TAMAR stoops, finds half a brick, draws back her arm.)

TAMAR The penalty is stoning! YESHUA (off) Hold back. (YESHUA appears in the street: a gaunt young lion of a man, thirty but seemingly younger; severe, humorless, but something hints at an ache within. TAMAR, flabbergasted, drops the chunk of brick.) MARY (unmade) I cannot see. I cannot breathe. These voices: I hear voices... TAMAR They found my husband in her bed! YESHUA Which husband? Isn’t he your fifth? Not counting whom you’re sleeping with15. 13

Deuteronomy 22:22: “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; so shall you purge the evil from Israel.” 14

Leviticus 20:10. The Seventh Penalty: “If a man commit adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.”

8


TAMAR Who told you? And what is he to you? YESHUA What is she to you? “Adulterer, adulteress: The penalty is stoning.” You can cast this stone? (Unhurried, YESHUA nears TAMAR, crouches to retrieve the fallen brick, curls TAMAR’s fingers around it.) YESHUA Look at me. Name your husbands: count your lovers. Then cast this stone.16 (Incandescent with hatred, TAMAR glares at YESHUA: flings the brick with all her force at the wall behind MARY; and starts to storm away. The TWO POLICE block her.) POLICE (blandly) “Adulterer, adulteress: slay them both. Purify Israel.” TAMAR You’ve been paid!

“Both.”

POLICE (pointedly)

(One of the TWO POLICE outstretches his palm. TAMAR, all but spitting with disgust, finds and slaps a heavy purse into his hand; tosses her veil about her head; and stalks off. The POLICE weigh the purse, shrug, and saunter off in another direction. YESHUA turns to the raving MARY. 15

John 4:17-18. I have borrowed Yeshua’s uncanny intuition of Tamar’s complicated love life from this dialogue with an unnamed woman from Samaria. When Jesus asks this Samaritan woman to fetch her husband, she replies, “’I have no husband.’ And Jesus said, “You are right when you say you have no husband: you’ve had five, and the man you’re living with is not your husband.’ And the woman said, ‘You are a prophet!’” 16

John 7:60, in most traditions: “Whoever is sinless in this crowd should go ahead and throw the first stone at her.” The conflation of the invented character of Tamar with the aforementioned Samaritan woman is entirely my conceit, as is my substitution of her presence in this scene for the usual knot of male onlookers.

9


MARY (rocking herself) Now my demons17 come again— Grinning, dancing, hissing, Singing in my mind: “No one, Mary! Never, Mary! Search forever! Never find: never find—” (YESHUA crouches beside MARY.) YESHUA Woman, look at me. Look at me. (MARY’s deaf to him. YESHUA’s voice softens to lullaby.) YESHUA Are you ashamed? You should be. But no one’s here to shame you. Are you to blame? You could be. But no one’s left, no one’s here to blame you. Breathe: close your eyes. Later you’ll apologize. But for now, let the moment go by. They’re gone. Look, it’s dawn. See the flames light the sky? They can’t claim you. They won’t blame you. Nor will I.18 (MARY was grateful to be comforted by him up until—but not including—the word “apologize.” Still calm, SHE struggles to her feet: YESHUA makes to go.) MARY You don’t blame me? Nor do I.19 17

Madness: This is my nod to Luke 8: 2-3, who first mentions Mary Magdalene as the one Jesus cured of “seven devils.” Contemporary scholarship guesses that “devils” refers to some nervous or psychological condition rather than the (usually inferred) nymphomania, especially considering that there’s no suggestion of anything sexual in the demonic possession of the men mentioned in Luke 8:26-39 and in Matthew 8:28-34.

18

John 7:62-63, in most traditions: “’Woman, hasn’t anybody condemned you?’ She replied, ‘No one, sir.’ ‘I don’t condemn you either,’ Jesus said. ‘You’re free to go, but from now on, no more sinning.’”

19

I’ve drawn Mary’s feistiness in this scene from Gnostic portraiture: Mary flatly contradicts Jesus in the Gnostic Dialogue of the Savior (hereafter Dialogue,) 37: 2-7 (“The Lord said, “Pray in the place where there is no woman…that is, destroy the works of the female.” Mary said, ‘They will never be destroyed.’”) and Peter, in the Gnostic Pistis Sophia, (Faith

10


(YESHUA pauses. MARY nears him.) MARY (respectful, but strong) I want something— I’m seeking something— Something high: true; strong. I thought that I had found it—found him— I was mistaken: but not wrong To hunger— YESHUA (oddly heated) And did he kiss you: make you blind with his kisses? Conquer you, make you his own? And so you lost yourself, Claiming you found yourself. And, yes, you found yourself—alone! And you call that life? I’d call it despair. (more measured) You need another answer to your prayer. (MARY has regained the entrance of her apartment.) MARY You rescued me. You did. I never can repay you. What treasure could suffice? Thank you, for your courage; Bless you, for your help. Still—respectfully— Spare me your advice. (But she does owe him. Relenting;) How shall I repay you? YESHUA Find me at the synagogue in Capernaum. (MARY turns, takes in his frayed clothing, his mess of hair.)

Wisdom: hereafter Pistis Sophia) I, 36-37 describes her thus: “My Lord, we are not able to suffer this woman who takes the opportunity from us, and does not allow any one of us to speak, but she speaks many times!”

11


MARY (skeptical: amused, even) “Rabbi?” YESHUA (unbowed) Find me. (YESHUA walks on. MARY stares after him: then drags herself back to her bedroom, allows herself to collapse.)

12


ACT I SCENE 2 (As the CHORUS WOMEN, benign, look on, the three FEMALE SEEKERS descend to comfort the shattered MARY: she responds to them, if at all, as if to unseen angels. One SEEKER brings MARY’s travelling clothes: all three dress her as gently as nurses would bandage a patient.) CHORUS WOMEN She closes the door. She sinks to the floor. She groans; she weeps. She rocks herself in silence. In time, she sleeps. She buckles her sandals. She summons her servant, Announces she’s homeward bound. Her driver’s here; The road is wide. The sky is clear; Her tears have dried. So, is it fear— Or maybe pride? That makes her veer, Makes her decide— MARY Turn round. I owe him. Turn round. (The CHORUS and SEEKERS recede, revealing the synagogue of Capernaum. Noon: a crystalline sky. MARY, now dressed for travel, delicately makes her way through a crush of locals to where three preachers—including YESHUA— expound from the synagogue court. A thin crowd listens as they would to buskers in a Manhattan subway.) PREACHER 1 (balefully) How miserable is the body that depends on a body! 20 20

The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas (hereafter Thomas), 87:1-2; ascribes this line, verbatim, to Jesus.

13


(Some of the listening crowd—THREE GIRLS, a FISHMONGER, others—nod sagely, exactly as if he’d said something meaningful.)

Hmmm…

CROWD (mystified)

ONLOOKER (eying her, as MARY elbows by him) Depends on the body. PREACHER 2 (as if in trance) Lucky is the lion that the human will eat, so that the lion becomes human! And fetid is the human that the lion will eat; and the lion still will become human!21 Roarrr!

THREE GIRLS (Imitating a lion, the GIRLS lunge at the PREACHER. HE cringes. THEY snigger.)

YESHUA (searing) Beware the fire! Beware, doomed Capernaum22: I come to bring fire! 23 You must—we must relearn Our ancient ways. You must—we must return To purer days. Or else you’ll burn. You’ll burn! You’ll blaze Upon the pyre Beware, doomed Capernaum: I come to bring fire! —(continued)

21 22 23

Thomas, 7:1-2, verbatim. As above, though, the line is actually Jesus’s. Luke 10:15. Matthew, 11:23. Jesus: “And you, Capernaum…you’re going to hell.” Luke, 12:49-53; Matthew, 10:34-36. “I am come to bring fire upon the earth: how I wish that it were already ablaze!”

14


YESHUA (continued) Peace—yes!—peace is a holy thing. Peace—yes! Peace is its own reward. What, what have I come to bring? Not peace: a sword!24 I come to set son against mother25, I come to make brother turn from brother, I come to tear them asunder, In terror, in wonder, In conflict, in thunder, in fire! Fire! (Some—but not all—listeners seem impressed.) MARY (bluntly: loud enough for YESHUA to hear) I see. But I’ve heard all this before. The would-be sage Who thinks a diatribe, A roar of righteous rage is all one needs To purify a tribe… I’d hoped for more. (She turns to go.) YESHUA (abruptly) Unless, unless, You hunger for life. Deep in your heart, in your prayers, Do you hunger for life? (MARY recognizes her phrase, turns back: their eyes meet.) YESHUA (gentler) Then let it go. I tell you: let it go. When you’re not afraid to lose something, Then you’ll understand How to hold on to it. To hold on to it, Open your hand. (continued) 24 25

Matthew 10:34: “Don’t get the idea that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. “

Matthew 10:35: “I have come to pit a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law…”

15


YESHUA (continued) When you’re not afraid to lose someone, You’ll have understood How you can lose yourself So you can find yourself26 For good. (As YESHUA continues, a smartly dressed PHARISEE and the TWO POLICE from the previous scene emerge from the synagogue behind him: confer; and, slowly, approach him.) YESHUA But first, you let it go. I tell you; let it go— PHARISEE Excuse me. YESHUA (nonplussed) Honorable Pharisee. (The PHARISEE—while pretending to speak only to YESHUA—plays to the crowd, which gathers round.) PHARISEE Pardon me. It’s Yeshua, yes? Won’t you chat with us? Your brother’s James27? Your father— Right. That we won’t discuss. (The PHARISEE winks broadly to the onlookers, some of whom guffaw. YESHUA’s livid. MARY’s piqued.) PHARISEE We’re grateful for your presence: Awestruck by your passion! Intrigued by these—philosophies—you’ve mastered, But… You think you should be preaching? Right here, before the Temple? As if you were an elder? As if you knew the Torah? Remember, these are upright Jews, (continued) 26 27

Luke, 17:33: Matthew 10:39: “Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, but whoever lets himself lose his life will find it.”

Mark 6:1-4, Mt 13:53, Luke 4, 16-30. The crowd: “Isn’t this the carpenter? Mary’s son? Aren’t James and Joses his brothers?” See also Mark, 6:3, and John, 8:19: Jesus’ frequent address as “son of Mary”—not, as would be customary, “son of Joseph”—indicates that he was seen as having no legitimate father.

16


PHARISEE (continued) Each of whom knows you to be a… (HE gestures, languidly. “What’s the word...?”) PREACHERS, 3 GIRLS, ONLOOKER (braying) 28 Bastard! PHARISEE (elegantly) …Nazarene? THREE GIRLS (angelic: an old proverb) “Nothing good comes out of Nazareth29….” ONLOOKER Wasn’t his father a Roman? PHARISEE (with “sympathy,” to YESHUA) Rumors. Cruel! And oddly profuse. PREACHER 1 I’d heard it was the carpenter. PREACHER 2 I’d heard Pantera. 30. A FISHMONGER I’d heard Zeus! (The CROWD erupts in laughter.)

28

See John 8:39-41. The Judeans respond to a reproof of Jesus’ with “We were not born of fornication: we have only one father: God.” (“We” is stressed in the original Greek.) 29

John, 1:46. When Jesus’s follower Philip tells Nathanael that he has encountered an extraordinary prophet from the town of Nazareth, Nathanael---apparently echoing a contemporary prejudice against residents of the region—exclaims, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from Nazareth?” 30

“…when she (Mary) was pregnant she was turned out of doors by the carpenter to whom she had been betrothed, as having been guilty of adultery, and that she bore a child to a certain soldier named Pantera.” Celsus, quoting contemporary Jewish sources, in the anti-Christian critique On the True Doctrine, ca. 178 C.E. All this could be dismissed as arrant antiChristian polemic, which was clearly Celsus’s intent. But evidence for the perception of Jesus as illegitimate is consistent even throughout the canonical Gospels (see Matthew 1:18, John 8:39-41, &c;) and even the would-be slanderous BabylonianTalmudic portrait has Yeshua-ben-Pandera (sic) as the “son of an adulteress" whose teaching “impressed a certain rabbi,” had at least five disciples, and was crucified on the eve of Passover.

17


FISHMONGER (enjoying it) Actually, Zeus is my father... YESHUA (blinking back tears of fury) Damn you. You impostors. You reek of sin. Each of you’s a whitewashed grave:31 Clean on the outside; rotten within! (The CROWD applauds. It’s a cockfight.) PHARISEE (extravagantly) I see! We’re foul and fetid tombs, On which a coat of fresh white paint’s been plastered! A withering indictment—yes! Particularly coming from a… PREACHERS, 3 GIRLS, ONLOOKER, FISHMONGER (a stage whisper) Bastard! PHARISEE (hushing them: conciliatory) …carpenter. (icy) Your work is done here, Nazarene. YESHUA (equally icy) My work has just begun. PHARISEE (obdurate) Your work is done here. YESHUA My work has just begun, just begun— MIRIAM (off: plangent) Hold back. 31

Luke 11:44; Matthew 23: 27-28. Jesus: “Damn you, Pharisees! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead man’s bones and everything unclean.”

18


(Trailed by two strong, twenty-ish sons, JAMES and JOSES, MIRIAM—forty-five years old, her fleece of black hair streaked with steel—parts the CROWD. They spit on the ground as she enters. MIRIAM pauses, but doesn’t flinch.) MIRIAM Rabbi, forgive him.32 He’s deranged. 33 He doesn’t know what he’s done. We’ll take him. We’ll take care of him. He’s their brother. He’s my son. (to YESHUA) Follow me. (YESHUA gazes at her. Little by little, the CROWD drifts away to a more compelling roadside distraction.) MIRIAM (inexorable) Yeshua. Follow me. PHARISEE Your mother, your brothers— YESHUA (stony) My mother, my brothers: who are they? 34 MIRIAM (absorbing the blow) Yes: how many times have you denied me? Seven times seven. So, how many times must I forgive you? Seven times seven.35 Follow me: follow— YESHUA See these people? They know the truth of what I say. These are my mother; these are my brothers—(continued) 32

Luke 23:34. Only Luke—and not every early manuscript— includes this prayer of Jesus for his executioners as he dies on the cross: “Father, forgive them: they don’t know what they’re doing.” Miriam’s prefiguring of it here is my invention. 33 34 35

Mark 3:21. Some in the crowd: “His mother and brothers set out to seize him, saying ‘He is deranged.’ Matthew 12:48; also Mark 3:31-35, Luke 8:4-8. Jesus: “My mother and my brothers: who are they?”

Luke 17:4, Matthew 18: 21-22. Jesus, not Miriam, is quoted in these verses as saying, “If someone wrongs you seven times a day, and seven times turns around and says to you, ‘I’m sorry,’ you should forgive that person.”

19


YESHUA (continued) This woman—these boys—who are they? PHARISEE (drily) It seems, then, you’re an orphan. (The street has almost emptied. But MARY remains.) YESHUA (shouting to no one) If you don’t hate your family—36 (A lone FISHMONGER—the last of the crowd—offers a few slow claps, and moves on.) PHARISEE Your work is done here, Nazarene. MIRIAM (an act of will) Seven times seven. (MIRIAM extends her hand. YESHUA ignores her, turns to MARY.) YESHUA (quoting her theme, strangely pleading) Remember… (YESHUA clasps MARY’s hand in both of his; then runs off. Before MIRIAM can stop them, JAMES and JOSES give chase. The PHARISEE chuckles.) PHARISEE Firstborns! (HE touches MIRIAM, strolls toward the temple; pauses.) PHARISEE Watch him, though. PHARISEE, TWO POLICE We are. 36

Luke 14:26, Matthew 10: 37-38. Jesus: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple.”

20


(THEY are gone. MARY approaches MIRIAM.) MARY Lady: may I walk with you? MIRIAM (after a shrewd glance) It’s you. The girl. The Magdalene woman. He spoke of you this morning. (taking her in) Rich girl. Sad girl. Yearning woman. I’m giving you a warning: (before she can stop herself) Run: run like the wind. He will ruin you. Naturally you’re drawn to him: The anguish in his eyes! Though you can’t think you’re the first to have discerned it? But wait until you’re on to him, Wait until you realize, that While he teaches: let it go! While he teaches: just forgive! While he teaches: love, regardless! Love is all— He hasn’t learned it. And the love that he’s been given? He’s not returned it. (in self-reproach) Seven times seven. Seven times seven times seven times seventy times! Still, I’m telling you— Listen! I am telling you: Run. Run like the wind. Run while you still can run. You think that he can bring out something new in you? Something high—strong—true in you? By everything that’s holy: he will ruin you. Believe me. I know my son. Run. Run. Run. Run. Run. Run. Run. (continued) 21


MIRIAM (continued) Run, if you know what’s good for you. (THEY hold a gaze. MARY’s careful in her response.) MARY I witnessed ev’rything: you’re right. Except—he saved my life last night. I’m curious, not charmed. And forewarned is forearmed— But…even if all you say is true, Maybe I can teach him something, too. (JAMES and JOSES, without YESHUA, have returned to MIRIAM’s side.) MIRIAM Perhaps: if he knows what’s good for him. Blessings. Blessings.

MARY

(MIRIAM and her sons depart.) MARY (alone, and a little dazed) So vehement a family... (remembering YESHUA’s words) “When you’re not afraid to lose something, Then you’ll understand How to hold on to it. To hold on to it, Open your hand. When you’re not afraid to lose someone, You’ll have understood How you can lose yourself So you can find yourself For good.” How long have I been searching— Never finding? Desire, I see, is blind, as well as blinding. I’ve been blind. Still, I’m curious, not charmed. And forewarned is forearmed— And maybe he can learn from me as well. (continued) 22


MARY (continued) Because he has something. He knows something. What does he know? What can he tell?

23


ACT I SCENE 3 (The CHORUS, and SEEKERS, out of time.) CHORUS “’Make Mary leave us,’ Simon Peter said: Females are not worthy of this life.’” This is the Gospel of Thomas. 37 (Days later. A tavern. Late morning: dust floats through sunbeams. PETER—faultlessly well-mannered, but chilly withal— meets MARY, leads her to a table: the TWO POLICE, at another, note their every move.) PETER Go. Honestly: go. You don’t belong with us. (He’s singing MIRIAM’s “Run” music. MARY turns to the audience; lifts an eyebrow; returns her attention to PETER.) Of course, you’re taken by his themes— “Let go!” “Open your hand!” But this is more than personal salvation. I’ll tell you what he really dreams, I’ll tell you what we’ve—what he’s—planned: First, we relearn our ancient ways. Repent; return to purer days. And then: throw off the yoke of Rome, Rename our land, yes! Reclaim our home, Remake our souls, retake our nation— And bring it back to life: back to life! So, go. Respectfully: go. Don’t make me ask again. I understand. You think you’ll save your soul with us, Transform yourself: in some way, be made whole with us. You’re wrong. You don’t belong—you have no rôle with us. It’s painful, but, even so… Please, forgive me, truly: but— MARY (elaborately diplomatic) I am so—embarrassed! (continued) 37

Thomas, v. 114. “Simon Peter said to them, ‘Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.’”

24


MARY (continued) Of course, I don’t remotely fit your mold. And all I have to offer is my interest. And a little—well, not so very little—gold.38 (SHE doesn’t seem embarrassed. Nor has she gotten up from her chair. PETER rises to his feet. MARY stays put.) PETER Sorry for your trouble. MARY No, I am so—honestly, so—to be completely candid, so, so embarrassed! I just was unfamiliar with your rules. And all I have to offer is my loyalty, And a little… (does she really not remember?) I just said it! Gold?

PETER

MARY Gold—yes! Thank you. Yes, all I have to offer is my loyalty, Plus, that little …ah! (SHE pauses again, forcing him to repeat it with her.) PETER and MARY …gold, MARY As well as certain—not unimportant—jewels. Jewels.

PETER

MARY (charming, but not kidding) Pearls, mostly. Worth a fortune. No, I am so… 38

Luke 8:2-3: “Mary the one from Magdala…and many others, who provided for (Jesus and his followers) out of their resources.” Centuries later, the mythic characterization of Mary Magdalene as a debauched princess whose sexual promiscuity is egoistically, rather than economically, motivated (see Jacobus de Voragine’s thirteenth-century hagiographycum-adventure tale The Golden Legend) will metastasize from this briefest of Scriptural references to her affluence.

25


YESHUA (entering) Resourceful. Magdalene. Nazarene.

MARY

(MARY and YESHUA lock eyes.) YESHUA Who knows if you belong with us? Ev’rything depends. Meanwhile: come and meet my beautiful noisy friends. (PETER sees the TWO POLICE; THEY depart as smoothly as if they’d been off-duty the entire time. YESHUA leads MARY to a hidden safe room, in which a group of his male FOLLOWERS are arguing heatedly. The CHORUS looms behind the group: the SEEKERS observe throughout.) CHORUS As she was his newest student, (Although she was hardly meek,) For the moment, she thought it prudent To listen, instead of speak. This lasted probably a week. MARY (to YESHUA and FOLLOWERS) Excuse me, FOLLOWERS (jovially) Feel free! MARY Maybe I misread the source, But—you lose me When you talk about divorce.39 It shouldn’t be encouraged, (continued) 39

Mark 10:9-12: see also Luke 16:16-18, Matthew 19:1-12. Jesus, contra Moses. “We were told that whoever divorces his wife should give her a bill of divorce. But I say, those God has coupled together, no man should separate. Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

26


MARY (continued) No: on that we all agree, But if Moses thought it fair to keep it legal, if rare— Why on earth can’t we? YESHUA Discuss. (YESHUA, MARY, and FOLLOWERS debate the point. Time passes. MARY recruits three new FEMALE FOLLOWERS (played by the THREE GIRLS from the first sermon scene) into the circle, to YESHUA's bemusement and PETER's discomfiture. CHORUS She worried they might resist her, As so many had before, But they welcomed her as a sister! So she spoke up even more… FOLLOWERS …Which made her something of a bore. (Weeks later; midday; the safe room. YESHUA; MARY—now at ease—and the FOLLOWERS. ) MARY Excuse me, PETER, ALL FOLLOWERS (exasperated) Again? (Attention shifts to the SEEKERS, reading from their new book; the CHORUS recites, as if by heart.) CHORUS “Peter said, ‘My Lord, we cannot suffer this woman, who does not allow any of us to speak, but she herself speaks many times!” This is the Book of Faith and Wisdom: Verse thirty-six. 40

40

Pistis Sophia I, 36-37. Peter: “My Lord, we are not able to suffer this woman who takes the opportunity from us, and does not allow any one of us to speak, but she speaks many times!”

27


(Back to MARY and the FOLLOWERS.) MARY Last question, I promise! …Excuse me, PETER, ALL FOLLOWERS (resigned) Go on… MARY …but when you discuss your bible, You lose me. Your God seems merely tribal. God made, and loves, the Jews? Agreed. Accepting that as true: Since he also made the Greeks, and the Levites, the Samaritans— Does he not love them, too41? Discuss.

YESHUA (The FOLLOWERS bicker; but YESHUA gazes at MARY. She meets his gaze; then turns away.)

PETER Yet—even I am drawn to her, The fervor in her eyes! She’s so ardent, so intelligent, so joyous! But, still: he must catch on to her. Still, he has to realize that She doesn’t care about the movement, Doesn’t care about the Romans, Doesn’t care about her people, not at all— She has to leave us. For, if she doesn’t leave us, She will destroy us! CHORUS From him, though, she kept her distance: Respectful, but nothing more. (continued) 41

“Greeks, Samaritans:” Since all traditions propose Mary as the first (if not only) witness to Jesus’ resurrection, I suggest that it may have been she who formulated an idea that no Gospel claims Jesus suggested when alive: i. e., to “…go, and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19; also the disputed longer ending of Mark, 16:15.) In contrast, Matthew 10:5 quotes Jesus warning “Do not go among the Gentiles, or enter any town of the Samaritans.” Decades later, Paul will develop a thoroughgoing internationalist mission from Matthew 28:19, though, here as later, he never claims to be quoting Jesus when he claims, in a typical quote like this one from Colossians 3:11, "There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.”

28


CHORUS (continued) If he compromised her resistance, She’d be back where she was before. CHORUS MEN So, when he’d look at her, CHORUS WOMEN She’d look away. CHORUS MEN Nearly ev’ry time he’d look at her, CHORUS WOMEN She’d look away. ALL CHORUS Though there were days They’d hold the gaze… MARY (an act of will) My mentor, and nothing more! ALL CHORUS Then came a banging at the door. (Late afternoon. The TWO POLICE appear, knock outside the safe room. The FOLLOWERS freeze; then ONE admits them.) TWO POLICE (reciting a report) “Name: John, Called the Baptist: son of Zachariah. Preacher, of a kind: Claimed to know a putative Messiah—” SECOND POLICEMAN (to YESHUA) You knew him? YESHUA He’s my cousin42: my mentor. I know him. 42

Luke 1:36. The angel who heralds her pregnancy to Miriam adds, “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age: she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.” Angels aside, no Canonical or Gnostic texts refute Luke’s suggestion of a cousinal relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist.

29


TWO POLICE (“alas”) You knew him. (brisk, as before) “Charge: treason; Slandering Herod and his family. Sentence: death.43 Beheaded at Machaerus44, on the Dead Sea.” (YESHUA blanches.) TWO POLICE (a performance) But what has this to do with you? SECOND POLICEMAN (to YESHUA) You knew him for a while— Well: more than “a while,” true? FIRST POLICEMAN So true. BOTH POLICEMEN But you’re concerned with changing lives; Not faulting Herod’s choice of wives!45 There’s no real correlation. (now to PETER, whose music they’re quoting) We know you prize the rule of Rome. This is your land! This is your home! We are your friends, this is your nation— Indeed: your life! Yes? Your life? Yes? No? (YESHUA looks at PETER, who stays silent.)

43

I have reassigned to my invented Policemen what the authors of the Synoptic Gospels attribute to the apostles. Matthew 14: 10-12: “(The king) sent and had John beheaded in prison… Then his disciples came and got his body and buried him. Then they went and told Jesus.” See also Mark 6:26-30, Luke 9: 9-10.

44

Josephus, the late first-century Jewish historian, locates the place of John the Baptist’s execution in Antiquities 18:116119, as follows: “ Accordingly he was sent as a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Machaerus, the citadel I mentioned before, and was there put to death…”

45

Mark 6:18, Matthew 14:4: John, apparently referring to Leviticus 16:18—“Do not have sexual relations with your brother’s wife: that would dishonor your brother,” had been saying to Herod, “It is unlawful for you to have her.” Mark 6:17-28 tells the story of how Herod had imprisoned John for his calumnies against his wife Herodias, but was only manipulated into executing him by his daughter Salome: the premise, of course, familiar to us from Richard Strauss’s (and Oscar Wilde’s, and Hedwig Lachmann’s) opera, Salome (1905.)

30


TWO POLICE (to each other) There’s just no correlation. (sparkling: aimed like an arrow towards MARY) “We are so—embarrassed!” (THEY make to go; then turn back.) TWO POLICE “Name: John. Beheaded at Machaerus, on the Dead Sea.” (Their eyes bore into YESHUA’s.) TWO POLICE Awful death: decapitation… (THEY withdraw.) PETER We shall avenge him. We shall storm Machaerus, and avenge him— MARY And will that bring him back to life? Live by the sword, die by the sword! 46 YESHUA I should have saved him. Nazarene—

MARY

(Abruptly YESHUA flees to the street, pursued by MARY. She catches up with him as he vomits in a grassy yard: nearby, a steep stone staircase, leading, perhaps, to a back corner of the synagogue. Sunset: purple clouds, a sky of flame.) YESHUA I abandoned him! 47 46

Matthew 26:52. When one of his disciples tries to prevent Jesus’ arrest by cutting off the ear of his assailant, Jesus admonishes, “Those who take up the sword will be done in by it:” this is itself a paraphrase of Genesis 9:6, “Those who shed human blood will have their own blood shed.” Mark (14:47-48,) Luke (22:50-51,) and John (18:10) retell this story without the Genesis reference; only John identifies the disciple as Peter. Mary’s wielding of it is my invention. 47

Matthew 14:11-13, in which John’s disciples bury his body after Herod executes him and only afterward tell Jesus. Also “No source, in the Gospels or elsewhere, puts Jesus with the disciples who were present at the scene of John’s death:” Bruce Chilton, Rabbi Jesus, p. 63.

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MARY He ordered you to run from him— I left him!

YESHUA

MARY You left him? What else could you have done for him? He said the things he said, Though he knew, sooner or later They’d lead—just where they led. Yes, it’s vile—worse than vile—that he’s dead. But still—you’re not a traitor! YESHUA (possibly raving) You and I, he’d say. You, much more than I—still, You are— I am— We are part of a design48… MARY I don’t understand you— YESHUA Your path and mine, he’d say— Cannot tell you why—still: Our journeys intertwine In the same design. Why can’t I see it— See it any clearer? See any more than hints of it, Glints of it, As in a clouded mirror?49 Was he coming closer, (continued) 48

I elaborate here Matthew 3:11, in which John the Baptist preaches, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry, who will baptize you with water and with fire.” Other Gospels suggest that the cousins’ sense of a shared destiny was at once real and emotionally fraught: see Luke 17:20, wherein John sends messengers (!) to ask: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus (stung?) retorts, in Luke 7:22, “Go back and report to John [that] the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, and the good news is preached to the poor.” Matthew 11:11 suggests further ambivalence: therein Jesus gnomically asserts, “I tell you the truth: among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist: yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” But the texts leave unclear whether this ambivalence, as opposed to mere circumstance, can account for Jesus’s absence from John’s arrest and execution.

49

I Corinthians, 13:12. “For now we see as through a glass, darkly...” Paul, though, is not claiming he is quoting Jesus.

32


YESHUA (continued) Was he drawing nearer, When I abandoned him? Nazarene.

MARY

YESHUA I abandoned him. MARY Nazarene: look at me. Look at me. (Silently weeping, YESHUA falls to his knees. MARY catches him, helps him to the steps, gathers him into her lap. [Their grouping could evoke the Michelangelo Pietà.] ) MARY (as HE sang to HER that first night) You feel ashamed? Well: clearly. But no one’s here to shame you. Are you to blame? Not nearly. And no one’s left, no one’s here to blame you. Let this overpower you: Don’t let this devour you. Feel it: learn it; move on. It’s late: nearly night. Look: the light’s almost gone… They can’t claim you. I won’t blame you. Nor would John. (SHE has calmed him. HE rises on one elbow.) YESHUA “Before He made air or ocean, Before He made day or night, Before He made forests, fields, or mountains, Sparrows in flight… She was with him—Wisdom; Everywhere with him—Wisdom; Every day rejoicing, (continued)

33


YESHUA (continued) Every day, daily his delight.50” MARY (carefully) My mother loved that proverb, too. We should go back. YESHUA We can’t go back. (THEY look at each other. It is neither an accident nor a decision when THEY kiss. 51 And kiss again. Then—hands clasped, but without looking at each other, as the orchestra guides their way— THEY walk to MARY’s apartment. As if they were attendants at their wedding night, the SEEKERS undress them, then withdraw.)

50

Proverbs portrays Wisdom as a woman (8:2-3) brought forth by God “before all else: (she) was by him, as one brought up with him: and she was daily his delight” (8:30-31.) I quote and develop this language to express Jesus’ respect for Mary’s wisdom, equally evident in Pistis Sophia 1:17 (also 24 and 25) in which Jesus says, “Mary, blessed one, whom I will complete in all the mysteries of the height, speak openly, you are she whose heart is more directed to the Kingdom of Heaven than all your brothers.” 51

Philip, II. “And the companion (koinonoß, in the Greek) of the Savior was Mary Magdalene: he loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth.”

34


ACT I SCENE 4 (MARY’s bedroom. Dawn: light the color of Jerusalem stone. Eyes aimed at the horizon, YESHUA sits upright at a corner of the bed, armored in bedclothes. MARY awakens, finds him no longer beside her. She nears him. He stiffens; doesn’t turn. MARY registers this: wraps herself in her own bedclothes, retreats to the window. The silence lengthens.) MARY (a test) I love this time of morning. The sun in bloom— As if it means to bless the room… (YESHUA remains silent. MARY makes a decision, speaks without looking at YESHUA.) MARY (with no expectations) I can tell you what I’ve learned from you. About how to live; About giving and receiving love, And how it’s better to give; About how love is not the same thing as desire, And how desire can lie. But— I can’t say I don’t desire you. And I won’t try. I can tell you when I talk with you That the world feels new; That forever isn’t time enough For all the good we could do… So it is not the only feeling you inspire. And yet I cannot deny—no— I can’t deny that I desire you. And I won’t try. Does that make me wrong? Does that make me less? As we try for something higher, Has desire no place? Does that make me weak? Does that make me strong? I’ll leave you to guess. What I do know is, when I touch your face, I feel as if I see a trace— (continued) 35


MARY (continued) A hint of, a glint of Grace. God’s grace…. Still, I can say this was an accident. I can take the blame. Muster all of my self-discipline And extinguish this flame. Then you can tell yourself you never felt the fire; And I can tell you goodbye. But— I can’t say I don’t desire you. I can’t say that I don’t love you. I can’t say that I won’t love you Just the same Until I die. (YESHUA— is he trembling?—still does not respond. Now it is morning; the light is clear and blue.) MARY (MIRIAM and PETER’s theme) Go. Stupid girl: go. You have ruined this. (MARY squares her shoulders, dresses, readies herself to leave. SHE has gained the door when YESHUA speaks.) YESHUA (almost a whisper) But you’ve brought me to life. Radiant woman, Wisdom— You’ve brought me to life. (MARY waits, listening.) YESHUA (tentatively) Someday I’ll explain to you Why I used to believe That love was low, and shameful— Why I was naïve. (HE pauses. SHE listens.) YESHUA Surely I will hurt you and disappoint you, Sure as day follows night: (continued) 36


YESHUA (continued) Still, Be with me—Wisdom; MARY I will be with you, always— YESHUA Everywhere with me—Wisdom; MARY Everywhere with you, always— YESHUA and MARY Every day rejoicing, Every day, daily my delight. (THEY touch.)

37


ACT I SCENE 5 (The CHORUS, out of time.) FEMALE CHORUS “Why should we marry?52” they asked. “Let us be clear, Let us not be deluded…” Notwithstanding her riches, She was an outcast: Single well past her prime. He was a mamzer, which is Also an outcast: (More on that in due time.) His followers might feel betrayed: His enemies wouldn’t be swayed— Whom would they impress? “Why should we marry?” they asked. But, after a year, At last, they concluded: Yes: yes, yes, yes, yes, yes; yes. (The wedding night, when, by custom, the bridegroom “surprises” the bride in her chambers. MIRIAM’s terraced apartment is linked by stairs to a courtyard decked with flowers; two urn-shaped fountains flank the court in plashing waterfall. MIRIAM dresses MARY’s hair53: both are sumptuously dressed.

52

As of May 2013, no authenticated Canonical or Gnostic text offers any evidence that Jesus had married at all. The closest any Scripture comes is the aforementioned Gospel of Philip, which describes Mary Magdalene with the Greek word koinonos, which compares quite specifically to our modern, and erotically ambiguous,“companion.” While I accept that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, it’s worth noting that the Mishnaic Torah Jesus inherited avers, in 4:13, “An unmarried man may not be a teacher.” Also, while Paul’s teachings on chastity (see 1 Corinthians 7:9) are often accepted as original to the Jesus’s thinking, no Gospel quotes Jesus on the topic of celibacy. 53

Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin, 106A, of “Yeshua ben Pandera:” “ His mother was Miriam, a woman’s hairdresser.” Hairdressing in this time and place was a profession frequently undertaken by women of shadowy reputation. It’s worth noting how closely the word “Magdalene” resembles “megaddela,” the Hebrew term for hairdresser. Might this syllabic similarity partially account for Mary Magdalene’s inheritance of a scandalous reputation perhaps more accurately attributed to Jesus’ mother—especially given that other passages of the same text refer to Miriam as “an adulteress?”

38


MIRIAM (a traditional song) “Build her pavilion from cedar,54 Make its pillars of silver, its cushions of silk; Cover its couches in linen, Fill its pitchers with wine, with honey and milk; Weave her a mantle of white and red; Braid it with purple and golden thread; All of it delicate; all of it rich and bright. Let her mother set her crown upon her head This rapturous night.” (MIRIAM, echoed by the women of the CHORUS, hums, as MARY studies her face in the mirror.) MARY I’d hear that song, when I was young: I’d hear it, and always, I’d feel like part of me died. Even then I knew I’d never hear it sung to me: Not to me as the bride. Yet: here is my mantle of white and red; and here I am! A perfect, immaculate lamb, Even if only for just one night: The girl in the song, MIRIAM, MARY The innocent, the maiden, MARY The virgin for whom nothing can go wrong… MIRIAM (her throat catching) The virgin— The virgin for whom nothing… Miriam?

MARY

MIRIAM Nothing. You’re healing him. MARY We’re healing each other. 54

See Song, 3:9-11, of which Miriam’s aria here (excepting my mantle/braid/all-delicate imagery) is a paraphrase.

39


MIRIAM Still, you’re healing him! MARY I’ve never been so grateful— MIRIAM I’ve never been so grateful— MARY, MIRIAM I’ve never been so grateful in all my life: All my life… MARY (impulsively) I must see him, all of him! MIRIAM No, we wait here: He comes to us! MARY (heedless) No, no, no: I must see him, all of him! MIRIAM Magdalene— MARY I must hear his voice. 55 I’ve never been so grateful— MIRIAM Don’t do this… MARY …in all my life! (MARY seizes a cloak, hurries down the stairs, darts across the yard. MIRIAM chases her. Warm light spills from the windows of the building opposite. Inside, his FOLLOWERS, goblets sloshing, toast YESHUA, not yet bedecked for his wedding.) 55

Song, 2:14. “Let me see you, all of you! Let me hear your voice!”

40


MALE FOLLOWERS (a drinking song) So is she a fortress, your sister, your bride,56 Her breasts, the towers of a citadel? Or is she a garden, your sister, your bride: Her breasts, the twins of a gazelle? Or is she a palm tree, your sister, your bride: Her breasts— YESHUA (joking, or trying to) Enough about her breasts! FOLLOWERS (raucous) To your garden, your city, your palm tree, your sister, Your bride, your bride, your bride— To the Magdalene! Love her forever and w— PETER (bursting in, haggard, desperate) Run. Run like the wind. She will ruin you! 57 (YESHUA waves the FOLLOWERS away.) YESHUA (to PETER) I give you one moment. (Disgusted, the FOLLOWERS grab their wine and slouch outside the room, while MARY and MIRIAM—now curious as to why the FOLLOWERS have decamped—sneak to the windows, trying to overhear without being seen.) PETER (an old game) Do I love you? YESHUA I know you’ve loved me all along. 56 57

Imagery from Song, 8:8-10 (fortress, towers) (4:12 (garden, sister, bride) 4:5, 7:4 (twins of a gazelle) 7:8 (palm tree.) Thomas, v. 114. “Simon Peter said to them, ‘Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.’”

41


PETER Do you trust me? YESHUA No other’s faith has been as strong. PETER Then when I tell you That she will ruin you, Do you believe me? I do not.

YESHUA

PETER And why is that? YESHUA Because you’re wrong! (MARY and MIRIAM have reached the windows.) PETER Someone told us, once: “You do not pray with women: You pray in a place apart.58” Who said that? CHORUS (Dialogue of the Savior, verse thirty-seven.) PETER And someone told us, once: “Destroy the works of women: Corruption is all their art.” Who said that? CHORUS/MARY (Ibid.)/They will never be destroyed. YESHUA Yes, a year ago, it was I: but—

58

Dialogue, 37: 2-7. “The Lord said, “Pray in the place where there is no woman…that is, destroy the works of the female.” Mary said, ‘They will never be destroyed.’”

42


PETER Abandon your boats to the bobbing wave! No: fish for men’s souls instead, you said.59 And let the son weep at his father’s grave: The dead can bury their dead, you said.60 “We must return To ancient days. We must relearn Our purer ways. Or else we’ll burn. We’ll burn, we’ll blaze!” You said. But that—that was another age! When you were ablaze with righteous rage. But now—instead of that holy fire, Now—rather than lead, instead of inspire, You yield to your—blamelessly human!—desire To nestle your beautiful head— Your tousled, innocent, tragic head!— In that fragrant, enveloping—Magdalene—bed. Was that your intent? If that’s what you meant, It’s not what you said. It’s not what you said! YESHUA Peter, Peter— PETER Go to her. Wed her, if you must.61 I’ll not stand in your way. Go to her; And forever lose my trust. Go: but, if you go, Know I cannot stay.

59

Matthew, 4:18-19, Luke 5:1-3, Mark 1:16-18, John 1:40-42. “Jesus…saw two brothers, (the fishermen) Simon Peter and Andrew, casting a net into the sea... ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’”

60

Luke 9: 59-60, Matthew 8:22. “Jesus said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ The man replied, ‘Lord, first let me go bury my father.’ Jesus said, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead.’” 61

I-Corinthians, 7-9. The Apostle Paul says of widows and the unmarried that “it is better to remain unmarried, as I am; but if they cannot control; themselves, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” This sentence is usually thought to originate with Paul, as no canonical Gospel quotes Jesus on the desirability of celibacy: I assign its paraphrase to Peter here only because it is completely consistent with the Gnostic portrait of the character (see below.)

43


MARY (rapt, from the window) How he still despises me! 62 I cannot turn away! YESHUA But I’ll make her male. I promise you: I’ll make her male. (PETER’s listening. So—agog—is MARY.) YESHUA (a little grand) I love her. I do. But I know her limitations. She can’t distinguish well Between ideas and sensations. She tries. I see her try, And see her fail. See—men look to the sky, Reaching, aiming high: Women are of earth, Limited from birth.63 Peter: Is there a more familiar tale? MARY (too amazed for rage—yet) “Be with me—Wisdom; Everywhere with me—Wisdom; Every day rejoicing…” Who said that? YESHUA She knows this, Peter: But she shares our aspirations. She knows she sees as if behind a veil. So I shall make her male, like the rest of you males: And then—trust me, then— (continued)

62 63

Pistis Sophia, p. 29. “Mary said to the Savior, ‘I am afraid of Peter, for he threatens me and hates all my sex.’”

My dialogue for him here imagines that, at this point in his story, Yeshua—having come of age in an area of the world culturally dominated by Athens—follows traditional Greek thought in ascribing the qualities of light, air, and goodness to men, and their opposite qualities (darkness, earth, concupiscence) to women. It was Pythagoras (active before 500 B.C.E.) who first formulated these pairs of opposites about the time of his postulating the First Unit: Aristotle quotes and develops Pythagoras’s opposition theory in his own Metaphysics (A 5.986a.15.)

44


YESHUA(continued) It’ll be as if she— As if we— Are born again. Do you love me64? PETER My breath belongs to you. YESHUA Do you trust me? PETER Who else has been as true? YESHUA Then when I tell you, I shall transform her, Do you believe me? PETER If I cannot: Then I will act as if I do. YESHUA (wrangling his head, as if he were a dog) Rock65, Peter: Peter: harsh as rock! Now: call them in! each drunken66 friend: They have a bridegroom to attend!

As do I!

MARY (incandescent) (PETER’s left the room to summon the FOLLOWERS. MARY’s about to storm in: MIRIAM grips her arm.)

MIRIAM As you do not! Come with me. 64

This formula of three questions beginning with “Do you love me?” is my nod to John 21:15-17, in which Jesus asks Peter three times “Do you love me?” and, on hearing an affirmative response, enjoins Peter to “keep feeding my sheep.” 65 66

Jesus’ nickname for Peter is a masculinization of petra, the (feminine) Greek noun for rock.

Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:33-35. “Jesus said, ‘John the Baptist came eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you said, ‘He is possessed.’ But the Son of Man comes, eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”

45


MARY Mother— MIRIAM Restrain yourself. If you love me at all, restrain yourself: Come with me! (The FOLLOWERS stream back in to dress YESHUA for the ceremony, trailed by PETER, still watchful, but now, also, seemingly game. MIRIAM hauls MARY back to her apartment.) MIRIAM (self-excoriating) You ask for forgiveness, You work at forgiving, You hope you can teach him, You hope he can learn. And what are you left with? A child you’ve ruined, Wounded, and wounding, Ruining others in turn… (THEY’ve reached the terrace. MIRIAM lunges for a wine jug and a goblet.) MARY (as patiently as possible) No, Mother: God in heaven—no! No. I love you. I still don’t know you, quite— And yet, I love you. Please bear this in mind when I remind you That what you ask of me tonight Is different only in degree, But not in kind. Your son does something cruel. Then you— you blame yourself; You start to tell me why, But call a halt: Enough, Mother. You have to tell me now. Why are his failings—his failings, Your fault?

46


MIRIAM It’s late. They’re doubtless on their way; so Now is not the time to ask me why. MARY They’ll wait. All night, if I say so. And so will I. (Her eyes bore into MIRIAM’s. MIRIAM avoids her gaze, pours herself wine. Wordlessly, she offers to share with MARY: MARY declines. MIRIAM gazes into her goblet, but doesn’t drink.) MIRIAM (after long silence) Imagine yourself fifteen. You’re marrying, come the morning. It’s midnight; the branches are streaming, All fluttering in the wind! Except— You know that you are unclean. The moon seems to glare a warning. You hardly can keep from screaming; Remembering how you’ve sinned! 67 MARY (gently) Who was the father? MIRIAM (poisonous) What does it matter? He wasn’t my husband! MARY (sensing kinship) And did he kiss you: make you blind with his kisses? Conquer you, make you his own? 67

Matthew, 1:18. “While his mother Miriam was engaged to Joseph, but before they slept together, she was found to be pregnant (by holy spirit.) Since Joseph her husband was a decent man and did not wish to expose her publicly, he planned to break off their engagement quietly.” Luke mentions the virgin birth in 1:31-35 but ignores it two chapters later, relating, in 3:23, that “Jesus…was supposedly the son of Joseph, son of Eli…” without referring to the exonerating virgin birth story. Nor does any Gospel quote Jesus himself on the subject, even (especially?) in John 8:39-41, when the elders accuse Jesus of being born of fornication (see note 24.) The former nun and scriptural scholar Jane Schaberg devoted her 1986 study The Illegitimacy of Jesus to the ramifications of Matthew 1:18; she suggests that Jesus’s social identification as the child of a mother who became pregnant before she married may have powered his identification with the outcast and unorthodox.

47


MARY AND MIRIAM (as MIRIAM joins her, in MARY’s Act One aria) And so you lose yourself, Hoping to find yourself— And, yes, you find yourself: You find yourself alone! MIRIAM (alone) Now: Imagine a hiss at the window. A midwife you know from the village. She shows you a flask of—something,68 She presses it into your palm. “Drink it,” she says. “Drink it now: before the morn. You’ll suffer; you’ll bleed; You’ll curse the day you were born, But it will be over: through! No one need know but you. And you’ll walk to your wedding, quiet and calm: You’ll welcome your husband, singing a psalm!” And I would have done it! Without a qualm. Just to be the girl in the song: The innocent, the maiden, The virgin for whom nothing could go wrong! God, oh God: Take this cup away from me! 69 (She grips the goblet as if she’ll crush it.) MARY (a whisper) Why didn’t you? MIRIAM (as YESHUA sang of John the Baptist) Was I mad? If so, …(continued) 68

No scripture, Gnostic or canonical, suggests that Jesus’ mother ever contemplated ending her pregnancy. If she had, however, the means to do so were readily available to women of her time and place. Silphium, a species of giant fennel that grew wild along a narrow band of the Cyrenian (now Libyan) coast, was so highly prized as an abortifacient in the ancient world that its image appeared on Cyrenian coins: it was subsequently valued as worth its weight in silver and was deposited in the Roman treasury. But overharvesting made the plant extinct a century after Jesus’ death.

69

Luke, 22:42; John, 18:11. Jesus in Gethsemane, weighing his fate: “Father, if you so choose, take this cup away from me!” Here—as with the foreshadowing of I Corinthians 13:12 (‘clouded mirror”) and Matthew 27: 45-46 (“God, oh God: Why have you forsaken me?”) it is entirely my invention that Miriam, comparably in extremis, utters the same words.

48


MIRIAM (continued) Maybe I am now. Still, Something told me We were part of a design… My life—this child’s…and no, Cannot tell you how—still: …were meant to intertwine In the same design. But now, I can’t see it! I used to see it clearer. Now, ever fewer hints of it, Glints of it, As in a clouded mirror! I begged for forgiveness; I worked at forgiving, I prayed I could teach him, I prayed he could learn. And what am I left with? A child I’ve ruined, Wounded, and wounding, Ruining others in turn… He should have run: Run like the wind Before I ruined him! They torture him with it now. You heard the Pharisee. You saw how it still wounds him. How he cried. And you wonder that he hates us? That he listens to that—minion? Each time I hear him calling “Heavenly Father, God, our Father! God, my Father!” I die inside. I die inside! Oh, you should have run, run like the wind: Run while you still could run! I’d prayed there was a reason you were led to him. Whereas I: I’m dead to him. Still, how can I condemn you to be wed to him? My wounded, wounding son? …(continued)

49


MIRIAM (continued) God, oh God: why have you forsaken him? 70 Us? Why? (MARY moves to comfort MIRIAM—then both are startled by shouts. His FOLLOWERS are bearing a richly dressed YESHUA on a litter across the courtyard for the wedding.) FOLLOWERS Kindle your lamps, wise virgins:71 The bridegroom comes! MARY Come with me. (MARY clasps MIRIAM to her; then both disappear behind a door in the bedroom.) FOLLOWERS Down from the hills of cinnamon,72 Down from the mountains of myrrh, Into her garden, laden with spices, He comes for her! Burden your table with ripest fruit; Pomegranates and plums; Fling wide your gates, wise virgins: The bridegroom comes! (THEY’ve reached the foot of the stairs. But no one appears on the terrace to welcome them in.) FOLLOWERS (pointedly: a cue) Sing to the lovers with harp, with flute;73 Trumpets, bells and drums; Deafen the night, wise virgins: The bridegroom comes! 70

Matthew 27: 45-46; also Mark 15:33-41, Luke 23:44-49, John 19:25-37, and the Gnostic Gospel of Peter, 5:1-6. This paraphrase of Jesus’s famous dying utterance (“God, oh God: Why have you forsaken me?”) is itself a direct quote of the first lines of Psalm 22. 71

Matthew 25:1-13, Luke 12:35-36. Jesus’ parable contrasts five wise virgins who are prepared (with extra oil for their lamps) for a (metaphorical) bridegroom’s arrival—and are thus rewarded—with five foolish (because unprepared) virgins, whose lamps burn out and are excluded from the festivities. 72

Imagery, Song: 8:14 (hills of cinnamon,) 4:6 (mountains of myrrh,) 5:1 (garden, gathered spices) 4:13 (pomegranates,) 5: 1-2 (bridegroom coming) 5:5-6 (opening the door to the lover.)

73

Imagery, Psalm 97: Sing to (the Lord) with harp, with trumpets.”

50


MARY (off) The bridegroom comes! (MARY, cloaked, appears on the terrace. SHE drops the cloak. Her hair is severely, mannishly drawn back; and SHE is dressed as a man—perhaps in old clothing of YESHUA’s.) MARY “In the beginning, God created man—in his image!74” YESHUA (to the FOLLOWERS) Leave us. (ALL but PETER withdraw.) MARY (feigning confusion) No: “Before He made air or ocean, Before He made day or night, Before He made forests, fields, or mountains, Sparrows in flight—” YESHUA I must explain myself— MARY (in MIRIAM’s music) Imagine: you’re a mother Whose son seems to despise her. She loves him—still— Despite how he denies her. Now: why, given his cruelty, Does she extend her hand? If I could make you female, Perhaps you’d understand! (as she sang after YESHUA’s sermon) How long had I been searching—never finding? This love’s been blind, as well as blinding. I’ve been blind! …(continued) 74

Genesis 1:26. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image.’”

51


MARY (continued) I was curious—and charmed, But forewarned was forearmed, And I thought you could learn from me, and I from you. Oh, you know something: you do. But I do, too. What do I know? I know that you and I are through. YESHUA (carefully) I was comforting a friend who fears you. That is all you overheard. MARY You tell me that as if it clears you. So—you didn’t mean a word? Not a word? (YESHUA is silent.) MARY Go. Cruel boy: go. You have ruined this. YESHUA (as he sang in his first sermon) When you’re not afraid to lose something, Then you’ll understand How to hold on to it. To hold on to it, Open your hand. When you’re not afraid to lose someone, You’ll have understood How you can lose yourself So you can find yourself For good. (in MARY’s music from the bedroom scene) But I am afraid of losing you. And I can’t make you stay. There is no one who would think you wrong Should you turn away. I am learning both to love and understand you; I am not always right: still, Be with me—Wisdom; 52


MARY I have been with you, always— (SHE’s remembering their scene in duet, but not turning to face him: not budging from the staircase.) YESHUA Everywhere with me—Wisdom; MARY Everywhere with you, always— YESHUA and MARY Every day rejoicing, Every day, daily my delight. (MARY turns to YESHUA, but does not yet approach him.) MARY You sing to me. You sing to Wisdom. Nothing could be sweeter. Yes, you sing to, but you don’t listen to me. Whom you listen to is Peter. I love you. And I don’t hate him. But this cannot go on. Either you make him make peace with me, Or I am gone. (YESHUA leads her to the center of the courtyard, between the two urn-shaped fountains.) YESHUA Peter! Men! (While PETER and the FOLLOWERS gather, MIRIAM retrieves MARY’s bridal crown.) YESHUA (to PETER) Kneel to her. Rabbi—

PETER

YESHUA I am the bridegroom, she is the bride. (continued) 53


YESHUA (continued) We are one flesh.75 Kneel to her. PETER How you betray me! YESHUA How many times will you deny me?76 PETER (choking on every word) “Weave her a mantle of white and red; Braid it with purple and golden thread; All of it delicate; all of it rich and bright. Let her mother set her crown upon her This rapturous... This rapturous…” FOLLOWERS “This rapturous night!” (PETER drops to his knees before MARY. MARY frees her hair: MIRIAM bestows on MARY her crown and veil. MARY gives YESHUA her hand. The FOLLOWERS lift their goblets in tribute: as they do, the water in the fountains gushes wine-red.77)

FINALE, ACT I.

75

Matthew 19:5, referring to Genesis 2:24. “…And the man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”

76

Here I imagine Yeshua inadvertently foreshadowing Mark 14:29-30. On the night of Jesus’ arrest, “Peter said to him, ‘Even if everyone else loses faith, I won’t!’ Jesus said, ‘So help me, tonight before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times!” Jesus’ prediction comes true in Mark 14:66-72, Matthew 26:69-75, Luke 22:56-62, and John 18:17, 25-27.

77

Only in John 2:1-10 does Jesus work this first miracle—turning water into wine—at a wedding in the town of Cana. Some of the story’s eccentricities—Jesus’ mother, both vividly present and exerting a hostess’ authority; a guest praising the “bridegroom” in language that would seem to apply to Jesus—point to the possibility that the wedding could have been Jesus’ own; but the argument is so fragile and circumstantial, and my characterization of Jesus in this libretto so consistently anti-magical, that I include this image only for its potential as reference and spectacle.

54


ACT II SCENE 1 (A crystalline autumn morning; a mountainside outside of Capernaum. Two peaks are visible in the distance, but we are on a plateau enclosed by a natural basalt amphitheatre. The CHORUS—invisible, as always, to the principals of the ancient story— is already in place on the perimeter as a CROWD files in: it includes, from YESHUA’s first sermon, the FISHMONGER, the THREE GIRLS, the TWO PREACHERS, and the ONLOOKER, as well as PETER--now cool and polished again, not, as at the wedding, needy and raw—and YESHUA’S FOLLOWERS. They sit, stand, sprawl, maybe picnic, as if awaiting the downbeat of an outdoor concert.) CHORUS And so, at last, together They came to know “A life that love makes holy, A life aglow.” Coincidentally, perhaps, But even so— Just as their transformation Began to show— His modest congregation Began to grow, And grow, and grow— —and grow, and grow, and grow, Into something more resembling a nation… (To wild fanfares and raucous cheers, YESHUA, flanked by MARY and MIRIAM, appears at the center of the amphitheatre, as joyous and radiant now as, earlier, he’d seemed haunted and severe.) YESHUA Two hundred years ago, there lived Tobias; A son of Israel. “My father!” he’d ask: “How shall I live my life?” He’d beg the man to tell. (continued)

55


YESHUA (continued) And what his father told him was so beautiful, The son was filled with awe. “Do to others as you’d want them to do to you, For that’s the only law:78 A law of love; love, and only love! All the law is love!” MARY and MIRIAM And fifty years ago, there lived a rabbi; And he was named Hillel. He seemed to know the secret of a godly life. You’d ask him: he would tell. His answer, when he answered, was so beautiful: Your heart would overflow. “Do to others as you’d want them to do to you: That’s all you need to know—” Of law, and love: love, and only love! All the law is love! PREACHER 1 He did not say that. PREACHER 2 Yes he did. PREACHER 1 I’m telling you, he did not say that. Wrong!

PREACHER 2

PREACHER 1 He said, “Do not do to others, What you don’t want done to you—79” PREACHER 2 It’s the same thing! 78

Tobit (Old Testament) 4:15: “Don’t do to others what you hate yourself.” Notwithstanding its canonical status in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, most scholars regard Tobit (ca. 2nd century BCE) more as a religious novel with historical elements than a book of history. They do note, though, how closely Tobit’s instructions to his son Tobias in Chapter 4 resemble language in the wisdom-literature tradition from which come the canonical Books of Wisdom and Proverbs. 79

My fictional First Preacher is correct. In the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabbat 31a, Rabbi Hillel (ca. 75 BCE-15 BCE) follows Tobit in voicing the Golden Rule as a double negative: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah…”

56


PREACHER 1 It is not! Shhh…

PREACHER 2

YESHUA Now, ask us anything! We will tell! ONLOOKER Whom does God love best? MARY Every person: every nation!80 THREE GIRLS Does God want us to fast? YESHUA No good can come from deprivation.81 PREACHERS 1 & 2 And what of family? MIRIAM It’s a gift from God: revere it!82 FISHMONGER What about circumcision? (Some of the WOMEN in the crowd look appalled. MARY takes it in stride.) MARY It matters to all of us. YESHUA There’s no need to correct your flesh: (continued)

80

Galatians 3:28. Note, though, that here, as in the earlier example from Corinthians, Paul does not claim to be quoting Jesus when he says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus." See also Colossians 3:11, in which Paul elaborates, "There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” 81 82

Thomas, 14:1. “(Jesus said,) ‘If you fast, you will bring sin upon yourselves.’”

I wince to disclose that—having failed to find any canonical or Gnostic Gospel quote in which Jesus refutes the rejection-of-family language in the sermon scene of Act One—I have, for dramatic reasons, developed the change of heart that would spur Miriam’s reference here from Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16, &c.: “Honor your father and your mother.”

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YESHUA (continued) Perfect your spirit—83 How?

CROWD (MARY and MIRIAM join YESHUA. Gradually the CHORUS joins in.)

YESHUA, MARY, MIRIAM, CHORUS You feed the hungry, You clothe the naked, Take in the homeless,84 Bless those who curse you85, In every way, as long as you live— Give, give, give, give, give… YESHUA and MARY And years from now, the world won’t need to wonder, Long after we are gone, How close we came to living out a godly life: Our actions will live on. Yes, even if each one of us were silenced, The very stones would sing:86 “Do to others as you’d want them to do to you,” For that is ev’rything…87” …Of law, and love: love and only love! All the law is love! Hosanna!

CROWD

YESHUA, MARY, MIRIAM Love! Hosanna!

CROWD

83

Thomas, 53:1-3. “His disciples said to him, “Is circumcision useful or not?’ He said to them, “If it were useful, their father would produce children already circumcised from their mother. Rather, the true circumcision in spirit has become profitable in every respect.” See also Colossians 3:11: Paul—perhaps paraphrasing Jesus from Thomas?—elaborates, "There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” 84

Matthew 24: 35-36. Jesus praises those who have followed the injunctions in Isaiah 58: 7, 10— to “feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the naked.”

85 86 87

Luke 6:27-36, Matthew 5: 38-48. “(Jesus said,) ‘Bless those who curse you…give to everyone who begs from you.’” Luke 19:40. Jesus tells the Pharisees, “I tell you, if these people were to keep quiet, the very stones would cheer.” Luke 6:31, Matthew 7:12. Jesus paraphrases, as a positive injunction, the previously cited Tobit and Hillel.

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YESHUA, MARY, MIRIAM Love! Hosanna! Hosanna! Messiah! Messiah!

CROWD

ONLOOKER Enough of Caesar! CROWD Messiah! ONLOOKER Judea for Judeans! CROWD (ever the more fiercely) Messiah! Messiah! Messiah—! (The mood changes, from exultant to militant: fists are thrust in the air. As YESHUA and MARY try to cool the CROWD, the TWO POLICE suddenly appear behind them onstage. Voice by voice, the CROWD falls mute.) POLICEMAN 2 (a Roman hymn as loyalty oath) “Now is the time sung by the Sibyls, when the wheel of the ages starts afresh!88” BOTH POLICEMEN Hail, Caesar! (The CROWD remains silent. YESHUA and MARY exchange glances.) 88

Virgil, Fourth Eclogue, lines 2-5. (Adapted from a translation by Thomas Cahill.) Composed during the reign of Augustus Caesar, emperor during Jesus’ childhood (the imperial throne passed to Tiberius in 14 C. E.,) these lines from the Aeneid connect the reigning monarch to Rome’s legendary founding hero: a common mytho-historical technique that, later, Jesus’s followers would also employ. As Virgil does here, Isaiah foretold a young girl--not a virgin, merely a young girl-whose child (7:14, 9:6) would summon a peaceable kingdom on earth (11:6.) Jesus’s followers would later present his life and work as the fulfillment of these Isaian prophecies.

59


POLICEMAN 2 “Now is Virgin Justice herself made known, and the reign of Saturn on earth…” BOTH POLICEMEN (pointed, brilliant) Hail, Caesar! Hail Caesar! CROWD (a few voices, mumbling) Hail, Caesar… POLICEMAN 1 “Smile, chaste Lucina, at the birth of this boy, Who puts an end to our wretched age, From whom a golden people shall spring…” ONLOOKER (interrupting) Judea for Judeans! (A sudden awkward silence.) PREACHER 1 What does the Nazarene say? POLICEMAN 1 & 2 Yes: what does the Nazarene say? YESHUA (carefully) Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.89 POLICEMAN 1 & 2 (satisfied: resuming the hymn) “Now does your own Apollo reign!” Hail, Caesar! CROWD The law is love! POLICEMAN 1 & 2 Hail, Caesar! 89

Luke 20:25. When spies, hoping to entrap Jesus, asked him whether it was correct to pay taxes to Caesar, Jesus replied, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

60


CROWD The law is love! Messiah! Messiah! Messiah—! (At a signal from the TWO POLICE onstage, an entire SQUAD of POLICE appears, their spears pointed at the CROWD.) POLICEMAN 1 & 2 The law is Caesar. (Panicked, bellowing, the CROWD flees: as the TWO POLICE coördinate with their reinforcements, PETER ushers YESHUA, MIRIAM, and MARY to safety.)

61


ACT II SCENE 2 (Dusk. The safe room: the Temple visible in the distance. MIRIAM, MARY, PETER, YESHUA, and some of the traumatized FOLLOWERS.) PETER You heard them! Messiah, they called you. They need us! They need you to lead us! YESHUA (gently) I will not ride into Jerusalem. Will not confront the Temple90; I will not challenge Rome. PETER (controlled) Part of a design, you claimed? Part of a design? No? YESHUA No: live by the sword, die by the sword. (with MARY) The only real power is within.91 PETER Ah, yes, within the soul! The weightless, stateless soul. But the body: do we leave it to rot? For the body matters rather much to you of late, Does it not? (to YESHUA, but eying MARY, quoting her first aria) “For now you’ve found her. You have kissed the one you love: Kissed her eyes, her throat, her wrists: (continued)

90

Mark, 11:17; Matthew, 21:13; Luke, 19:46; John, 2:16. It was Jesus and his followers’ protest of those vendors selling animals on the grounds of the Temple—a violation of Jewish sacrificial practice—that led to his arrest and, ultimately, his execution. Bruce Chilton, pace Mark, argues that Barabbas—a follower of Jesus for whose freedom Jesus’s was exchanged--was originally jailed for (possibly accidentally) killing a vendor during the fracas.

91

Luke 17:21: “God’s imperial rule is within you (all.)” Also the Gnostic Gospel of Mary (hereafter Mary) 4:5, which makes the same statement, while translating “God’s imperial rule” as “the seed of true humanity.”

62


PETER (continued) And what those kisses tell you— What your body tells you Is that God exists.” And it brings you to life! To a freedom beyond compare. But a freedom, it seems, you feel no need to share. YESHUA (stung) You get behind me, you Satan92— PETER (still cool, at first) It would seem the body matters When it comes to what you crave, When it comes to how it makes you feel whole. But, when it comes to how the Romans Have made each of us a slave, —Every one of David’s sons, a Roman slave! Well, then the body merits just a, a languid wave. “We realize: it rankles, Those chains ‘round your ankles, Doubtless they must take a toll. But don’t mind your body: we’ve come to save Your soul!” YESHUA wavers. PETER presses. This is your hour. “Judea for Judeans!” These are the people you’re the heart of. And it isn’t love of power: Though love can lead to power. And—Yeshua— What if this is the design that you’re a part of? MARY There will always be a Caesar: Some liberty, some justice that’s denied us. But the only revolution that can matter, ever, Is inside us. We’ve said all this before.

92

Matthew 16:23, Mark 8:33. When Peter refutes Jesus’ predictions of his coming ordeal, Jesus rebukes Peter: “Get behind me, you Satan: you’re not thinking in God’s terms, but in human terms.”

63


PETER (gently, eying MIRIAM) Somewhere, in this city, there’s a girl Who wants to be the girl in the song. The innocent, the maiden, The virgin for whom nothing can go wrong. And somewhere, in this city, there is someone— Maybe he’s her fiancé, Or some Roman attaché, But he’s on his evening stroll. And he’s looking at that virgin, But he’s not thinking of her soul. Yeshua—Mary— Mary— Why are you forsaking her? MARY He’s still wrong. Even Miriam would say so. Mother? MIRIAM’s jaw works silently: abruptly, without reply, she stalks off.) PETER This is the hour. And these are the people— These are the women you’re the heart of. Yeshua. This is the design that you’re a part of. (A long silence opens.) YESHUA Tell them to prepare. MARY (including the FOLLOWERS in her gesture) You said you’d be with us, always— Everywhere with us, always— PETER (gentle but relentless: quoting YESHUA to MARY) “When you’re not afraid to lose someone, Then you’ll understand How to hold on to him. To hold on to him, Open your hand. (continued)

64


PETER (continued) Letting go, Mary: yes? That’s what you’ve learned love is. He’s helped you find your purpose. Free him to find his. (MARY glares: but PETER’s thrown her. MARY takes a chance.) MARY If you ride into Jerusalem, If you confront the Temple, If you challenge Rome, I’ll say a prayer. But if—when—you return to me, I may not be there. (Heavy silence.) YESHUA Leave me in peace. Yeshua—

MARY PETER

Rabbi— YESHUA Both of you: Leave me in peace! A stung MARY and a vigilant PETER withdraw in opposite directions. The sun is setting: orange, purple, gold. YESHUA treads up the hillside, wanders into a grove of twisted olive trees.)

65


FIRST INTERLUDE (In the grove, YESHUA confronts himself.) YESHUA He’d like to think he’s writing the psalm: He's merely the harp on which it's played93. He'd like to think he cannot decide: But clearly he knows the decision’s been made. They tell him: “You need to choose.” He tells them: “I need to pray.” There’s nothing to choose: It's only refuse, Or obey. Part of a design… (As the orchestra remembers the design theme, PETER gathers the FOLLOWERS further down the hill to wait for YESHUA. Night falls. YESHUA descends to them from his place in the grove, follows them back to the safe room. The men are dressing and preparing themselves for the Temple protest when, near dawn, MARY appears. SHE is dressed as if to perform a baptism, and carries a tall alabaster jar: a priestess crashing a barrack. The MEN look to YESHUA for cues. He gestures them to leave: THEY do. YESHUA hasn’t finished dressing—he is stripped to the waist—but does not resume. HE and MARY look at each other.)

93

In the opening couplet of this invented monologue, Jesus imagines himself as King David, from whom Matthew (in 1:6) and Luke (in 3:31) claim Jesus is descended (though their genealogies differ substantially). While Old Testament tradition identifies David as the author of the Book of Psalms—almost half of them are titled “A Psalm of David—” there’s no evidence that David was the author, as opposed to the dedicatee, of any of them. The book of Samuel, though, tells how King Saul, when anxious, would call on the young David (then in service at Saul’s court) for his excellence as a harpist: “Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better…” (1 Samuel 16:19-23.)

66


ACT II SCENE 3 (The safe room; YESHUA and MARY.) YESHUA Magdalene. Nazarene.

MARY (Day is breaking, clear and blue. MARY sets down her jar, gazes at the dawn.)

MARY I loved this time of morning... (She trails off.) This is how I lose you. This is how it ends: Early, on an ordinary day. My love. The thousand things I’d say to you, If there were anything to say... No, this is how I lose you; How the dark descends,94 Even on a sky so clear and blue. My love. I don’t know how we’ve come to this, But I will act as if I do— Though I can’t see what you see; See it any clearer. If I could—if I did—what would I know? But—if I saw what you see, In some unclouded mirror, How, then, could I blame you if you go? When you go… No, this is how I lose you. As God, I guess, intends. Part of how our lives have been designed. My love. The only thing I wish I knew Is what it is that I must lose you To find. 94

Mark 15:33, Matthew 27:45, Luke 23:44. It is entirely my invention that Mary inadvertently predicts the solar eclipse the Synoptics describe at the moment of Jesus’ death.

67


(MARY guides YESHUA down to his knees. She breaks open her jar. Assisted, perhaps, by the FEMALE SEEKERS, she anoints95 him lavishly96—glossing his forehead, temples, lips, eyes, throat, wrists, chest, feet, and drying each part of him with her hair—but her manner is ceremonial; as if she is, at once, making love to him a final time and dressing him for burial. Then she helps him finish dressing; but when he reaches for her, she steps away.) MARY No, this is how I lose you. As God, I guess, intends. Part of how our lives have been designed. My love. The only thing I wish I knew Is what it is that we must lose you To find. (MARY has gained the door, cradling her jar like a baby. Then she turns, opens her free hand.) MARY (remembering his first sermon) Look! I’ve “opened my hand.” (SHE is gone.)

95

Mark, 14:3-9: Matthew, 26:6-13; Luke, 7:36-50; John, 12:1-8. I adapt here the famous scene in which Jesus is surprised at dinner with Simon the Pharisee by a woman who anoints him from an alabaster jar of expensive ointment: when the apostles protest, Jesus praises her prescience, as she is anointing him for a burial only she and he can see is pending. But who is she? Despite the widespread tradition of identifying this woman as Mary Magdalene, in Luke, she is a “local woman” in the northern town of Nain; in Mark and Matthew, she is an unnamed native of the southern town of Bethany; and in John, she is Mary of Bethany, sister to Martha and Lazarus. Just as, in Act One, I identified the adulterous woman with Mary Magdalene despite the spuriousness of the story, I accept the Magdalene-as-anointer tradition here only to foreshadow, in the drama, the final anointing at the tomb, which is always ascribed to Mary Magdalene and to none other.

96

John’s version of the story is the most lavish, in which his Mary (of Bethany, not Magdala) pours over Jesus’s feet (not his head, as in Matthew and Mark) an entire pint of nard, then kisses his feet and dries them with her hair. These gestures suggest not only the extravagance and sensuality of the Golden Legend Magdalene, but also the baptismal ritual described St. John of Chrysostom (c. 347-607 C.E.,) archbishop of Constantinople in the fourth century, in which the priest “strips off your robe…and “he causes your whole body to be anointed with that olive oil of the spirit” [Homilies on Colosians, 2:24.]) I attempt to combine both the sensual and the ritualistic here, retaining the crypto-eroticism of the Scriptural source but infusing it with a formal and aggrieved sense of leave-taking better befitting my conception of the character.

68


ACT II SCENE 4 (The CHORUS, out of time.) CHORUS And this story is the one you know: We return to it at last. The disaster at the Temple—then, It all happened very, very fast. 97 (A cold spring morning: a broad thoroughfare leading out of Jerusalem, lined on either side by jeering ONLOOKERS. YESHUA, crowned in thorns, draped in purple, dazed with pain, drags an enormous, coarsely-hewn cross down the center of the road: MARY and MIRIAM—veiled in mourning, stoic as Seneca— follow in his wake, trailed by TWO EXECUTIONERS. YESHUA falls, struggles to his feet. PETER bobs and weaves within the CROWD, trying to follow YESHUA’s progress without being seen. Elsewhere, the TWO POLICE render their report to an unseen superior: their voices fade in and out of audibility.) CHORUS Dinati imera orgis i imera ekini! Imera thlipseos ke anangis, imera aorias ke afanismou …98

(PETER evades the questions of a suspicious SLAVE WOMAN.99)

97

Bruce Chilton argues that the compression into one week of all the events between Jesus’ Temple protest and his crucifixion makes for better liturgy than history; his study, in Rabbi Jesus, of Jewish sacrificial practices (Passover, for example, always involved arrangements made long in advance) leads him to conclude that Jesus was likely crucified months, not days, after his ride into Jerusalem. Point taken: but the compression makes for better opera, too.

98

Zephaniah 1:15-16. Δυνατὴ ἡμέρα ὀργῆς ἡ ἡμέρα ἐκείνη, ἡμέρα θλίψεως καὶ ἀνάγκης, ἡμέρα ἀωρίας καὶ ἀφανισμοῦ, ἡμέρα γνόφου καὶ σκότους, ἡμέρα νεφέλης καὶ ὁμίχλης, ἡμέρα σάλπιγγος καὶ κραυγῆς ἐπὶ τὰς πόλεις τὰς ὀχυρὰς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰς γωνίας τὰς ὑψηλάς. “That day is a day of wrath, a day of tribulation and distress, a day of calamity and misery, a day of darkness and obscurity, a day of clouds and whirlwinds, a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high bulwarks.” These Greek verses form the principal Old Testament source for the Dies Irae, the 13th-century Latin hymn attributed to Thomas of Celano and used as a sequence in the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass (and in countless subsequent musical interpretations thereof.)

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PETER (in YESHUA’s language) I would not ride into Jerusalem, Would not insult the Temple; I’d never challenge Rome! I do not know him! CHORUS Dinati imera orgis i imera ekini! Imera thlipseos ke anangis, imera aorias ke afanismou. Imera gnofou ke skotous, imera nefelis ke omichlis …

TWO POLICE “…whereas the procurator found no evidence that supported a capital case against the detainee; and whereas, a Nazarene was not directly subject to the procurator’s jurisdiction, the detainee was remanded to the custody of the tetrarch…100” (PETER flees. YESHUA has dragged his cross to the crest of the hill. TWO EXECUTIONERS fix it in place, nail YESHUA’s hands and feet to it.) CHORUS …Imera gnofou ke skotous, imera nefelis ke omichlis, imera salpigos kai kravgis, epi tas polis tas ohiras…

(The suspicious SLAVE WOMAN has recruited OTHERS to help grill PETER.) PETER (parroting MARY) “There will always be a Caesar: Some liberty, some justice that’s denied us. But the only revolution that can matter, ever, Is inside us!” I swear, I’ve never met him!

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Mark 14:66. “One of the high priest’s slave women…sees Peter warming himself, then speaks up: ‘You, too, were with that Nazarene, Jesus!’ But he denied it…” See also Matthew 26:69, Luke 22:55-56, John 18:17. Note that I have reset this scene to the morning of Jesus’s crucifixion, not, as the Gospels have it, on the night before his arrest.

100

Luke 23:4-7. “Pilate said…there is no case against this man. But they persisted…once (Pilate) confirmed (Jesus) was from Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him on to Herod…”

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TWO POLICE “…in the tetrarch’s custody detainee participated in at least one sequence of extended interrogation techniques, which included flogging, bludgeoning with a staff, forced nudity, and dressing and rôle-play101 as King of the Jews…” (PETER flees again. The CROWDS have abandoned YESHUA: only MARY, MIRIAM, and the TWO EXECUTIONERS keep silent vigil at the foot of the cross. Now a small MOB has cornered PETER.) CHORUS …Imera salpigos kai kravgis, epi tas polis tas ohiras, kai epi tas gonias tas ipsilas!

PETER (denying his own music) Of course, I prize the rule of Rome. This is my land! This is my home! You are my friends, this is my nation: Indeed: my life! Yes: my life—yes! And no, no, no, no, no: I do not know him! (A rooster crows.102 PETER flees for good. On the cross, YESHUA writhes, weakens. The sky darkens.) CHORUS Dinati imera orgis i imera ekini, imera thlipseos ke anangis, imera aorias ke afanismou, imera gnofou ke skotous, imera nefelis ke omichlis, imera salpigos kai kravgis epi tas polis tas ohiras kai epi tas gonias tas ipsilas!

YESHUA (a final burst of life) God, O God… 101

Matthew 27:28-30. “They stripped (Jesus) and dressed him in a crimson (purple, in some traditions) cloak…and bowing down before him, made fun of him, saying ‘Greetings, O King of the Judeans!’ And spitting on him, they took a staff and hit him on the head.” See also Mark 15:16-20, Luke 23:11, John 19:1-3, Peter 2:3b-3:4. 102

Mark 14:29-30: also Matthew 26:32-34, Luke 22:33-34. On the Mount of Olives, the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter promises never to desert Jesus even if all others do so: Jesus replies, “I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” Peter fulfills this prophecy in Mark 14:66-72, Matthew 26:69-75, Luke 22:56-62, and John 18:17, 25-27.

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(The ORCHESTRA finishes the “Why have you forsaken me?” motive. YESHUA dies. The EXECUTIONERS unbind YESHUA from the cross: MARY cradles him in her arms.) TWO POLICE “…though the eclipse103 that day made it difficult to fix an exact time, we estimate that the detainee expired shortly after three o’clock: after which, on the authority of the Sanhedrin rabbi Yusef of Arimathea104, remains were remanded to his mother and to his wife, a Magdalene woman.” (MARY, MIRIAM, and YESHUA fade from view. The TWO POLICE receive approval of their report: drop their officious manner.) TWO POLICE (singing) If he had stayed in Pilate’s jurisdiction, He might have been fine. Awful death: crucifixion… Ah, well. (One slings an arm around the other’s shoulders.) ONE POLICEMAN Wine? Wine.

TWO POLICE (They go looking for a tavern.)

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Luke 23:44. “It was already about noon, and darkness blanketed the whole land until mid-afternoon, during an eclipse of the sun. Then Jesus…breathed his last.” Mark (15:33) and Matthew (27:45) put the time of death at three o’clock, but omit the detail of the eclipse. 104

Mark, 15:42-45. “…Joseph of Arimathea, a respected council member…request(ed) the body of Jesus…(Pilate) granted the body to Joseph.) See also Matthew, 27:57-61; Luke, 23:50-56; John, 19:38-42.

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ACT II SCENE 5 (Before sunrise: thick mist, grey light. PETER, alone, in the wreckage of the safe room: it’s been raided by the POLICE. HE hugs his knees, rocks himself gently.) PETER How many times will I recall this? Seven times seven? How many times will it destroy me? Seven times seven? Those hours, waiting, Then the ambush on the hill— I could not believe they’d really taken him. Then the cross, the soldiers, Him falling in the road— Those vicious, jeering women, And then the rooster crowed— God, oh God; How could I have forsaken him? (MARY and MIRIAM, still in mourning, appear in the shattered doorway. All MIRIAM’s hair has turned white; now SHE bears MARY’s alabaster jar, while MARY carries swaths of clean white linen. PETER hears them, but doesn’t turn. MARY signals MIRIAM to linger outside, enters, sets down her linen, touches PETER’s shoulder. PETER—as she expects—doesn’t respond. MARY settles behind him, waits.) PETER (self-excoriating) I abandoned him.105 MARY He wondered if you’d run from him—106

105

Matthew 26:75. “Then Peter remembered the words that Jesus had spoken: ‘Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly.” 106

Mary refers here to Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s betrayal aforementioned in Matthew 26:32-34 and Luke 22:33-34. See note 94.

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I left him.

PETER

MARY Still. What else could you have done for him? (THEY are echoing YESHUA’s anguish over betraying John the Baptist, but calmly, remotely: as if everything had happened, and is still happening, on another planet.) MARY He said the things he said, Though he knew, sooner or later They’d lead—just where they led. Yes, it’s vile—worse than vile—that he’s dead. Still—you’re not a traitor. PETER Do you think that’s true? MARY (quoting PETER on the wedding night) If I cannot: Then I will act as if I do. (PETER looks at her.) PETER (quoting YESHUA in the bedroom scene) “Before He made air or ocean, Before He made day or night, Before He made fountains, fields, or mountains, Sparrows in flight...” MARY Do you think that’s true? PETER Go. I beg of you: go. Police are everywhere, they’ll snare you. And if they didn’t spare him, Why would they spare you?107 107

Mary 5:1-3. “The disciples were distressed and wept greatly. ‘How are we going to go out to the rest of the world to preach the good news?...If they didn’t spare him, how will they spare us?’”

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MARY I must anoint him. PETER It’s not safe. MARY Even so, I can’t forsake him. Peter. He’d want us to make peace before I go. (Deliberately, as a gift, MARY kneels. PETER considers her, strokes her cheek.) PETER (as MARY sang in the stoning scene) You have something, You know something, Something high: true; strong. MARY You have so much to tell… PETER I respect you, MARY I respect you, PETER I know he loved you, MARY You know he loved us all. PETER You’re still wrong. MARY (laughing at his consistency) Peter, harsh as rock! Be well.

PETER MARY

Be well.

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(MARY rises to her feet, retrieves her linens. MIRIAM appears: MARY joins her. Suddenly savage, MIRIAM wheels to PETER.) MIRIAM If my son found her worthy, Who are you to disregard her? 108 (MARY restrains her. THEY depart the wreckage and set off. Far ahead, lush as an oasis after the dust-choked streets of Jerusalem, looms a green garden.)

108

Mary 9:3-10. The line is actually the disciple Levi’s. When Mary reveals to the assembled apostles what Jesus told her, “Peter says, ‘Has the Savior spoken secretly to a woman and not openly that we would all hear?’...(then) Levi said to Peter, ‘Peter, you have a constant inclination to anger and are always ready to give way to it…If the Savior considered her to be worthy, who are you to disregard her? For he knew her completely and loved her devotedly.’’

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SECOND INTERLUDE (The SEEKERS and CHORUS appear.) SEEKERS Hours from now, she’ll go back to the safe room. The followers will have returned. And she’ll gaze at them, her face aglow, And tell them what she’s learned… (And—for the first time—the SEEKERS enter the world of the play. The THIRD SEEKER takes MARY’s place, escorting MIRIAM on their way to the tomb garden: the SECOND SEEKER guides MARY, and the FOURTH guides PETER, to the center of the stage. We are out of time, out of place: MARY and PETER recount their stories as if they were their own ghosts.) CHORUS “But the apostles were distressed, and wept… ‘How are we to go out to the world?...If they didn’t spare him, how will they spare us?’ MARY, CHORUS “Then Mary stood up…and addressed her brothers. ‘Do not weep or grieve or be in doubt: for his grace will be with you all, and grace will shelter you. He has joined us together, and [has] made us true human beings. Go, and preach the good news.’ (Back in the story, on her journey, MIRIAM—newly frail—falls twice; both times, the THIRD SEEKER, as MARY, helps her to her feet.) PETER, CHORUS “And Peter said, ‘Has he spoken secretly to a woman and not openly…[to us]? Surely he did not mean that she is more worthy than we?’ MARY, CHORUS “Mary said, ‘Peter, my brother, do you think that I’ve made all this up…? Or that I am telling lies…? SEEKER 4 (as LEVI), CHORUS “[And] Levi said [to Peter,] ‘Peter, you have a constant inclination to anger and you are always ready to give in to it. And even now you are doing exactly that by questioning this woman as if you were her adversary. If he found her to be worthy, who are you to disregard her? For he knew her completely and loved her devotedly. (continued)

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SEEKER 4 (as LEVI), CHORUS (continued) [Instead,] we should do as [we were] commanded…and not be laying down [any] rules or making laws.’…After he said these things, Levi left and began to preach the good news.” This is the Gospel of Mary.”109

ALL SEEKERS, CHORUS (The FOURTH SEEKER and MARY acknowledge each other. For a moment, worlds meet. Then, guided by the SECOND SEEKER, MARY returns to Miriam, and to history. The SEEKERS rejoin the CHORUS.) SEEKERS But what did she see in the tomb: The Magdalene woman? What did she learn? What can she tell? (The CHORUS and SEEKERS disappear. MARY and MIRIAM enter the green garden.)

109

And it is, almost verbatim: See Mary 5:1-3 and 9:3-10.

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ACT II SCENE 6 (Dawn: the mist has thinned. MARY and MIRIAM arrive at the elegant garden tomb of YUSEF of ARIMATHEA, in which YESHUA’s body has been laid. Benches flank its entrance; the stone before its opening has been rolled away. MARY and MIRIAM move to enter.) MARY It is a hundred stairs to the crypt. MIRIAM I must see him. MARY Wait here: I’ll come back for you. MIRIAM No, I must see him, all of him! 110 MIRIAM, making for the entrance, falls a third time.111) MARY I will carry you. MIRIAM (laughing bitterly) Simon the Cyrene!112 (On her knees, MIRIAM weeps silently, leaning on her jar. MARY takes one of the two shrouds she’s carrying, folds it into roughly the shape of a child’s body.) 110 111

As in the wedding scene, from Song, 2:14. “Let me see you, all of you!”

As I have with other traditional but Scripturally ambiguous stories (the adulterous woman, the wedding at Cana, the anointing woman) offering more thematic symmetry than textual integrity, I reassign to Miriam here Stations 3, 7, and 9 of the Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross,) in which Jesus collapses three times under the cross’s weight as he carries it to Golgoltha. A devotional series of depictions of Christ’s last hours through which the viewer is invited to imagine a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the Via Crucis was initiated by St. Francis of Assisi over a thousand years after the events portrayed; so it’s perhaps unsurprising that six of its fourteen scenarios—including Jesus’s three falls—have no basis in Scripture.

112

Matthew 27:32. “As they were going out, they came across a Cyrenian named Simon. This fellow they conscripted to carry his cross.” A thousand years later, St. Francis of Assisi will base the fifth station of his Via Crucis on this detail.

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MARY Tell me what you wish to say. I shall tell him for you. (MARY offers the shroud to MIRIAM, who cradles it in her arms. The orchestra remembers the “Take this cup away from me” motive.) MIRIAM No: this is how I lose you. As God, I guess, intends. Part of how our lives have been designed. My son. The only thing I wish I knew Is what it is that we must lose you To find. (MIRIAM helps MARY to one of the benches flanking the tomb entrance.) Ask him to forgive me. I couldn’t know what I’d done. MARY I’ll come back for you. (MARY lifts the jar, steps into the long staircase descending to the crypt. MIRIAM looks again at the “baby” in her arms.) MIRIAM Was I mad? If so, Maybe I am now: still, I still believe This was part of a design… Show me a sign… Show me a sign… (SHE clasps the linens to her breast: questions the sunrise with her eyes.)

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ACT II SCENE 7 (Inside the crypt. Though it is underground, the opening of its broad staircase to the garden [and, perhaps, other high windows] admits a matinal half-light. Intricately carved ossuaries of other members of YUSEF’s family line the walls. On the floor rests only a pale stone bier bearing what seems to be a body. Its wrappings were doubtless immaculate when the corpse was first laid there two nights before, but now traces of blood and bile streak the linen. (MARY appears on the staircase: sees the bier; stops for a moment, stricken.) CHORUS WOMEN (off: as in the stoning scene) “Now my demons come again— Grinning, dancing, hissing, Singing in my mind—” MARY You get behind me, you Satan. (The CHORUS falls silent: but MARY does seem half-mad with grief.) MARY The dead can bury the dead, you said. Here I am! (SHE moves to the bier, sets down her linen and jar.) MARY (crooning, a little crazed) Oh, the dead can bury the dead, can bury the dead, can bury the dead, can bury the dead— Is that what you meant? ‘Cause that’s what you said: Yes, that’s what you said! (Delicately she unwraps the head of the corpse. [Perhaps only she sees its face.]) 81


MARY (wistfully, unsurprised) But who are you?113 (As SHE cradles the head, tears inching down her cheeks, the ghost of YESHUA appears. HE looks as HE would if her anointing had miraculously restored HIM: draped in swaths of clean linen, his unbroken skin glistening with oil and myrrh. Only his crown of thorns hints at how HE died.) YESHUA (gently) Why are you crying? MARY (without turning) I don’t know where they have taken him. Have you seen him? Have you seen the one I love?114 YESHUA Why are you crying? MARY To a narrow street: an alleyway? I’ve sought him ev’rywhere! Did you steal him? Did you steal the one I love? I won’t be angry. If you have the one I love, I’ll tell no one: take the blame. But, now, you have to tell me. If you have him, tell me. Do you want to know his name? YESHUA Magdalene. 113

John 20:1-18. While all four canonical gospels place Mary first at the tomb, each version differs. Mark (16:1-8) and Matthew (28:1-15) describe her learning of the resurrection from a lone angel; Luke (24:1-11) claims two angels. Only John includes both angels, an at-first-unrecognized Jesus, and the repeated questions (including “Why are you crying?” recounted in 20:13) that ultimately reveal Jesus to Mary. Not even the authors of The Gospel of Peter—the Gnostic text least sympathetic to Mary Magdalene—can see fit to leave this episode out, although in that version (and in that version only) Peter and the disciples enter the empty tomb first, as “Mary of Magdala, fearful on account of the Judeans, did not perform what women are accustomed to for their loved ones who die.” When there, she encounters not Jesus, but an angel, whose news of the resurrection sends her “fleeing in fear” (Peter, 9:1-13:3.)

114

As in the beginning, Song, 3:2-4. “I must rise and go about the city,/the narrow streets and squares, till I find/my only love./ …Have you seen/the one I love?” John’s version (20:13) of Mary’s final search for Jesus at the tomb—asking first the angels, then (an unrecognized) Jesus where they’ve hidden his body—is prefigured in the repeated questions to the watchmen in Song 3:3.

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MARY, YESHUA Nazarene. MARY (simply, like a child) Come back to life. Radiant man, answered prayer— Come back to life. Back to a life our love made holy, Our life aglow. Let me hold you. If you let me hold you… YESHUA Let me go. 115 MARY I know you cannot give me what I need: No lover can, my love. YESHUA Beloved, let me go. MARY Have I not learned that you cannot be my life? YESHUA Beloved, let me go. MARY But I did let you go: and now you’re gone! You were the love, the work, the life!116 How shall I go on? Why go on? YESHUA What were you seeking, when I found you?

Love.

MARY

115

John 20:1-13. “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father.” Translated into Latin as Noli me tangere, or “Don’t touch me,” this line, over centuries, inspired thousands of paintings on of a tearful grasping wench thrust aside by an angel bent on higher things: the very image of the Church’s ancient equation of women with sex and sin. But the original line, in Greek, means, as rendered here, “Do not hold on to me,” or “let me go.” 116

John 14:6. I echo here the rhythm and formula of Jesus’ self-description “I am the way; I am the truth; I am the life.”

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YESHUA No. Life! No.

MARY YESHUA

MARY, with YESHUA … . Something high, pure; strong. YESHUA And then you found it. MARY I found you! YESHUA Not only me. MARY Not only you… YESHUA It’s still within you. MARY No, you’re wrong! I had it when you were by my side. But now: what hasn’t died? You; our work; my soul— What hasn’t died? The story.

YESHUA

MARY The story? Peter will tell it. YESHUA No, Peter will tell his part. What will he leave out? MARY Your mother. Your lover. Your journey. Your heart… 84


YESHUA Tell them. Tell them what we did. Tell them what we tried for. Tell them what we gave. Tell them. Tell them that we laughed. Tell them we were foolish. Tell them we were brave. Tell them what you learned from me. Tell them what I taught. Tell them what I learned from you. Tell them why we fought. Tell them how we learned we were designed, For love of every kind— Body, and mind— Tell them, Magdalene. MARY They won’t listen to me— YESHUA (inexorable) Tell them of our dreams. Tell them of our mothers, Tell them our mistakes. Tell them. Tell them of forgiveness. Tell them of the promises Everybody breaks. Tell them what you learned from me— MARY (as in the bedroom scene) How can I tell them what I learned from you, YESHUA Tell them what I taught. MARY About how to live,— YESHUA Tell them what I learned from you— 85


MARY About giving and receiving love, YESHUA Tell them why we fought, MARY And how it’s better to give? Can I… YESHUA and MARY …Tell them what we lost so we could find, Love of every kind— Body, and mind— MARY (quailing) Love, my love— Take this cup away from me! (MARY wheels from him. YESHUA follows her, lifts off his crown of thorns, and, with infinite gentleness, sets it on her brow.) YESHUA Tell them: and Ev’rywhere you go, However far you wander, However dark the night, I will be with you—Wisdom; Everywhere with you—Wisdom; Every day rejoicing, Daily your delight. MARY You will be with me, always; Ev’rywhere, ev’rywhere with me, always; Every day rejoicing, Daily my delight. (As they remember their love music, little by little, visually and aurally YESHUA’s ghost evanesces. MARY finds herself alone.)

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MARY I shall… I shall… I shall tell them. (Birds call: it is dawn. MARY, crowned, finds the stairs, atop which a waiting MIRIAM stands amazed: she climbs slowly out of the tomb and into the morning light.)

FINALE ULTIMO.

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THE GOSPEL OF MARY MAGDALENE SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY Bloch, Ariel, and Bloch, Chana. The Song of Songs. Modern Library, 2006. Bourgeault, Cynthia. The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity. Shambhala, 2010. Cahill, Thomas. Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus. Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 1999. Chilton, Bruce. Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography. Image, 2002. Chilton, Bruce. Mary Magdalene: A Biography. Doubleday, 2005. Goodstein, Laurie. “A Faded Piece of Papyrus Refers to Jesus’s Wife;” article detailing the discovery and authentication of The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife. Published in The New York Times, September 18, 2012. Green, Joel B., with McKnight, Scot, and Marshall, I. Howard: Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship. Intervarsity Press, 1992. Griffith-Jones, Robin. Beloved Disciple: The Misunderstood Legacy of Mary Magdalene, the Woman Closest to Jesus. Harper One, 2008. Haskins, Susan. Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor. Riverhead, 1993. King, Karen L. The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle. Polebridge Press, 2003. Lindberg, Tod. The Political Teachings of Jesus. Harper Collins, 2007. Meyer, Marvin. The Gnostic Discoveries: The Impact of the Nag Hammadi Library. Harper, 2005. Mitchell, Stephen. The Gospel According to Jesus. Harper Perennial, 1993. Miller, Robert J., ed. The Complete Gospels. Polebridge, 1994. Pagels, Elaine. The Gnostic Gospels. Vintage, 1989. Schaberg, Jane. The Illegitimacy of Jesus: A Feminist Theological Interpretation of the Infancy Narratives (Twentieth Anniversary Edition.) Sheffield Phoenix, 1986/2006. Schaberg, Jane. The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament. Continuum International, 2002.

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