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By Beverly Roberts Gaventa

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Page 1 Chapter 1 The Quest for Mary In paintings and poetry, with song and sculpture, from rarified theological ruminations to the most vulgar piety, women and men have pondered the mystery of Mary, the mother of Jesus of Nazareth. Twenty centuries of Christian history have witnessed an astonishing variety of expressions to the church's fascination with this woman. As early as the second century, the writer of the Odes of Solomon, a collection of Christian hymns, described Mary as "a mother of great mercies" and declared her praise: She loved with salvation, and guarded with kindness, and declared with greatness.

What valuation did her peers place on such a life as hers? This line of inquiry has great potential, but it is fraught with even greater difficulties. First, we need to be aware of several problems with our interpretation of the evidence. Often we read anachronistically, employing contemporary Western values to assess people for whom these values would be utterly foreign. In addition, assessments of Jewish (or any other) evidence as reflecting "negative" and "positive" valuations of women overlook the fact that cultural assessments are seldom so simple.

Schaberg argues that Jesus was illegitimately conceived, most probably as a result of rape, during the period when Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph. This memory was preserved by the family of Jesus. In this pre-gospel stage (stage 2), Christians understood this conception to be entirely natural, but they also attributed it to the work of the Holy Spirit in cooperation with God's own plan. When Matthew and Luke wrote their Gospels, working independently of one another, they intended to pass along this tradition.

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