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One of the few Protestant women to write about the mother of Jesus, Beverly Roberts Gaventa takes a fresh approach to the figure who has fascinated Christians for twenty centuries and about whom we have such slender evidence. Rather than attempt to reconstruct Mary's life or assess her theological significance, Gaventa employs literary analysis to explore her varying characterizations in four early Christian narratives - Matthew, Luke-Acts, John, and the Protevangelium of James. Gaventa contends that each document offers a distinct portrait and that John's Mary is no more interchangeable with Luke's than a painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe is with an icon of the Queen of Heaven. Gaventa demonstrates that Matthew portrays Mary as the mother whose maternity poses a threat to the status quo and who is threatened by it in return. In contrast, she shows that Luke assigns three separate roles to Mary - disciple, prophet, and mother - and that it is in her role as the pondering, questioning mother that she enlivens the story. Gaventa reveals that the Johannine Mary serves to heighten awareness of Jesus' humanity and that the Mary of the Protevangelium is so pure she seems scarcely human. Without diminishing the individuality of these portrayals, Gaventa shows that each is colored by the dynamic of scandal that runs so powerfully through early Christian writings. She suggests that the scandal surrounding Jesus' conception in Matthew continues the history of scandal which punctuates God's relations with Israel; that the scandal threatening the Lukan Mary revolves around whether she will remain a disciple in spite of Jesus' perplexing behavior; that the theological scandal inherent in theincarnation of the Word subsumes the Johannine Mary; and that the Protevangelium responds to the scandal surrounding Mary's pregnancy by presenting her as the pure virgin of God.
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