I really like Fencing Bear at Prayer’s range of sources and quotes about Marian hermeneutics of Scripture, and I think she is onto something. Yes, the early use and the use in so many sources of so many of the same abstruse Biblical references means something big.
The problem is that she has hitched her wagon to this Margaret Barker person and her theories, who wants to turn the known presence of Asherat worship in Israel and the raisin cake thing into an actual inspired theology and Scripture tradition that was killed off by evil evil Josiah and those darned rabbinical vowel pointings, and which came to life again through Virgin Mary worship.
(Seriously, people, is there a rule that every anti-Catholic lie has to be repeated twice: once by non-Catholics as condemnation, and then by other non-Catholics as praise?)
Well, I have been reading patristics and Marian Scripture interpretation for a long while too, and I have the advantage of knowing in my gut that Catholics and Orthodox and Copts are not Collyridian goddess worshippers. So what am I thinking about this?
- The entirely human gebirah or queen mother was important in Israel and other Middle Eastern countries. She appeared in king lists and interceded with the king (and Esther also acted similarly in the more precarious Persian cultural position of king’s wife). Chapter 31 of the Book of Proverbs is quoted from a gebirah. The dad’s mom was in a similar position of influence in most Jewish families, down to the present day, and so was the mom’s mom.
2. Since the royal gebirah was important to any king, people expected any Davidic king to have one. If the Messiah was going to be a Davidic king, his Davidic gebirah was also important, and possibly prophesied. If the Messiah was going to be more like a prophet or a Nazarite, his mom would dedicate him like Samuel or Samson’s mom (or Elizabeth). If the Messiah was going to be more than just human (as Daniel hinted with the God-like powers of the “one like a Son of Man”), his mom would have to be a special Daughter Zion figure. We do see a few Jewish apocalyptic texts attributing mighty powers to the Messiah’s mom, while still portraying her as a human given these powers by God.
3. OTOH, since Asherat worship seems to have been a common temptation for Jewish women, and since a lot of early Christians may have mixed not entirely ex-paganism with their new religion (a la Roman occult synthesis of everybody), it is possible that some people wanted to turn the Messianic mom into a goddess, and hence the Collyridians. It is possible that one might wrest unorthodox interpretations of Scripture from such people, by teaching orthodox Marian stuff more heavily; but really we see more Marian stuff showing up versus Nestorianism, as a guard against bad Christology. We don’t know any bad interpretations from those Collyridian folks, so it would be just guessing now.
4. On the other side, however, the niche of “God’s highest creation and perfect human who is not God” is extremely persistent among people who don’t want to concede it to Mary. From the Arians on, a lot of people put Jesus there. The Muslims claim Mohammed is the Perfect Man. So it makes more sense to think Mary is important as being a human who manages to do it right, than having her be some goddess figure.
5. Actually, most patristic sources seem to use Lady Wisdom as referring directly to Jesus (not the Holy Spirit or Mary), although obviously it got important later and many Christ verses can also refer to Mary or the Church or the Christian soul. (I would be curious to see any stats showing otherwise about early use.) But yup, Song of Songs is used early for both the Church and Mary.
6. The Scriptural figure of Israel as wayward or faithful wife, of Daughter Zion, of the Valiant Woman and the various wise (or stubborn) Matriarchs, Esther, Judith, and the Jewish tradition of the Torah and Sabbath as spotless women or brides, would seem to relate more closely to Marian readings of Scripture than any guesswork goddess. (The presence of women in semi-liturgical roles at Jewish festivals, and the prayer roles of both ordinary Jewish women in in the home and of priests’ wives in their homes, may tie in, too.)
So without reading this Bear’s actual book, or indeed any Barker books, I do not know if that is the orthodox direction she is going, or if she has another orthodox direction. I would hope so. If she is taking this in a weird heretical way (which was what the Marquette talk sounded like, at the end and unexpectedly), I hope she turns it around. Listening to Mary brings one toward Christ and the Church, not out into the darkness or into the company of Jezabel. Mary is the proto-Christian.
Just to be clear, however, I still like the cut of Fencing Bear at Prayer’s jib. I just hope she knows where she’s sailing. Even if she doesn’t, I’m pretty sure her observations will continue to be interesting!