Unapologetically Woman: Insights from Rabboni

“A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.” –Maya Angelou

The twenty seven books of the New Testament constitute only a very small part of the Christian literature written in the first three centuries after Jesus’ life. It was Emperor Constantine and the Pauline church leaders who removed the Gospels contrary to Paul’s teaching. Thus, content of Christian teachings was changed to suit the circles of power. In the novel Rabboni, written by Rosy Thampy and translated by Latha Prem Sakhya, we see Magdalene “as the one who loved the Son of God.” Rabboni is a Jewish honorific title applied mainly to spiritual teachers and learned persons and became popular when Mary Magdalene used it to address Jesus when she met him after the resurrection.

rabboniRabboni joins the genre of novels that are called Bible fiction. The oldest novel of note in this genre is Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ by Lew Wallace in 1880. In the twentieth century, the genre attracted more attention and recognition when The Last Temptation of Christ (1960), depicting Jesus without the mythical elements hit the bookshelves. In the Bible, Mary Magdalene is the sinful woman who was healed by Jesus of seven demons and she was present at the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Many alternative texts have also portrayed her as holy. Some of the most popular novels about Mary Magdalene are: The Secret Magdalene by Ki Longfellow, The Secret Gospel of Jesus AD 0-78 by Anton Sammut, The Da Vinci Code by Robert Langdon, Mary Called Magdalene Trilogy by Kathleen McGowan, The Passion of Mary Magdalene by Elizabeth Cunningham etc.The alternative narratives would stand the test of time only if it addresses the intergenerational dilemmas of existence. In the novel, Mary Magdalene meets Judas Iscariot, both branded as outcasts by Jesus’ conformist disciples, and through their interactions we read the Gospel and the life of Jesus and the Church from a different perspective. Thus, this novel tells of the lives of the silent minority who are deliberately marginalized by the power-seeking majority.Rabboni portrays Mary Magdalene as an intelligent, young and beautiful woman who strives for knowledge. She is,

“The one who walked with Him. The one who gave ears to His words

On the slopes of Palestine, On the banks of the river Jordan,

And on the shores of Lake Galilee…….

The one who screamed to her fellow disciples, ‘Come, let us all die with him.”

Rabboni, captures the essence of beautiful Christian discipleship. It is the ultimate platonic relationship between a strong woman and a great teacher, a disciple who seeks enlightenment and a master who embodies it. After the crucifixion of Jesus, the women followers gained prominence among the believers in Jerusalem. This angered the disciples who wanted to be the centre of power themselves. They created the Christ out of Jesus. They developed the canon and the rites. Slowly the cross became a symbol of power. Women had no place in the new church that men created. Therefore, they retreated to ordinary life in their home villages. In this way, the new church was born, in which Peter and John became the leaders.  The Christ created by the Church spoke to the faithful through rites and ceremonies. Jesus spoke the language of love. The Church never realized that without Jesus, without love, its chalices are empty chalices. The Church keeps excluding many, branding them as sinners and traitors. The guardians of the Church and those in power indulge in the worldly pleasures that Jesus told his followers to refrain from. The novel brings the pain of this irony to the attentive reader. The novel presents Mary Magdalene as an intelligent and beautiful woman who pursues Jesus not for miracles but for his words of wisdom and enlightenment. She cultivates a mature, feminine friendship with Mother Mary. She knew, Jesus the child, the young man in love and also Rabboni. The novel presents the life of Jesus from a feminist perspective. Most women in the Bible are only passively mentioned. But in the novel the women stand out for their unique personalities and passionate lives: Mary Magdalene is the epitome of sophisticated, unwavering femininity. She understands her beloved Jesus’ personality and communicates with ease which makes the male disciples jealous. Her bliss springs from her self-confidence. They oust her from the inner circle of believers. Did this shake her composure? Not at all. The author depicts the Magdalene sitting quietly on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, listening intently to the suffering of Judas and the whole world. That in itself is an apt description of an intelligent modern woman who does not let her circumstances upset her.

Magdalena’s pursuit of wisdom also parallels the biblical journey of the Queen of Sheba. Fortunately, the Queen of Sheba was not a threat to the powerful in Israel. This could be the reason why she did not meet the same fate as Magdalene.

Has anything improved in the Church over the centuries? Only very superficially. This leaves more room for alternative texts that tell the stories of those who were ostracized by the church. However, the novel does not end in despair. Magdalene declares the arrival of a new generation which erases all human boundaries, share resources, speak the language of kinship and protect the Earth. It is this hope that blossoms in Magdalene when she performs a miracle at the end of the story. She affirms that the emancipation of women rests on the strength of their faith in themselves. The author reiterates the fact that the written history is still a manipulated reality told according to the wishes of the powerful. Both Mary Magdalene and Judas Iscariot, victims of distorted narratives, offer insights into the Church and the society. Both the original in Malayalam and the English translated versions capture the reader’s attention with its inimitably lyrical language and passionate narrative style.

Jaya Abraham teaches economics and statistics at Abu Dhabi University. Her interests include writing poetry and translating English poetry into Malayalam. She writes poems as an expression of her reaction to the world around her. Her work has been published in major online portals. Apart from writing poetry, she is also interested in green and mindful living.

Support Countercurrents

Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B.
Become a Patron at Patreon

Join Our Newsletter


Join our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Get CounterCurrents updates on our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Related Posts

Join Our Newsletter

Annual Subscription

Join Countercurrents Annual Fund Raising Campaign and help us

Latest News