The Fourth entry of the Baha’i Twelve Principles of prophet, Baha’u’llah, highlights the connectedness of science and religion: “For God has given humans reason to investigate about the truth of things. If religious matters are against science and reason, they are illusions. For that which is against science is ignorance. And if we say religion is against reason, then the meaning is that religion is ignorance.”
Baha’u’llah here shows this symbiosis between the religious and scientific understandings of the universe; moreover, there is an ignorance that comes when two such modes of understanding antagonize each other. This contemporary Baha’i philosophy mirrors greatly that of ancient Mediterranean society; as medicine was developing in ancient Greece and Rome, the emerging religious practices moved within the curve of the trending science, and vice versa. It is difficult to understand such a linked relationship between science and religion in a society that inexhaustibly pins the two against each other, but ancient Mediterranean culture saw a oneness in religious and scientific thought, as the Baha’i see today. With this, it is not surprising that some of the most influential philosophers of the time, such as Aristotle, also greatly contributed to the scientific understanding of the world. As I have been investigating for the past month, medicine can be read as a mirror for culture. Today, we will take a glance on the inverse and try to understand how culture can be a mirror for medicine. The emerging narrative of the Virgin Mary came at a moment of time in Mediterranean culture when ideas surrounding the pollutabilty, controllability, breakability of the female body where at a scientific peak; she was the essential embodiment of the “scientific breakthroughs” in her context. Continuing, the way the culture and practitioners responded to can give us greater insight to the perspective of the female body, as – in many ways – Mary is made to be archetypal Mother and Female for Christian communities. It is important to remember that Mary is given very little airtime in the Bible (outside of Jesus’ birth and death, she is only majorly mentioned once in the Gospel of Matthew, for example). Nonetheless, today we will exam Mary’s skeleton, as created by the New Testament.
In agreement with the scientific philosophy that connotes masculinity with perfection, the Bible constructs a connection between masculinity and divinity. This can be seen on various Old Testament that precede Mary. For example, In Genesis 2, the Creator constructs Adam (meaning “mankind”) first and then woman is created out of Adam, therein suggesting some order of genders. Genesis continues this gender construction, by developing Eve’s character to be the one creature in paradise that falls into temptation, eats from the tree of Wisdom, and brings death into the lives of all creatures. In this original construction of gender, the writers of Genesis draw connection between masculinity and rationality, strength, and self-control, whereas Eve (a symbol of womanhood) shows tendencies of impulsiveness, gullibility, and primitiveness. In a strong connection to Hesiod’s detailing of Pandora’s creation as a punishment to men that releases evils and disorder from her self-opened jar, it seems that womanhood in Genesis is created to bring about destruction to a stable paradise that solely contained masculinity in its untainted, unfemininized state. If we can play the story of Adam and Eve in retrograde, the only way that life can return to it’s sinless paradise is through the process of destroying femininity.
Fast-forward to the New Testament, Mary and Elizabeth’s bodies are used as vessels through which God, the Father, can express the divinity of masculinity. Luke details the way in which the Holy Spirit impregnates Mary, despite her “not knowing a man,” and Elizabeth, despite her old, infertile age (Luke 1:35-37). Reflecting on the Aristotelian “one-seed” model, which defines the man’s ejaculation as the life-generating substance that uses the female body to grow and develop during gestation, it can be deduced that readers of Luke’s gospel may have considered the generation of life to be man’s biological responsibility. As Luke outlines that Holy Spirits’ role in Mary’s and Elizabeth’s conceptions, the gospel links masculinity to divinity through the audience’s understanding of obstetric medicine. Considering the masculine gendering of the Father and Son, and now the implied life-generating nature and therefore masculine characterization of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Trinity becomes a fully masculine entity, and all that is unholy is therefore feminine. Again, the structure provided by the New Testament, specifically in Luke 1, suggests that in order to achieve goals of salvation and divinity, we must orient ourselves toward the masculine and away from the feminine.
This led me to wonder how such a structure for a religion would grow to the depths it has reached, considering it is rooted in misogyny and excludes both women and effeminate men. However, we must remember the ideology of gender construction that were discussed in the “One-Sex” Model. While ancient Mediterranean gynecologist would attempt at great lengths to ensure that women would never be able to reach the physical “perfection” of the masculine man, the “one-sex” model still permitted woman the hope of approaching this perfection through masculinization. Such a medical conception is culturally reflected in Greek mythology, as Athena and Artemis receive their divine status on through the masculine characterizations, being the goddess of war and hunting, respectively. Thus begins the direction we will head in for the next month: the masculinization of Mary. In what ways do the early commentaries on Mary (the Infancy Gospels and Nativity sermons) work within the ancient gender constructions to comment on the perfection/holiness of Jesus’ feminine mother? How can Mary remain sanctified as the mother of the Lord, who is “highly favored” (Luke 1:28), and remain both a woman and a mother? How does this gender construction of Mary will this invite or deter a feminine audience of the time? Let’s do this, dahlings!