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Christians for Biblical Equality

Six New Gospels: Margaret Hebblethwaite (Geoffrey Chapman. 1994)

Review by Jenny Davis

What if I'd been alive when Jesus was on earth and seen him with my own eyes? What if I'd chatted with him, listened to him, shared a joke over a meal, seen him when he was tired and lonely and shared a few complaints? What if I'd been able to see him with a woman's eye, to hear him through a woman's ear and interpret his sayings with a woman's mind? What if…?

Well, I wasn't there and the four accounts we have in the Bible are from the men. But Margaret Hebblethwaite has written a book that looks at Jesus through the eyes of six New Testament women and what a refreshing read it is. The title may sound heretical, but is in fact describing the contents – six new pictures of the Jesus of the four accepted New Testament Gospels. The views are not sensational, but neither are they "safe". They are certainly different, because all the women are different. Taken together, a fresh view of Jesus' whole life emerges.


Hebblethwaite states in her Introduction "What interests us about the gospels is not so much what has been left in, but what has been left out." She has dealt with this by making the most of what is there, but she has also used her imagination and justifies doing so. She does not claim that her scenarios are the only ones possible and invites the readers to respond with their own suggestions.

The book is written in two parallel texts. The first is the story told by each woman. Under this is a continuous commentary on the story, made up of many theological footnotes. Although the author suggests just reading the story first, I did not find the footnotes a burden, because they are all interesting, and I enjoyed reading the two streams together.

Who are the women who see Jesus? I'll list the chapter headings, with a comment or so on how I encountered these individuals.

Elizabeth of Judea, who recognised the unborn child. What a great description this mature woman gives of the three months spent with her younger cousin as they shared their pregnancies together. And her imagined role in her adult son's life weaves into John's story in the Gospels.   

Mary of Nazareth, who lived with her son for thirty years. I hadn't really considered the difficult time Mary would have had, continuing to live in Nazareth after Jesus' baptism, with her son either considered a celebrity or a local troublemaker. Nor had I appreciated her pain when he appeared to reject her.

Photina of Samaria, who met a stranger at a well. What a character is the woman of Samaria! So often described only in terms of those five husbands, Photina comes across as feisty and articulate and her conversation with Jesus is riveting. She could well be described as the first apostle – why isn't she?

Martha of Bethany, who welcomed an adopted brother and rediscovered a dead one. Martha is my personal hero; practical, thoughtful and articulate. Many sermons start and stop with her hard work in the kitchen. But her declaration recognising Jesus as the Messiah is, I believe, far more significant and yet overlooked in favour of the more prominent Peter.

Mary of Bethany, who anointed the Christ for his death. Out of all the people surrounding Jesus as he approached his death, Mary appears to be the only one who really "got it" and gave all she had to extravagantly prepare him for his ordeal. Jesus commented that her story would be told wherever the Gospel is preached – has that really happened?

Mary of Magdala, who turned, and turned again, to find new life. Through Mary's eyes, we see Jesus as he heals (Mary from a probable mental illness) and then as he leads (Mary and other women with his band of followers). We read about the women as an additional group to the disciples, but I hadn't thought about how useful they probably were as the crowds came to this new Messiah for teaching and healing. And of course, with Mary, we can use the well-worn Christian feminist phrase – "Last at the cross; first at the tomb."



This book has been a huge stimulus and encouragement to my faith. I read the New Testament and listen to sermons differently now and I am grateful to Margaret Hebblethwaite for her careful research, her informed imagination and her very accessible style of writing.

The book is out of print, but I see second-hand copies are available on Amazon.com.

Jenny Davis

 

 

Jenny Davis is a committed Christian who worships with the Ormond Anglican Church. She enjoys playing her flute with the church musicians and participating in the “Kids’ Talk” roster. Jenny is a microbiologist at the Microbiological Diagnostic Unit Public Health Laboratory, University of Melbourne. She specialises in the identification of unusual bacteria.
She is an enthusiastic communicator and has taught practical microbiology to tertiary students, as well as spending time with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in 1998 as an ABC Science Media Fellow. Jenny was Chairman of The Leprosy Mission Australia (TLMA) from 2000-2006, and is still a member of TLMA’s Board. She also serves on the International Board of The Leprosy Mission.
Jenny is married to Rob and they have two adult sons and one grandson.

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