Times Will Tell

Podcast: Busting myths, a scholar explores how women influenced Jesus’ teachings

In a new book, Prof. James McGrath wonders ‘What Jesus Learned from Women’ — and the answers may surprise you

Welcome to Times Will Tell, The Times of Israel weekly podcast. This week we’re speaking with author and scholar James McGrath, a professor in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana.

We’ll speak about his new book, “What Jesus Learned From Women,” a project that was spurred by a curious graduate student’s question about whether she could be a good Christian and a feminist. That got McGrath thinking about how exactly women have been portrayed in early Christian texts, and what we truly know about them.

The book is an interesting hybrid of classical historical/theological scholarship and imaginative historical fiction — what Jews could call Midrash — as McGrath works out just how a selection of women influenced Jesus’ thinking and his ministry.

Starting with Jesus’ mother Mary, McGrath gives life to characters, some of which are unknown to the New Testament. Jesus’ grandmother appears in other early Christian texts such as the Gospel of the Nazarenes, where she is given the name Anna or Channa. Here, McGrath fills out her personality, a city dweller hosting her country bumpkin growing grandson.

James McGrath, chair of New Testament language and literature at Butler University, in Jerusalem. (Courtesy)

McGrath also addresses the “classic example” of a woman who confronts Jesus — the Syrophoenician woman who changes Jesus’ mind. And finally, he reanalyzes a few much better-known characters, including Mary of Magdalene, and busts some myths surrounding her notoriety.

His previous books include “Theology and Science Fiction” and “The Only True God: Monotheism in Early Judaism and Christianity.”

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