The Making Of “Mary, Purest Maid”
Response from Experience at the workshop with Jane Schaberg about „The Illegitimacy of Jesus“ as part of the seminar „Gegenwärtige feministische Entwürfe als Herausforderung an Exegese, Predigt und Seelsorge“, on Octobre 23, 2009, 2:30 p. m. (Wissenschaftlich-Theologisches Seminar Universität Heidelberg). The photographs shown were taken during the workshop by Sabine Wagner.
My name is Helmut Schütz. I am no theologian scolar, but a minister of the Evangelic Church in Hessen and Nassau, since 1998 parochial pastor of the Evangelic Paul‘s Parish in Giessen.
I never gave a lecture at any University (less than ever in English!), except the presentations during my own studies, which took place in Bethel, Mainz and Bochum in the seventies of the last century. More about my person in the course of my remarks.
Now let me begin ninety years earlier: 1880. In this year my Grandma was born, and that before her parents had been married. She was an illegitimate child and had to bear her mother‘s name lifelong. Her parents stayed together and married, after all. Their further children were named after the father. 115 years later, my mother told me, how her mother had suffered when her brothers and sisters said to her: “You don‘t belong to us, you have another name!”
Another date: 1946. The reversal point in my mother‘s life. Two days after her thirtieth birthday she had to leave her Silesian home country which now belongs to Poland. On the one hand that was tragic for her. On the other: In West Germany she married and became a little son – me –, while her pre-war life in Silesia had not been only “merry homeland”. Having to do hard work as a housemaid with one free Sunday afternoon every 14 days, and when coming home, there was no time to relax, because her family expected her to help with the harvest. But what was worse, she always lived in anxiety, for instance fear of the sons of the lords of the manor in the village, who always looked for a girl who couldn‘t afford to cry when they said: „Come with me into my chamber, nobody will find out.“ When World War II. was at its height and Russian troops rolled over Silesia, fear of being raped went sky high. My mother was thankful to God that she never was raped, but she never totally lost her anxiety.
And I think, I inherited some of her basic anxieties, when I was born in 1952, seven years after the war, small and wispy and shy as I grew up in Westfalia as a little boy. I am convinced, my mother wouldn’t have survived without her faith in God, pretty much as myself.
How did a man like me, studying theology in Bethel, Mayence and Bochum, become interested in the theme of sexual abuse? Simply because I came across girls and women concerned.
And why did I cling to this theme for inbetween more than 25 years? Because I got the impression that I could really help some of them coping with what had been offended to them.
In addition, I used enough help for myself – in my family, in encounter groups, by engaging in psychotherapeutic training and supervision, and so I protected myself against being overrun or eaten up by the overwhelming problems of others.
First time I was confronted with sexual abuse during the nineteen-eighties, when I was parochial pastor of three villages near Frankfurt/Main. After an information event with the Alcoholics Anonymous in our youth group, a maybe 14 year old girl asked me to have a word with her in private. She told me, her mother was an Alhoholic, but didn’t look for help. “Please don’t tell my mother or father”, she bade me. “I only want to talk to someone. I have nobody who listens to me.” I gave her the advice to join a self-help group for relatives of alcoholics, so called co-alcoholics, and in addition kept in talks with her as pastoral carer.
After several weeks, she wanted to tell me something, but didn’t bring the words out. Next time we met, she gave me a sheet of paper, which she had covered with writing during her baby sitting job. And I read shocking sentences: “As I could not tell you what my Grandpa wants of me, I try to write it down.” She wrote about his hugs, pressing her lower abdomen to his own, opening his trousers and rubbing his genitals against her. “When being alone with him for a longer time, I should sit on the corner of a table and put my legs on two chairs. Then he tried to penetrate me what mercifully he didn’t succeed with up to now.”
Finally she wrote: “When talking to you I feel OK, sort of secure… Do you know I have complete trust in you?”
When I read these lines, I at first couldn’t (didn’t want to) believe it. Later it turned out that things were even worse; also her father had offended her sexually. But I decided not to call into question what she had confided to me. I simply knew she was no liar. She didn’t want me to talk to her parents or to the youth welfare or to anyone else; so I kept on talking to her till she was old enough to leave home and get further help for herself.
My first advice to you as prospective soul carers: If anybody tells you unbelievable stories about sexual traumatisation, try to deal with your own reluctancy and fear of these themes. You might be the only or first one to whom a victim dares to tell things of which she or he is terribly ashamed. And if you say “I can’t believe it”, may-be this person feels being proclaimed as a liar once again.
The psychoanalytic therapeut Mathias Hirsch says, you can’t really make something wrong if you believe once too often, what at the end turns out to be more phantasy than reality. It is much worse, if real incest has taken place and you take it from the start as a mere fantasy, so to speak in the role of the “repudiating mother” (1).
It was in these years when I found a book written by Josephine Rijnaarts about “Lot’s Daughters” (2) which gave me a first theoretical framework to understand what happens with victims of sexual violence. Ursula Wirtz’s book “Soul Murder” (3) also gave good information to the theme.
After ten years as a village pastor, I took over a ministry in a psychiatric hospital in the region of Rhinehessen, south of Mayence. There I met more women who had experienced sexual violence and incest, because many of them develop psychosomatic or psychic symptoms or heavy psychic diseases to cope with unbearable traumatisations in their childhood.
We had a Bible study group there, and one day a patient asked: “Is sexual abuse a theme in the Bible, too?” We then read Biblical stories of violence to which Phyllis Trible calls attention in her book “Texts of Terror” (German title: “My God, Why Did You Forget About Me?”) (4).
At that time I became especially aware of a certain person in the Bible, the nameless daughter of the judge Jephthah. I call her “Batjah”, God’s daughter, because her father, as the book of Judges tells in chapter 11, offers his daughter up as a sacrifice to God. In doing so, this father Jephthah uses the same apologies that are used by every incest offender to justify their deeds. “Alas, my daughter!” Jephthah cries out. “You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot take it back.” (11, 35)
And the daughter, as a defenceless victim, answers as most victims of sexual violence would have answered: “My father, you have given your word to the LORD; do to me as you have said…” (11, 36).
This sentence in slightly different words will later be taken over in a well-known text of the New Testament. According to the Evangile of Luke, Virgin Mary, after having been announced by the angel Gabriel that she will become pregnant with the “Son of the Most High” (Luke 1, 32), Mary gives the answer: “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1, 38)
I wanted to learn more about this alarming coincidence. I found and read Jane Schaberg’s book about “The Illegitimacy of Jesus” and thought it made sense (5).
In the clinic Bible study group we discussed if Mary might not only have been a victim of rape or abuse, but of a form of abuse within the family, may-be father daughter incest. At every time of history, such terrible events took place, why not at the time of Jesus, when young girls lived under the control of their fathers until they, after their marriage, were taken along into their husbands’ household.
Some of the patients with incest experiences began to relate themselves to Mary.
One woman said: “I often thought I was visited by an angel. But a dark one. It was my father coming into my room and playing games with me, as he said, terrifying, disgusting games.” She said: “If the angel Gabriel would have visited me, I’d been shocked at first sight, like was Mary.”
Very much later, this woman told me about her first visit to the gynecologist in the age of fifteen. He told her: “Did you have sexual intercourse yet?” She said “No”. “But your hymen is not intact, are you sure?” She was sure, that she never had slept with a man. But her father had abused her night by night since the time she was a baby, which she had to split off her conscious perception, in order not to get mad or committing suicide. I think this casts light on the question Mary asks: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1, 34).
Some women (not all of them) began to feel it a comforting thought to imagine Mary having been in a similar situation as they were – and being given new heart to by God’s angel and God’s help.
It was in the same year 1995, when I took a three months vacation for self organized studies, which my Regional Church allows me to take every ten years. The theme for my studies: “Sexual abuse as a challenge to pastoral counseling, church and biblical exegesis”. In the end, it took me a fourth month to write down all my findings under the title “Abused Trust”. Only in 2001 and 2002 I published them on my own website www.bibelwelt.de. The book version did not appear before the year of 2008 (6).
Already in the autumn of 1997, one of the patients in the Bible study group phoned me: “There is a theologian who has proven our idea. Look in the Evangelical Church Journal…” There I found a review of Gerd Lüdemann’s book “Jungfrauengeburt?”, and I read it. She was right: Lüdemann also claimed that Mary was raped. Nevertheless, his theological view was completely different. He recommends the church to cancel the doctrine of virgin birth in the Apostles‘ Creed and to abolish the “Holy Night” (7).
Against this conclusion I wanted to object, and so I wrote the essay “Mary, Purest Maid”, being first published in “The German Pastors‘ Journal” in March 1998 (8). The news service “idea spektrum” took some citations out of my article. These in turn were published in the newspaper “Welt am Sonntag” (of March, 29) under the title: “Was Virgin Mary Raped?” So there were some days of excitation in the German media landscape.
And my article in “The German Pastors’ Journal” became the most controversial ever published. I was startled by several of the reactions who reproached me of blasphemy or following Old Nazi ideologies or dragging Mary or Jesus through the mire or blaming Mary’s father in an inadmissible way. What most of my critics didn’t understand (or didn’t want to deal with): It never was my intention to go away from Christian faith like Gerd Lüdemann did. It’s not my point to humiliate Mary but to point out her exaltation (Luke 1, 52). Neither do I want to make a tragedy of the Christmas story, like Gerd Lüdemann does.
Listen carefully: I suggest the possibility, that Mary might be a sexually abused girl, not very much older than 11 years, who was but healed of her feeling of being abused and humiliated – and if not healed, at least could experience heavenly comfort in her painful sufferings.
So after having searched for comfort in the mountains with her relative Elizabeth, similiar to the ritual in the mountains which Batjah in the Old Testament fulfilled with her girl friends, Mary can praise the Lord (Luke 1, 46-48): “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath looked upon the low estate of his handmaid”. Low estate, in Greek “tapeinosis”, exactly means “humiliation”. I think, if God in Jesus let himself been sent to the Roman slave and terrorist gallows at the end of his life, why shouldn‘t God be able to put on human shape in its most ‘despised and rejected’ form already at his birth? The Church always read Isaiah’s song of the Righteous Servant of God as a picture of Jesus Christ: “He was despised, and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and as one from whom men hide their face he was despised; and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53, 3)
At last some thoughts to prevent another misunderstanding of my essay about “Mary, Purest Maid”. I never intended to teach my opinion as hard and fast historical truth. We will never know “how it really was”. But it must be possible to think about different ways to believe in God, to identify with Biblical characters and to understand Biblical texts.
An old member of my parish in Giessen said to me: “You know that I can’t accept your thesis about Mary. I still believe in the virginity of Mary and that ‘nothing is impossible with God’ (Luke 1, 37)”. I agreed with her on the point that through faith in God we experience marvels, but that it must be OK for different Christians to define “marvel” in different ways.
And listen carefully: Admitting different readings of the Bible does not necessarily mean arbitrariness. My home parish in Giessen for a much longer time as well is the home parish of an emerited professor of Philosophy whom I esteem very much, Odo Marquard. He is a friend of pluralist lecture of the Bible, so the confessions don’t strike dead one another like in the Thirty Years’ War. I close with a citation out of his essay “Slight consolation”:
“By interpretating, a text … turns into stuff … where I fit in:
I interpret a text, but in reality the text is interpreting me” (9).
That’s the way the Bible should be read, theologically, personally, spiritually.
Thank you for listening.
Cited or mentioned literature:
(1) Mathias Hirsch, Psychoanalytische Therapie mit Opfern inzestuöser Gewalt, S. 135. In: Jahrbuch der Psychoanalyse. Beiträge zur Theorie und Praxis, Band 31, 1993, S. 132-148.
(2) Josephine Rijnaarts, Lots Töchter. Über den Vater-Tochter-Inzest, Düsseldorf 1988.
(3) Ursula Wirtz, Seelenmord. Inzest und Therapie, Zürich 1989.
(4) Phyllis Trible, Mein Gott, warum hast du mich vergessen! Frauenschicksale im Alten Testament, 3. Auflage, Gütersloh 1995.
(5) Jane Schaberg, The Illegitimacy of Jesus. A Feminist Theological Interpretation of the Infancy Narratives, New York, USA 1990.
(6) Helmut Schütz, Missbrauchtes Vertrauen, Norderstedt 2008.
(7) Gerd Lüdemann, Jungfrauengeburt? Die wirkliche Geschichte von Maria und ihrem Sohn Jesus, Stuttgart 1997, p. 132 + 140.
(9) Odo Marquard, Schwacher Trost, in: Manfred Fuhrmann, Hans Robert Jauß, Wolfhart Pannenberg (Hg.), Text und Applikation, München 1981 (Poetik und Hermeneutik 9), S. 117-123.