The Goddess of Christmas Past

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, here’s something interesting about the origins of Christianity: Many scholars and others believe that the Virgin Mary originated from earlier female deities – for example Artemis – with whom she shares characteristics. But over the centuries Mary has lost much of her spiritual power, particularly when Protestant Christians booted her out to create an all-male club of deities.

An op-ed in yesterday’s NY Times offered a refreshing reminder that things were not always thus. The Bible as we know it was carefully constructed over the centuries, and part of that construction involved eliminating certain texts, including those that emphasize the voices of women.

Previously, these texts were known as the Gnostic Gospels and were viewed as heretical. But scholars are now reconsidering the texts and have even included some in a volume published this year called the New New Testament. This new Bible includes, for instance, the Gospel of Mary, which tells the story not of the Virgin but of Mary Magdalene and her close relationship with Jesus, who gives her the authority to pass on his teachings to his disciples. The new good book also includes poetry in the voice of a female deity, and verses that venerate the “womb of all that grows.”

Even if you’re not Christian or not religious, this is pretty revolutionary stuff. I’ll be taking a close look at these texts soon and reporting on what I find. In the meantime, their publication in a new Bible is the most meaningful Christmas gift I can imagine.

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The Biology of Gender: New Research

I often hear people talk about the relationship between gender and behavior in fairly simple terms, as if the different behaviors of men and women were due entirely (or at least mostly) to biology or entirely to culture.

Some people and researchers believe that the pendulum lately has swung toward biology, with the idea that men’s and women’s brains are “hard wired” differently, which largely explains our different behaviors. Many scientists would not agree with such simplistic “biological determinism,” but the idea exists.

But some new research suggests that we really don’t know enough to make these pronouncements. The writer of this article in Wired magazine is refreshingly careful not to simply declare that biology is wrong and culture now has more weight. But he does offer a nice explanation of why the previous research favoring a biological explanation is less valid than previously believed.

Will we ever fully understand the complexities of how both culture and biology inform gendered behavior? No doubt it will take much more research. But it will also require our willingness to listen to and question the research, to be open to reconsidering some of our most deeply held assumptions about girls and boys, men and women, about who and how we are.

Get the full details here.