• Virginity, the Temple Veil, and their Demise: A Hypothetical Reader's Perspective on Mary's Work in the Protevangelium of James

    Eric Vanden Eykel (see profile)
    Biblical archaeology, Biblical Studies
    Church history--Primitive and early church, Bible. New Testament
    Item Type:
    Conference paper
    Conf. Title:
    Society of Biblical Literature 2016 Annual Meeting
    Conf. Loc.:
    San Antonio, TX
    Conf. Date:
    November 2016
    Mary, ProtevangeliumJacobi, Protevangelium of James, Virginity, Biblical studies, Christian Apocryphal Literature, Early Christianity, New Testament
    Permanent URL:
    In the second-century Protevangelium of James (henceforth PJ), Mary spins thread for a new temple veil. The episode has fascinated and perplexed both ancient and modern readers: Of all the jobs the author could have chosen for the protagonist, why this one? Scholars of PJ frame the significance of Mary’s work in a variety of ways. Some argue that it is an indicator of her purity—clearly the central concern of the broader narrative—while others maintain that the thread she spins corresponds somehow with the body of Jesus. Still others interpret it as pointing towards the rending of the veil at Jesus’ death, and a few see it is little more than evidence of the author’s penchant for hyperbole. In this paper I approach Mary’s work from the perspective of what the literary critic Wolfgang Iser calls the “hypothetical reader,” namely, a reader “upon whom all possible actualizations of the text may be projected.” This reader is by definition a construct that adapts to the interpretive goals of the exegete, and whose interpretation of a given text may differ drastically from that of its author. Employing the hypothetical reader as a literary-critical heuristic tool, I suggest that from a reader’s perspective the veil that Mary helps create is emblematic of her virginity, and that it is possible to understand the tearing of this veil at the crucifixion as a symbolic loss of her innocence. My aim in applying the category of the hypothetical reader to this episode in PJ is twofold: 1) to see what insights (if any) a reader’s perspective might bring to our understanding of this particular episode; and 2) to explore what benefits (if any) a “reader-centric” approach like this might bring to our understanding of early Christian narratives more broadly construed.
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    6 years ago
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