[Home] - A few notes about the book 'La Madonna' by Ida Magli


Boys, I've seen “La Madonna”!!!

Well, one thing is sure. An evening listening to Madonna would have been time better spent. However, nobody can really escape his true nature. Maybe some Italian reader will remember the quaint Christmas Eve thread onItalia.firenze.discussioni, titled “Una sparata antisemita da parte della Magli...” where, besides your truly, two guests, one from Milan, the other fromViareggio/London/Jerusalem showed up. A good slice of the aforementioned thread was about Ida Magli’s book ‘La Madonna’ (meaning the Virgin Mary, not the aging singer). Ida Magli is an anthropologist from Rome, Italy, who has written about feminism and religious issues. Her views have become questionable of late, but her former work is often interesting. According to one of the posters, the book is supposed to be like this (I will show the Italian original first and my translation after it)

e capirai che novità. Già il tanto osannato saggio sulla Madonna era pieno di cazzate antisemite.

It’s nothing new. The acclaimed book about the Virgin Mary was already full of anti-Semitic bullshit.


gustosi i passaggi in cui racconta che le donne ebree dovevano portare con se l'acqua perché i mariti si lavassero le mani trenta volte al giorno. E quindi si fecero cristiane.

there are amusing passages where is written that Jewish women had to bring water with them to let their husbands wash their hands thirty times per day. And they became Christian because of that.

This month’s article that had caused the thread to start was in fact quite perplexing. However, the peculiar statements of this very peculiar person were about a book written on a topic so far from those used by the most vulgar of anti-Semitic texts. I define myself a ‘benevolent sceptic’ and was genuinely bewildered.

I mentioned the ritual washing, hand washing in particular, so important in ancient and modern Judaism, even in Mary of Nazareth’s time. I tried to ask the two guests – who I supposed had actually read the book – a scan of the chapter these ‘Jewish women’, or at least a better reference.
From them, especially the funny guy from Milan, I did not get anything like that. I was left with a strong curiosity. I have an inclination to research totally unpractical, unusual, often unpleased subjects. I needed to know what Magli’s book was really about.
I tried to order the ‘La Madonna’  from my trusty bookstore. The book is sadly out of print, both the first 1987 Rizzoli edition and the 1997 Baldini & Castoldi edition. There is no foreign translation on amazon.com either. Then I had an idea: I have written an email to an extremely kind person who was good enough to send me a brand new copy of ‘La Madonna’ for me to read.

I read the book rapidly, in my spare time (it is not a long book, around 200 pages). With age, religion has started to interest me again (I don’t even want to deep delve into the actual meaning of this). Well, after reading the book I have to say that my bewilderment was fully justified.
The book “La Madonna” is actually an anthropological insight about Mary of Nazareth, who was to become the Virgin Mary. Ida Magli shows to have an uncommon culture and sensibility. The foreword itself   states clearly that the book is about the evolution of myth, culture and religion, described with a scholar’s detachment. It is a self-confessed personal insight, the Author is indeed passionate, about women’s issues – not Judaism! On page 64 it is stated even more clearly (the translation is mine):

Obviously, the scientist should not take position about matters of faith. This should be an absolute law for the anthropologist, who has to study, in the course of his research, the most different religious behaviours and the sacred texts of all the world’s populations.
On this basis, I haven’t found anything even remotely anti-Semitic in the book.  If the book contained indeed 'anti-Semitic bullshit' it would be four times more antichristian. 

 In the book’s eight chapters, Judaism is mentioned only in the first two, in particular in the second. 
The last   six chapters, obviously the juiciest part of the book, are about Maria in the Gospels, the role of the Virgin Mary in Christianity, and the role of the Fathers of the Church and some important Saints. Other chapters are about   the meaning of the Marian apparitions about the Virgin Mary in the art, and Her role in the culture of the last two centuries. 

It is as I said a personal insight, sometimes debatable, but always interesting. Ida Magli shows without a doubt a remarkable acumen and penetrating sensibility. She has made me see at religious issues in a way I have never followed before. 
 The first chapter is about the idea of   sexuality and the role of man/women relationships in the Hebrew and pre-Christian  ancient world, with an accent on the institution of marriage. The  male/female dialectic actually one of the   keys, if not THE key to understand Magli’s thought on the issue. 

 The second chapter is the one regarding our Jerusalem poster opinions on the book. It is not about Jewish women who became Christian. It is about ONE Jewish woman, Mary of Nazareth, and her relationships with her more famous Son. There is indeed a reference to the Jewish rituals, but it simply finds a direct justification in the Gospels, later on, and it is about Jesus the man, not the woman Mary Nazareth. The passage that irritated our friend so much is on page 45 and 46 of the first Italian edition. 

 I will show the text here (the entire chapter it available in PDF at the URL  http://www.delenda.net/varie/magli.pdf): 
 Conflicts with the Son +We can therefore think that Jesus has spoken first in His family, especially with his mother, with whom He lived, about new ways to live kinship ties: one becomes son and sibling if the Will of God is made and if one loves each other... However, to love   means to be saved, to escape the purification rules, in order to recognize that only what is within   man   can contaminate. To those who   come to call Him because His mother and brothers must talk to Him, Jesus answers once again with violence: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?"”. After having exchanged a few words with a woman who has heard Him, the woman utters what every mother could say: “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” Jesus answers suddenly “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”. 
 One is son of God, therefore, if one is like Him and loves Him, one is brother, if one is like each other, in love. However, inversely, being a father or a mother means nothing, if not in love. The impatience, the hardness with which Jesus denies His mother this kind of likeness allow us to suppose that in the long years He spent with Her He has repeatedly tried without success to take Her on His path. There were daily moments that must have been discussed together. The eagerness, the hardness with which Jesus denies to its mother this type of likeness, allows to suppose that in the long years that has passed with she it has continuously and uselessly tried to drag it on this road.. Before all, prayers, purifications rituals, avoiding women. A Jewish male must follow about one hundred purification rituals per day. A lot of water is needed, more water than is needed for living. The ritual prescribes that water should flow freely to the ground and should not be reused for other things. When Jesus stopped to observe the rituals, and surely He did it because he forced the Disciples to do the same, the first to recognize this must have been Mary. There is a very simple reason: it is up to the women to bring the water. 

 It is not particularly difficult to verify Magli’s claims about ritual washing, for example check: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritual_washing_in_Judaism 

It is not even particularly difficult to imagine that in a male chauvinist society like   ancient the women actually had to bring water for their husbands. 
Perhaps my peculiar friend should take off his pink glasses sometimes. He seems to see anti-Semites everywhere. It would do him good. 


febo@delenda.net - 17/1/2009 - No rights reserved, this text is free.