A Tale of Two Sisters: Mary and Martha of Bethany and the Construction of Christian Discipleship Open Access

Wyant, Jennifer (Fall 2018)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/9z9031015?locale=en


The story of Mary and Martha and their brief encounter with Jesus in Luke 10:38-42 is a familiar one in both ecclesial and academic circles. In recent years, however, this story has been interpreted primarily through the lens of gender issues. Within ecclesial settings, too often the text is read as solely instructive for women’s behaviors. This, in turn, has led to feminist scholars resisting this reading, arguing instead for the historical role of Mary and Martha in the early Christian church. While these two groups operate from drastically different starting points, their shared exegetical framework has led to this text being pigeon-holed as a “women’s text” relevant only to women Christians and women scholars. A study of the reception history of Luke 10:38-42 reveals this gendered framework to be a relatively recent development, with most Christian interpreters throughout history choosing to focus on the role Mary and Martha within constructions of Christian discipleship. This dissertation, beginning with Origen and moving through to the Reformation, reveals a number of diverse and creative interpretations from the patristic and medieval periods that have too often been dismissed by modern scholars. I argue that by placing these pre-critical interpretations in conversation with modern interpretative concerns, new exegetical frameworks are opened for interpreting the story of Mary and Martha of Bethany. In this way, the two sisters are permitted to speak on issues beyond questions of gender in the church and can instead speak to both genders on the nature of discipleship in Luke-Acts and within Christianity more broadly. 

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: A New Problem, An Old Answer                                                           1

Chapter 2: A Literary Approach                                                                               37

Chapter 3: Origen and Early Monastic Interpreters                                                 78                               

Chapter 4: Patristic Preachers                                                                                  139

Chapter 5: Medieval Readers                                                                                   189

Chapter 6: The Reformation and a Shift                                                                  246

Epilogue                                                                                                                    294     

Bibliography                                                                                                            309

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