This study critically compares the histories of interpretation of Mary Magdalene and La Malinche, also known as Malintzin or Doña Marina. Both of these women played important roles in foundational events and narratives: Magdalene in the events surrounding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and La Malinche in the Spanish Conquest of Mesoamerica that led to the establishment of modern Mexico. And both women have been variously reinterpreted over the centuries, including as female archetypes based on popular understandings of them as whores. Previous studies have critically reassessed each individual woman’s interpretive history, especially to challenge the women’s negative portrayals. There has not, however, been a comprehensive study of the striking similarities between the interpretive trajectories of these two women who lived in distinct times and places. This study undertakes this comparison in order to provide a new lens for viewing the interpretive trajectories of Mary Magdalene and La Malinche and to address broader hermeneutical and ethical issues that arise from attempts to reinterpret people from the past to address new contexts.
The study begins by analyzing the primary sources for each woman’s life, and then how the women are subsequently interpreted according to changing social, political, and theological concerns. The final chapter critically compares Magdalene and La Malinche’s interpretive arcs. This includes analysis of more recent scholarly efforts, especially by feminist and Chicana interpreters, to challenge earlier interpretations of the women that are deemed to lack historical basis and objectify both the women of the past and those living in the shadow of their stereotypes in the present. Responding to these concerns, the study demonstrates how its comparative analysis of the women’s interpretive arcs further disrupts their prominent stereotypes as whores. It then argues that this analysis reveals the ambiguous relationship between history, myth, ideology, and ethics, making any attempt to use foundational narratives or figures to address present-day concerns potentially problematic. The study concludes by putting forward strategies to negotiate these concerns.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Mary Magdalene in the New Testament Gospels
Chapter 3: Mary Magdalene Interpretations, from the Second Century to the Present
Chapter 4: La Malinche in the Earliest Sources
Chapter 5: La Malinche Interpretations, from the Fifteenth Century to the Present
Chapter 6: Comparative Analysis of Mary Magdalene and La Malinche's Interpretive Histories
About this Dissertation
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