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A Virgin Conceived

Mary and Classical Representations of Virginity

Mary F. Foskett

Publication Year: 2002

The virginity of Mary has been an influential tenet of Christian belief, a catalyst for Marian devotion, and a foundation for the construction of female Christian piety and practice. In contrast to previous biblical interpreters who have drawn on either linguistic or historical evidence to ponder whether Mary the parthenos is indeed a "virgin," in this study Mary F. Foskett takes a different course. Rather than investigating the meaning and implications of the Virgin as a reified symbol, A Virgin Conceived examines the portrayal of Mary as a virgin in two important early Christian narratives: the canonical Luke-Acts and the second-century Protevangelium of James. Foskett explores the multiple meanings and images that parthenos and virginity display in two sources and describes how they exploit this range of possible meanings in their representations of Mary. Her study departs from earlier biblical interpretation by emphasizing neither the ambiguity of the term parthenos nor the history of tradition concerning Mary. Instead, it displays the multiple meanings of "virginity" and their implications for understanding representations of the Virgin Mary.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Table of Contents

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pp. v

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Which Virgin? What Virginity?

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pp. 1-22

Since the earliest decades of Christianity, interpreters and adherents of the tradition have pondered the virginity of Mary, the mother of Jesus. In recent scholarship, biblical interpreters and theologians alike have examined the significance of Mary’s virginity. Although biblical scholars have given extensive consideration to what the Gospels of Matthew and Luke seem to suggest about Jesus when...

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Bodies and Selves

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pp. 23-73

The repertoire of ancient images and meanings that readers may bring to their construction of the Virgin Mary depends largely upon what can be adduced from ancient literary sources about the significance and meaning of parthenos and parthenia. Thus it is not the imagined mindset of past readers but rather ancient cultural images associated with the language of virginity that serve as the object of inquiry. ...

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Constraining the Virgin: The Parthenos in Ancient Narrative

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pp. 74-112

In this chapter we consider several ancient narratives that feature virgin protagonists: the Greco-Roman novels Daphnis and Chloe and Leucippe and Clitophon; the Jewish novel Joseph and Asenath; and the Christian Apocryphal Acts The Acts of Paul and Thecla and The Acts of Peter. Just as the literature surveyed in the previous chapter reveals the multiplicity of images and connotations associated...

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The Virgin Speaks

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pp. 113-140

Beginning with the scene that introduces Mary, readers may examine Luke’s portrayal of Mary in terms of both the information that readers retrieve from the text and extratextual data that readers can assimilate and negotiate in the act of reading. Here my concern is less with authorial intention, that is, with what Luke may have intended to convey, and more with what readers...

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Defying Nature

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pp. 141-164

Whereas Luke’s emphasis on Mary’s virginity is exclusive to the opening chapter of his Gospel, the Protevangelium of James demonstrates a sustained interest in Mary’s sexual status. Mary is the apocryphal text’s central protagonist as it chronicles the annunciation of her birth, her infancy and early childhood, her maturation and marriage to the...


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pp. 165-208


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pp. 209-229


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pp. 231-238

E-ISBN-13: 9780253108968
E-ISBN-10: 0253108969
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253340559

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 1 b&w photos, 1 index
Publication Year: 2002