Review: Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus: Prostitution and religious obedience in the Bible

For those readers interested in an exegesis of the genealogy included in Gospel of Matthew, most would turn to theologians like Jane Schaberg, not famed Canadian cartoonist Chester Brown. But overlooking Brown would be a mistake: In his latest work, “Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus: Prostitution and religious obedience in the Bible,” Brown provides an in-depth critical analysis of the genealogy in question, pushing against Schaberg and other scholar’s arguments to create a fascinating thesis of his own, in a way all his own: through cartoons and handwritten notes.

Brown’s work is a wonderful reminder that serious study of religious texts is not something reserved for PhDs and religious leaders: all of us, including cartoonists, are welcome to explore, study, and question.

Let’s start with the cartoons. The genealogy included in the Gospel of Matthew includes five women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. Including women in a genealogy was highly unusual. Why would Matthew do such a thing? Before presenting his argument Brown first retells the stories of these five women in comics, as well as the stories of Cain and Abel, the prodigal son, and the parable of the talents — the Nazarean version which, Brown argues, is “how Jesus actually told the tale.”

The comics themselves are a delight, but when paired with Brown’s handwritten scholarship they come alive in a new way. Brown’s argument will seem, to some, confrontational: Matthew’s genealogy is constructed to subtly allude to Mary’s sexual unconventionality while still keeping Jesus’ origin story in line with the patriarchal traditions of the time. But keep reading. Brown’s exegesis of a number of parables, particularly the talents, gives further credence to his argument and sheds light on questions that have continued to plague believers since the Bible’s creation: Does God require us to act in a certain way? What behavior is prized? Are women and men equal?

Reading Brown’s work will encourage conversations about faith and the patriarchy, while also encouraging a new generation of thinkers to explore religious texts in a way all their own.