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Mary Magdalen Of Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground

2315 words - 9 pages

Not for this I was born and then raised up.
Unacquainted was I with such need.
I once prayed to God, I was faithful.
I once had a soul that knew peace.
-from "Fallen," a Russian brothel song (Bernstein, 169)

Prostitutes, women who sell their bodies for money, have been frowned upon since antiquity by most members of society. However, from as early as Rahab, the Whore of Jericho in the Old Testament who helped Joshua and his men regain the Promised Land, prostitutes have been portrayed as not only as sinners with the possibility of redemption, but women who lead men to salvation as well. This trend was particularly taken up in nineteenth-century Russian literature: "Elevated into powerful literary symbols by authors like Dostoevsky, Tolstoy..., prostitutes became female archetypes who either disillusioned the men with whom they associated or raised them to a higher plane of being" (11). Dostoevsky uses this idea of a "saintly prostitute" repeatedly in his works. The archetype that Bernstein claims he creates in based on the image of Mary Magdalen from the New Testament, the celebrated reformed prostitute who devotes her life to Christ. Crime and Punishment's Sonya Marmeladova, of whom "Notes from Underground's Liza is a prototype, performs the role of the penitent sinner who leads the way to salvation: the saintly prostitute Mary Magdalen.

Despite common belief, Mary Magdalen is never referred to as a reformed prostitute in the four Gospels of the New Testament, though her actual role is just as pertinent to Dostoevsky's writing. In spite of the Gospels' tendencies to conflict with each other, they agree on four aspects of the Magdalen's life. First of all, she is one of Jesus Christ's female followers who is present at his crucifixion" (Haskins, 3). She is also either one of, or the witness to Christ's resurrection(4). In this role, she is the first to deliver the message of Christianity, bringing "the knowledge that through Christ's victory over death, life everlasting was offered to all who believe" (4). There is no explicit mention of her being a prostitute in the Gospel; the closest is in Luke, where she is referred to merely as a woman out of whom seven devils had been expelled by Christ (7). This can reasonably be interpreted as the seven deadly sins, which does not necessarily entail offering one's body for payment. Despite what the Bible says, her accepted biography is quite different. Through the course of time, Mary Magdalen's life has been associated with at least two other women appearing in the New Testament.

In the Gospel according to Luke, an unnamed female sinner appears in the House of Simon the Pharisee, where Christ is dining (16). She falls at his feet, begging forgiveness for an unspecified sin, though one probably of the flesh. Then she bathes his feet in her tears, dries them with her hair, and anoints them (16). Christ accepts her actions and repentance, for which the Pharisee criticizes him. Simon believes...

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