This painting in Rome points to one of the most painful aspects of the history of Christianity: the intentional erasure of key figures. To the left of the traditional image of the Madonna and Child, you can see how one figure has been carefully cut out, leaving a gaping void. It is not clear who has been cut out, but a very good candidate would be one of the female disciples that are prominently featured in some of the so called Gnostic texts- Mary Magdalene, or perhaps Salome who most people erroneously identify as the woman who calls for the head of John the Baptists. (Check your Bible. That woman is "Herodias' daughter". Salome is actually a disciple of Jesus who is present at the crucifixion and then later at the tomb)
The release of a new book, the New New Testament, is call for a celebration for all of us wanting to have the fullest picture of Christian history, A book two decades in the making and edited by twenty Biblical scholars , it places the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary and the extraordinary poem Thunder, Perfect Mind within the context of the traditional, canonical texts. It also includes a carefully researched and poetic translation of the New Testament that restores the Jewishness of Jesus ( harking back to the original text of Mark, ere whJesus is referred to as "Rabbi" rather than "Lord") and includes a thoughtful commentary on alternative stories of Jesus which were later decried as heretical . This book may do much to restore many of the pieces that have been cut out of Christian history, from the obvious ( that Jesus and all his followers were Jewish) to the not so obvious ( that women were a vibrant and essential part of the inner circle of his teaching). The New New Testament has been hailed as potentially as transformative and influential as the King James Bible.
Here is a link to an program on KQED radio's program ' Forum with Michael Krasny interviewing Willis Barnstone, the eminent scholar and poetic translator on this magnum iopus: http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R912161000