The most common portrayal of Mary Magdalene has been as a prostitute, though even the Roman Catholic Church, which invented that story, has conceded that it is not true. The second most common portrayal of her has been as the woman who was present at the crucifixion and went to the tomb. Alternative texts that were hidden from the Church and rediscovered reveal that a significant number of early Christians believed Mary Magdalene was much more than that. They believed she was a prominent disciple who was authorized by Jesus to teach after the crucifixion. In these stories Peter objected to her authority, but the other disciples sided with Mary.
This paper reviews these portrayals of Mary Magdalene. Nature of the Texts There are quite a few early Christian texts that were not included in the New Testament, and several of them mention Mary Magdalene. Some people call these texts, or some of these texts, the Gnostic gospels, but this is not an accurate term. All too often, calling these texts Gnostic is a way to dismiss them as heresy or unorthodox forms of Christianity, yet this is not an accurate picture of early Christianity. In fact, no one really knows what Gnosticism is. Scholars do not have a definition of Gnosticism they can agree on. There are three general arguments made about Gnosticism. One is that Gnostics recognized the authority of gnosis or an individual experience of knowing. The second is that the Gnostics were radical dualists who thought the material world was evil and the spiritual world was good. The third is that Gnostics had an elaborate alternative cosmology. Sometimes scholars talk about Gnosticism in terms of only one of these characteristics, and only rarely in terms of all three.
[...] This story appears to address the criteria for authority in the early Christian movement. Mary has authority because Jesus chose her. People (like Peter) who object to women as teachers should not criticize what Jesus chose to do. The story also does not claim that Peter or the others lack authority, since they have been chosen to teach. Peter and Andrew are only criticized for not recognizing her authority as well. Mary Magdalene proves herself through her courage and understanding in supporting the other disciples. [...]
[...] Further, Mary Magdalene, The First Apostle, by Ann Graham Brock, points out that the depictions of Mary Magdalene in these alternative texts are not dependent on each other; they are independent accounts. The texts that describe these conflicts were written over a long period of time, in a variety of locations, and by groups holding different points of view, so the tradition of a dispute between Peter and Mary Magdalene did not reflect a local conflict or concern or the belief of only one group. Reports of the conflicts were long-term and widespread. [...]
[...] Patterns in the Texts The question of alternative portrayals of Mary Magdalene is a broad topic and several books have been written about it. To give a quick overview, the alternative texts have a few points of agreement about Mary Magdalene. A. Favored Disciple The first point, which is a remarkable one, is that Mary Magdalene is portrayed in these documents as one of the three or four leading disciple of Jesus, or sometimes as the most insightful and most advanced disciple. [...]
[...] Even if Mary Magdalene was not the sexual companion of Jesus, she is portrayed in this document as his spiritual companion and spiritual consort. Her relationship to him is intimate and closer than that of any other disciple. D. The Pistas Sophia Pistis Sophia was most likely written in Egypt, since it refers to the Egyptian calendar and to Egyptian mythological names, and is usually dated to the third century. It was not part of the Nag Hammadi find, but exists in only one manuscript discovered in London in 1773. [...]
[...] The Women Jesus Loved: Mary Magdalene in the Nag Hammadi Library and Related Documents. Leiden: E.J.Brill Pagels, Elaine. The Gnostic Gospels. New York: Random House Robinson, James M., ed. The Nag Hammadi Library in English. San Francisco: Harper & Row Thompson, Mary R. Mary of Magdala: Apostle and Leader. New York: Paulist Interview with Elaine Pagels, “What Was Lost Is Found: A Wider View of Christianity and Its Roots” in Dan Burstein, ed., Secrets of the Code: The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind The Da Vinci Code, (New York: CDS Books, 2004) Ibid., 103–104. [...]
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