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Mary Magdalene in alternative Christian texts

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  1. Introduction
  2. Nature of the texts
  3. Patterns in the texts
    1. Favored disciple
    2. Peter and Mary Magdalene
    3. A group of women
  4. Alternative texts
    1. The Gospel of Thomas
    2. The Gospel of Mary
    3. The Gospel of Philip
    4. The Pistas Sophia
    5. The Sophia of Jesus Christ
    6. The dialogue of the Savior
    7. The [first] apocalypse of James
    8. The Epistuala Apostolorum
  5. Conclusion
  6. Bibliography

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.[17] 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.[5] Reports of the conflicts were long-term and widespread. [...]


[...] Alternative Texts The dating for the alternative texts varies from an early date of 50?70 CE[6] for the Gospel of Thomas to a date of the third-century for the Pistis Sophia.[7] Many, but not all, of the texts were discovered in Egypt at Nag Hammadi in December 1945. The brothers who found the documents did not report them, and ended up burning some of them, so valuable information was lost. It is very likely that the texts found at Nag Hammadi were hidden to keep them safe. [...]

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