Monday, May 29, 2006


Some of the things that some of the non-canonical texts may perhaps say about Mary Magdalene

The following are cited in M.R James' "Apocryphal New Testament"

1: Fragment of a lost work quoted by Tertullian

John has said that "the teacher" did not permit women to take the Eucharist. "Martha said "It was because of Mary, because he saw her smiling. Mary said "I laughed not yet: for said unto us before that: That which is weak shall be saved by means of that which is strong."

2: Egyptian fragment called "The Twentieth Discourse of Cyril of Jerusalem" in which Mary Magdalene is said to be the same person as the Virgin Mary and Mary the Wife of Clophas.

3: A document called "The Gospel of Peter" which repeats the standard Resurrection story:

"Now early on the Lord's day, Mary Magdalene, a disciple of the Lord...took with her her women friends and went unto the tomb...."

4: An extended Passion story called "Acts of Pilate" in which John tells the Virgin Mary that Christ is condemned and the Virgin goes with Martha, Mary Magdalene and Salome and to the cross.

5: A late "Epistle of the Apostles" which has another version of the resurrection story

"And thither went three women, Mary, she that was kin to Martha, and Mary Magdalene and took ointments to pour on the body."

The Nag Hammadi library of gnostic texts is slightly more interesting.

1: There are a number of writings in which different disciples ask Jesus questions, and receive obscure answers. In several of these, someone called Mary is one of the interlocutor.

Examples include but are not limited to:.

"The Dialogue of the Saviour" "

Mary said "There is but one saying I will speak to the Lord concerning the Mystery of truth. In this we have taken our stand, and to the cosmic we are transparent."

"The Sophia of Jesus Christ"

"Mary said to him "Holy Lord where did you and you disciples come from and where are they going and what should they do here?" The perfect Saviour said to them "I want you to know that Sophia, the Mother of the Universe and the consort desire by herself to bring these to existence without her male consort..."

2: The "Gospel of Phillip" contains one tantalizing non-sequitur:

"For it is by a kiss that the perfect conceive and give birth. For this reason we also kiss one another. We receive conception from the grave which is in one another. There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary his mother and her sister and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary. The father and the son are single names, the holy spirit is a double name. For they are everywhere..."

3: The very brief "Gospel of Mary" contains the following dialogue:

"Peter said to Mary "Sister we know that the Saviour loved you more than the rest of the women. Tell us the words of the savior that you remember...."

After she has done so:

"Andrew answered and said to the brethren "Say what you wish to say about what she has said. I at least do not believe that the Saviour said this. For certainly these teachings are strange ideas. Peter answer and spoke concerning these same things. He question them about the Saviour: did he really speak with a woman without our knowledge and not openly? Are we turn about and all listen to her. Did he prefer her to us?"

Then Mary wept and said to Peter "My brother Peter, what do you think? Do you think that I thought this up in my heart or that I am lying about the Saviour?"

Levi answered and said to Peter. "Peter, you have always been hot-tempered. Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries. But if the Saviour made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well. That is why he loved her more than us."

4; The Gospel of Thomas concludes with the following exchange:

"Simon Peter said to them "Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life." Jesus said "I myself shall lead her in order to make her male so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male with enter the kingdom of heaven."

The texts which M.R James cites are obviously simply re-tellings of the canonical gospels; the only interesting point is that there is already an ambiguity about whether Mary Magdalene is the sister of Martha.

The Nag Hammadi texts indicate that the idea that Mary was a person of some importance; on intimate terms with or favoured by Jesus; and disapproved of by some of the other disciples, had occurred to a number of gnostic Christians in the third and fourth centuries. They might have been drawing on gossip, rumours, legends or folk-memories which might have been current at the time; and these could have had some historical basis. On the other hand, we might simply be dealing with religious fiction or gnostic allegory.

Two Random Pieces of Information
1: The name "Martha" is the Aramaic feminine of "lord", as in "Lady" or "Mistress."

2: The writer of the medieval York Mystery Play depicts the following dialogue between Mary and the resurrected Jesus. Thinking him to be the gardener, she has asked if he moved Jesus' body:

Woman, woman, turn thi thoght!
Wyt thou well I hyd him noght
Then bare hym nawre with me;
Go seke, loke, if thou fynde him oght.

In fayth I have hym soght,
But nawre he will fond be.

Why, what was he to the

In sothfastness to say?

A, he was to me --
No longer dwell I may.

Mary, thou sekys thy God, and that am I.

Rabony, my Lord so dere!
Now am I hole that thou art here.


Andrew Rilstone said...

...I have just double-checked that, and that is according to the Penguin "English Mystery Plays" selection (page 589) and not my typo. Not that medieval spelling was especially consistent.

Gavin Burrows said...

Sam Dodsworth said...

As an atheist, I tend to be ...skeptical... of the idea that anything that seizes the popular imagination is an example of our hunger for the numinous. If every popular story is really a pale substitute for Christianity then the implication is that a perfectly Christian society would have no room for popular stories.

Rather than the numinous, I'd suggest that people like to feel privy to secret knowledge and that they like their secrets to be dramatic. That would make "The DaVinci Code" just scandalous gossip on a larger scale.

I’d agree with Sam here, with the caveat that while people probably really are after secret knowledge they tend to confuse that with the numinous. The fixation a lot of people seem to have these days with Gnosticism seems to be another example of this. It’s like a man searching for something he’s never seen, so he’s unable to recognise that it’s all about him.

Charles’ comments probably make for an interesting juxtaposition with something I said on the previous Mary Mag thread:

The idea that the Grail must be a physical person seems just a variant on the theme that it must be a physical object. If it’s just an idea or symbol… you know, something you couldn’t buy in the shops, it’s automatically assumed to be a lesser thing.

I wouldn’t care at all about Brown and his dumbass book if he admitted it was all made up, but this lumpen insistence that it’s based on solid evidence… Whereas with From Hell (which works with similar themes), Alan Moore was always insistent it was and should only be treated as a work of fiction. In a recent interview he mentioned a magician coming up to him and claiming he’d performed ceremonies that proved what he’d written to be true. “That’s very nice of you” Moore replied, “but really I just made the whole thing up.”