The Gospel of Mary
In considering the implications of the Jesus tomb discovery, many have turned to the Gospel of Mary as a source for alternative theories that have been gaining support from scholars for years. The tomb of Jesus may be a source to supplement the support of these already existing theories.
In December 1945, a collection of Christian Gnostic writings said to be dating as far back as the 2nd century AC were discovered near the town of Nag Hammadi in Egypt. Amongst these writings were the Gnostic Gospels of Thomas and Philip, which along with many other texts, including the Gospel of Mary, are considered to make up the New Testament Apocrypha: writings which were not included in the authoritative Bible.
Ten years later, in 1955, the first publication of the Gospel of Mary was said to appear, as translated from the Akhmin Codex, which were discovered in Cairo in 1896. While the Gospel of Mary was not one of the texts uncovered in the Nag Hammadi collection, other writings from the original Akhmin collection such as the Apocryphon of John and the Act of Peter were included in the Nag Hammadi findings.
It is commonly suggested that the Gospel of Mary refers to Mary of Magdala and not the Virgin Mary, and the Gospel is often referred to as the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Some scholars believe that the Gospel of Mary was purposely kept hidden by the Church because it reveals a suspicious favoritism towards Mary Magdalene and information about the relationship between Mary and Jesus that has previously been kept unknown. In addition, many scholars believe that the Gospel of Mary has been suppressed and dismissed by Church authorities because of the status that is bestowed on Mary Magdalene, which threatens the less powerful role of women in the Church.
Recent controversy has surrounded the Gospel of Mary suggesting that this document could prove that Jesus and Mary were married, and that Mary Magdelene was the Beloved Disciple to whom authority over Christian teachings was bestowed.
The Origins of the Gospel of Mary
The Gospel of Mary is considered one of many Christian Gnostic writings that comprise the New Testament Apocrypha. The manuscript was found as part of the Akhmin Codex discovery in Egypt in 1896. These findings were comprised of four texts bound together on papyrus paper written in an Egyptian dialect of Coptic which was commonly used at the time and is understood to be a translation of original Greek manuscripts.
The complete Gospel of Mary is believed to be at least 19 pages in length; however, pages 1-6 and 11-14 are missing from any known manuscript. The Gospel is said to be fragmented, with a long version of the text found in the form of the Coptic translation of the Akhmin Codex dating to the 4th or 5th century. A shorter Greek manuscript is said to exist dating back to the third century.
The Contents and Notable Passages of the Gospel of Mary
It has been said that passages in The Gospel of Mary reveal information about the relationship between Mary and Jesus as well as the status given to Mary Magdalene. Some believe that information in the Gospel of Mary is supported by other manuscripts such as the Acts of Philip and the Gospel of Thomas and reveal a closeness between Mary and Jesus that has previously been suppressed and undocumented.
The Gospel of Mary recounts an exchange between Mary Magdalene and the disciples of Jesus, who grieve and ask questions of the risen Jesus to which Mary provides the answers regarding mortality, the ascension of Jesus, as well as the ascension of the soul:
Tell us the words of the Savior which you remember which you know, but we do not, nor have we heard them
In this way it is said that she takes on a leadership role over the disciples, and indeed inspires them after relating a divine vision and revelation, which only she has received from the Savior after the crucifixion. The disciple Peter questions her authority and the special privilege which this vision gives her as a disciple and maintaining favored status with Jesus:
Did He really speak privately with a woman and not openly to us? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?
The most commonly noted passages in the Gospel of Mary, which supporters of this controversy refer to relate to the favoritism of Mary as revealed by Peter and the disciple Matthew:
Sister we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of woman
Surely the Savior knows her very well. That is why He loved her more than us
The Biblical Mary Magdalene
Mary Magdalene is most commonly represented as the repentant prostitute who washed and anointed the feet of Jesus with her hair, who was amongst the women of Galilee who followed Jesus and the disciples, and who was the woman Jesus had expelled seven demons from. Mary was said to have witnessed the crucifixion and burial of Jesus and is the first person to which Jesus appears after the Resurrection.
Recent controversy has surrounded the role of Mary Magdalene as wife and companion of the historical Jesus. Some scholars believe that remaining by the side of the crucifixion confirms the role of a wife and widow, while others believe that the washing of feet represents an old marriage ritual. Others contest that the Bible never explicitly states that Mary was a prostitute, and that indeed she comes from a royal bloodline that would make for an ideal marriage between Mary and Jesus.
The Authority of The Gospel of Mary
The authority of the Gospel of Mary and other Gnostic texts has been contested for years. Some scholars attribute the Gospel of Mary to a group of early Christians who were followers of Mary Magdelene, and many have claimed the significance of the role of women in early Christianity, proclaiming that the suppression of the Gospel of Mary can be attributed to the cultural context that developed after the life of the historical Jesus.
It has been said that Gnostic beliefs played an important role in early Christianity prior to the canonization of the Gospels now found in the New Testament. These scholars believe that Gnostic texts like the Gospel of Mary were actually considered for inclusion in the New Testament, but since the authoritative Gospels as we know them today (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) predated the Gnostic gospels, they had already gained wide acceptance.