A book report on “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene”, a translation from the Sahidic Coptic to English by Jean-Yves Leloup
“Those who have ears, let them hear!”
Disciples of the Galilean rabbi, Christos Yeshua of Nazareth, the “Teacher”, saw how he loved Miriam of Magdala (Mary Magdalene) and asked “Why do you love her more than you love us?” The Savior answered “How can it be that I do not love you as much as I love her?” The Mashiah (Hebrew for Messiah) did not reject, but instead loved and welcomed women, sinners and the weak…a divine love that did not exclude even one’s enemies.
Yeshua was capable of physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual intimacy with a woman. The Gospel of Philip suggests that Mary Magdalene is the koinonos (special companion) of Yeshua. “The Lord loved Mary more than all the disciples, and often used to kiss her on the mouth.”
Now that I have your full attention, let’s briefly recount the history of the Gospels of the disciples of Jesus Christ.
The Gnostic Gospels
The greatest suppression of early Christian literature began when Constantine became emperor of Rome and declared Christianity the religion of the entire Roman Empire. In 325 AD, Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea where it was decided which texts would become the standards of the Church – those we know now as the canonical Gospels – and which would be suppressed, those now called the gnostic Gospels. The Bishops at the Council of Nicaea who disagreed with Constantine’s choices were exiled on the spot.
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene makes up the first part of the so-called Berlin Papyrus, a fifth century manuscript acquired in Cairo by C. Reinhardt and preserved, since 1896, in the Egyptology section of the National Museum of Berlin. It came from the area of Akhmin, first appearing in a antique store in that town.
Much later, in 1945, the discovery of the library of Nag Hammadi in upper Egypt (Coptic texts translated from Greek originals) revealed the Gospels of Philip, Peter, Bartholomew and Thomas. Some scholars believe that the “Sayings of Jesus” within the Gospel of Thomas date back to 50 AD, predating and perhaps representing a sourcebook for the canonical Gospels.
The Penitent Whore?
In 591, Pope Gregory I delivered Homily 33 in which he declared that Mary Magdalene and the unnamed woman in Luke 7 are, in fact, one and the same, and that the faithful should hold Mary as the “penitent whore”. Pope Gregory I said “ She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary, we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark. And what did these seven devils signify, if not all the vices? … It is clear, brothers, that the woman previously used the unguent to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts.
In fact, the Greek word for harlot, porin, which is used elsewhere in Luke, is not the word used for the sinful woman who weeps at Jesus’ feet. And there is no direct reference to her – or to Mary – as a prostitute anywhere in the Gospels. Here are some more pertinent facts:
Mary Magdalene is the only woman besides Mother Mary who is mentioned by name in all four canonical Gospels… and her name, in all but one instance, is the first one listed when there is a mention of the women present at an event. Mary Magdalene is one of the three women who wait at the foot of the cross during Christ’s crucifixion. And Mary Magdalene is the first to see the resurrected Christ. It is because of this that she is considered the “apostle of apostles”, and is so called even by Saint Augustine.
Only in 1969 did the Catholic Church officially repeal Gregory’s labeling of Mary as a penitent whore. But the image of Mary Magdalene as the penitent whore has remained in the published teachings of all Christian denominations. Jesus relieved Mary Magdalene of seven deadly sins – pride, lust, envy, anger, covetousness, gluttony, and sloth, replacing them with humility, brotherly/sisterly love, love for knowledge, self controlled directed will, poverty or independence, steadfastness and silence in the inner search, and love for all of life. So Mary Magdalene possessed all seven virtues plus the important virtue of having known the seven vices… an experience leading to an optimal compassion for others.
Mary Magdalene is the one – perhaps, because of her purified state, the only one – who can deliver the resurrected Christ’s message “Go to my brethren and tell them that I ascend to my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.”
The word “Christ” means “anointed one”… so how can it be that Christians have pushed into a dark corner the female minister of the rite of anointing? After one of the anointings, Jesus remarked “Verily I say unto you, wheresoever’s this gospel shall be preached throughout the world, what she has done here will be told in remembrance of her.”
Miriam of Magdala is said to have journeyed to southern France with a small band of followers of Jesus Christ after the chaos that prevailed in Jerusalem. It is said that she lived in caves throughout the area and developed a kind of clairvoyance – “clear seeing” – that permitted her to become intimate with the caverns and passageways without the use of torches. There is one particular cavern at Ste. Baume, in the hills of Marseilles, where Mary Magdalene is said to have lived the last thirty years of her life in intimate connection with this hidden part of the earth.
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene need not be set up in opposition to other gospels or sacred scriptures, or against recent anthropological or scientific research. The word of the Teacher in the Gospel of Mary is like the hint of a smile, a subtly feminine smile, that accompanies a breath of life that fills us with the vitality needed to walk forth – toward that silent repose in the midst of action, where individual being is finally open to the oneness of Lover and Beloved…of Miriam and Yeshua.
I cannot end this review without relating a personal experience that, in some small way, may present insight into the “brilliance” of the relationship between Yeshua and Miriam.
In my early forties, my marriage of twenty-two years ended abruptly. The metaphor I use to represent myself and my dilemma is that of a discarded sock with numerous holes (personal defects) that is not thrown in the trash, but instead placed in a rag bin to, at some point in time, become miserably soiled and then burned… with a string hanging from the sock that represents a hope for reconciliation…
To release the sock from its purgatory-like rag bin, I began to in-line skate…an attempt to somehow heal my soul by making my body fit. I met a very attractive, unattached, and understanding woman who agreed mutually with me that our relationship would be entirely platonic due to our mutually frail emotional conditions. As our friendship grew, it became apparent that its strength would very likely be diminished had we become intimate. Before she moved to another state, we kissed, only occasionally, on the mouth. Without the expectation of anything more than the kiss, it became a special act of love…a sincere and almost spiritual love. Because of this experience, I can, if only minimally, imagine the Divine love that affected Yeshua and Miriam.