Does The Gospel Of Mary Magdalene Really Exist?

The Nag Hammadi reference for the Gospel of Mary is Codex II, 2. It was originally written in Greek, probably in the early part of the second century.   

Karen King and other commentators report that the Gospel of Mary falls naturally into two sections: the account of the exchange between Jesus and the disciples after the Crucifixion, and a description of Mary’s passing on to the disciples the special revelations entrusted to her by Jesus. Only the beginning and end of this important document survives. Four pages are missing between beginning and end. 

It is in the Gospel of Mary that Peter is described as challenging the relationship of Jesus and Mary Magdalene by demanding to know why Jesus would choose to speak privately to her rather than freely to them. Peter complains about Mary’s preaching and asks Jesus to stop her as she is undermining his leadership. Jesus’s response is to rebuke Peter. Mary later says that she is wary of Peter and feels that he hates women. Jesus tells her that anyone, whether man or woman, is divinely entitled to speak if inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Also in the Gospel of Mary, Levi is recorded as pointing out to Peter that if Jesus found Mary Magdalene worthy to be the recipient of his revelations, then he, Peter, had no right to criticise and reject her: “The Saviour surely knows her well enough. That is why he loves her more than us.”  He tells the disciples to go forth and preach as Jesus had asked of them.

They immediately respond, and with this the text ends.

From then on, it seems that the disciples accepted Mary’s position of privilege and that she comforted and encouraged them when they feared that they, too, would meet death at the hands of the authorities. 

The story of Peter’s confrontation with Mary Magdalene is also recorded in the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of the Egyptians and the Pistis Sophia.

The Nag Hammadi Codices appear to be largely Gnostic in tone. Not all Gnostics were Christians. In fact, there had been Gnostic thinkers before the time of Christ. Gnostic Christians were those who preferred personal revelation and individual understanding rather than conversion by apostles or evangelists.

Because Gnostic Christians were condemned by the orthodox Church , they have always received what we would call ‘a bad press’, but the largely Gnostic writings of the Nag Hammadi codices have brought new understanding of the Gnostics and much sympathy and support for their perspectives of Jesus and his mission. They did not, for instance, believe that Jesus was divine, but saw him as a divinely inspired teacher whose mission was to reveal to ordinary human beings that they could have direct communication with God. Since the Gnostics were largely freethinkers, it goes without saying that there was much variety in their interpretations.

Richard Andres and Paul Schellenberger point out in The Tomb of God: the Body of Jesus and the Solution to a 2000-year-old Mystery that the silence of the Church regarding Christian Gnosticism has left most Christians unaware of the important Gnostic aspects in the origins of their own religion. The orthodox Church fought fiercely to eradicate the Christian Gnostics and other so-called ‘heretics’ prior to the Council at Nicaea in 325 AD and established a pattern of prejudice that has plagued the Church ever since.

The main bone of contention between Gnostic and orthodox Christians seems to have been the issue of whether Christ was divine and the actual Son of God and whether he had been physically resurrected and then taken up into heaven. Although he might not have been the originator, Paul propagated and disseminated the view of Jesus as the Son of God resurrected to life after death on the cross after death. One cannot help but suspect that the disappearance of Jesus from the tomb played into the hands of the later orthodox Church, since his reappearance, either living or dead, would have been difficult to account for in terms of the Resurrection which is fundamental to Christian Church dogma.    

It is not difficult to see why orthodox believers wanted Gnostic interpretations suppressed even before the end of the first century AD, and why people like the inhabitants of the Jewish Qumran community found it necessary to hide their documents in urns secreted in caves before they fled at the time of the Jewish uprising of 70 AD and during later persecutions.

In 325 AD Emperor Constantine, concerned about myriad dissensions in the failing Empire, set up the Council at Nicaea and demanded that Christians cease their quarrelling and make up their minds about their beliefs. His reasons were, of course, personal and political, and had nothing to do with any concern for religion. It was rather that he saw that Christianity was spreading fast and that a unified Christianity would be useful to him.

If Mary did indeed leave the Holy Land after the Crucifixion and finally make her home in France, this would support the view of her implicit in those of the Nag Hammadi Codices that mention her mission. She was the apostle closest to Jesus and it was to her that he made his revelations after his body had disappeared from the cave and he met and spoke with her in the garden.

And if she were indeed the mother of his child – or children – it would have been imperative for her to escape from the Holy Land.

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