A New Mary Magdalen

November 2002By Anne Barbeau Gardiner

Anne Barbeau Gardiner is Professor Emerita of English at John Jay College of the City University of New York. She is author, most recently, of Ancient Faith and Modern Freedom in John Dryden's The Hind and the Panther (Catholic University of America Press).

There is currently an explosion of Mary Magdalen studies, with a load of books either just published or about to be published on the topic. Why this vogue? I attended a recent feminist conference June 7-9, at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in Manhattan to find out. It was entitled "Mary Magdalen, Prophet and Apostle in the Miriamic Tradition," the first offering of the new interreligious Center for Religious Inquiry. About 80 persons came, some of them biblical scholars fluent in ancient tongues, others ordinary people interested in Scripture. This second group was in for a shock. The speakers drew mostly on what they called "non-canonical" or "extra-canonical" texts. No mention was made till later that these works were by Gnostics, who were denounced by ancient Jews and Christians.

A grandmother from New Jersey was at the conference. Early on, she whispered that she'd never heard of the "non-canonical" works being cited. When I said they were mostly Gnostic, she asked what the word meant. Then when she heard that Gnostics believed Jesus had saved us not by His Cross and Resurrection, but by leaving secret knowledge, she wanted to know what that knowledge was about. She laughed aloud on hearing that it was a series of passwords needed after death to pass certain portals and reach the Light. She didn't need it, she said with a touching simplicity of faith: She knew Jesus would meet her at that time.

The first speaker, Antti Marjanen, from the University of Helsinki, author of The Woman Jesus Loved, spoke of how, in the Gnostic Gospel of Mary, Jesus was said to have loved Mary Magdalen more than the other disciples. Was she His lover, he asked, or just His "most perceptive" disciple? Marjanen's answer was the latter. He then discussed the Gnostic Gospel of Philip in the Coptic version. In this Gospel, Mary Magdalen is Jesus' "companion," and the one He "kisses on the mouth" (but the next day, Stephen Shoemaker observed that the identity of "Mary" in this and other Gnostic texts remains "ambiguous"; she could be Mary of Nazareth). Marjanen explained that "kissing" is a metaphor in this text for transferring spiritual powers, as in the Gnostic Second Apocalypse of James, where secret knowledge is passed on by a kiss. He also defined the beloved in such texts as the one with "deeper understanding" who is able to act as "mediator" to others. In the Gnostic Gospel of Mary, Jesus gives Mary Magdalen a secret revelation for the Apostles. When she brings them the secret, Peter disbelieves her, but Levi, as the Apostle Matthew was referred to throughout the conference, defends her authority because she is the "most beloved."

At this point Marjanen touched on the major theme of the conference, and I grasped the reason for this vogue in Mary Magdalen studies. The feminists claim that Mary Magdalen was a prophet who received from Jesus a revelation denied to the Twelve and so had a spiritual authority equal to or superior to Peter's and the other Apostles'. Her conflict with Peter in the Gospel of Mary is supposed to reflect a controversy over female spiritual authority in the early Church. Levi's defending her against Peter is alleged to reveal that some male dissenters back then recognized the right of women with "spiritual qualifications" to exercise leadership.

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Read our posting policy Add a comment
store shelf ignorance...very common these days. Posted by: gespin3549
May 01, 2007 07:09 AM EDT
I cannot believe that 80 people showed up for this meeting, and some were scholars? As my rough and tough, hard drinkin', sea-farin' daddy used to say, "If BS was music, they'd be a 'brass band'". Posted by: john
May 01, 2007 04:29 PM EDT
I hope and pray that not too many people believe this crap!!!!!! Posted by: rhmercer
May 01, 2007 07:31 PM EDT
It's not nice to denigrate store shelf ignorance. After all a lot of folks work real hard to attain it. It ain't free! As to 80 people showing up and some being scholars?... No surprise at all. How do you think we can have 40,000+ "Christian" denominations (and counting). People will believe anything if packaged right. Johns' daddy is the real classical scholar. It takes a "modern" scholar to find dung like this and then convince themselves that "crap & BS" smell like roses. Posted by: jacobum
February 03, 2012 01:38 PM EST
There are lies, damn lies and then there are feminist statistics (a/k/a Big Lies). As Marxism gained in power in the latter 19th century, falsehoods in the sisterhood became commonplace. The book "The Secret Doctrine" by Russian Helena Blavastky in 1888 is the basis for today's "Da Vinci Code" and "God's Daughter" (which prompted the authors of the latter work to successfully sue Dan Brown for plagiarism.) Blavastky was a Russian-born occultist whose evil influence extended beyond to the grave to the Third Reich's use of the Hindu good luck symbol, known today as the swastika. Posted by: j17ghs
January 20, 2015 02:52 PM EST
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