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Harvard professor joins the buzz about Mary Magdalene

Associated Press, USA
Jan. 3, 2003
Richard N. Ostling
www.harktheherald.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Saturday January 3, 2004

Imagine that alongside Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, your New Testament includes a fifth Gospel where “seven Powers of Wrath” interrogate the human soul, accusing it of being a “human-killer” and “space-conqueror.”

Imagine further that the soul responds, “I was set loose from a world and in a type, from a type which is above and from the chain of forgetfulness intime” to enter silent rest during “the time of the due season of the aeon.”

And how about a Jesus who says “matter gave birth to a passion which has no Image” and that “there is no such thing as sin”?

There actually was a Gospel that said these things. Although the words sound like musings from some 1960s New Age guru, they appeared in an ancient text known as the “Gospel of Mary.” The title referred to the disciple Mary Magdalene, not to Jesus’ mother.

The text, rediscovered in 1896 and published in 1941, came from secret-knowledge (“Gnostic“) sects that rejected biblical Judaism and orthodox Christianity.

The quotes appear in “The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle” by Karen L. King of Harvard Divinity School. The publisher is Polebridge Press, allied with the left-wing Jesus Seminar in which King participates.

Since most of the original “Mary” text vanished, King’s translations of the surviving fragments fill only five pages.

Mary Magdalene is fashionable at the moment thanks to the odd pseudo-historical thriller “The Da Vinci Code.” It promotes the ludicrous rumor — developed many centuries after Jesus’ lifetime — that he married Magdalene and had children who migrated to France. Newsweek ran a cover story on the Magdalene fad with the misleading headline “The Bible’s Lost Stories.”

Gnosticism is also hot, due to “Beyond Belief,” a book about the “Gospel of Thomas” by King’s Princeton soulmate Elaine Pagels.

Like Pagels with “Thomas,” King would like to believe that “Mary” was a full competitor alongside the New Testament Gospels, though church leaders judged it late and fraudulent.

Dating is crucial for judging authenticity. King’s first paragraph states flatly that “Mary” was written “early in the second century” but she waits until Page 183 to explore the debate.

Facts: Most of the “Mary” material that survived is found in a partial manuscript in Egypt’s Coptic language, written in the fifth century. We also have two fragments in Greek from the early third century.

Though King doesn’t say so, those fragments came a century later than the earliest surviving fragment from the New Testament Gospels. Most scholars conclude that “Mary” originated in the late second century as a Gnostic attack on the earlier New Testament. King mentions that consensus only in her final pages.

What is King’s argument for leaping backward a century and putting “Mary” in the time the New Testament was written (as Pagels attempts with “Thomas”)? King says the “Mary” topics “fit best in an early second century context,” things like women’s roles and the meaning of Jesus’ life and teachings. But those issues were equally pertinent a century later.

Whatever agenda “Mary” originally promoted, it obviously meets 21st-century desires for a feminist and “spiritual” faith, unshackled from traditional churches and doctrines.

The Gnostic Magdalene was the queen of apostles who supposedly preserved Jesus‘ secret revelations and told the male apostles what’s what. Poor befuddled St. Peter asks, did Jesus “speak with a woman in private without our knowing about it” and did he “choose her over us?”

In the “Mary” version of reality, Jesus and his followers despised material reality and other aspects of their Jewish heritage, sought inner enlightenment without external rules, and preached the future dissolution of matter, the “modeled form” of created beings, the soul’s ascending powers and the extermination of desire.

The “Mary” circle saw no saving value in Jesus’ death on the cross or his bodily resurrection from the grave, and considered early church leaders illegitimate.

In other words, the Gospel according to “Mary” claimed the New Testament was a big lie.

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