Monday, December 20, 2004

Early Christianity Addledum

Moving away from the bloodsheds to more interesting stuff, in this section I'll build three rarely known issues upon each other.

Besides Arianism and Athanasianism, there were a lot of lesser streams in early Christianity, for example various Gnostics. They also had a lot of competing holy writings. The Bible today has four gospels, but there were actually dozens of other gospels, and even more lesser texts. The decisions of which one to include in a canon were as much political as of limited scholarly wisdom (no scientific text analysis existed at the time) - but gospels not canonised were ordered to be burnt.

Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code", while lightyears from Umberto Eco's "The Name Of The Rose" in both its literary quality and depth of research, is a great book for popularising some issues known to scholars (and interested amateurs), but issues which major Churches would rather have not enter popular knowledge. Like, that there is quite some evidence of early Christians believing Mary Magdalene was Jesus's wife and chosen successor.

In fact there was a Gospel of Mary Magdalene, part of which was found in a Coptic monastery. In this Taoist/Buddhist-sounding wiriting, you find passages like:

5:5 Peter said to Mary, Sister we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of woman.
5:6 Tell us the words of the Savior which you remember which you know, but we do not, nor have we heard them...

9:4 He [Peter] questioned them about the Savior: 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?
9:5 Then Mary wept and said to Peter, My brother Peter, what do you think? Do you think that I have thought this up myself in my heart, or that I am lying about the Savior?
9:6 Levi answered and said to Peter, Peter you have always been hot tempered.
9:7 Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries.
9:8 But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well.
9:9 That is why He loved her more than us...

As for other apocrypha: Mary Magdalene takes center stage among disciples in Pistis Sophia (the conflict with Peter features in Chapters 36 and 72). And look at this in the Gospel of Philip:

36. There were three Mariams who walked with the Lord at all times: his mother and [his] sister and (the) Magdalene — this one who is called his mate...

59. ...And the companion of the [...] Mary Magdalene. [...] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples [...]. They said to him "Why do you love her more than all of us?"

Now these were Apocripha. But here comes the second cliffhanger - Mary Magdalene's special position has clues even in the Bible, in the Gospel of John (NIV version):

19:25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
19:26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby...

We saw the same formulation in the above Apocripha used for Mary Magdalene, but this "disciple whom Jesus loved" mysteriously appears unnamed a dozen times in John - yet, one can guess his/her identity from the above. (A more thorough argumentation by a Dutch scholar can be found here.)

Now on to the third and last topic. Another less well known fact is that all the central elements of the New Testament story of Jesus can be found in dozens of other cults, most of them ignored because they died out long ago. One can make the argument that it was, say, Paul who edited together mythical elements from various Greek, Mesopotamian and Jewish myths, while Jesus never existed or was nothing like in the Gospels.

However, this Peter-Magdalene conflict (also mentioned in the most important rejected writing, the Gospel of Thomas) and the stamped-out Magdalenian tradition seems just too strange to me in a holy book. It seems to be the genuine reflection of some real events - tough, admittedly, it could be later conflicts retroactively written into scripture as parables, something done by both sides.


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