|Mary of Magdala|
Anyone looking to understand Jesus and the early church must look toThe Gospel of the Beloved Companion; it realistically presents the man Jesus and his times in a voice knowledgeable and intimate which knows and respects the customs of first century Judaism including, respect for the Feminine Divine. This gospel offers a consistent, unredacted view of Jesus and the disciples without the confusion and contradictions of the canonical gospels. Mary’s gospel hasn’t the sanction of these others but there is much in it that argues in favor of it being genuine.
First, a few of the features which are strikingly unique about Mary’s gospel:
∞ Jesus employs the phrase Spirit in place of Father as in, None come to me unless the Spirit who sent me, draws them or, My words are given of the Spirit, and no one comes to the Kingdom except through her (35, 65). Jesus encourages us to become children of the living Spirit (14).
∞ In a few cases where Jesus anthropomorphizes God, he calls her Mother as in his discussion of what will happen when he is no longer around: I will not leave you orphans. When a father goes away, it is the Mother who tends the children * (65). Responding to people grumbling about his being merely the son of Mary whom they all know and not as he claims, the son of humanity,Jesus says, You speak well when you say that my mother gave me birth but, only from the truth I tell you, it was my true mother who gave me life (35). Notably, the father of Jesus is never seen or heard from in this gospel although he has three siblings.
* De Quillan also suggests that this mother reference could mean Mary Magdalene herself as the person that Jesus will entrust his fearful followers to. She comforts and directs them as apostle to the apostles following his death.
∞ Jehanne De Quillan, translator and commentary author, explains that the feminine pronoun for the Spirit is in keeping with first century usage; Hebrew scripture regards the spririt or ruach as female and in Aramaic the Spirit word ruah is also feminine (5). This is one of many ways that the gospel respects Jewish custom, in a way that canonical gospels, redacted by later Christians unfamiliar or disdainful of Jewish practices, do not.
∞ The miracle at the Cana wedding is described as, This beginning of his signs, Jesus did at his wedding feast (emphasis mine). The event is attended by the Beloved Companion as well as Jesus’ mother, his brothers, Jacob and Joseph and his sister, Mary Salome as well as Martha and Lazarus (Mary Magdalene’s sister and brother), Mathew, Thomas and all of the other disciples (18-9). Could this be Jesus’ own wedding to Mary? The gospel shows how she interacts with Jesus in ways that only a spousal relationship would permit given the Jewish customs of the time. The specificity of naming the men and women who travel and stand by Jesus throughout the gospel is impressive. One gets the idea that this narrator really knows Jesus and his gang.
∞ Discussion of arresting Jesus and putting him to death are frequent and this determines where he lays his head at night. He often relocates to elude the Pharisees who are behind the threats (21, 28, 31, 38-39). At times, he travels in secret to elude those who would silence him or stone him and at least once, he seeks refuge in the house of his Beloved Companion in Bethany, near the Mount of Olives (47, 42, 51). Another time, he goes out into the wilderness for his own safety (56). The frequency of the mentions of his likely arrest make his itinerant preaching seem more subversive and his travels more crafty than in other gospels; he has been a fugitive long before the triumphant entry into Jerusalem at his last Passover. The Beloved Companion mentions several times that he could have been arrested but was not because his time had not yet come. Her specific knowledge of his whereabouts (or their whereabouts) and the reasons for relocation indicate a woman who knows Jesus well. She is clearly his confidante and shares his motivations.
∞ The episode of Mary Magdalene using oil to lovingly anoint Jesus includes more loving support of her than in traditional gospels. Jesus tells the jealous disciples, When all have abandoned me, only she shall stand beside me like a tower. A tower built on a high hill and fortified cannot fall, nor can it be hidden…she shall be known as Migdelah, for she shall be as a tower to my flock, and the time shall soon come when her tower shall stand alone by mine. If these words had remained in other gospels, the prostitute reputation wouldn’t have been a credible caricature over centuries.
∞ Mary Magdalene as apostles to the apostles shows her as preaching an understanding of Jesus that the others, even Peter did not have. She is said by other apostles to have been loved more and known Jesus better than the others (76-82). She tells a story of a tree with eight great boughs bearing fruit and a guardian between each of the first seven boughs who ensure that only the worthy pass onto the next bough. The fruit resembles the fruits of the Spirit. The Spirit herself is on the highest, eight bough. (De Quillan wonders if this vision story is the genesis of the seven ‘demons’ that Mary was said to have been dispossessed of…..so perhaps she wasn’t crazy or depressed etc.) Following her preaching, the apostles bicker over her authority with some sounding jealous others supportive. They scatter, divided amongst themselves to preach in differing corners of the known world. Mary was the first one with Jesus and stayed to the last.
∞ References to Mary at the Last Supper, crucifixion and burial of Jesus in the canonical gospels are incomplete and confusing in what has likely been omitted or poorly translated from Greek. One example of how Mary’s gospel makes more sense is that she and Mary, the mother of Jesus are the ones to wash, purify the corpse with oils and embalm it before burial. John’s gospel has Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea completing the task which would be unacceptable for first century Jews. Only direct family and usually women would serve in this role. The three synoptic gospels have Jesus buried without purification; to think that his followers might neglect this protocol is unthinkable, a real humiliation to Jesus’ memory and his family who were right there at the end. The fingerprints of someone ignorant about Jewish life and possibly not fluent in Greek is all over the canonical gospels in these critical junctures. Or, someone who devalued the female role in ritual and in the life of Jesus….
∞ In some ways, the Gospel of Mary is quite similar to more sanctioned versions and extremely similar to John’s gospel. De Quillan makes detailed comparisons among the gospels and suggests that Mary might be source material for John. At one point, very briefly, De Quillan even suggests thatMary’s gospel could be the Q source for the synoptic gospels; a claim so apparently radical that she doesn’t bother to martial evidence to prove it.
Is this Gospel Authentic or Not?
There are solid reasons to believe in the authenticity of the Gospel of Mary, only a few of which can be briefly mentioned in the time and space available here. First, the gospel sustains a consistent writing style and rich voice that suggests a single author and not a cabal of heretical conspirators. Second, the specificity of precise geographic detail, adherence to Jewish customs and family relationships, informed recognition of tensions in the Jewish synagogue and between Jesus and the Pharisees and intimate appreciation for the wit and irony of Jesus, the man, all argue in favor of someone who walked the walk with Jesus, who was part of his times and his culture, who embraced his message sufficiently to preach it herself even in mourning after his young and violent death.
Here, the same criterion for distinguishing between a genuine painting or music composition and a fake must be used; which item has the most specific, nuanced, masterful detail? Which has broad brushstrokes or confusing notations that are cosmetic additions to hide an amateur’s skill level? Which is the hydra-headed work of committee with an agenda and which rings true as the work of an informed one’s heart and soul?
Ironically, remaining outside the canon may someday be the greatest favor that ancient and medieval scribes could’ve ever given Mary Magdalene – leaving her work alone, not redacting or adding to it, may in time, help to show her writing as the most genuine of those handed down over millennia.
The Gospel of the Beloved Companion: The Complete Gospel of Mary Magdalene
by Jehanne de Quillian
The Gospel of the Beloved Companion is the first English translation of a previously unpublished first-century gospel of the same name. Originally written in Alexandrian Greek, and brought from Egypt to the Languedoc during the early to middle part of the first century, this exceptional manuscript has been preserved within the author's spiritual community since that period. In this extraordinary book, the Gospel of the Beloved Companion comes alive to bring us a luminously poetic yet starkly objective insight into, and perhaps a new perspective on, the teachings and philosophy of one of the greatest spiritual teachers the world has ever known.
Author Jehanne de Quillan presents this translation along with a detailed comparative study between the Gospel of the Beloved Companion and the canonical and gnostic Gospels in a clear and easy-to-read format, leading the reader step-by-step to a deep understanding of this remarkable text and, perhaps for the first time, a clear and unsullied view of the woman known to most as Mary Magdalene.