Mary Magdalene, the apostle above apostlesBy Jaime T. Licauco
Philippine Daily Inquirer
In last week’s column, we showed how the early Catholic hierarchy tried to marginalize Mary Magdalene by portraying her as a prostitute and a repentant sinner, although there is absolutely no evidence in the Bible that this was so.
Whereas the official canonical gospels only briefly mention Mary Magdalene as one of a handful of women who were followers of Jesus, the Gnostic Gospels discovered in a cave near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945 paint an entirely different picture of her.
In these lost gospels, Mary Magdalene emerges not only as the beloved of Christ and his constant companion, but was the first to be the recipient of the secret teachings given by Christ after his resurrection, a fact which caused some grumblings and jealousy from the male apostles, especially from Peter.
According to some biblical writers, the idea that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were lovers could be gauged from the Greek word “koinonos,” which was mistranslated as “companion.” It should have been more accurately translated as “consort” or a “companion of a sexual nature,” an intimate partner who shared the Master’s private thoughts and secret knowledge. She was “the woman who knows all,” according to Jesus in one of the Gnostic Gospels entitled “Dialogue of the Savior.”
The male disciples and the early Christian fathers could not accept the idea of Christ having a female consort or intimate partner, and that’s why Mary Magdalene had to be emasculated and her image reduced to that of a penitent prostitute. Almost all early paintings of Mary Magdalene portrayed her as either completely or partly naked, sensuous and erotic.
Lynn Picnett, in her book about Mary Magdalene, pointed out that “Jewish prejudice against women in religious activities is reflected quite clearly in the New Testament letters ascribed to Saul of Tarsus (later Paul), which—characteristically devoid of biographical detail about Jesus—never mention Mary Magdalene or Jesus’ appearance to her in his resurrected state in the garden.”
Leader of the apostles
But in the Gnostic texts, continued Picknett: “There is strong evidence that she was not merely a disciple, but actually the leader of the apostles. The Gnostic texts referred to her as ‘The Apostle of the Apostles,’ or, even more accurately, as ‘The First Apostle.’ They believe that Jesus himself had given her the title, for he referred to her in other accounts as ‘The Woman Who Knows All.’” Among all the disciples, it was Mary Magdalene who knew and understood the inner secret teachings.
In the Gnostic text called “Pistis Sophia,” Jesus said: “Where I shall be, there will also be my 12 ministers. But Mary Magdalene and John, the Virgin (John the Beloved or Lazarus), will tower over all my disciples and over all men who shall receive the mysteries. And they will be on my right and on my left. And I am they, and they are I.”
The above passage bears some resemblance to what Jesus said to Thomas in the Gnostic “Gospel of Thomas” found in Nag Hammadi. “As soon as Thomas recognizes him,” says Dr. Elaine Pagels in her book “The Gnostic Gospels,” “Jesus says to Thomas that they have both received their being from the same source.” Then she quotes the following passage in that gospel:
“Jesus said, ‘I am not your master. Because you have drunk, you have become drunk from the bubbling stream which I have measured out… he who will drink from my mouth will become as I am. I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him.’”
Why do Christians, especially Filipino Christians, know so little about the existence of these Gnostic texts? Because they were banned and largely destroyed by the dominant orthodox Christian Church which considered such teachings heretical. Fortunately, a few of their books survived such wanton destruction. They were hidden deep in the caves of Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt.
How many more banned books lie hidden under the rubble? We do not know. But one thing is certain: These lost Gnostic texts show the esoteric side of Christ’s teachings which the Orthodox Church obviously did not want the faithful to know. But in this modern technological world where virtually anything written can be accessed through the Internet, the attempt to suppress such knowledge is bound to fail.
As Christ would have said: “Those that are hidden will be revealed. Let those who have ears listen.”
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