The mysterious personage of Mary Magdalene has always intrigued me, long before Dan Brown’s fascinating and controversial book, “The Da Vinci Code,” published in 2003, catapulted her to worldwide prominence. The book has sold over 80 million copies.
Mary Magdalene was mentioned only briefly in the Christian Bible as one of the followers of Jesus Christ, who was present at his crucifixion, and was the first person to see the resurrected Christ. She was also the woman from whom “seven demons” were cast out by Jesus. Where she came from, nobody knows, but it is assumed that she could have come from the rich fishing village of Magdala in Galilee, regarded as a woman of independent financial means.
Beyond these, nothing else can be gleaned from the four canonical gospels attributed to Mark, Luke, Matthew and John. As to who these gospel writers really were, not much is known. These gospels were written almost half a century after the death of Jesus.
On Sept. 21, 591 A.D., however, Pope Gregory issued a homily where he confused or fused the different Marys in the Bible to refer to Mary Magdalene. He stated in very clear language that it was Mary Magdalene who was referred to as the sinner, the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive oil and from whom seven demons were cast out by Jesus Christ. She was regarded as a repentant prostitute, although this is not supported at all by the Bible. How can a pope commit such a blatant error?
In 1969, the Vatican corrected this error by Pope Gregory by reversing what was accepted by the Christian world for 1,400 years. From now on, the Vatican said in 1968, Mary Magdalene should not be regarded as a repentant prostitute, but “as a witness to the resurrection of Jesus.”
Yet, even in the late 20th century, some misinformed Christian priests still preach in their pulpits that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. As recently as the mid-1990s, Dan Burstein’s book, “The Secrets of Mary Magdalene,” said: “I heard a priest deliver a sermon on the meaning of Jesus forgiving the sins of Mary Magdalene, the prostitute. This was almost three decades after the Church corrected the record.”
However, the lost Gnostic Gospels, written on ancient papyrus and discovered in 1945 in a cave near Nag Hammadi, Upper Egypt by Bedouin shepherds, painted a different picture of Mary Magdalene—a picture which I believe is closer to the truth because it was neither edited, nor did it fall under the scrutiny of the orthodox Church.
Instead of being a sinner or a reformed prostitute, Mary Magdalene was considered a woman of great wisdom and inner knowledge, and was regarded by Jesus Christ to be on par with the other disciples, if not higher. He loved her more than the other disciples, and it was to Mary Magdalene that he first showed himself after his resurrection, giving her secret knowledge that she later passed on to the other disciples.
Religious historian Elaine Pagels of Harvard University said: “Every one of the recently discovered sources that mention Mary Magdalene—sources that include the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, the Wisdom of Faith and the Dialogue of the Savior—unanimously picture Mary as one of Jesus’ most trusted disciples. Some even revere her as his foremost disciple, Jesus’ closest confidant since he found her capable of understanding his deepest secrets.”
In the Gospel of Philip, we read of how Jesus Christ would kiss Mary Magdalene in public, and of the disciples becoming jealous of her. And they asked Jesus, ‘’Why do you love her more than you love us?’’
And Jesus Christ replied to them by telling them a parable which took me long to decipher. But when I had understood the parable, it made much sense to me. Read the Gospel of Philip in the lost Gnostic gospels collectively published as the Nag Hammadi Library, edited by James Robinson. It is the definitive new translation of the Gnostic scriptures complete in one volume, published by Harper Collins in 1990.
The emerging Christian Church in the second century condemned Gnosticism as heresy, burned its books and banished its followers. If not for the discovery of the hidden Gnostic gospels in 1945, the world would not have known Christ’s powerful and more authentic secret teachings. And Mary Magdalene would have remained a mere footnote in the history of the Church. INQ