This coming Holy Week, as in previous holy weeks, the entire Christendom commemorates the passion, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The focus will be on him alone and, to a minor extent, on the Blessed Virgin Mary.
All but forgotten and ignored is the major role that Mary Magdalene played in this religious drama, which reenacts or re-creates in almost every detail the pagan rituals of the dying and resurrecting god.
Why was Mary Magdalene marginalized and completely ignored by the Catholic Church? Who was she, really? What was her real relationship with Jesus? What was her role in relation to the other disciples of Christ?
The whole idea of Mary Magdalene being a repentant sinner and a prostitute stems mainly from a homily made by a confused Pope Gregory I in the year 591 C.E., in which he declared: “She, whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary, we believe to be Mary from whom seven devils were ejected, according to Mark. And what did these seven devils signify, if not all the vices? It is clear, brothers, that the woman previously used the unguent to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts.”
However, in 1969, the Catholic Church practically admitted the erroneous labeling of Mary Magdalene by repealing Pope Gregory’s description of her as a prostitute. For, as pointed out both by Christian and non-Christian biblical scholars, there is absolutely no proof that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute.
However, as Lynn Picnett said in her book on Mary Magdalene: “The Image of Mary Magdalene as the penitent sinner has remained in the public teachings of all Christian denominations. Like a small erratum buried in the back pages of a newspaper, the Church’s correction goes unnoticed, while the initial and incorrect article continues to influence readers.”
Very little is known about Mary Magdalene outside the canonical bible, which mentions her almost parenthetically or as an afterthought. And yet, her important or central role in the life and death of Jesus cannot be denied, despite the Church’s deliberate attempt to marginalize her.
Mary of Bethany (sometimes identified as Mary Magdalene) anointed Christ with oil and expensive perfume, an act which had great significance in pagan rituals before a king is buried.
That’s why when the disciples tried to stop her from anointing his feet, Jesus said: “Leave her alone… Why are you bothering her? She poured perfume on my body to prepare for my burial.” Mary obviously knew something the other disciples didn’t.
Mary Magdalene was also present during the crucifixion, and even assisted in cleaning and wrapping Jesus’ body in linen. She was the first witness to the resurrection, and not any of the disciples. Jesus did not even appear first to his mother. Isn’t that curious?
The Church did not give much importance to these very significant roles that she played in Jesus’ ministry and even his personal life, because to do so would be to acknowledge the role of the female disciple or priest, which they found to be against their male-dominated tradition.
Mary Magdalene was marginalized by the Church, according to some researchers, not only because she was an outsider not belonging to their original circle and a woman, but also because of the special relationship she had with Jesus Christ, a fact which was excluded from the canonical gospels but which later surfaced in the Gnostic Gospels discovered in Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt in 1945.
In one of these lost Gospels, the Gospel of Philip, we find the following startling passage (i.e. startling only to those whose knowledge is limited to what the Church teaches):
‘Kiss her often’
“As for the Wisdom who is called ‘the barren’, she is the mother (of the) angels. And the companion of the… Mary Magdalene… (…loved) her more than (all) the disciples and used to) kiss her (often) on her… the rest of (the disciples)… They said to him, ‘Why do you love her more than all of us?’
“The Savior answered and said to them, ‘Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness.” (From the Nag Hammadi Library, edited by James M. Robinson, published by Harper San Francisco, 1990)
It is clear from the above passage that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had at least an intimate relationship, so intimate that Jesus would even kiss her in public. But what did he mean by his reply to the complaining disciples?
What I think Jesus meant was this: “Even if I explain to you why I love her more than I love you, but if you don’t have inner knowing (i.e. gnosis), then whatever I tell you will not make sense to you. But if you have inner understanding, then when I explain it you will understand.”
Even in the canonical or official bible, Jesus often says that “there are those who have eyes but cannot see and have ears but cannot hear, neither do they understand.”
It is about time therefore that the Church acknowledged the central role that Mary Magdalene played in the life of Jesus and to put her where she rightfully belongs, as equal to if not above the other disciples, as “the woman who understands all,” according to Jesus himself in the “Dialogue of the Savior.”
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