THE GOSPEL OF MARY OF MAGDALA

gospel of mary, Nag Hammadi

gospel of mary magdalene

The Nag Hammadi library is a daunting read of over 800 pages and I am often asked “Where is the best place to start reading the gnostic gospels?” 

My answer is to start with the Gospel of Mary – it is short but more significantly, the only gospel signed by a woman – Mary Magdalene.

Found earlier than and therefore not part of the Nag Hammadi Library, three fragmentary copies have been found in Egypt. The first is a version in Coptic, discovered in 1896 near the area of Achmim. Two additional fragments in Greek were later found on the rubbish heap near the regional capital of Oxyrynchus. 

Sadly, less than eight pages have survived, as pages 1-6 and 11-14 are missing,  but we still see a very different picture of Mary Magdalene than that portrayed by the New Testament.

It presents a radical interpretation of Yeshua’s teachings as a path to inner spiritual knowledge and challenges our romantic view of harmony within the first Christian groups. More significantly, we see Mary Magdalene not as a weeping submissive woman, but a strong, stable spiritual leader who, because of her understanding was privy to Yeshua’s private teachings.  

As the first six pages are missing, the gospel opens in the middle of a post- resurrection appearance by Yeshua (referred to as the Saviour) to his disciples in which he answers their questions and offers a farewell discourse before commissioning  them to go out to preach the gospel of the kingdom.

But the disciples do not go out joyfully to preach the gospel; instead controversy erupts. All the disciples except Mary have failed to understand the Saviour’s teachings. Inner peace is nowhere to be found – they are distraught and frightened that preaching the gospel may result in them suffering the same agonizing fate.

Mary steps in and comforts them and Peter asks Mary to recount teaching unknown to them that she had received in a vision. She agrees and tells them about the rise of the soul past the powers of Darkness, Ignorance, Desire and Wrath, who seek to keep the soul trapped in the world and ignorant of its true spiritual nature. 

When she is finished, she stands in silence, imitating the soul at rest. But the peace is disturbed by Andrew questioning the ‘strangeness’ of her teaching. Peter challenges whether Yeshua would give private instruction to a woman, thus showing he actually preferred her to the other disciples. 

Mary begins to cry at Peter’s accusation. Levi comes quickly to her defence, reminding Peter he is a notorious hot-head and now he was treating Mary as the enemy. He admonishes them instead to do as the Saviour instructed them and go out to preach the gospel. The story ends here but the controversy is far from over. Andrew and Peter have not understood the Saviour’s teaching and are offended by  Yeshua’s apparent preference of a woman over them.

All early Christian literature bears traces of these controversies. The letters of Paul show that considerable difference of opinion existed about issues such as circumcision and the Jewish food laws.

History is written by the winners. Many voices were silenced through repression or neglect. The Gospel of Mary gives us information not recorded in the New Testament. It is not a question of right and wrong. The information we have been given was just incomplete.

Whether or not you choose to embrace the message from the Gospel of Mary is a matter readers will decide for themselves. The days of being told what to believe are over, thankfully.

How do you know what Mary Magdalene looked like?

mary magdalene, legacy, julie de vere hunt

Well I don’t – no one does! All we have to go on is art, which was heavily influenced by cultural context and what was fashionable at the time.. Only Mother Mary has been depicted more in art than Mary Magdalene over the last two millennia.  

The covers of ‘Apostle to Mary Magdalene’ and ‘Mary Magdalene’s Legacy’ were both sourced by designer Ruth Sutherland from the following paintings:-

mary magdalene, Jan van Scorel
Jan Van Scorel (1495-1562)
mary magdalene, legacy, julie de vere hunt
Frederick Sandys c1859

 

Pope Gregory’s homily in 591 placing emphasis on Mary Magdalene as a repentant sinner whose sins were distinctly sexual, had a profound influence on the art which was produced for the next 1500 years. She would often be portrayed as a weak and tearful woman, in varying degrees of undress.

Mary Magdalene
Mary Magdalene in the Cave, Jules Joseph Lefebrve 1876

 

In a world where only the most educated could read the Bible, art was a crucial tool for the Church. It would not be until 1969 the Catholic Church retracted this statement, but the damage had been done – Mary Magdalene had permeated our consciousness as the fallen woman, whose path to salvation was only achieved through years of repentance living as a recluse. 

Sadly, this served the Catholic Church in their patriarchal oppression of women. No male saint has ever been treated this way!

Fortunately, artists were creative and ‘hid’ characters in their art – only ‘those who had eyes to see’ would perceive the symbolism.

Mary Magdalene, Leonardo da Vinci
The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

 

Take the famous painting of ‘The Last Supper’ by Leonardo da Vinci. The apostles are identified by name from a manuscript, The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, found in the 19th century. The twelve apostles are depicted in groups of three, Yeshua is sat in the middle. From left to right,

Bartholomew, James son of Alpheus, and Andrew; Judas (in green & blue), Peter & John (?); Thomas, James the Greater & Philip; Matthew, Jude Thaddeus & Simon the Zealot.

Surely, John is a woman we are looking at? The tiny, graceful hands, the pretty elfin features, the distinctly female bosom and the gold necklace. This person is also wearing garments that mark her out as special. They are the mirror image of Yeshua’s; one wears a blue robe and a red cloak, the other wears a red robe and a blue cloak in identical style.

My cellular memory tells me this is Mary Magdalene!  In ‘Mary Magdalene’s Legacy’, John was her first pseudonym – she wrote the Gospel of John, and the Secret Gospel of John was her first transmission at the Lake Mareotis community. 

Da Vinci was alleged to be Grand Master of the Priory of Sion, an ancient secret order set up to protect the Merovingian kings in France, who in turn claim to have heritage from Mary Magdalene…

In June 2019, I was attending a bio-energetic meditation retreat in Ireland and visited the Knock shrine on our way to the airport. 

Knock, Mother Mary statue

In August 1879, Our Lady appeared at the gable of the church with St Joseph and St John the Evangelist. A Lamb stood upon a plain altar. Some saw angels hovering above the Lamb. The witnesses prayed for over two hours in the pouring rain, although the gable was dry to the touch. 

After reading notes by the witnesses, these three figures were carved by Venetian sculptor Professor Lorenzo Ferri in 1960 to commemorate the miracle.

My friends and I sat in the front pew immediately before them and meditated. Immediately my eyes started to flicker and I ‘saw’ a large pink heart. My friend Suzanne saw the same.. I immediately thought of ‘The Way of the Heart’ – it is always pink to me – Mary Magdalene!

So I believe the figure to the right of Mother Mary is not John, it’s a woman, Mary Magdalene. The book in her left hand represents the gnostic gospels. Her right hand is performing a mudra, which she would have learnt about in the Mystery school in Alexandria. A mudra is a hand gesture that channels your body’s energy flow. She is practising the  Prana mudra; prana is the vital life force within all living things – she is awakening both her personal prana and the prana around her.

My cellular memory tells me the figure to the left of Mother Mary is Joseph of Arimathea, her half-brother, not her husband Joseph. In ‘Mary Magdalene’s Legacy’, it is Joseph of Arimathea who is entrusted with the care of Yeshua’s mother and Mary Magdalene, the mother of his child. He arranged for their escape from Judea to Alexandria.

I wonder where else she is hiding?