The Gospel of Mary, The Dissection

Mary & Jesus
This is Mary seeing Jesus for the first time after he rose from the dead.

The Gospel of Mary is a gospel known in the Coptic version in a Berlin gnostic codex (Papyrus Berolinensis 8502, the 1st tractate, the 1st treatise.) & from 2 Greek fragments (Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 3525 & Papyrus Rylands 463). The Coptic Gospel of Mary is missing 6 manuscript pages at the beginning & 4 manuscript pages in the middle. Presumably the Gospel of Mary was originally composed in Greek, But date & place of composition are unknown.

The extant texts of the Gospel of Mary present a dialogue in which the savior discusses various topics with his disciples, particularly Mary (most likely Mary Magdalene) & Levi, who understand correctly, & Peter & his brother Andrew, who don’t accept & don’t accept Mary’s teaching.

The text begins with a discussion of the nature & Destiny of matter, & the savior declares that all creation will return back to the root of its nature. Further, says Jesus, there really is nothing like sin, if sin is thought to be simple wrongdoing. Sin, if we may call it that, is actually cosmic adultery, that’s it’s getting improperly connected in the world. Sin in this sense means allowing the good spiritual nature to get mixed up with what’s contrary to nature, & such mingling makes people become sick & die. The savior then goes on, in the Gospel of Mary, to give encouragement & offer peace to the disciples.

He advises not to be distracted by looking here & there, but to look within themselves, where the child of humanity is to be be found. This should be the gospel the disciples preach, the savior leaves, in a way that recall either the ascension of the savior in other texts. In any case, he’s gone. The disciples are disturbed by the departure of the savior. They’re fearful for for their own lives, for if Jesus was crucified, they might be in danger also. Mary, however, rises up to comfort & assure them.

Peter admits that Jesus loved Mary more than other women. So he asks her to recount what Jesus told her but not the other disciples. She recalls how she saw “the master” in a vision. Then, unfortunately, the text breaks off of 4 pages. When the text resumes, Mary’s still telling about the vision: as she recounts it, the soul of a person, on its way, or on her way, since the soul’s usually personified in ancient literature as being female in gender. To the realm above, is interrogated by the powers of the cosmos, & overcomes the powers & ascends beyond them. In this way the soul in the vision is liberated from passion & ignorance, & returns to the spiritual realm of the divine. Andrew & Peter appreciate none of this.

Peter doubts the veracity of Mary’s teaching. Mary in turn complains bitterly, & Levi comes to Mary’s defense, noting that Jesus knew & loved Mary. This has been highly debated & contested as to what “knew & loved Mary” means. Usually in the Christian bible, “knowing” someone means that you have had sex with someone. So this could mean that Jesus married her (because primartial sex was a big no-go back then), thus having an intimate relationship, even more so than with the other disciples. Which is what the text is describing here. Or it could mean that Mary was Jesus’ best friend & loved Mary as such. Levi rouses the disciples to put on perfect humanity & go out to preach.

In the Rylands Papyrus, Levi leaves to teach the good news. In the Coptic version, the other disciples also proclaim the gospel. In the Gospel of Mary, the words of Mary Magdalene are uttered clearly & profoundly to communicate teaching & revelation. The conflict between Peter & Mary, which is throughout the forbidden books of the bible, highlights the central place of Mary Magdalene as a beloved disciple of Jesus & a preeminent leader if the early church.

The Gospel of Mary is preserved in fragmentary form as a dialogue between Jesus & his disciples that features the disciple (yes, disciple!) Mary Magdalene (or Mary of Magdala). Whether the Gospel of Mary is specifically gnostic gospel is debated among religious text scholars. In the surviving sections of the gospel, Mary’s described as a disciple loved by Jesus communicated to her. Andrew & Peter are dismayed about the special place Mary holds (not only as a disciple of Jesus but as a leader in the early Christian church). The hostility from Peter is reminiscent of his opposition to Mary in the Gospel of Thomas 114 & the gnostic gospel Pistis Sophia (which means “faith wisdom”).

In the Gospel of Mary, Levi concludes that the savior knows Mary very well, & that’s the reason the savior loves Mary more than the other disciples.

Opening pages of the Gospel of Mary are lost, but portions that survive present the savior, Jesus, explaining about the nature of salvation, the disciples & especially Mary responding to the words of the savior, & Mary recounting her vision of the other disciples.  According to the savior, the real problem for people in the world isn’t committing sin but rather getting entangled in passion, in what’s unnatural, what’s contrary to nature.

In this explanation Jesus speaks of nature & natures & the resolution of natures to their roots in terms that echo Stoic. A member of the ancient philosophical school of Stoicism. Which is an Ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens (c. 300) by Zeno (c. 335-c. 236 BC), a Greek philosopher, he was also known as Zeno of Citium. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge, & that the wise live in harmony with the divine reason (also identified with Fate & Providence) that governs nature, & are indifferent to the vicissitudes (a change in fortune & to pleasure & pain.). The origin is late Middle English, via Latin from Greek. From ‘Stoa,’ with reference to Zeno’s teaching in the Painted Porch at Athens, philosophical themes. Jesus goes on to greet the disciples & offer his peace.

As in the Gospel of Thomas 3:3, where Jesus says that kingdom is within a person, here in the Gospel of Mary, Jesus announces that the child of humankind, or son of man, is within.  To follow the child of humankind, then, is to undertake an inner journey of seeking & finding within oneself. What one finds within is the child of humankind, which is on’s true self, or it’s Jesus, with whom one is joined.

This good news, Jesus proclaims isn’t a matter of law or commandment. Soon after this proclaimation Mary herself delivers the same message in her discussion with the other disciples: the good news is a message about finding one’s own humanity & becoming truly human.  Mary indicates that she saw the master, Jesus, in a vision, & she gives an account of the vision to the other disciples. She recollects that Jesus told her that such a vision is neither a purely emotional experience of the soul nor a purely spiritual inspiration from outside. A true vision involves insight of the mind.

Much of Mary’s account of her vision is now lost (pages 11-14), but in what remains she describes the soul’s ascent past the cosmic powers in such a way as to bring to mind the inner journey of the soul as it leaves behind what may imprison it- darkness, desire, ignorance, wrath.  Freed at last, the soul exclaims, “What binds me is slain; what surrounds me is destroyed; my desire is going; ignorance is dead.  In a world I was freed through another world, & in an image I was freed through a heavenly image. The fetter of forgetfulness is temporary. From now on I shall rest, through the course of the time of the age, in silence.”

Near the end of the Gospel of Mary, Andrew & Petr protest against the proclamation of Mary, but Levi comes to her defense, & finally the disciples (or only Leve, in Papyrus Rylands 463) go forth to preach.  The question raised about Mary of Magdala by an angry Peter, “Should we all turn & listen to her?” is answered, though only by implication. Yes, disciples should all turn & listen to the teaching & preaching of Mary of Magdala.

The Gospel of Mary is known from the Coptic version in the Berlin Gnostic Codex 8502, in which it’s the first tractate, & from 2 Greek fragments (Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 3525 & Papyrus Rylands 463). The Coptic version is the most complete text, although it’s missing 6 manuscript pages at the beginning & 4 in the middle. It’s presumed that the Gosple of Mary was originally composed in Greek, but the date & place of compositor are unknown. (Makes me wish time travel was possible!!) It has been suggested that the original Gospel of Mary may have been written in the late 1st or early 2nd century, perhaps in Syria or Egypt.


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