Today’s blog (and those to follow in the coming days) explores the role of Mary Magdalene in the early years of the Jesus movement, its retreat under the shadow of orthodoxy and the invitation to restore her (and her movement) to its rightful place in the light.
Didn’t Know We Were Going Here!
Yesterday I announced the launch of the Agape’ Project on this coming March 15th and that the coming blogs would be in support of that effort. Well, apparently the Holy Spirit, or Mary Magdalene herself had other plans. This afternoon while sitting in prayer, the topic and outline for this blog presented itself……so risking accusations of being completely out of my mind…..here goes!
What We Know About Mary Magdalene
What we really know about Mary Magdalene is sketchy at best. Canonical scripture (the books that made “the cut”) tell us only three things:
- With Jesus’ help, Mary was cured of seven demons (most likely representing a process of initiation through which she was healed and freed of the fears that prevented her from knowing and living as her most authentic self. – for more on this see the work of Jean-Yves Leloup)
- She was a close follower of Jesus’
- She was the first witness to Jesus’ resurrection and was commissioned by Jesus to inform the other disciples that he had been raised from the dead.
Mary may or may not have been the “Mary” that anointed Jesus’ head with oil, she may or may not have been the Mary of “Martha and Mary” and she may or may not have been the woman that washed his feet with her tears. Scholars are still debating these points. What we DO know is that she was NOT the adulterous woman and neither was she a prostitute. (Pope Gregory was wrong….so much for infallibility!)
If we want to learn more about Mary Magdalene and her historical role in the early Jesus movement, we need to turn to the non-canonical books (those that didn’t make “the cut”), specifically, the Gospels of Mary, Philip and Thomas, along with the Pistis Sophia. What we can surmise from these texts is:
- Not only was Mary a close follower of Jesus, she seemed to be privy to secret teachings or at least gleaned understandings from Jesus’ teachings that the other disciples could not comprehend.
- She was said to have been kissed on the mouth by Jesus….what that means exactly, we do not know.
- She attempted to share with the disciples the secret teachings Jesus shared with her and was met by much resistance, especially from Peter. (Philip and Thomas seemed to support her in her ministry and accepted her authority among them)
- Mary was considered by some early Christian communities to be the embodiment of Divine Wisdom (Sophia)
- The secret teachings that Jesus imparted upon her seemed to be a formal system of spiritual formation leading toward a state of wholeness for those who embarked upon this path (in other words, they became “enlightened” and were able to live as their most authentic selves in the world.)
- Mary experienced post-resurrection visitations and teachings by Jesus (now called Christ) and attempted to share these teachings with the disciples….again with much resistance on their part
What We Might Know About the Early Church (big C – Institutional Church)
It is from the Acts of the Apostles and from the Epistles, along with the tradition of the early Church that we get a sense of the formation of the Institutional Church (which was not really officially institutionalized until Constantine in the fourth century C.E.).
- James and Peter seemed to be in charge
- Paul showed up sometime later after his “conversion”
- Peter may or may not have gone to Rome
- The early Jesus movement mostly took place in people’s homes, women and men sharing in the leadership and in the breaking of the bread
- At first, the disciples thought the Jesus movement was only for Jews, and that Gentiles would first have to become Jewish (through circumcision) before joining
- Paul challenged this practice at “The Council of Jerusalem” and convinced Peter and James otherwise
- There is no mention of Mary Magdalene’s role in the post-resurrection Church
Pop Culture Explorations of Mary Magdalene
There has been much written of late regarding Mary Magdalene and who she was or was not in the early Christian movement. In the Pop-culture and New-Age communities, many theories have arisen regarding Mary and her possible marriage to Jesus and the children they had together. I have spent the past 20 years reading, researching and discerning possibly every book that has yet to be written about Mary Magdalene – scholarly, fictional and theoretical. I have come to understand that none of the resources are conclusive and all are nothing more than the exploration of the respective author’s theories and hypotheses. Specifically in regards to the ideas that Jesus and Mary Magdalene may have been married and had children:
1) I don’t care
2) Jesus’ celibacy of lack thereof has no bearing on my faith
3) If Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and sired children with her – good for him, and if anything, the idea of this would make him even more human and approachable in my eyes
4) My concern here is more about the ministry of Mary Magdalene and what happened to her view on the Jesus story and the supposed “secret teachings” after she disappeared from view sometime shortly after the resurrection of Christ.
Part II of this soon to come!
Authentic Freedom Ministries