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Investigating Mary Magdalen


Christopher L.C.E. Witcombe

Mary Magdalen in the Gnostic Gospels

    The Gospel of Mary of Magdala
    Text from the Papyrus Berolinensis (or Berolinensis Gnosticus) 8052,1 (through

    The Gospel of Mary was found in a fifth-century CE papyrus book, written in the Coptic language, that came onto the Cairo antiquities market in 1896. It was purchased by a German scholar, Dr. Carl Reinhardt, and taken to Berlin, where it was first published in 1955. The original Greek was written some time in the 2nd century. The earliest Greek text is a single leaf from the early 3rd century known as the Papyrus Rylands 463 (John Rylands Library, Manchester). Another fragment survives in the Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 3525 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford).

    Pistis Sophia
    BOOK 1: Chapter 17, Chapter 18, Chapter 19, Chapter 20, Chapter 21, Chapter 24, Chapter 25, Chapter 30, Chapter 33, Chapter 34, Chapter 36, Chapter 43, Chapter 45, Chapter 50, Chapter 52, Chapter 59, Chapter 60, Chapter 61, Chapter 62

    BOOK 2: Chapter 72, Chapter 87, Chapter 96

    • [Jesus said] "On this account I have said unto you aforetime: 'Where I shall be, there will be also my twelve ministers.' But Mary Magdalene and John, the virgin, will tower over all my disciples and over all men who shall receive the mysteries in the Ineffable. And they will be on my right and on my left. And I am they, and they are I." (Book 2, Chapter 96)

    BOOK 3: Chapter 116

    BOOK 4: Chapter 132

    BOOK 6: Chapter 146

    The Pistis Sophia (“faith–wisdom”) is a Gnostic work discovered in the 18th century.

    The Nag Hammadi Codices
    In 1945, two Egyptian peasants found a hoard of fourth-century CE papyrus manuscripts in a sealed clay jar near the town of Nag Hammadi in Middle Egypt. These papyrus books comprise a total of 46 different works of ancient and previously unknown Christian literature. They offer new perspectives on Christian beginnings and show that early Christianity was much more diverse than previously thought. Today they are known as the Nag Hammadi Library

    The Dialogue of the Savior
    The Gospel of Thomas
    The Gospel of Philip
    The Sophia of Jesus Christ


    The Nag Hammadi Library (the Chenoboskion manuscripts), 1990. Translated by members of the Coptic Gnostic Library Project of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity; James M. Robinson, director
    SWEET BRIAR LIBRARY: BT 1391 .A3 1990
    Elaine Pagels
    The Gnostic Gospels, 1979



    Until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi codices in 1945, nearly all that was known about Gnostic writings came from attacks on them.

    Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, who wrote On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis in about 180 CE, condemns the Gnostic Gospel of Truth, for example, as "full of heresy."

    Around 210 CE, Hippolytus in Rome wrote a Refutation of All Heresies to "expose and refute the wicked blasphemies of the heretics."

    However, the writers of the Gnostic Gospels questioned orthodox claims.

    The Apocalypse of Peter warns:

      Some who do not understand mystery speak of things which they do not understand, but they will boast that the mystery of the truth is theirs alone.

      ...others of those who are outside our number who name themselves bishop and also deacons, as if they have received their authority from God.

    The Gnostic Gospels also raise the unsettling issue of completeness and accuracy, providing evidence that the male apostles did not know the full extent of Jesus' teachings, and what they did know was not properly understood by them.

    In the Gospel of Mary

      Peter said to Mary, "Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than all other women. Tell us the words of the Savior that you remember, the things which you know that we don't because we haven't heard them."

      Mary responded, "I will teach you about what is hidden from you." And she began to speak these words to them."

    When she had finished

      Andrew responded, addressing the brothers and sisters, "Say what you will about the things she has said, but I do not believe that the S[a]vior said these things, f[or] indeed these teachings are strange ideas."

      Peter responded, bringing up similar concerns. He questioned them about the Savior: "Did he, then, speak with a woman in private without our knowing about it? Are we to turn around and listen to her? Did he choose her over us?"

    In Acts of the Apostles, Peter and John are described as "uneducated and ordinary men." The Gospels contain several instances where Peter fails to understand Jesus.