Lent Madness: Vote for Mary Magdalen!

Although Mary Magdalen is, in the popular imagination, a reformed prostitute, it is not at all clear that the repentant woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with oil is the same as Mary Magdalen. This conflation appears to have been started by Pope Gregory the Great in a sermon in September 591 CE.

The gospel references to the woman named Mary of Magdala specify that she was one of the women who accompanied Jesus and the Twelve, and “provided for them out of their own resources” as Jesus preached the Good News throughout Galilee.

So, first of all, she helped bankroll Jesus’ ministry. This is a pretty important contribution!!

She is the most frequently named woman in the New Testament, and she is generally named first in a list, most likely indicating leadership (as when Peter’s name is listed first when he is named along with others).

She is named as one of the women who stood by and witnessed the crucifixion; and as one of the women who set out Sunday morning to anoint Jesus’ body, and discovered the empty tomb. In John and Mark, she is the first person to whom the Risen Lord appears. She brings the news that he is risen to the others.

Mary Magdalen, Apostle to the Apostles.

Vote for Mary!


Click through to read much, much more – about Mary Magdalen in scripture, Gnostic legends, patristic writers, and the Middle Ages.

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10 Responses to Lent Madness: Vote for Mary Magdalen!

  1. Theophrastus says:

    Thank you so much for the link to the womenpriests site. Did you see the last bullet item on this page? It deals with the controversial final verse of the Gospel of Thomas (114). Here is one standard translation:

    Simon Peter said to him, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.”
    Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

    The web page gives a possible explanation for this verse, but I don’t feel it really addresses the issue straight-on. Elaine Pagels’s Gnostic Gospels book aptly describes the sheer sexism of this passage. (The web page does cite Pagels book, though.)

    I think an important part of understanding how Magdalene has been understood (and misunderstood) is dealing with the sheer rage that passages like this represent.

    • Isn’t that a great site? Regardless of one’s position on the ordination of women, the comprehensiveness of the resource is fabulous.

      Do you think it is fair to associate the misogyny in this passage to the hierarchical cosmology/worldview of the Greco-Roman empire? which as I understand it, was both a physical and a moral hierarchy with male/spirit at the top and female/matter at the bottom.

      • Theophrastus says:

        Johannes Leipoldt concluded his famous edition of the Gospel of Thomas, Johannes Leipoldt by writing

        The book of Thomas contains some beautiful and some strange sentences. Sometimes we have to shake our heads. But it is most regrettable that the book ends with a dissonance.

        That is exactly the way I feel about Logion 144. It is even more insulting because Mary is not part of the dialogue — she is the object, being discussed by the “worthies.”

        Contrast what is happening here with another gnostic text, the Gospel of Mary (17:15-18:12):

        Peter answered and spoke about these same things. He questioned them (the brothers) regarding the Savior, “Did he really speak with a woman without our knowledge (and) not openly? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?” (p. 18) Mary then wept and said to Peter, “My brother Peter, what do you think? Do you think that I thought this up myself in my heart, or that I am lying about the Savior?” Levi replied and said to Peter, “Peter, you have always been hot-tempered. Now I see that you argue against the woman like the adversaries. But when the Savior made her worthy, who are you to reject her?”

        Or, even better, Logion 22 of the Gospel of Thomas:

        Jesus saw little (children) being nursed. He said to his disciples, “These little ones being nursed are like those who enter the kingdom.” They said to him, “Will we enter the kingdom as little ones?” Jesus said to them, “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inside like the outside, and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, – that is, to make the male and the female into a single one, so that the male will no longer be male and the female no longer female, – and when you make eyes instead of an eye, and a hand instead of a hand, and a foot instead of a foot, (and) an image instead of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom].”

        To finally answer your question about the Greco-Roman worldview: I think it is too easy to let Logion 114 “off the hook” by simply excusing it as being typical of a Greco-Roman symbolism I think that before 114, the Gospel of Thomas is actually making some profound critical remarks against dualism — quite a shock against the general characterizations of gnosis — and arguing for a transcendent unity, which is mirrored above as it is mirrored below.

        It sounds a bit strange to say it, but I think Logion 22 is central to the philosophy generally expounded in Gospel of Thomas — and Logion 114 seems to me like a crude addition — written by someone much like Simon Peter (in both the Thomas and Mary texts above) who simply cannot stand the idea of women being beloved of God. (Logion 22 is also quite similar to a number of Jewish mystical texts — while Logion 114 seems rather pedestrian.)

        Of course, there is a danger that I am merely projecting my 21st century worldview onto the text, but for better or worse, that is my reading: that Logion 114 is unworthy either of the Gospel of Thomas or of Greco-Roman symbolism. Fortunately, there are 113 much more elegant verses preceding it.

        • Thanks for sharing these additional texts, Theophrastus. Do you know whether the Gospel of Mary is typically considered to have been interacting with the Gospel of Thomas Logion 114? (I see that at earlychristianwritings.com, there’s a little overlap in the date ranges with Mary later than Thomas.) It’s a very poignant passage.

      • Theophrastus says:

        Well, it does seem that a large number of texts describe the confrontation of Mary and Peter. Besides the Gospel of Mary and Gospel of Thomas, it is also described in Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit and Pistis Sophia.

        Karen King, who teaches at Harvard, wrote a book about the Gospel of Mary, which she theorizes documents struggles in the very early Church, largely over the role of women. I think you might liker her book.

  2. splenior says:

    Pop Quiz: Identify the source of these sayings (paraphrased) 1. Women must become male, 2. Men must become virgins, 3. Men will become pregnant. 4. The male birth will be a virgin birth.
    They are not gnostic sayings, they are Christian riddles. “The woman was deceived” so the female takes on the metaphoric meaning of those who are blind.
    Now hear them again: 1. The blind will see. 2. Those who understand must become the bride of Christ. 3.The bride of Christ will be fruitful. 4. Fruitfulness is spiritual, not physical.
    The gospel of Thomas is not misogynist. When read in the proper genre, there is nothing in Thomas that contradicts the New Testament.

    • Theophrastus says:

      If you mix a pseudo-Pauline source, like First Timothy (“woman was deceived”), with Thomas 114 you end up with a big mess. (This is particularly the case if, as many scholars suggest, the Gospel of Thomas was composed decades before First Timothy.)

      If you are simply mixing random quotes from the Bible, you can take Genesis 19:30-38 and his daughters and say that male=drunk and feminine=in control and conclude that true believers must get drunk (if you wish, you can say they are metaphorically drunk with holiness) to ascend to heaven.

      Now I don’t think anyone would seriously put forward the argument that Thomas 114 should be understood in light of the story of Lot (although, at least, the author of Thomas 114 would have known the story of Lot!) It leads to some absurd conclusions.

      My point is that there needs to be some hint to combine such diverse ideas — particularly from a gnostic source. (Although I do like the way how you took two deeply misogynistic verses and found a way to make them both non-misogynistic.)

    • Thanks for your comment!

      That’s an interesting approach, but,

      a) the verse you propose as the key to the riddles is itself a verse that has been used by misogynists for centuries

      b) the metaphor of “female as blind, male as understanding” is itself a misogynist metaphor that reinforces prior misogynist stereotypes

      So even if it is a riddle, I don’t think it’s any less sexist.

      I don’t think “gnostic” and “Christian” are mutually exclusive terms. It seems to me that a pericope from a Christian text that requires special knowledge to be interpreted correctly would be the very definition of a gnostic Christian text!

  3. Pingback: Mercy and Misogyny | Gaudete Theology

  4. Pingback: Phrases and Shapes in Two Languages: Hail Mary, Ave Maria | Gaudete Theology

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