I have always imagined that Paradise would be a kind of library.
Jorge Luis Borges

So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?
Saint John, Letter to Galatians 4:16

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We establish no religion in this country, nor will we ever. We command no worship. We mandate no belief. But we poison our society when we remove its theological underpinnings. We court corruption when we leave it bereft of belief. All are free to believe or not believe; all are free to practice a faith or not. But those who believe must be free to speak of and act on their belief.
Ronald Reagan (Temple Hillel Speech, 1984)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Chapter 27: Non-Canonical - Gospel of Mary Magdala

Phenomenology of World Religions ©
Chapter 27
Gospel Mary Magdala (Magdalene)

Some know this text as Gospel of Mary Magdala, estimated to have been written in the 2nd century AD (CE), it disappeared until a fragmentary copy was found written in Coptic in the late 19th century, transcribed in the 5th century, purchased in Cairo by Carl Reinhardt who took it to Berlin in 1896. Two additional fragments discovered, written in Greek, in the 20th century (1940s) which totals to less than eight pages of ancient papyrus text survive, which amounts of half of the text lost. Considering that the early Christian Church ordered the Gnostic library and the texts not authorized by the Christian Church to be destroyed, it is amazing that any of those texts could ever be found.

The text presents the teachings of Jesus as a path to inner spiritual knowledge, which is the gist of the theology of the Gnostics. It rejects the idea that suffering and death is the path to eternal life, as the Roman Catholic Church, the first and surviving Christian organization, had developed into doctrine. It is also a convincing argument on behalf of women's role in religion, specifically Christianity, which the Church suppressed for obvious reasons. The role that women took in the world of Christianity was within the confines of the nunnery, a female version of the established monastery organized communities. 
The Gnostic gospel is an example of why such text ordered for destruction – it was against the established doctrine and the early Church's authority. The following is translation from the Coptic and Greek text printed in a book entitled The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle; published by Polebridge Press, Santa Rosa, California in 2003; pp. 3-12.
The Church established that the woman mentioned in the New Testament, as a reformed prostitute was Mary Magdala (Magdalene) – theological fiction to benefit the image or established doctrine of the Church.
The first six pages are missing, so the gospel begins in the middle of a scene that portrays a discussion between Jesus the Christ and his disciples after his resurrection. Jesus states that:
...all things, whether material or spiritual, are interwoven with each other. … Each nature will return to its own root, it own original state and destiny. People sin because they do not recognize their own spiritual nature and, instead, love the lower nature of humanity and overcoming the deceptive entrapments of the bodily passions and the world. The Savior concludes this teaching with a warning against those who would delude the disciples into following some heroic leader or a set of rules and laws. Instead they are to seek the child of true Humanity within themselves and gain inward peace. After commissioning them to go forth and preach the gospel, the Savior departs. But the disciples do not go out joyfully to preach the gospel; instead controversy erupts. All the disciples except Mary have failed to comprehend the Savior's teaching … they are distraught, frightened that if they follow his commission to preach the gospel, they might share his agonizing fate. Mary steps in and comforts them and, at Peter's, relates teaching unknown to them that she had received from the Savior in a vision. ...But as she finishes her account, two of the disciples quite unexpectedly challenge her. Andrew objects that her teaching is strange and he refuses to believe that it came from the Savior. Peter goes further, denying that Jesus would never have given this kind of advanced teaching to a woman, or that Jesus could possibly have preferred her to them. … Severely taken aback, Mary begins to cry at Peter's accusations. Levi comes quickly to her defense, pointing out to Peter that he is a notorious hothead and now he is treating Mary as though she were the enemy. ...he admonishes them all; instead of arguing among ourselves, we should go out and preach the gospel as the Savior commanded us.
This is where the story ends. However, it leaves the reader with the question as to how much did the disciples as apostles change in re-interpretation of what Jesus preached and had taught to Mary and disciples.
Included in the text of the Gospel of Mary are familiar expressions written as words of Jesus in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John: (1) “Those who seek will find”; (2) “Anyone with two ears should listen”. It is also within the New Testament gospels and the Book of Acts the mention of the appearance of Jesus to his disciples after the resurrection. Yet the gist of the story is clearly different from the accounts of the disciples within the Church-approved gospels. An example would be the New Testament states that the disciples go out and joyfully preach the gospel (like in the Gospel of Matthew); instead of crying and fearful of retribution for the tasks, they are assigned.
Biblical scholars, theologians, and historians find themselves agreeing with Andrew's assessment of the teachings of Jesus as being “strange”.
The Gospel of Mary was written when Christianity was in its early stages, communities spread out around the Eastern Mediterranean area, within separate communities, isolated from each other and developing their own concepts and doctrine through local religious leadership – whether chosen or self-proclaimed.  Not only were the Christians dispersed, but so the varied description and translation of the teachings of Jesus, including narratives of his death and resurrection, most often passed on orally at first, until put together in writing within the texts of what is called the “Gospels”.
Scholars, such as Christoph Markschies, suggests that 85% of Christian literature from the first two centuries have been lost or purposefully destroyed. Thus, the Gospel of Mary and other books of the Gnostic library come as a complete surprise and dictates careful study and examination for authenticity. If early Christians had put down in writing what they had seen and/or experienced during the life of Jesus, as well as after his death and resurrection, the history of that time would be clearer. It would have been helpful if Jesus had left behind text written in his own hand that explains his teachings.
The doctrine of the Christian Church and the unification of the scattered Christian communities and the churches within had begun to develop and was determined by the Nicene Creed established by those that met in council to discuss the issue and create the doctrine that would be established within the Christian Church thereafter.
As Karen L. King wrote:
History, as we know, is written by the winners. In the case of early Christianity, this has meant that many voices in these debates were silenced through repression or neglect. The Gospel of Mary, along with other newly discovered works from the earliest Christian period, increases our knowledge of the enormous diversity and dynamic character of the processes by which Christianity was shaped. The goal of this volume is to let twenty-first-century readers hear one of those voices—not in order to drown out the voices of canon and tradition, but in order that they might be heard with the greater clarity that comes with a broadened historical perspective. Whether or not the message of the Gospel of Mary should be embraced is a matter readers will decide for themselves.
Probably the greatest find to date, excepting the possible controversial archaeological find in Jerusalem – the presumed family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth-Galilee, was the library manuscripts found in Egypt near the village of Nag Hammadi, known today as the Nag Hammadi Library collection.
The original Gospel of Mary (see Gospel according to Mary Magdalene) was composed in Greek, but it only survives in the Coptic translation, a language still used by Egyptian Christians today who call themselves Copts. Theologians and historians estimate that about 85% of early Christian literature has been lost; primarily because the early Christian Church destroyed them because they viewed them as either heretic to church doctrine or were considered forgeries to stories of legend and not fact, estimate it.
Early Christians had no New Testament or Nicene Creed, or Apostles Creed to establish a unified doctrine that the Church would later establish. Much of early Christian literature was controversial, even in the canon gospels, as in the letters of Paul, show there was a considerable difference of opinion about issues like circumcision, Jewish food laws, whether the resurrection was physical or spiritual, and books that either contradicted the canon gospels or mentioned that which was not part of the canon gospels. Mary Magdalene (Magdala) in the canon gospels, for example, is not justly mention as far as her status as a female disciple who Peter and Paul showed much jealousy over. Whether that prejudice was based upon her gender or that Jesus favored her so greatly; the real Mary Magdalene was far more of an educated intellectual than the gospels reveal or the Roman Catholic Church would allow.
Because several copies of the Gospel of Mary have survived, it provides a stronger case concerning its reliability of information. As of now, there has never been a recopied Gospel of Mary written after the 5th century because it became uncirculated. Unfortunately, there are many pages missing from the Gospel of Mary, but it does not undermine the value of the text as a whole. It has survived written in its original form of Greek as well as in Coptic text.
The following is an informative video of Mary Magdalene (Magdala) with Greek subtext:

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