In 1945, at Nag Hammadi in southern Egypt, two men came across a sealed ceramic jar. Inside, they discovered a hoard of ancient papyrus books. Although they never received as much public attention as the Dead Sea Scrolls, these actually turn out to be much more important for writing the history of early Christianity. They are a cache of Christian texts.
The Nag Hammadi texts tell us about early Christians. They were written in Coptic, the language of early Christian Egypt. As most ancient Christian texts have been lost, this discovery was exceptional.The discovery includes the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip and the Acts of Peter. None of these texts were included in the Bible, because the content didn't conform to Christian doctrine, and they're referred to as apocryphal.
For the first time in hundreds of years there was a new source of information about Mary Magdalene. She appears very frequently as one of the prominent disciples of Jesus. In certain texts where Jesus is in discussion with his disciples, Mary Magdalene asks many informed questions. Whereas the other disciples at times seem confused, she is the one who understands.
One of the documents discovered at Nag Hammadi is the Gospel of Philip, in which Mary Magdalene is a key figure.
Mary Magdalene appears in this text also not only as the disciple he loved most but also as a symbolic figure of heavenly wisdom. These stories of Mary - as Jesus' closest companion and a symbol of heavenly wisdom - are in sharp contrast with the Mary Magdalene of popular imagination.
We're told that Mary Magdalene was one of the women who kept vigil at Jesus' tomb. It was customary at this time for Jewish women to prepare bodies for burial. Corpses were considered unclean, and so it was always a woman's task to handle them.
You might think, then, that at the very least Mary would be recognised as an apostle - one of the early missionaries who founded the religion - as she seems to meet all the criteria set out in the Bible. The reason why she is not perhaps lies in another long lost apocryphal text. In a Cairo bazaar in 1896, a German scholar happened to come across a curious papyrus book. Bound in leather and written in Coptic, this was the Gospel of Mary.Like the books found at Nag Hammadi, the Gospel according to Mary Magdalene is also considered an apocryphal text.
In texts like the Gospel of Philip, Mary was presented as a symbol of wisdom. However in the Gospel of Mary, she is the one in charge, telling the disciples about Jesus' teachings.
Matthew defends Mary and quells Peter's attack on her. In the text, Peter's problem seems to be that Jesus selected Mary above the other disciples to interpret his teachings. Peter sees Mary as a rival for the leadership of the group itself.
Perhaps the Gospel of Mary was just too radical. It presents Mary as a teacher and spiritual guide to the other disciples. She's not just a disciple; she's the apostle to the apostles.
... Levi answered and said to Peter, Peter you have always been hot tempered.
7) Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries.
8) But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well.9) That is why He loved her more than us
The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene
Editors note: The purpose of this post is simply to identify a charactor featured in many renaissance paintings, not to engage in religous debate. The questions were raised as to 'who is the magdelane?' and 'why is she always depicted clothed in ankle length hair and little else?' The next post addresses part two of that question.