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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mary Was Smart; Peter Was Dumb


It is not likely that you hear the Gospel According to Mary read in church. Most people haven't even heard of it. Unfortunately, we don't have all of it, but enough of it survived to give us a glimpse of the vast diversity of early Christianity. In this Gospel, Mary Magdalene is telling the rest of the disciples what Jesus showed and told her in a vision. The guys (especially Peter) don't appreciate what she has said because it is too deep for them for one, and well, she's a
girl.

Here is how the Gospel ends:

1) When Mary had said this, she fell silent, since it was to this point that the Savior had spoken with her.

2) But Andrew answered and said to the brethren, Say what you wish to say about what she has said. I at least do not believe that the Savior said this. For certainly these teachings are strange ideas.

3) Peter answered and spoke concerning these same things.

4) He questioned them about the Savior: Did He really speak privately with a woman and not openly to us? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did He prefer her to us?

5) Then Mary wept and said to Peter, My brother Peter, what do you think? Do you think that I have thought this up myself in my heart, or that I am lying about the Savior?

6) 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. Rather let us be ashamed and put on the perfect Man, and separate as He commanded us and preach the gospel, not laying down any other rule or other law beyond what the Savior said.

10) And when they heard this they began to go forth to proclaim and to preach.

This second century text reveals that early followers of Jesus were not of one mind regarding who he was and what it was they were supposed to do about it. It is this period of Christian history that is most exciting. This was when the various mythologies regarding Jesus were being created and promoted.

This gospel is not more historical (nor less) than the other gospels. The point is not that these gospels reveal much about the historical person of Jesus, someone we know very little about. The canonical gospels don't reveal much about Jesus either. They, like the
Gospel According to Mary, are theological statements. They do tell us about the movements that flourished and fought with each other in his name.

Obviously, Mary's group didn't win the political battle. The winners who went on to call themselves "orthodox" claimed to be the true believers and when they sealed their victory in the fourth century, they exterminated the "heretics" and burned all their books. Yup, that was Peter's crowd. As Levi in the text says, "Hot-tempered." They still are.



I wonder what the church might have been like if Mary Magdalene was the first "pope" rather than Peter?







Register now for the Jesus Seminar on the Road in Elizabethton, September 12-13. It is all part of Expand Your Mind Week.


During the Saturday morning workshop, Hal Taussig, a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar, will explore with us the
Gospel According to Mary and introduce us to what Christianity might have been (and possibly could still become).



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