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Mary Magdalene (Liane’s Blog)

Mary Magdalen Tintoretto

A Conversation Starter for Kairos Wednesday 17th April 2024

I have recently been reading “Mary Magdalene revealed” by Meghan Watterson
and it has caused an unsettling within me, something that feels like a kind of
homecoming alongside a curiosity and anger.

I was so unsettled that I got in touch with Paula Gooder ( theologian who I trust) to
ask if what I was reading was trustworthy. She hadn’t read the book but
recommended “Mary Magdalene biography” by Bruce Chilton.

Mary Magdalen Tintoretto


Public Domain

TINTORETTO – Magdalena penitente (Musei Capitolini, Roma, 1598-1602) – copia.jpg

Created: 1500

In summary of the Chilton book, a review says:-

“After two thousand years of flawed history, here at last is a magnificent new biography of Mary Magdalene that draws her out of the shadows of history andrestores her to her rightful place of importance in Christianity. Throughout history, Mary Magdalene has been both revered and reviled, a woman who has taken on many forms–witch, whore, the incarnation of the eternal feminine, the devoted companion (and perhaps even the wife) of Jesus. In this brilliant new biography, Bruce Chilton, a renowned biblical scholar, offers the first complete and authoritative portrait of this fascinating woman. Through groundbreaking interpretations of ancient texts, Chilton shows that Mary played a central role in Jesus’ ministry and was a seminal figure in the creation of Christianity.

Chilton’s descriptions of who Mary Magdalene was and what she did challenge the male-dominated history of Christianity familiar to most readers. Placing Mary within the traditions of Jewish female savants, Chilton presents a visionary figure who was fully immersed in the mystical practices that shaped Jesus’ own teachings and a woman who was a religious master in her own right.

I am no expert in this, I have literally read one book and searched the internet, I would love to hear what you know & think… so maybe we could start a conversation on Wednesday…

Here is a very, very brief and basic background for us to start from: In about 313AD Emperor Constantine created a state religion. We know that up until this point there were many understandings of the person of Jesus. In around 300 AD a Christian Creed was created to unify the faith and over the following few years books and letters were collated to form a canonised bible.

In around 367AD Bishop of Athanasius of Alexandria requested that monks destroy anything not in the canon. Fortunately many of the monks buried scriptures that were special to the early christian movement in the Desert and in caves in Egypt.

Apparently 3 copies of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene have been discovered, and they have been available in printed form since 1955. I haven’t read it for myself, but I have read a few people’s responses to it. I understand that Mary writes about how we can find within ourselves the aspect of the soul we can be conscious of while living in our human bodies. She describes how to become one with the Divine in the way Jesus demonstrated. The most important message of Mary’s gospel is that we are inherently good. In common with the other non canonical scriptures, it emphasises knowing the Christ within. The Gospel of Mary explains how the ancient Christian path was a transformational process that Christ demonstrated was possible. He wasn’t idolised or to be followed for himself.

Luke 8:1-13 is the passage where Mary is healed of 7 demons. In around 591AD Pope Gregory interpreted Mary as a prostitute & that is often still accepted as the truth today despite the Catholic Church officially refuting this interpretation in 1969. Dr Karen King suggests this view of Mary may have been allowed to continue because it served the early church fathers “this fiction solved two problems at once by undermining both the teachings associated with Mary and women’s capacity to take on leadership roles”. (The Gospel of Mary Mandela p152)

Women’s spiritual authority within the church was affected from this point onwards.

In 2022 at the Wild Goose festival Diana Butler Bass told the story of Elizabeth Schrader of Duke University. In the process of studying for her Masters, Elizabeth found that the manuscript of John 11 and 12 had been changed to create two characters when originally there was only Mary, so that it mirrored the separate story in Luke 10. Actually, according to ancient sources like Church Father Tertullian, John only has one Mary & no Martha. Please read the transcript of the talk for your self here:-

In summary she explains that there are Christological confessions in Matthew, Mark & Luke; Peter declares “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God” And Jesus turns around and says to him, “You are Peter, upon this rock I will build my church.”

In the book of John, Martha says “yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Messiah, the son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”… and then Martha disappears from history.

However if, as scholars have long suspected, Mary (& Martha – they are the same character) in John 11 is Mary Magdalene then the Gospel of John gives the most important statement in the entirety of the New Testament, not to a man, but to a woman, and to a really important woman who will show up later as the first witness to the resurrection.

Suggestions are that Mary (who was actually probably from Bethany) becomes known as Mary the Tower (Magdala in Aramaic). This has been written about in the Harvard Theological Review, which is a reputable production.

Suggestions are that Mary (who was actually probably from Bethany) becomes
known as Mary the Tower (Magdala in Aramaic). This has been written about in the
Harvard Theological Review, which is a reputable production.

I would like for us to discuss the question that Diana Butler Bass then asks:

What kind of christianity would we have if we had built it on Peter, the Rock, and
Mary the Tower?

And my extra wondering;

Maybe the world is hungry for that now?

What might happen if we try a christianity that includes all that has been left out, and find a woman’s voice behind one of the gospels?

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