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On the possibility of a historical reconstruction of Mary Magdalene. Esther A. de Boer,

On the possibility of a historical reconstruction of Mary Magdalene

Esther A. de Boer, Kampen Protestant Theological University, the Netherlands

Is it possible to go beyond the accounts about Mary Magdalene in the New Testament Gospels and envision her as a historical person? Most scholars are convinced that historically virtually nothing can be known of Mary Magdalene. One of the difficulties to be encountered is the perplexing diversity of early representations of her. This article focuses on the question why the accounts of Mary Magdalene vary so much, examines their historical setting and argues that through this process it is possible to sketch the contours of a historical Mary Magdalene.(1)

Mary Magdalene, historical reconstruction, women, early Christianity

On Reconstructing Mary Magdalene

Why would one want to reconstruct a historical picture of Mary Magdalene? The answer is clear. If there is nothing to be said about Mary Magdalene historically, then any representation of her is plausible. She may have been a reformed prostitute, a repentant hermit, the wife of Jesus, the mother of his children, the chalice of his bloodline, a priestess of the goddess, femininity itself.(2) But Mary Magdalene is too important a figure to let her drown (3)in these stories about her. Too important is she, because according to the earliest written testimonies that have been preserved she is the first to announce that Jesus lives even when he died and can still be heard and followed, which constitutes the core belief of Christianity and the reason why the Christian movement came into being.

Exactly here the discussion starts with those who object to the possibility of a historical reconstruction of Mary Magdalene, since these earliest testimonies about her role are seen as unhistorical literary inventions.(4) The fact that the New Testament accounts of Mary Magdalene are interwoven with the narrative of the empty tomb of Jesus makes her role historically untrustworthy, because the empty tomb tradition would be a later one to symbolize belief in Jesus’ bodily resurrection. First there would have been the testimonies of appearances of Jesus like those mentioned by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15.1-11), in which he does not refer to an appearance to Mary Magdalene. The early narratives about Mary Magdalene’s role in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, which tell very little about her, would have provoked other narratives like the Gospel of Mary which fill in the spaces and are thus labelled unhistorical too.

In this line of argument the search for a historical Mary Magdalene can be very short and only one conclusion is to be drawn: nothing can be said of Mary Magdalene historically. She is and remains a literary figure. This view is strengthened by the fact that the representations of Mary Magdalene in the early texts are very different.

But why would Mark invent a story about Mary Magdalene if there was a story about an appearance to Peter or James, as Paul suggests? Perhaps, this is the case because Peter and the twelve disciples as a whole are criticized in Mark. But in Matthew Peter in particular is held in high regard. Why should Matthew embroider Mark’s invented story and moreover even make the risen Lord appear to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary when a comparable story about Peter was going the rounds? Instead of inventing their accounts, it is far more probable that Mark and Matthew are picking from a broad stream of oral and written tradition before them and mention those people who are important figures in the environment and tradition from which their Gospels originated. The fact that Paul does not mention an empty tomb or Mary Magdalene does not mean that there would not have been such narratives already in his life time. Even so does Paul’s silence about the earthly life of Jesus not mean that accounts about Jesus’ life did not already circulate. They are simply not important to Paul’s arguing in the situations his letters speak about.

That believers picked and chose their own apostolic leaders is already clear from Paul himself when he speaks of various divisions and leaders (1 Cor. 1.10-13). The second century pagan philosopher Celsus is the only early author from whom a text is preserved that seems to mention followers of Mary Magdalene. Celsus in his True Doctrine ridicules the great differences in belief among Christians and their appeal to various leaders (Against Celsus 5.62). In contrast to Paul, who refers to followers of respectable Jewish men like Apollos, Peter, and Paul himself (1 Cor. 1.10-13), Celsus mentions Marcion and Simon, both notorious for their ideas contrary to Jewish belief, as well as groups claiming to follow certain women, among them Salome, Mariamme and Martha. This suggests that Celsus knew of Christians, who applied to women leaders. Mariamme, who in other texts often is Mary Magdalene,(5) here, situated between Salome and Martha, could be Mary Magdalene too perhaps already assimilated to Mary the sister of Martha.(6)

Origen, reacting to Celsus’ claim, indignantly rejects the existence of such groups and insists, after pompously emphasizing his great knowledge that he never heard of them. This does not mean that they did not exist, since Origen was as vigorously opposed to women leadership as Celsus.(7) In this particular case Origen’s knowledge might have been somewhat limited. It would have been almost impossible for him to acknowledge that women, known from the Gospels as pious and faithful, in his view would have disobeyed Scriptural law by having authority over men.

If then it is not that incredible to think of Mary Magdalene as a historical figure there still remains the fact that early texts present quite a confusing picture of her. To be sure, Mary Magdalene is portrayed as a witness of the crucifixion, the burial and the resurrection of Jesus. But already the earliest texts differ in their accounts about what exactly it is that she is a witness of(8) and whether that would be important.(9) In addition, according to some texts she has kept silent about her experiences, but in other texts she tells about them.(10) She reminds the disciples of what Jesus said to all of them earlier or brings a new message which was revealed to her alone.(11) After that, she either withdraws and nobody hears of her any more or she sets out to preach the gospel and to found Christian communities.(12) The character of her gospel is either Gnostic or it is more orthodox and ascetic, so that girls remain virgins as a result of her teaching and married women leave their spouses.(13) Or, it is about the new identity of the disciples after the ascension of the Lord and of their way upwards to the Divine without any special emphasis on asceticism or Gnostic belief.(14)

Is there a way to argue from these contrasting early images of Mary Magdalene to the contours of a historical figure? Before this question can be answered first another question must be posed. Why are the early texts so different in their presentation of Mary Magdalene? Several texts explicitly demonstrate that the perception of the authority of women over men determines how Mary Magdalene is seen.(15) The study of the early discussion about this theme helps to detect something of the historical background of the different images of Mary Magdalene and of the debate involved.

The historical setting of the various representations of Mary Magdalene

Already from the Deutero-Pauline tradition in the middle of the first century it is apparent that the opinion is held that Christian women should not have authority over men. On the contrary, they should be ready to serve, to be silent and to be obedient.(16) At the end of the first century the Pauline letters begin to belong to sacred Scripture and the Deutero- Pauline view on the behaviour of women becomes a divine commandment. In the next centuries the opinion that women should be silent is repeated over and over again.(17) According to ‘orthodoxy’ women are not allowed to teach, to baptise, to write books in their own names, nor hold positions of prophets, elders or bishops, because they are women. Women may not undertake anything in which they would appear to hold authority over men. Whoever behaves differently clearly does not have the ‘right’ faith.(18) Active women are thus reduced to silence. Not because they say unholy things but simply because they are active and not male.(19)

In this developing milieu it is not surprising that the first ending of the Gospel of Mark presents a Mary Magdalene who remains silent instead of a Mary Magdalene who confidently proclaims the resurrection of the Lord as she was told to do.(20) In addition, it is not surprising that the Gospel of Matthew distinguishes between Mary Magdalene’s proclamation to the apostles and the proclamation of the apostles to the masses.(21) The Gospel of Luke is also at home in this milieu with its picture of Mary Magdalene belonging to a large group of women who are not even given the command to preach the gospel.(22) As in the Gospel of Peter, also according to Luke it is no longer Mary Magdalene who is the first witness. In Luke, Peter replaces her as the first witness of the resurrection as he replaces Mary Magdalene as an apostle in later versions of the Acts of Philip.(23) Ambrose of Milan even emphasizes that his representation of Mary Magdalene’s role is based on the (Deutero-) Pauline texts which say that women should be silent, as does the orthodox writing The Apostolic Constitutions.(24)

However, the Christian discussion on women having authority over men first of all gives the impression that women had quite an active part in the growth of the early church. And indeed, as the letters from Paul already suggest, also later texts testify to the fact that women taught, preached the gospel, baptised and wrote letters and books.(25) They were deacons, prophets, elders, and bishops.(26) They were learned women who explained and applied Scripture in the face of less learned brothers who had more important functions in the church.(27) From the texts it appears that this was not only true for heterodox circles like the Montanists and then maybe more especially in the area of Phrygia, where the movement of the ‘New Prophecy’ began with the revelation of Priscilla. No, Origen of Alexandria also knew of women who said holy things and people who held that Paul allowed unmarried women to speak in the assembly. Tertullian from Carthage in his own circle knew women who baptised and gave instructions, appealing to the Acts of Paul and the example of Thecla. And within the orthodox Church Jerome of Rome praised Marcella’s learning and her teaching of men. (28) Thus, not only in Asia Minor but also in Egypt, Africa and in the heart of the Roman Empire women appear to have been active, both in heterodox Montanist as in more orthodox circles. The choice to silence women is a reaction to the historical reality in which women choose to speak. Not only women from heterodox, but also from orthodox circles, not only in a far corner of the Roman Empire, but in several important regions.

Against the background of the situation that women had active roles in the development of the early church, the suggestion in the earliest account about Mary Magdalene in the Gospel of Mark that she was one of the core disciples,(29) a key witness,(30) and in the end the first to bring the news of the resurrection of Jesus and thus an example to the readers to overcome their own fear, to break their silence and do the same,(31) sounds historically plausible. The later representation of Mary Magdalene in the Acts of Philip as a woman apostle, who bears witness of the words of Jesus, explains them, preaches and baptises, fits in with this historical plausibility.(32) From this perspective it is also credible that Mary Magdalene could have had disciples of her own who wrote down her testimonies, as the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of John suggest.(33)

This is confirmed by the texts that describe Mary Magdalene’s active role as disciple and apostle as well as the masculine attack on this and the ambiguity about it, which is clear from the gospels of Thomas and Mary, from Pistis Sophia and also from the Acts of Philip.(34) In these texts the Lord himself is shown as the person who has made Mary Magdalene worthy to play her active role. This is the general line of argument of those who defend Mary’s active role. The church father Hippolytus, too, emphasizes that Christ himself sent Mary as an apostle and also his later colleagues Ambrose and Augustine explain the role of Mary Magdalene from a special vocation of the Lord himself.(35)

To summarize this part, not only is the choice to silence women a reaction to the historical reality in which women choose to speak. But from these different choices and the conflict between them we can explain the variety of early-Christian representations of Mary Magdalene.

The reasons behind the choice to silence women

What is at stake in this conflict? Why were women not allowed to have authority over men? The early Christian authors who answered this question share that they refer to Scripture, to the creation narrative in Genesis in which Eve leads Adam astray, to the modest behaviour of Mary the mother of Jesus and other women, and to Pauline texts.(36) However, those who defend the freedom of speech of women appeal to Scripture too. For Paul himself the creation story functions as a means of indicating the equality of men and women (1 Cor. 11.11-12). The Montanists appeal to the knowledge of Eve and other women from Scripture, and to Paul when they explain why they admit women to be prophetesses, elders and bishops.(37) The church order The Instructions of the Apostles suggests a discussion in which certain others appeal to Mary Magdalene and other women disciples in order to defend the right of women to give teaching.(38) Jerome uses Scripture to encourage women not to experience their femininity as a hindrance. He refers to a number of outstanding women in Scripture, including Mary Magdalene and the other female followers of Jesus.(39) Jerome also praises Marcella, because, while teaching men, by her modest attitude she spares their feelings, since she emphasizes that she is teaching as a pupil and thus respects the prohibition against women instructing men.(40)

The question precisely which books belong to Scripture also plays a role in the appeal to Scripture. Didymus the Blind points out that no biblical writings are attributed to a woman. Rightly, he says, for according to ‘right doctrine’ women may not have authority over men and thus may not write books under their own name.(41) Tertullian refers to the Acts of Paul and Thecla as untrustworthy, because in it Paul allows a woman to teach and baptize and be an apostle, whereas in his letters he says that he does not allow women to do so.(42) In as late as the twelfth century Theophanes Kerameus still uses that argument in the opposite way. He explicitly refers to the example of Thecla to show that Paul did allow women to teach, and labels the thought that Mary Magdalene obeyed Paul’s so-called rule that women were not permitted to teach by refraining from evangelizing ‘not as honest opinions but as fabrications of childish souls’.(43)

Thus the appeal to Scripture is not an objective matter. Before that the choice is made which standpoint Scripture must defend. It is not Scripture that determines whether women must keep silent. The choice whether women should be silent or not has already been made before the appeal to Scripture.

What is behind this choice? The early Christian texts show that the choice against the freedom of speech of women was not made on a clear set of well-considered arguments; instead sentiments played a decisive role.

There is a sense of superiority. Women are associated with the body and men with spirit. The ultimate consequence of this idea is expressed by Peter in the Gospel of Thomas: ‘Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of Life.’ (logion 114). Likewise the Deutero-Pauline letter to the Ephesians tells male readers to love their women as their own bodies, but women may not love their men as their own bodies, far from it, they must acknowledge the authority of their men in every respect as the authority of Christ himself.(44)

Men have greater knowledge than women. Andrew points out to his brothers in the Gospel of Mary that Mary’s words seem to differ from what the men already knew.(45) It is impossible that a new thing could derive from a woman.

Men are more important than women. Jerome argues that Jesus’ positive attitude towards women is an example of his humility.(46)

Men are stronger than women. Ambrose points to the stamina and the bodily force of men to explain that evangelisation is a command for them and not for women.(47)

As well as the sense of superiority there is the sense of rivalry. In the Gospel of Mary Peter says:

After all, he did not speak with a woman apart from us and not openly.
Are we to turn and all listen to her?
Has he chosen her above us? (GosMar 17:18-22)

And Origen speaks his mind when he says:

For women can be excellent teachers,
but not so that men should sit at women’s feet and listen
as if men who serve the word of God do not count. (Commentary on 1Cor. 14:34-35)

In the Instructions of the Apostles we hear the rivalry of the apostles against the women who have told them about the Resurrection. Later women must not think that they therefore are allowed to teach:

For the Lord, our God, our teacher Jesus Christ, has sent us, the twelve, to teach peoples and pagans. Amongst us there were women disciples, Mary Magdalene and Mary of James and the other Mary, but he did not send them to teach the people. For, if it were necessary for women to teach, the Master himself would have instructed them to teach together with us. (Instructions of the Apostles 3:6) ``

The rivalry is also expressed in the Gospel of Philip when the disciples ask Jesus about Mary: “Why do you love her more than all of us?” (GosPhil 64.1-2) And in Pistis Sophia Peter says:

My Lord, we are not able to suffer this woman, who takes the opportunity from us and does not allow any one of us to speak, while she is speaking all the time. (PS 36)

As well as the senses of superiority and rivalry, feelings of a sexual kind also play a role. In the Acts of Philip Mary Magdalene is seen as a prostitute because she travels and works with men who are not of her family, although sexual continence is part of her teaching and on Christ’s advice she goes clothed as a man.(48) In the same writing Philip relates that Peter flees every house in which there is a woman because of the Lord’s words: ‘Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart’ (Mt.5.28). Moreover Peter has prayed to God to make his daughter paralysed so that through her paralysis she may no longer be an object of desire.(49) Pseudo-Clement warns men not to live unmarried with women and allow themselves to be served by them. Otherwise men put their self-control too much to the test.(50) According to Gregory of Antioch the nameless sinner from Luke is a prostitute and according to Gregory the Great Mary Magdalene burns with passion.(51)

These feelings of men about women of a sexual nature, of rivalry and superiority, produce a sense of shame in the men who see women as their equals or more than their equals, shame not towards women but towards other men. Jerome expresses this feeling when he speaks of the ignorance of men in interpreting Scripture. He then says: ‘Yet others – I am ashamed to say it – learn from women what they have to teach to men’ (Letter 53.7). And when Jerome praises Marcella in his obituary of her he is aware of the scorn of other men that he is provoking with it.(52)

When the early texts are talking about the choice of men not to regard women as equals in the building up of the church, they mention the sentiments of superiority, rivalry, sexuality and shame instead of balanced arguments These sentiments led to the appropriate appeal to Scripture and determined which books began to belong to Scripture; they also determined the picture that was painted of Mary Magdalene.

Conclusion

It is commonly taken for granted that virtually nothing can be said about Mary Magdalene as a historical person and to explain all the views of her in church history as mythic representations of the culture and wishes of the time. I want to argue instead that it is possible to detect the contours of the historical figure, when one reads the various representations of her in early Christian texts against the historical background of the active part women played in the early development of the church and the fury ignited by this in a culture in which women were not to have authority over men.

Because the theme of authority of men over women did not arise from any definite time in the first century of Christianity or later, but rather already belonged to the culture in which Mary Magdalene and Christianity were born, it is not possible simply to assume that the oldest sources which tell something about her paint the most reliable picture of her. On the contrary, I want to suggest that it is likeliest that those representations of Mary Magdalene that seem to be defined by this theme are furthest from historical truth, even when they occur in the oldest texts.

If we take this criterion as a starting point it is more likely to assume that Mary Magdalene was important as a witness than that she would not have been. It is more likely that she belonged to the core team of disciples that to a large group of women. It is more likely that she has spoken about her experiences than that she would have kept silent. It is more likely that she told something new than that she affirmed what the eleven knew already. It is more likely that she set out to preach the gospel than that she withdrew. It is more likely that she preached a fresh gospel, than that she defended certain existing teachings like the Gnostic and ascetic ones.

On the basis of these considerations I want to argue that it is historically plausible that Mary Magdalene became a disciple of Jesus, at an early stage, when he had only just appeared with his teaching and his preaching as Marks suggests (Mk 15.40-41).(53) From the beginning to the end she was a witness to his ways with people. She witnessed his crucifixion, as well as his burial, and after a few days, to her bewilderment, she received a revelation. ‘I have seen the Lord,’ she later related, ‘and this is what he told me.’ (Jn 20.18; GosMar 10.7-11).

She first approached her fellow disciples and then went away, perhaps to Syria and Asia Minor as the Acts of Philip relate and the Gospels of John and Mary seem to affirm, to tell others about her experiences with Jesus. She encountered resistance, not only because of her message, but also because she was a woman. Nevertheless, what she taught was handed on and written down. Unfortunately we cannot get closer to the content of her teaching than the Gospels of John and Mary. They suggest that she told of life, despite death and the constant threat of suffering. She told of the new identity of the disciples, the inner presence of the Son of Man, of the Human One, and of the lifestyle which belongs to that insight. She comforted and encouraged people to seek and follow the Human One and to go from darkness to light, from death to life and from confusion to stability. And above all, she bore witness to the joy which accompanies the soul on this journey, whatever happens. The Gospels of John and Mary also suggest that there may have been communities based on Mary’s teaching.

No diary or early biography of Mary Magdalene has been preserved. There are only the early Christian fragments about her which diverge so much in their images of her. But when one reads them patiently and in their context, one is rewarded with an insight into an intriguing discussion about the role of women in rising Christendom. And exactly this early discussion enables one to see the contours of a historically plausible picture behind the various images of Mary Magdalene.

Esther de Boer

Footnotes

(1) This article is based on a comparison of early Christian images of Mary Magdalene (canonical, apocryphal, gnostic and patristic) until the end of the sixth century, when through the sermons of Gregory the Great one image of Mary Magdalene, the reformed prostitute, becomes the predominant one. For the translation and explanation of early Christian texts about her, see my book De geliefde discipel. Vroegchristelijke teksten over Maria Magdalena. Zoetermeer: Meinema 2006. Translation in English by John Bowden: The Mary Magdalene Cover-Up. The Sources behind the Myth. London/New York : T and T Clark (Continuum imprint), 2007. The greater part of this article was presented as a lecture in the Christian Apocrypha Session at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in 2006 in Washington.

(2) For a recent discussion about the images of Mary Magdalene, see R. Burnet Marie-Madeleine (I-XXI siècle): De la pécheresse repenti à 1’épouse de Jésus. Histoire de la réception d'une figure biblique, Paris: Editions du Cerf, 2004. In Burnets view nothing can be said of Mary Magdalene historically and the most inspiring and timeless image of her must be held in esteem. According to him this is the classical portrait of the reformed prostitute, although he admits that this representation is based on a medieval mixture of several biblical women.

(3)

(4) A nice example of such a debate is the article of S. Heine, ‘Eine Person von Rang und Namen. Historische Kontouren der Magdalenerin.’ In: D.A. Koch, G. Sellin, A. Lindemann (eds). Jesu Rede von Gott und ihre Nachgeschichte im frühen Christentum. Festschrift für Willi Marxsen. Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus Gerd Mohn, 1989, 179-195, in which Heine discusses the contrary views of L. Schottroff and W. Marxsen. For a survey and evaluation of problems and different solutions defended by several modern scholars (F. Bovon, R.M. Price, A. Marjanen, K.L. King and J.D. Crossan) see the thorough and detailed work of J. Schaberg. The Resurrection of Mary Magdalen. Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament. Sheffield: Continuum Press, 2002, 204-253.

(5) See for instance the Gospel of Mary and Pistis Sophia. ‘The mother of Jesus or the Magdalene? The identity of Mary in the So-Called Gnostic Christian Texts’, 33-34. In: F. Stanley Jones (ed.). Which Mary? The Marys of Early Christian Tradition. Symposium Series 19. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature 2002, p.31-42.

(6) As seems to be the case with the Mariamne in the Acts of Philip (ActsPhil 8.2). See also F. Bovon F. Bovon, ‘Mary Magdalene in the Acts of Philip’, 79-80 and 82 note 33. In: F. Stanley Jones Jones (ed.). Which Mary? The Marys of Early Christian Tradition (Symposium Series 19). Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2002, p.75-90.

(7) Origen, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14.35-36. For Celsus’ view on women see M.Y MacDonald, Early Christian Women and Pagan Opinion. The power of the hysterical woman, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1996, 102-120.

(8) She is a witness of a man in white and his words about Jesus in the Gospels of Mark (Mk 16.5-7) and Peter (GosPet 55-56) and in the Gospel of Luke, where she sees two men in shining garments (Lk. 24.4-7). In the Gospels of Matthew and John, the second ending of Mark and the Epistle of the Apostles she is a witness of the risen Jesus and his words (Mt. 28.9-10; Jn 20.14-17; EpAp 10; Mk. 16.9). Before that, in Matthew, she first sees and hears one angel (Mt. 28.2) and, in John two angels (Jn 20.12). In Mary she tells that she has seen the Lord in a vision and has spoken with him about this phenomenon (GosMar 10).

(9) Mary Magdalene’s witness that Jesus lives is not necessary in the narratives of Matthew, Luke, Peter, the second ending of Mark and the Epistle to the Apostles, because there are other witnesses next to her and/or Jesus appears to the other disciples himself. Her witness is necessary in the narratives in the first ending of Mark, in John and in Mary. In Mark she is the only one who witnesses and the crucifixion, and the burial and the message at the empty tomb (Mk 15.40-41.47; 16.1; she is one of four instead of three women). In John she is the only one who receives Jesus’ message about his disciples now being his brothers and sisters (Jn 20.17; cf. 15.14-15). In Mary she is the only one who knows who the real adversaries are: not the still unbelieving people as the disciples think, but the powers darkness, desire, ignorance and wrath that try to keep people (including the disciples themselves) away from God (GosMar 15.1-17.7; cf. 9.6-12).

(10) She keeps silent in the first ending of Mark and in Peter (Mk 16.8; GosPet 57). She is said to have spoken, but is not described as speaking in Matthew and Luke and the Epistle to the Apostles (Mt. 28.8-11; Lk.. 24.9-10; EpAp 10). She is described as speaking in John and Mary (Jn 20.18; GosMar 9.13-20; 10.7-23; 15.1-17.7).

(11) In Mark and Matthew she is told to repeat what Jesus said to all the disciples before his death (Mk 16.6-7 cf. 14.28 and Mt. 28.7,10 cf. Mt. 26.32). She is not asked to deliver a certain message to the others in Luke and Peter, but in Luke she remembers Jesus’ teaching and decides to repeat the words of the two men about Jesus, which are quotes of what Jesus said before his death, to the disciples (GosPet 55-56; Lk.. 24.8-10 cf. 9.18-21). In John she brings a new message, which is only entrusted to her (Jn 20.17 cf. 15.14-15). In Mary Peter asks her to tell what she knows and the others do not, which she accordingly does (GosMar 10.4-8).

(12) She vanishes in Mark, Matthew, Luke, John and Peter and the Epistle of the Apostles. Implicitly John suggests that her message is important to the Johannine community (Jn 20.17 cf. 1.12). In GosMar17.8 the author emphasizes the fact that Mary’s words derive directly from the Saviour, and in the narrative her teaching is in answer to the deep fear of the disciples to preach the gospel. In the Acts of Philip she is described as apostle in the company of Philip and Bartholomew (ActPhil 8.16, 21; 13.1-2,4) and as travelling, baptizing, and preaching (ActPhilMart 2; ActPhilMart 3 and 9-10 in Vaticanus Graecus 808).

(13) In Pistis Sophia her teaching is Gnostic and in the Acts of Philip ascetic.

(14) See for an argumentation for a non-Gnostic interpretation of the Gospel of Mary, E.A. de Boer. The Gospel of Mary: Beyond a Gnostic and a Biblical Mary Magdalene (JSNTS 260): London/New York: T&T Clark (imprint Continuum), 2004, 30-55 and idem ‘A Gnostic Mary in the Gospel of Mary?’ In: M. Immerzeel, J. van der Vliet (eds.). Coptic Studies on the Threshold of a New Millennium. Proceedings of the Seventh International Congress of Coptic Studies Leiden 27 August – 2 September 2000 (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 133). Leuven / Paris / Dudley, MA: Peeters, 2004, 695-708.

(15) For instance the GosThom logion 114; GosMar 17.15-22; PS 72; Ambrose, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 10:165; Apostolic Constitutions 3 6.1-2.

(16)Col. 3.18; Eph. 5.22-24; and later 1 Tim. 2.12; Tit. 2.3-4 ;1 Cor. 14.34-35 (taken as a deutero Pauline insertion).

(17) Origen, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14.35-36; Tertullian, On Baptism 17.1-5; Didymus, On the Trinity 3 41.3; Epiphanius, Medicine Chest 49.1-3.

(18) See note 16 and Tertullian. On the Veiling of Virgins 9.1 and also the Dialogue between a Montanist and an Orthodox.

(19) See for instance Origen, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14.35-36.

(20) Mk 16.7-8.

(21) Mt. 28.7, 16-20.

(22) Luke 8.1-3; 23.55-56; 24.1-7.

(23) Luke 24.12.34; for the later versions of the Acts of Philip see A. Brock. Mary Magdalene the First Apostle: the Struggle for Authority (Harvard Theological Studies 51). Cambridge, Masachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2003, 127-129.

(24) Ambrose, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 10:165; Apostolic Constitutions 3 6.1-2.

(25) Romans 16.1-16 and 1 Corinthians 11.5. For teaching and preaching women see Origen note 13. For baptizing women see Tertullian note 13. Women who wrote letters were for instance Marcella and Paula, which are mentioned in Jerome’s letters to them. Books were written by for instance Prisca and Maximilla, see the Dialogue between a Montanist and an Orthodox. See also the writings of Perpetua, Egeria, Proba and Eudokia in P. Wilson-Kastner, G. Ronald Kastner, et al. A Lost Tradition: Women Writers of the Early Church. Washington D.C.: University Press of America, 1981. For a history on early Christian women activities mentioned in early writings, see A. Jensen, Gottes selbstbewusste Töchter. Frauenemanzipation im frühen Christentum? Freiburg, Basel, Wien: Herder Verlag, 1992. See also U. E. Eisen. Amtsträgerinnen im frühen Christentum. Epigraphische und literarische Studien (Forschungen zur Kirchen- und Dogmengeschichte 61). Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1996.

(26) See for instance Instructions of the Apostles 3.12-13 and Epiphanius, Medicine Chest 49.1-3. See also note 24.

(27) See Marcella in Jerome’s necrology about her in his letter to Principia, 127.7. See also Macrina in Gregory of Nissa’s Life of Macrina and On the Soul and the Resurrection.

(28) See Origen, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14.35-36; Tertullian, On Baptism 17.1-5; Jerome Letter 127.7.

(29) She used to follow and serve him already in Galilee (Mk 15.40-41). These verbs denote the activities of a disciple, see K. Rengstorf, ‘Didaskoo’ in ThDNT II, 153-154, especially note 40 and ‘Manthanoo’ in: ThDNT IV, 434-435. See also H.L. Strack, P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch I, München, 1965, 527-529; W.D. Davies, The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount. Cambridge: University Press, 1964, 422-425 en 455-456, as well as M. Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature, New York: The Judaic Press, 1982, 1601-1602 and J.N. Collins, Diakonia. Re-interpreting Ancient Sources, New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990, 60. The four women disciples in Mk 15.40-41 (Mary Magdalene, Mary of James, Mary the mother of Joses and Salome) reflect the four named male disciples at the beginning (Simon, Andrew, James and John, Mk 1,16-20). For the historical probability of women disciples, see E.A. de Boer, "Discipleship of equals and historical 'reality'." In: K. Biezeveld and others (eds.) Proeven van Vrouwenstudies Theologie, deel VI. (IIMO Research Publication 53). Zoetermeer: Meinema, 2000, 99-122.

(30) Mary Magdalene is named first and is, in the case of four women in Mk 15.40-41, although Mark portrays Mary Magdalene in the company of different women, the only one who witnesses and the crucifixion, and the burial and the revelation of his resurrection and the tomb being empty (Mk 15.40-41,47; 16.1). These three ingredients form the earliest creed Paul received: that Jesus died, was buried and raised (1 Cor 15.3-4).

(31) L. Schottroff, ‘Maria Magdalena und die Frauen am Grabe Jesu’, Evangelische Theologie 42 (1982), 3-25 also published in: L. Schottroff. Befreiungserfahrungen. Studien zur Sozialgeschichte des frühen Christentums. München: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1990, 134-159. See also J.D. Hester, ‘Dramatic Inconclusion: Irony and the Narrative Rhetoric of the Ending of Mark, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 57 (1995), 61-86.

(32) See note 11 and F. Bovon, ‘Mary Magdalene in the Acts of Philip.’In: F. Stanley Jones Jones (ed.). Which Mary? The Marys of Early Christian Tradition (Symposium Series 19). Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2002, p.75-90.

(33) See the author’s reference to Jn 20.17 in the formulation of the core belief of the Johannine community in Jn 1.12. See in GosMar the author’s conclusion that Mary’s teaching is reliable (GosMar 17.8) and the fact that in the flow of the narrative her teaching on the powers is important in answer to the fear of the disciples to preach the gospel. De Boer, Gospel of Mary, 64-65, 96-98, 174-176.

(34) In GosThom 114, GosMar 17.10-22 and PS 36, 72 the attack comes from her fellow disciples, namely from Peter and Andrew. In ActPhilMart 19 the Roman officials attack her.

(35) GosThom 114; GosMar 18.6-16; PS 36, 72; ActPhilMart 20 and ActPhil 8.1-3. See also Hippolytus, Commentary on the Song of Songs 25.6; Ambrose, On the Trinity 3 11.74; Augustin, Sermon 232.2.

(36) 1 Tim. 2.12-14 appeals to Gen. 3.26. Origen in his Commentary on the Letter to the Romans 10.20 appeals to 1 Tim. 5.10; Tit. 2.3-4. Didymus the Blind in his On the Trinity 3 41.3 appeals to Lk. 1.48; 1 Tim. 2.12-14 Epiphanius in his Medicine Chest 49.1-3 appeals to Gen. 3.26; 1 Tim. 12-14; 1 Cor. 11.8.

(37) The montanist in The Dialogue between a Montanist and an Orthodox appeals to Acts 21.9; Ex. 15-20; Judg. 4.1; 1 Cor.11.5. This writing also shows that the interpretation of 1 Cor. 11.5 is discussed. The orthodox defends a symbolic meaning (women are not allowed to write books in their own name), the montanist argue for a literal interpretation (women are allowed to prophesy). According to Epiphanius the Montanists appeal to Gen. 3.6; Ex. 15.20; Acts 21.9; Gal. 3.8.

(38) Instruction of the Apostles 3.5-6.

(39) Jerome, To Principia, Letter 65. See S. Letsch-Brunner, Marcella, Discipula et Magistra. Auf den Spuren einer Römischen Christin des 4. Jahrhunderts, Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche 91, Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter 1998, 202-204.

(40) 1 Tim. 2.12 in Jerome, To Principia, Letter 127.7.

(41) Didymus the Blind. On the Trinity 3 41.3.

(42) Tertullian, On Baptism 17.5.

(43) Theophanes Kerameus , Sermon 31.

(44) Eph. 5.21-33.

(45) GosMar 17.10-15.

(46) Jerome, To Antony. Letter 12.

(47) Ambrose, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 10.157.

(48) ActPhilMart 3 and 19 and ActPhil 8.4.

(49) ActPhil 36. See also ActPet 130-135 in the Berlin Codex (Papyrus Berolinensis 8502).

(50) Pseudo Clement, Two Letters on Virginity 2.15.

(51) Gregory of Antioch, Discourse on the Anointers 10; Gregory the Great, Sermon 25.10.

(52) Jerome, To Principia. Letter 127.5.

(53) See note 28.


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