#Covid-19 is on every news site, on everyone’s mind, and yes while we need to stay current on the news and how the evolving situation affects our daily life, I find more than ever that I need distraction from the news of end times. (At least until my blue gel arrives.) But, I find I can’t get away, not entirely. I’ve been knitting (of course) and my knitting journey since October 2018 has certainly consumed me, entertained me, frustrated me, challenged me and kept me from losing my mind.
But, who I was prior to taking up that hobby was a person interested in a multitude of topics equally balanced between science and religion. Why religion? Because my mother, who was a Sunday school teacher for a time and a devout Christian, raised me in the church for the first 16 years of my life. Why science? Because I have always questioned everything. I just can’t be that person who accepts information at face value, even when it gets me in trouble. Even though I myself am not a devout Christian, I do turn to religious studies often. I will let the therapists sort that puzzle! I am at heart a writer, and even if I’m not actively writing something, I am writing in my head and often I journal. Recently, while pondering and writing about the current state of the world and what 2020 means to me, i.e. the year of hindsight, the year of reflection, and how we are now being faced with a mortality unexpected. I found myself pondering repentance and how it’s important to take stock of oneself. I found myself drawn towards Mary Magdalene, as written in certain ancient texts. She is one of my favorites of all the ancients. While maintaining perfect politeness, she has no fear and questions everything.
Did you know she has her own gospel?
The Gospel of Mary was discovered in 1896 within a 5th century papyrus codex written in Sahidic Coptic. Sahidic is the most prevalent dialect of Coptic and originates out of Upper Egypt. It is grammatically close to Late Egyptian, and is distinguished from Bohairic, which is still used in the liturgical language of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. The Gospel is unfortunately incomplete and in fragments.
The Codex that contains her Gospel is called the Berlin Codex – it was purchased in Cairo by German diplomat Carl Reinhardt. I admit I know nothing about him, but researching him is on my to-do list. The Berlin Codex is also called the Akhmim Codex. Everything in it is written in Sahidic Coptic. The same gospel, in fragments only, have been found elsewhere and a compilation of the fragments was published in 1938 and again in 1983. I’m not 100% certain that all of the fragments are meant to be together in one cohesive text, but not being an archaeologist, I cannot argue. Most scholars agree the original would have been written in Greek and would date to approximately 2nd century CE. Others suggest it was written when Jesus was still alive. Some scholars actually don’t agree that the author is Mary Magdalene, but instead Mother Mary. I completely disagree with that. Whilst Mary, Mother of Jesus, was certainly learned (she could quote the Odes of Solomon easily), I do not believe, based on speaking styles, that the Gospel can be attributed to her. I’ll come back to that in a minute. Separate Greek editions were later found (in the 1990’s I think) in archaeological excavations at Oxyrhynchus Egypt. Nonetheless, the “surviving manuscript” is missing pages 1-6 (Ch. 1-3) and pages 11-14. Personally, this is devastating to me because of the context of the book and the certain loss of knowledge. If I were an archaeologist, I would at the very least want to take the time to compare the Greek editions with the Sahidic Coptic editions for translation issues/omissions/additions.
Anyway, in the Gospel, (keeping in mind that the first six pages are missing) Mary tells the other disciples about a conversation in which she quizzes Jesus about the destruction of matter. (Matter is an important and recurring theme in these ancient texts.) Jesus gave her an answer that has science (particle physics actually) at its heart. “…the nature of matter is resolved into the roots of its own nature alone,” He says. Let that statement sink in. A brilliant answer if you ask me. Mary and Jesus then discuss, in the first section of these fragments, the nature of sin, and the answers are somewhat cryptic but understandable, i.e. “There is no sin, but it is you who make sin when you do things that are like the nature of adultery, which is called sin.” In other words, sin isn’t a thing in its own right, it is a behavior we can categorize as wrong, and an aspect of being human. But the disciples were very sad when they heard all the things that Jesus had said. Mary Magdalene tries to make the men feel better, but Peter -who is known to barely tolerate Mary M.- doesn’t trust her. He wants to hear more, and he says:
Now I ask you, honestly, would the disciple Peter really address Mary Mother of Jesus as sister? No. He would never say that unless you want to argue that Peter and Mary were siblings which would make Jesus his nephew. Nope. They were brothers and sisters “in Christ.” This is one reason why I don’t think the gospel belongs to Mother Mary.
“Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of us [disciples]; tell us the words of the Savior which you remember but we do not know nor have we heard them.” He sounds quite petulant, especially because Mary is recounting how she had spoken to Jesus when the others weren’t around. Mary goes on to tell them how one time she had a vision of Jesus, and during this conversation with him she recounts that vision to him. Surprisingly, Jesus responds firstly by complimenting her because she didn’t “waiver at the sight of” him (so that tells me he must be quite difficult to behold). But she doesn’t really react to this, or she is too polite to comment. She instead continues: “How does he who sees the vision see it, through the soul or through the spirit?” Jesus said, “He does not see it through the soul nor the spirit; but the mind that is between the two is that which sees the vision, and it is …” and the rest of this fantastic sentence is cut off because pages 11-14 of the codex fragments are missing! I personally would have loved to hear more about what is essentially liminal space.
By the end of the recounting, Peter doesn’t believe a word of any of it and even accuses her of lying, a charge she vehemently denies: “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?” This is another very good reason to believe that Mother Mary didn’t write this. I seriously doubt that Peter would treat Jesus’ mother in such a disrespectful way.
The short of this gospel is that sin is a part of our human design, and is a choice. Sin isn’t a virus you catch, or an evil that overtakes you (or a demon whispering in your ear). The very nature of humans give us equally the capacity to do good things or do bad things. What will you do with your choice?