XI. The Work Continues, 2
“Could we try looking at each of these in turn, to see what’s the new information in them?” I asked. “Les, Alan, Sherm, you’ve been working on the Gospel of Mary also. Would that approach be feasible?”
“I think so,” replied Sherman. “This Gospel According to Mary has more in common with Jewish tradition than any of the four canonicals, which would also indicate that it’s early. But its theology is so radically different from theirs that it’s certain to inspire a fight, and maybe not only a theological one. There are many surprising elements in it, the least of which is that Jesus is presented here as a young Rabbi of the House of Hillel. That seems logical to me, since he’s addressed as Rabbi throughout the canonicals.”
“He is?” Megan asked.
“Yes,” Sherman replied. “Terms like ‘Teacher’ or ‘Master’ and so on all meant ‘Rabbi.’ That translation has always been avoided simply because of Christian-Jewish polemics.
“Next, the mission to the Gentiles is described in terms of the theology of the House of Hillel, which believed that Gentiles who kept the Noachide commandments would be admitted into the Kingdom of Heaven when it came, whereas the House of Shammai, the political opposition that Jesus attacked, refused to believe that.
“Next, the Mary here is not the mother of Jesus, but Mary Magdalene, who speaks as his wife.”
Brendan said, casually, “There’s been a lot of talk about that recently.”
Sherman replied, “Here it goes farther. Some Gnostics believed that their wedding was the one at Cana, since it was the bridegroom who was responsible for providing the wine. Another big surprise is his giving Mary the Rabbinic power to bind and loose, as he did Peter in Matthew. That would have made her his legitimate successor as head of the reform movement that he had started—if that’s what he was trying to do.”
I said, “The Carpocratians in Alexandria claimed that their apostolic authority was derived, not from Peter, but from Mary.”
Alan said, softly, “Mary has chosen the better vocation. Do not deprive her of it. What irony.”
“Wow!” said Megan. “How heretical is that?”
“It doesn’t fit the worldview of the Roman Church,” Alan said, “but there have been hints about it all along. If Jesus was a Rabbi, then he must have been married. There was a family dynasty, starting with his brother James, the President of the Christian Synagogue in Jerusalem, whose authority was different from, and parallel to, that of Peter and the Twelve, but it seems to have died out in the second century.”
“Did it die out?” Les interjected. “It just disappears from view. We don’t know what it might have evolved into. Why would Gnostic sects in the second century have traced their authority back to Mary unless they believed she had some? Women had no religious authority in that culture. They would not have made that claim unless they believed it was true.”
“If Mary was that important, why was she ignored in mainstream Christianity?” Megan asked.
“She couldn’t be, not entirely. That may be why Mary, rather than Peter, was cast as the first witness to the resurrection in the story of the empty tomb,”Sherman replied. “It may also explain why stories that diminished her authority began circulating so quickly. Here, of course, she is the only witness, and in Galilee. giving her more authority that Peter ”
“That’s actually a lot more believable,” Megan said.
I said, “Maybe, just maybe, some details of his teachings were left out of the canonicals. People have speculated about that possibility for quite a while. The hottest issue we need to confront is that this Gospel of Mary takes an extremely positive view of sexuality. As we have them, the gospels are quite ascetic and conservative, but not consistently. His attitudes toward women were very liberal for that era. Luke says that his retinue included many women whom he treated as equals to the men. Did you see this passage, down toward the end of the gospel, that says Joshua loved Mary more than all the other women? More, not only.”
“Some people are going to have a meltdown over this,” Les muttered.
“Of course,” I said. “But ignoring an obviously possible meaning of these texts is not legitimate theology. What if these prosexual or mystical or liberal elements in this Gospel according to Mary were genuine teachings of Jesus that were left out of the canonicals?”
“How could any details of his teaching have been just ignored?” Megan asked.
“Because the gospel writers used only the data that supported their own theology about who, what, and why Jesus was and did and said things,” Alan replied. “Each of the canonicals includes details the others don’t have. Each one leaves out details the others do have. Even if his public preaching lasted for only a year, the gospels all together describe only a small fraction of the days in that year. There must have been many more things he said and did that we have no record of. The gospel writers were highly selective in what they chose to include. It’s realistic to ask what the criteria were for that selecting. The Gospel of Thomas alone shows that almost certainly authentic sayings were left out.”
“If Mary believed herself to be Jesus’s true successor, as this gospel says she did, did she pass those teachings on to communities she founded? Would her followers have had just as much right as the followers of Mark or John to call themselves genuine Christians?” Andy asked.
“Yes, that is exactly what that would mean,” Alan said. “If the mainstream church wanted to deny her authority, what better way than to deny the existence of the marriage? Why don’t the canonicals say anything about whether he was married? If he in fact wasn’t married, why wasn’t that stated?”
“Perhaps because Mark and the others scrupled at telling a flat lie,” I said. “Remember, you’re dealing here with genuinely religious people, not people with any intent to deceive.”
“If he was a Rabbi, Mark may have assumed that everyone would know that he was married,” Brendan said.
“No,”Sherman replied. “Mark was writing to a Greek-speaking audience that didn’t know much about Jewish customs at all. None of the passages in our scriptures that were interpreted as Messianic prophecies imply that the Messiah could not be married. Do all Christians believe he would have been less of a Messiah if he were married with kids?”
“I think so,” Megan replied. “Don’t most people believe he could be the Messiah only because he was untainted by sexuality, because of the Virgin Birth?”
“I’m afraid they do believe that,“ Alan said, “but that’s bad theology. To equate sex with sin, to believe that sex is inherently sinful, is not Christianity; it’s Manichaeism.”