Da Vinci's Code

Professor Christopher Witcombe, Art History


Mary Magdalen, the Gospels, and the Church


Mary Magdalen in the Canonical Gospels

Susan Haskins
Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor, 1993
pages 3-32

    Of the many gospels written in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE (see below), only four are regarded by the Christian Church as canonical (divinely inspired, scripturally acceptable, authoritative).

    (1611 King James translation)
    Gospel of St. Matthew, especially Chapters
    26, 6-13 (at Bethany, an unnamed woman anoints Christ's head with ointment)
    27, 55-61 (Mary Magdalene among women ministering Christ)
    28, 1-10 (Mary Magdalen at the tomb)

    Gospel of St. Mark, especially Chapters
    14, 3-9 (unnamed woman anoints Christ's head with ointment)
    15, 40-47 (Mary Magdalene among women ministering Christ)
    16, 1-14 (women at the tomb; Christ appears to Mary Magdalen)

    Gospel of St. Luke, especially Chapters
    7, 36-50 (unnamed female sinner anoints Christ's feet with ointment)
    8, 1-3 (healed women, including Mary Magdalen cured of seven demons)
    10, 38-42 (Mary and Martha)
    23, 55-56 (women at the tomb)
    24, 1-11 (women at the tomb, including Mary Magdalen)

    Gospel of St. John, especially Chapters
    11, 1-45 (Mary, Martha, and Lazarus)
    12, 1-8 (Mary, Martha, and Lazarus; Mary anoints Christ's feet with ointment)
    20, 1-18 (Mary Magdalen at the tomb; 'noli me tangere')

    The New Oxford Annotated Bible (New Revised Standard Version). Edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Roland E. Murphy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991)
    SWEET BRIAR LIBRARY: BS 191.5 .A1 1991 .N49

Mary Magdalen in Non-Canonical Christian Literature

Susan Haskins
Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor, 1993
pages 33-57

    A vast amount of Jewish and Christian literature written in the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE and the 1st and 2nd centuries CE has survived. Except for the canonical texts in the Bible (see above), most of this literature today is called the Apocrypha (singular "apocryphon," from the Greek term apokryptein, meaning "to hide away" or 'hidden'). Apocrypha are not considered divinely inspired but are regarded as worthy of study by the Christian faithful. Pseudepigrapha, of the other hand, are works ostensibly written by a biblical figure but are regarded as spurious. All the New Testament apocrypha are considered pseudepigraphal.

    The Gospel of Peter (through Early Church Fathers)

    The parchment fragment of the Gospel of Peter was discovered in 1886 by the French Archaeological Mission, Cairo, in a grave in an ancient cemetery at Akhmím (Panopolis), in Upper Egypt. It was first published in 1892. The parchment codex is dated to between the 8th and the 12th century.

    The Apocryphal New Testament. A revised and newly translated collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature (Oxford and New York: Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press, 1993)
    SWEET BRIAR LIBRARY: BS 2832 .A2 1993

    The Gospel of Mary of Magdala
    Text from the Papyrus Berolinensis (or Berolinensis Gnosticus) 8052,1 (through www.maryofmagdala.com)

    The Gospel of Mary was found in a fifth-century CE papyrus book, written in the Coptic language, that came onto the Cairo antiquities market in 1896. It was purchased by a German scholar, Dr. Carl Reinhardt, and taken to Berlin, where it was first published in 1955. The original Greek was written some time in the 2nd century. The earliest Greek text is a single leaf from the early 3rd century known as the Papyrus Rylands 463 (John Rylands Library, Manchester). Another fragment survives in the Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 3525 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford).

    Karen L. King
    The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle, 2003
    SWEET BRIAR LIBRARY: BT 1392 .G652 K56 2003

    The Nag Hammadi Codices
    In 1945, two Egyptian peasants found a hoard of fourth-century CE papyrus manuscripts in a sealed clay jar near the town of Nag Hammadi in Middle Egypt. These papyrus books comprise a total of 46 different works of ancient and previously unknown Christian literature. They offer new perspectives on Christian beginnings and show that early Christianity was much more diverse than previously thought.

    The Gospel of Philip
    Pistis Sophia (Book 1)
    The Gospel of Thomas
    The Sophia of Jesus Christ

    The Nag Hammadi Library (the Chenoboskion manuscripts), 1990. Translated by members of the Coptic Gnostic Library Project of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity; James M. Robinson, director
    SWEET BRIAR LIBRARY: BT 1391 .A3 1990

    Elaine Pagels
    The Gnostic Gospels, 1979

Mary Magdalen and the Early Church Fathers

Susan Haskins
Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor, 1993
pages 90-97

    Between 100 and 600 CE, various Christian bishops and teachers set forth the basic tenets of the Church. The authors of those tenets that tended to prevail in later disputes over doctrine became known collectively as the Fathers of the Church. Today, these are divided between the Eastern Orthodox or Greek Church and the (Western) Roman Catholic (or Latin) Church. Among the Fathers of the Eastern Orthodox Church are: St. Athanasius, St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory of Nazianzen. The Fathers of the Roman Catholic Church include St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Leo I (Leo the Great), and St. Gregory I (Gregory the Great).

    A number of the early Fathers of the Church, both 'Greek' and 'Latin', distinguished Mary Magdalen from other women also named Mary (such as Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus) who appear in the canonical gospels.

    Mary Magdalen meets Jesus
    by St. Augustine (354 - 430 CE) in Tractate CXI, Commentary on John 20, 10-29 (through Early Church Fathers)

    Pope Gregory I's Homily 33
    In the 6th century, Pope St. Gregory I (Gregory the Great) declared that the woman identified as Mary Magdalen in the Gospels was the same woman known as Mary of Bethany and also the unnamed sinner mentioned in Luke 7, 36-50. The 'sin' of Luke's unnamed woman was prostitution. Henceforward, Mary Magdalen became identified as a prostitute.

    It has been suggested that Gregory I's transformation of Mary Magdalen into a prostitute was a way of countering the problem she posed for the Church. Since the 2nd century, as Christianity became institutionalized along increasingly patriarchal lines, the prominence of Mary Magdalen had posed the threat of sanctioning a leadership role for women in the Church.

    Gregory the Great's Homily 33 and the Identification of Mary Magdalen as a Prostitute

Further Reading

Ann Graham Brock
Mary Magdalen: The First Apostle: The Struggle for Authority, 2002

Jane Schaberg
The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament, 2002

Marvin W. Meyer
The Gospels of Mary: The Secret Tradition of Mary Magdalene, the Companion of Jesus, 2004

Jean-Yves Leloup
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, 2002
BT 1392 .G65 A3 2002