“Lost for more than fifteen hundred years, the Gospel of Mary is the only existing early Christian gospel written in the name of a woman. Unlike the controversial ‘Jesus’ Wife’ gospel fragment, the Gospel of Mary does not claim Mary was married to Jesus. But it does show her to be an important disciple to whom Jesus’ male disciples turn for advice and wisdom… Karen L. King tells the story of the recovery of this remarkable gospel and offers a new translation. This brief narrative presents a radical interpretation of Jesus’ teachings as a path to inner spiritual knowledge. It rejects his suffering and death as a path to eternal life and exposes the view that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute for what it is – a piece of theological fiction. The Gospel of Mary of Magdala offers a fascinating glimpse into the conflicts and controversies that shaped earliest Christianity.” – Amazon.com
Although it often gets lumped in with the Nag Hammadi texts due to their shared association with the Gnostic school of early Christian theology, The Gospel of Mary was actually a separate archaeological find. The three known copies of this gospel are incomplete fragments of a short work attributed to Mary Magdalene, probably written in Egypt or Syria. Karen L. King’s translation of the gospel takes up a whopping five pages, yet an extraordinary amount of wisdom is packed into these short passages. From the nature of sin and suffering, to the journey of the soul towards God, to the source of religious authority, the Gospel of Mary offers insight into many of the theological issues faced by early Christians.
The remaining 185 pages of the book consist of Karen L. King’s analysis of the gospel and the history surrounding its writing, circulation, eventual loss, and rediscovery. The book is deceptively short — it took me about twice as long to finish as I expected it to. King’s writing style is not difficult or unpleasant to read, but this book is DENSE. It’s a lot of information coming at the reader all at once. All of it is great information, and the book as a whole is a compelling read, but this is definitely a book that you need to be able to focus on — which isn’t the easiest feat for a college student coming up on final’s week, but I managed it.
As you’d expect from a two-hundred page long analysis of a five page gospel, King goes very in-depth not only into the content and themes of the gospel itself, but into the history of the early Church and the character of Mary Magdalene herself. I appreciate King taking an entire chapter to debunk the myth of Mary as the repentant prostitute (which originated in the fourth century and has no Biblical or historical basis whatsoever) and to establish what we actually know about who Mary of Magdala was. She was a devout apostle of Jesus, was present at his crucifixion and burial, and was one of the first to witness the resurrected Christ. Within the Gospel of Mary she represents the perfect disciple, one who understands and lives out the Savior’s teachings. She was a visionary and a leader of the early Christian movement, and a source of inspiration for generations of believers who traced their spiritual heritage to her.
My Rating: 4/5 Stars
Do I Recommend This Book? Yes, if you’re interested in Christian apocrypha and/or the history of the early church and don’t mind a dense academic read. If you prefer books with a more conversational tone, you can probably find some on this topic — I just haven’t read them yet.
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