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The Gospel of Mary

The Gospel of Mary is preserved in two Greek fragments of the third century and a fuller, but still incomplete, Coptic manuscript of the fifth. The book itself was composed sometime during the (late?) second century. Even though we do not have the complete text, it was clearly an intriguing Gospel, for here, among other things, Mary (Magdalene) is accorded a high status among the apostles of Jesus. In fact, at the end of the text, the apostle Levi acknowledges to his comrades that Jesus “loved her more than us.” Mary’s special relationship with Jesus is seen above all in the circumstance that he reveals to her alone, in a vision, an explanation of the nature of things hidden from the apostles. The Gospel divides itself into two parts. In the first, Jesus, after his resurrection, gives a revelation to all his apostles concerning the nature of sin, speaks a final blessing and exhortation, commissions them to preach the gospel, and then leaves. They are saddened by his departure, but Mary consoles them and urges them to reflect on what he has said. She is then asked by Peter to tell them what Jesus had told her directly. In the second part, she proceeds to describe the vision that she had been granted. Unfor­ tunately, four pages are lost from the manuscript, and so we know only the beginning and end of her description. But it appears that the vision involved a conversation she had with Jesus, who described how the human soul could ascend past the four ruling powers of the world in order to find its eternal rest. This description of the fate of the soul is related to salvation narratives found in other Gnostic texts. The Gospel continues with two of the apostles—Andrew and Peter— challenging Mary’s vision and her claim to have experienced it; it ends, though, with Levi pointing out that she was Jesus’ favorite, and urging them to go forth to preach the gospel as he commanded. They are said to do so, and there the Gospel ends.

Translation of George MacRae and R McL. Wilson, in James Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Library in English, 3rd ed. (Leiden: Brill, 1988) 524–27; used with permission.

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