March 2004 Archives

Of Course!

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Last night Mike sent me this link to the paper by Ramon K. Jusino, in which he hypothesizes that Mary Magdalene was the Beloved Disciple and the author of the 4th gospel. It's a good read, and I was so excited by it that it renews my faith in something, although I'm not sure what, exactly. This may be old news to many people. I recently saw a program on one of the cable channels--I think it was the Discovery Channel and I think it was one of the "Ancient Evidence" shows--that debunked the long-held belief of the Catholic Church that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. The program argued that she was one of the disciples, and very influential in the early Christian community.

Ramon K. Jusino goes further by making a good case for his hypothesis that Mary Magdalene was the author of the 4th gospel, the Gospel of John, the author of which (not John!) has long been a mystery. As Mr. Jusino states:

Most biblical scholars today assert that the Fourth Gospel was authored by an anonymous follower of Jesus referred to within the Gospel text as the Beloved Disciple.

He examines writings from the Nag Hammadi Library, including the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Mary. In both of these, Mary Magdalene is described as Jesus' companion, and the disciple whom Jesus loved most.

Jusino explains that the Apostolic Christians, those from whom the 4th gospel comes,

...gravitated toward the institutional church and were pressured into suppressing, among other things, their tradition claiming that a woman was their founder and former leader. The end result of this suppression is the Fourth Gospel as we have it today.

In other words, the text was modified to make the author, the Beloved Disciple, a man. Could it have been a woman? Of course! Consider these passages: In Chapter 13 of the 4th gospel the Beloved Disciple is resting on Jesus' chest. In the same Chapter the Beloved Disciple is seated next to Jesus at the Last Supper. In Chapter 18 the Beloved Disciple is allowed to enter the courtyard of the high priest with Jesus after his arrest. Peter was let in only after the Beloved Disciple spoke to the gatekeeper. In Chapter 19 the Beloved Disciple is standing with a group of women at the foot of the cross.

Jusino examines all references to Mary Magdalene in the 4th gospel, and to the Beloved Disciple. As he shows, there are only two problematic passages in which the two figures are described as both being present: standing at the foot of the cross, and at the tomb. Mary Magdalene's presence in both of these scenes had to be preserved in the text, because in all three of the other gospels she was present in both places. To make the Beloved Disciple male, he had to be added as an extra person in each of these scenes. The first of these is in Chapter 19, about which Jusino writes:

The passage from the Fourth Gospel which has Mary Magdalene and the Beloved Disciple together at the foot of the Cross reads as follows:

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said... (John 19:25ff)
I cut the passage here in order to make a point. The structure of this pericope is very puzzling. In the first sentence (v. 25) we read a list of women standing by the Cross of Jesus. In the second sentence (v. 26) the writer seems to refer to the aforementioned list of women at the Cross when he calls one of them "the disciple whom (Jesus) loved." If one were to read only the portion of the passage cited above, one would readily assume that the Beloved Disciple is one of the women standing by the cross with Jesus' mother. (Read it over to yourself and see if you don't agree.)
The entire passage reads as follows:
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:25-27)
The original pre-Gospel version of this passage probably referred to Mary Magdalene as the disciple whom Jesus loved. Through the use of masculine determiners and cases (in Greek), the redactor was able to change the Beloved Disciple into the anonymous male seemingly in mid-thought. The structure of this passage seems a little forced and indicates that it was probably altered as I have asserted.

He treats the second of these passages similarly:

The Fourth Gospel passage which has Mary Magdalene and the Beloved Disciple together at the Empty Tomb reads as follows:

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally, the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. (John 20:1-11)
The structural inconsistencies in this passage are glaring. In his discussion of this pericope Brown observes that "there are an extraordinary number of inconsistencies that betray the hand of an editor who has achieved organization by combining disparate material" (1970: 995). This pericope has also been described as containing "both high drama and confused choreography" (Setzer: 262).

When I reread these passages and assume the Beloved Disciple was Mary Magdalene, I think of course! Why would the church suppress this idea? Need you ask? Near the end of his paper, Jusino writes:

Does this thesis seem radical to you only because I propose that a woman authored one of the four Holy Gospels in the Bible? If I had a thesis which proposed that Bartholomew, or Andrew, or James, or any of the other male apostles authored the Fourth Gospel instead of John -- would that be considered very radical? Probably not. In fact, the church has no problem with the prevailing scholarship which says that a man whose name we don't even know wrote one of the most sacred Christian documents. Imagine -- even a nameless man is preferable to a woman.
What about all of the evidence that I have reviewed for you? Compare that to the basis for which authorship of the Fourth Gospel has been ascribed to John of Zebedee for almost 2,000 years. Most biblical scholars reject that evidence today. (Remember? It was the childhood recollections of Irenaeus.) That is why John's Gospel is considered anonymous by them today. But, alas, the standard of proof for establishing a woman as the author of a Gospel is much, much higher. Gnostic documents and structural inconsistencies notwithstanding -- the church-at-large will probably never acknowledge Mary Magdalene as an author of a New Testament Gospel.
Perhaps things haven't really changed that much since the earliest days of the church. Maybe authorship of a Gospel by a woman is still the embarrassment that Setzer says it would have been 2,000 years ago.

Of course! Wouldn't the church then have to entertain the notion of ordaining women? Mightn't it even have to let little girls serve at the altar? Heaven forbid.

Go read it, really. It's worth it.

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