GOSPEL OF MARY, an apocryphal Gnostic gospel originally written in Greek, probably during the second century A.D. Two pages (John Rylands Library, Manchester, England, Papyrus 463, 21r and 22v; this papyrus, from Oxyrhynchus, was acquired in 1917) of the Greek text survive from the third century. Part of the text is preserved as well in a Coptic (Sahidic) translation at the beginning of the Papyrus Berolinensis 8502. The translation differs in places from the original Greek and may be a somewhat condensed version. The Coptic manuscript consists of eighteen pages, of which ten (pp. 1-6 and 11-14) are lost. The title of the work is given in a colophon at the end of each version.
From the extant pages of the text it is apparent that the original gospel consisted of two discrete parts: a conversation between the risen Savior and His disciples and Mary Magdalene's account of her vision of the Lord.
Dialogues between the risen Savior and His disciples are common in early Christian literature, beginning with the post-Resurrection accounts in the Gospels. Little of the dialogue in the first part of the Gospel of Mary remains, only a discussion of the nature of matter and the limited reality of sin. At the close of the dialogue, the Savior warns His disciples against false prophets, forbids them to create new laws, charges them to preach the gospel, and departs.
At this point, a transition has been created to connect the two otherwise unrelated sections. It consists of a few words of consolation, in which Mary reminds the other disciples that the grace of the Savior will continue to be with them, protecting them. Peter then asks her to share with the others her secret gnosis ("knowledge").
The second part of the Gospel of Mary presents in terms of a vision a revelation about the Himmelsreise der Seele ("the soul's heavenly ascent"). Similar accounts are known from the Hellenistic period in both Christian and non-Christian writings. According to Mary, the soul leaves the body and encounters hostile powers that include, among others, Desire and Ignorance. These must be overcome before the soul can proceed, transcend the cosmos, and find its place of rest.
The other disciples' reception of this revelation is not completely positive. Peter's reaction is outright hostile: "Did [the Savior] really speak privately with a woman and not openly with us? . . . Did He prefer her to us?" Peter's repudiation of Mary's spiritual leadership is not uncommon in Gnostic writings; it is found, for example, in Pistis Sophia, where Mary is the major character in dialogue with Jesus despite Peter's complaints, and in the concluding logion of the GOSPEL OF THOMAS, where Peter—having tried to have Mary sent away as unworthy of salvation—is overruled by Jesus, who promises to make her male so that she can enter the Kingdom.
More unusual is the presence in the gospel of a contradictory view of Peter; in the transitional paragraph, he acknowledges Mary's authority and asks her to share her secret knowledge. Possibly, this is the work of an editor who did not share the belief in a conflict between Mary and Peter but who did not dare alter the original text and so softened the effect by presenting a milder picture in the connecting lines.
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