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The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle Paperback – January 1, 2003

4.2 out of 5 stars 107 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The Gospel of Mary of Magdala, a second-century gospel that was discovered in the 19th century and not published until 1955, shows Mary to be the apostle (yes, apostle) to whom Jesus revealed deep theological insights. King, a professor at Harvard Divinity School and author of What Is Gnosticism?, argues that the Gospel prefers inner spiritual knowledge to exterior forms such as the law and that it reveals some of the gender conflicts and spiritual divisions of the early Christian movement. King places translations of two extant fragments of the Gospel of Mary side by side, so readers can see the slight differences that appear in the originals. (Because approximately 10 pages of the Gospel are still lost, scholars believe we only have about half of its original material.) In the brief text, the male apostles are afraid and despondent after Jesus' post-resurrection departure, so Mary tries to cheer them by revealing some of the esoteric teachings that Jesus imparted to her alone. But the teachings cause discord, as Peter and others refuse to believe that Jesus would have given such "strange ideas" to a woman. ("Did he choose her over us?" a petulant Peter asks.) The bulk of King's book takes up various issues raised by the text-questions about the Son of Man, law, women's authority, visionary experiences and the body. This is a serious scholarly study with the apparatus of an academic book, including Coptic facsimiles of the papyrus, and Coptic and Greek phrases sprinkled throughout the text.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.


This is a rich, rewarding, and eyeopening review of how the only gospel written in the name of a woman can reveal the depth and diversity of the early Christian community. Strongly recommended ... --Library Journal

Best faith books of 2003 ... accessible and fascinating ... This book will have special appeal to those interested in history and whose devotion to the New Testament has them searching for a deeper understanding of the origins of Christian scripture. --St. Louis Post Dispatch

Karen King s Gospel of Mary of Magdala is a book that many readers are waiting for a complete translation of the Gospel of Mary together with a lucidly written, marvelously informative discussion of where it comes from and what it means. --Elaine Pagels, Harrington Spear Paine Foundation Professor of Religion at Princeton University

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 230 pages
  • Publisher: Polebridge Press (January 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0944344585
  • ISBN-13: 978-0944344583
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #103,490 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Even in the canonical gospels Mary from Magdala was a remarkable woman. She followed Jesus, witnessed the crucifixion, saw the empty tomb and was one of the first, if not the very first person, the risen Christ appeared to. In Karen King's translation of the Gospel of Mary, she is no less remarkable.
Incomplete, brief and based on three fragments from the 5th and 3rd centuries the Gospel of Mary reveals what Andrew refers to as "strange ideas." In a dialogue first between the risen Savior and disciples, and then between the disciples themselves about a vision of Jesus and teachings revealed to Mary alone ideas are presented that are unique to this gospel although there are clearly echoes of these ideas in other sacred writings. For example, there is a distinction made between the material body and the soul with the true self defined as the soul alone. Sin exists only when the soul is distracted by passions of the body and therefore is estranged from spiritual concerns. The familiar, "seek and you will find" is interpreted as the need to seek inwardly to discover the spiritual that is within us all.
The teachings from Mary's vision of Christ are disputed by Andrew and denied by Peter who says he does not believe that Christ would tell a woman what he did not reveal to men. Levi confronts Andrew and Peter affirming that Mary is spiritually mature and as worthy as anyone. Levi then heeds the direction given by Jesus to go and teach the word.
Ms. King discusses the changing role of women in the early church and the gradual establishment of the canonical gospel. Perhaps most interesting of all, she emphasizes the variety and diversity of early church writings and beliefs reminding us that our religious heritage is much more unsettled and unsettling than out view from the present looking backwards may suggest.
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Format: Paperback
Karen L. King has written a groundbreaking book about the Gospel of Mary (of Magdala), a manuscript which was discovered in the dry sands of Egypt. King's study gives us glimpses of early Christianity which she believes was far more diverse than we had ever before imagined.
The Gospel of Mary (of Magdala) was written in the 2nd Century and purports to be a conversation between the resurrected Jesus, Peter, Andrew, Levi and Mary. Each of these people, of course, was an historical figure, but their roles in the Gospel of Mary not only includes what has been remembered of the historical people, but also the positions they have come to represent in the 2nd Century Christian Church. Of prime importance is the role of women in the leadership of the Christian Church. According to King, the historical Mary of Magdala probably was an eminent leader in the early Church and the role she plays in the book is an advocate of women's leadership. Peter is opposed to her and Andrew supports him. Levi plays a peace-making role and Mary is shown to understand the teachings of Jesus more than all of the other Apostles. After Jesus departs the scene in the book's dialogue, Mary steps into his place to comfort and encourage the others demonstrating that she is the most outstanding Disciple of all.
King takes a fleeting look at other newly-discovered manuscripts of Christian origins, giving the reader a kaleidoscope view of how much the early Christian communities had different theologies, all of which stemmed from the life the teachings of the Historical Jesus.
Karen King is an excellent scholar and I highly recommend her book, The Gospel of Mary (of Magdala). It is an education.
William M. Linden
Houston, Texas
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Format: Paperback
Karen L. King is a Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Harvard University Divinity School. In "The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle," she turns her attention to deciphering the importance of this early piece of Christian literature. The Gospel of Mary was written early in the second century A.D. but then "disappeared for over fifteen hundred years until a single, fragmentary copy . . . came to light in the late nineteenth century." Additional fragments were discovered in 1917 and 1983. The first six pages and an additional four pages from the middle of the gospel are missing. The few pages that have been found provide a very different picture of early Christianity than that which has come down to us through the established canon. King's purpose in publishing this work is not to undermine the tradition of scripture, but rather to provide a better understanding of the forces at work that helped shape early Christianity.

The entire gospel takes place after the resurrection of Jesus. He has appeared to the disciples one last time, instructing them regarding the nature of sin. Jesus tells them that sin comes from people not recognizing their true spiritual nature and instead focusing on the things of this world. After this final teaching, he directs them to go out and preach his word, and then he departs. The disciples are left, but instead of rushing out to preach, they fear for their lives. Mary Magdalene is the only one who remains steadfast and she seeks to comfort the others. Peter asks her to share any of Jesus' teaching that she alone might possess. Mary relates a vision that she had in which Jesus described the soul's departure from this world and the powers that would attempt to stop it from ascending to its final resting place.
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