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NYTimes.com Article: Op-Ed Columnist: Peter, Paul, Mary . . . and God

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  • franksmith@vdolores.com.ar
    This article from NYTimes.com has been sent to you by franksmith@vdolores.com.ar. Comments later, Frank franksmith@vdolores.com.ar /--------------------
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 28, 2004
      This article from NYTimes.com
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      Op-Ed Columnist: Peter, Paul, Mary . . . and God

      February 28, 2004

      For a provocative look at the emergence of Christianity two
      millenniums ago, skip Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ"
      and examine instead some of the fascinating recent
      scholarship on the early church.

      Interest in the early church has blossomed because of
      "Passion" and the "Da Vinci Code" thriller. But "Passion"
      and especially "The Da Vinci Code" take great liberties
      with history, while serious research has gotten much less

      Consider the newly published "Gospel of Mary of Magdala."
      It offers a new translation by Karen King, a Harvard
      Divinity School professor, of the obscure Gospel of Mary,
      which was lost for 1,500 years before two fragmentary
      versions were found.

      The Gospel of Mary offers a proto-feminist recounting of a
      scene in which the resurrected Jesus tells the disciples to
      preach, and then leaves them. The disciples are emotional
      and tearful - until Mary Magdalene takes charge and bucks
      them up.

      "Do not weep and be distressed," she tells them, and, sure
      enough, they pull themselves together. Then Mary begins to
      relate Jesus' private teachings to her, saying, "I will
      teach you about what is hidden from you."

      But the disciples rebel at being instructed by a woman.
      Andrew and Peter virtually accuse Mary of making it all up,
      and she starts crying. Levi intercedes, scolding: "Peter,
      you have always been a wrathful person. . . . Assuredly,
      the Savior's knowledge of her is completely reliable. That
      is why he loved her more than us."

      Bibles, like history, are written by the winners. There
      were innumerable early gospels and teachings (some 85
      percent of Christian literature from the first two
      centuries has been lost). Some won approval and entered the
      New Testament, and the rest were condemned as heresies or
      died out on their own. The Gnostic Gospels and other early
      writings suggest that initially the role of women was hotly
      debated, but ultimately the idea prevailed that men should

      "God's pattern is for men to be the leaders, both in the
      church and in the family," Pat Robertson writes in his
      best-selling book "Bring It On." He cites I Timothy: "Women
      should listen and learn quietly and submissively. I do not
      let women teach men or have authority over them."

      Likewise, Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "Women should be
      silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for
      them to speak."

      That view is hard to square, though, with other accounts
      that portray Mary Magdalene as a favorite of Jesus'. The
      "Pistis Sophia" scripture quotes Jesus as telling Mary
      Magdalene: "You are she whose heart is more directed to the
      Kingdom of Heaven than all your brothers."

      And the Gospel of Philip says of Mary Magdalene: "She is
      the one the Savior loved more than all the disciples, and
      he used to kiss her on her mouth often. . . . The rest of
      the disciples . . . said to him, `Why do you love her more
      than us?' "

      These gospels aren't necessarily suggesting a romance
      between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and in any case their
      value is much debated - traditionalists argue that they are
      prized to make ideological points rather than to clarify
      history. The Gospel of Mary was written in her name but not
      by her, and apparently was written in the early second
      century, long after the events it describes.

      Still, the dispute over the role of women can be seen
      raging in many early Christian writings. The Gospel of
      Thomas even quotes Simon Peter as saying, "Let Mary leave
      us, for women are not worthy of life."

      Susan Haskins, in her history of the idea of Mary
      Magdalene, says that egalitarian principles in the New
      Testament initially prevailed in the first-century
      Christian community. But then, she writes, Christianity
      gradually returned to the traditional patriarchal system of

      That suppression of female leadership may be behind the
      labeling of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute, starting with a
      sermon by Pope Gregory the Great in 591. And recent
      scholarship has established that Junius, whom Paul calls
      "distinguished among the apostles," was actually Junia, a
      woman whose name was made masculine by later translators.

      How should we regard these alternative versions of Biblical
      events? They are a reminder that there were competing
      strains in the early Christian church, and that different
      outcomes were possible. My guess is that the ordination of
      women would not have been controversial if Mary Magdalene,
      rather than St. Peter, had emerged as the first pope.��



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