Subordinate Woman or Favored Leader: Portrayals of Mary Magdalene in Christian Canonical & Non-Canonical Gospels






Subordinate Woman or Favored Leader: Portrayals of Mary Magdalene in Christian Canonical & Non-Canonical Gospels

Miller, William S.

Constructing the Past: Vol. 10: Iss. 1, Article 9 (2009)

Abstract

By comparing these Christian texts, both canonical and non-canonical, I will examine similarities and differences between the texts with regard to Mary Magdalene and interpret her textual representations. While comparing these criteria, I will simultaneously show that the two general representations symbolize a disagreement between two major sects in early Christianity on the roles of women in religion.



Across the scope of ancient Christian literature, few women are as enigmatic as Mary Magdalene. Mentioned in a handful of instances in the New Testament Gospels, Mary Magdalene plays a prominent role in many extra-canonical texts. However, these ancient texts portray her in drastically different manners. In the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, Mary Magdalene is a key figure at the crucifixion, burial, and ascension of Jesus Christ. In addition to her portrayal as an important figure at the Passion of the Christ in all of the texts, she is also depicted as merely a female, and therefore, a subordinate figure in the hierarchy of society. Alternatively, many extra-canonical texts have Mary Magdalene filling significantly greater roles. Specifically, the Gospels of Thomas, Philip, and Mary expand her character into an understanding spiritual pupil, teacher, and a leading disciple. By comparing these Christian texts, both canonical and non-canonical, I will examine similarities and differences between the texts with regard to Mary Magdalene and interpret her textual representations. While comparing these criteria, I will simultaneously show that the two general representations symbolize a disagreement between two major sects in early Christianity on the roles of women in religion.

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