Archaeological findings of the past century have led many to revise and rewrite history. From the Dead Sea Scrolls of Qumran to the scribal texts of Mesopotamia; we have been confronted by new evidence that has led to many scholarly debates regarding the worldview that we inherited based on the history we were taught.

The earliest known written dialogue between Jesus and Mary Magdalene is the Dialogue of the Saviour: a fragmentary Gnostic text discovered in the Nag Hammadi library in 1945. These ancient leather-covered codices containing over fifty texts were accidentally discovered in an earthenware jar by a group of farmers in upper Egypt.

The Dialogue of the Saviour consists of a conversation between Jesus, Mary and Thomas the Apostle and Matthew the Apostle. While many fragments of the text are missing, the text teaches that the physical body and the material world are prisons for the soul. Enlightenment can be reached by following a difficult path of renunciation of the fleshly passions.

The text, however, is not misogynistic. It presents Mary Magdalene as the disciple who best understands Jesus’ teachings. Its negative view of “fleshly passions” stems from the idea that sex and procreation must be avoided in order to escape the life-and-death cycle and finally enter the bliss of the “Eternal Existent.”

Salvation lay in attaining gnosis: the esoteric knowledge kept secret to all but the initiated. Some Gnostics practiced an ascetic discipline, as appears to be the case in the teachings of the Dialogue of the Saviour.

Mary Magdalene and The Resurrection

When Mary Magdalene went to visit Jesus’ tomb on the third day after his crucifixion, she was following an ancient Jewish tradition.

At the time, the custom was for relatives of the deceased to visit the tomb during the first three days. The reasoning was simple. It was to make sure that the body was actually dead. Mistakes were sometimes made and it was not unheard of to accidentally bury someone who was still alive.

According to the Gospels of both Mark and Luke, Mary Magdalene had been there to anoint Jesus’ body. As the burial had been rushed, there had not been sufficient time to wash and anoint Jesus’ body on the first day. Furthermore, the day after had been the Sabbath, when no work could be done.

In all four canonical gospels, Mary Magdalene is at the tomb. In Mark, she is there with two others; in Matthew she is there with ‘the other Mary’; and in Luke she is there with a few other people. Only the Gospel of John says that she is there alone. Despite the differences in the telling, the common thread that ties them together is that Mary Magdalene was there.

This has led scholars to conclude that it was an incident that was well known to Jesus’ followers and to early Christians. Mary Magdalene was central to the story of Jesus’ resurrection. Although the truth of the story has either been obscured or lost, the importance of Mary Magdalene’s relationship with Jesus can neither be downplayed nor diminished.

The anointing of a body was something that no woman was allowed to do unless she was a very close relative. Was Mary Magdalene Jesus’ wife? That is the conclusion that many scholars have reached. After all, it was Mary Magdalene who carried out the tradition practised by the relatives of the deceased–of going to the tomb to anoint the body.

Jesus had a mother, sister and other relatives. Yet, it was Mary Magdalene who went to the tomb on the third day.

It is she who said that he had risen.

Artwork by Piero di Cosimo

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