Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Mary of Magdala

The Roman Catholic Church has chosen July 22 as the day to remember Mary of Magdala and to celebrate her life. Through all of Christian history Mary Magdalene has been a source of curiosity and controversy. In the film The Gospel Road, Johnny Cash walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee and said,

I bet Mary Magdalen walked this same beach right here that I’m walking. I wonder what Mary Magdalen really looked like. The scriptures don’t tell a lot about her. But what little is told has made her the subject of more speculation and controversy than any woman I ever heard of. Jesus was to suffer much criticism for his association with people of questionable character. “He dines with publicans and sinners,” they said. And to that Jesus replied, “It’s the sick that need a physician, not the healthy.” And this woman needed him.

Recently The Da Vinci Code has created a phenomenon of people wondering who the real Mary Magdalene really was and many people are seeking inspiration from her. It is clear that Mary Magdalene did play an important role in the early church and so curiosity and interest in her and her contributions is a positive development. I have written on Mary Magdalene in my book Mary of Magdala: Magdalene, the Aramaic Prophetess of Christianity and also in my book Treasures of the Language of Jesus: The Aramaic Source of Christ’s Teachings.
Even the most conservative Bible scholars agree that the stories in the Gospel began in an oral form and were passed down orally for decades before they were written down. It is clear that Jesus and the Apostles spoke Aramaic. The name Mary of Magdala is Aramaic. Magdala is Aramaic for “Tower.” Mary of Magdala is also quoted speaking in Aramaic when she calls Jesus “Rabboni.” In Mary of Magdala: What the Da Vinci Code Misses, Mary R. Thompson notes, “The word Rabbouni is Aramaic and is certainly meant to be a term of some intensity, even endearment, “my teacher.”” (In his book Rabboni: The Story of Jesus W. Phillip Keller says, “This was the loftiest adulation she could confer upon him.” In Aramaic “Rabboni” means “Rabbi, Master, Teacher and Lord.”) Saint Jerome also used the Aramaic language to understand who Mary of Magdala was and why she was important. In Aramaic Magdala means “tower”, “fortress, or “watch-tower”. St. Jerome, who was fluent in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, commented on Mary from an Aramaic perspective,

Those unbelievers who read me may perhaps smile to find me lingering over the praises of weak woman. But if they recall how holy women attended our Lord and Savior and ministered to him of their own substance, and how the three Marys stood before the cross, and particularly how Mary of Magdala, called “of the tower” because of her earnestness and ardent faith, was privileged to see the risen Christ even before the apostles, they will convict themselves of pride rather than me of folly, who judge virtue not by the sex but by the mind.

It is seen from the Gospel accounts that Mary Magdalene was very important in her involvement in the public ministry of Jesus and especially in the story of the Resurrection. Luke mentions how Mary followed and served Jesus as an apostle in Luke 8:1-2;

And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, and certain women, which had been healed of evil sprits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance.

We learn important things about Mary of Magdala from this passage. Mary of Magdala had seven demons cast out of her and that she supported Jesus’ ministry. Often physical ailments were considered of demonic origin, so it is possible that the demon caste out of her was a “spirit of infirmity.” But with the language of having seven demons it seems she was a demoniac and as such was at times beside herself. “Seven” is a Semitic or Aramaic idiom that means complete or total. Mary of Magdala was completely demonized. Whatever her ailment was, she was completely healed by Jesus and became his most devoted follower. Mary was a Galilean. Matthew mentions Jesus going through the city of Magdala. In Matthew 15:39 it says, “ And He sent away the multitude, and took ship, and came to the coasts of Magdala. ”During this time, he probably picked up Mary as a disciple. This happened near the time when Jesus fed the multitudes with a few pieces of bread and small portions of fish. During the last week of Christ’s earthly ministry, Mary of Magdala accompanied Jesus in order to observe with him the feast of the Passover (called Pascha in Aramaic) in Jerusalem. When Jesus was arrested and all the disciples fled, Mary of Magdala stayed with him. She was with him until the end. Again Matthew says, “And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children” (Matthew 27:55-56). Note that Mary of Magdala ministered unto Jesus. The implication is that Mary was a woman of wealth who gave financial support to Jesus and his ministry. She probably also served by seeing to the daily needs such as for food and clean clothing. Mary also saw to it that Jesus was properly buried and she came to perform the proper rites and to anoint his body when she returned to his tomb on the third day. John’s Gospel has the longest narrative about what happened on that day. This account surely came directly from Mary Magdalene herself.

The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, while it was yet dark, unto the sepulcher, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulcher. Then she runneth and cometh unto Simon Peter, and to the other disciples, who Jesus, loved, and saith unto them, They have taken the Lord out of the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came unto the sepulcher. So they ran both together; and the other disciple did outrun Peter and came first to the sepulcher. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying: yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him. And went into the sepulcher, and seeth the linen clothes lie. And the napkin that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulcher, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again unto their own home. But Mary stood without at the sepulcher weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulcher. And seeth two angels in white standing, the one at the head , and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they said unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them. Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, said unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast lain him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and said unto him, Rabboni: which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her. Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brethren, and say to them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father; and to my God, and your God. Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her (John 20:1-18).

Part of the reason that Mary of Magdala and her role in the ministry, passion and resurrection of Jesus is found in all four gospels is because she played a central role in the formation of Christianity in history. Also, this role was reflected in the oral tradition that preceded the writing of the four gospels. It is possible that accurate information of Mary of Magdala is found in the Coptic Gospel of Peter. This gospel was written in the early 100s A.D., and contains non-historical anti-Semitic embellishments. However, it may contain accurate historical information about Mary of Magdala. The Gospel of Peter is included in Bart Ehrman’s Lost Scriptures. This is the sequence concerning Mary of Magdala found in that gospel.

Now Mary Magdalene, a disciple of the Lord, had been afraid of the Jews, since they were inflamed with anger; and so she had not done at the Lord’s crypt the things that women customarily do for loved ones who die. But early in the mourning of the Lord’s Day she took some of her women friends with her and came to the crypt where he had been buried. And they were afraid that the Jews might see them, and they said, “Even though we were not able to weep and beat our breasts on the day he was crucified, we should do these things now at his crypt. But who will roll way the stone placed before the entrance of the crypt, that we can go in, sit beside him, and do what we should? For there was a large stone, and we are afraid someone may see us. If we cannot move it, we should at least cast down the things we have brought at the entrance as a memorial to him; and we will weep and beat our breasts until we return home.” When they arrived they found the tomb opened. And when they came up to it they stooped down to look in, and they saw a beautiful young man dressed in a very bright garment. He said to them, “Why have you come? Whom are you seeking? Not the one who was crucified? He has risen and left. But if you do not believe it, stoop down to look, and see the place where he was laid, that he is not there. For he has risen and left for the place from which he was sent.” Then the women fled out of fear.

After the resurrection Mary of Magdala continued to play a pivotal role in the early church. It is mentioned in the Book of Acts that in the early days and on the day of Pentecost, “These all continued in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brethren.”( Acts 1:14). The “women” mentioned here clearly includes Mary of Magdala. We know this because whenever the female disciples of Jesus are listed Mary of Magdala comes first, except for one verse in John where the mother of Jesus takes priority over Mary Magdalene. Many books have been written that suggest that there was friction and animosity between Simon Peter and Mary of Magdala. However, when Mary of Magdala was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied on the day of Pentecost, Peter did not try to silence her. Instead he defended her actions by appealing to Old Testament scripture (Acts 2:14-17, Joel 2:28-32). Women behaving in such a manner at that time and in that culture would have been considered behaving in a outrageous and undignified manner. It is obvious from the context that Mary Magdalene was present and that she prophesied. The scripture specifically states all the believers were gathered, men and women, and that the Holy Spirit came upon them all. To clear away all doubt Peter refers to both men and women prophesying. Peter also often taught that “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11, Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 3:25, James 2:1,9, 1 Peter 1:17). As Paul clearly teaches in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It is possible that Paul himself worked with Mary of Magdala in the Gospel ministry. In Romans 16:6 Paul states, “Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us.” This Mary mentioned here is most likely Mary of Magdala, but we cannot be for certain. However, in the following verse a woman, Junia the Apostle, is also greeted by Paul. He says that Junia is “of note among the apostles,” perhaps meaning that she is a noteworthy apostle of Jesus. Paul’s name was Saul Paulus of Tarsus. His given Aramaic name was Saul, but his Roman name was Paul. Junia is believed to be the Roman form of the Aramaic name Joanna. Richard Bauchham in Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels argues that the Junia mentioned by Paul here is the same Joanna who was the disciple of Jesus and associate of Mary Magdalene. Christian tradition states that Mary of Magdala traveled to Rome as a missionary preaching the Gospel. Perhaps this verse supports the truth of this story and maybe we see here Mary of Magdala (mentioned first as usual) and Joanna continuing in their gospel ministry together.

The City of Magdala
Magdala was an important city along the coast of the Sea of Galilee. An important mosaic dated to the first century was discovered in Magdala. It depicted the type of boat that Jesus, Peter and the other disciples would have used on the Sea of Galilee. In 1986 there was a drought in Israel and the shore of the Sea of Galilee at the town of Magdala receded and a boat from the time of Christ was revealed. It is the exact same type of boat that was used by the apostles. It was discovered at Magdala and was preserved and is now on display in a museum. It is called the Jesus Boat or the Galilee Boat. In Aramaic Magdala was called Magdala Nunayya, which means “Fish Tower.” Magdala was an important agricultural, fishing, boat-building and trade center at the junction of the road coming north from Tiberias and the Via Maris coming from lower Galilee into the fertile plain of Gennesaret. It is between Tiberias and Capernaum. The city of Magdala is one the coast of the Sea of Galilee near the towering base of Mount Arbel. The town was a center for processing fish, which was sold in the markets of Jerusalem and exported as far as Rome. The boy who gave his food to Jesus in the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 had fishes that must have been either preserved by being salted or smoked (John 6:8-9). It is possible that these fish were processed at Magdala. Magdala was also renowned as a center for flax weaving and dyeing, and the robes worn by Jesus at the time of his crucifixion are said to have been made there. (In contrast with Magdala, Nazareth was a very small place, about 60 acres with a maximum population of less than five hundred at the time of Christ. Jesus was born into a poor family and never had wealth. While Jesus was from a rural area, Mary of Magdala was from a city.) In Greek Magdala was called Tarichae, place of salted fish. Josephus mentions Magdala often calling it “Tarichae.” He mentions its destruction during the Jewish War of AD 67-73. At this battle many people attempted to flee the city by boat. There was a terrible navel battle and the sea of Galilee turned red with blood and was filled with human corpses.

Women in the Early Church

Centuries before Constantine, Pliny the Younger was governor of Pontus/Bithynia from 111-113 AD. He seems to have been mildly annoyed by the imperial order to persecute Christians and seems confused on how to implement the order. He wrote a letter to Trajan, the Roman Emperor regarding the situation. He states that after questioning Christians, that he discovered,
The sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food--but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.
It is interesting that when Pliny decided to round up Christian leadership for questioning, that it was women whom he had arrested. The Gospels mention many women in important leadership positions in the early church. . In Acts 9:36 the disciple and minister Tabitha, Gazelle, whose name is Aramaic for Gazelle, is mentioned. She is resurrected from the dead by Peter. In Acts 21:9 it is mentioned that Phillip the Evangelist’s four daughters are prophetesses. Romans 16:1 states that Phoebe is the minister of the church at Cenchrea. Romans 16:3 we see that Priscilla (Prisca) is a fellow-worker with Paul. See also Acts 18:24-26. Priscilla is often mentioned before her husband Aquila. Priscilla took the preacher Apollos, an important early evangelists, and instructed him on the doctrine of Jesus. In Romans 16:7 Junia the Apostle is a woman “outstanding among the apostles.” Women leaders of house churches in the New Testament are Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:11), Mary the mother of John Mark the Evangelist (Acts 12:12), Lydia (Acts 16:14), Nympha (Col 4:15) and Apphia (Philemon 2). (The house of St. Mark, according to ancient tradition, was where the Last Supper was held. Its traditional location is now an important sanctuary for the Aramaic Syrian Orthodox Church. Mary, the Mother of John Mark, was the lady of the house and hosted Jesus.) Euodia and Syntyche are mentioned as co-workers who were active evangelists (Philippians 4:2). 1 Timothy 3:11 in the Greek refers to a deaconess. (Eastern Christians have an old tradition of allowing women to serve as deacons. The deaconate is an office of the church. A deacon serves the church, mostly with administration duties. However, two of the first deacons, Stephen and Phillip, were preachers as well. In Aramaic the word for deacon is “shamasha,” and means “servant.” In Aramaic churches the shamasha assists in the worship services.) Paul says that Timothy’s mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois, had a godly influence on him (2 Timothy 1:5). John the Revelator saw of vision of a woman, who was symbolic of the Nation of Israel and of the Mother of Jesus, in his Apocalypse (Revelations 12:1-6). In the Aramaic tradition Tekla, the disciple of Saint Paul is highly venerated. The ancient Aramaic village of Maloula outside of Damascus is devoted to Saint Tekla, who is believed to have visited there.

Mary of Magdala in the Aramaic Tradition

There has been a lot of confusion about who Mary of Magdalene is. Part of the reason is that Mary was such a common name in the Holy Land in the first century. (The accurate form of the name is Miriam. Miriam is the name of the famous prophetess and sister of Moses and Aaron. The name means “bitter.”) Mary is often confused with Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. This is very unlikely because Mary is clearly identified as being a Galilean and came from the city along the coast of the Sea of Galilee called Magdala. Mary of Bethany was from an entirely different region in Palestine, the land called Judea. She was from the town of Bethany, which is very close to the holy city of Jerusalem. While it may be possible, there is no evidence that the un-named repentant “woman of sin” who anointed the feet of Jesus, is Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:36-50). Neither is there any reason to believe that the woman taken in the very act of adultery was Mary Magdalene. This famous passage of scripture is found in John 7:53-8:11, and is the occasion in which Jesus said, “let he who is among you who has never sinned throw the first stone.” Pope Gregory popularized a confusion of Mary of Magdala with Mary of Bethany and this error is still very widespread. Mary is mentioned in three important Aramaic traditions, and it seems that in all three Mary of Magdala was confused with Mary the mother of Jesus. In the Jewish Talmud, Mary of Magdala and Mary the Mother of Jesus are the same person. In the Talmud Magdalene is related to the Aramaic word “megaddlella,” which means ‘hair-dresser” or “beautician” and is used as a euphemism for “prostitute.” The old Jewish tradition incorrectly identifies Mary the Mother of Jesus with Mary of Magdala and calls her a prostitute. Also in the Talmuds, the city of Magdala is portrayed as a city of sin and depravity that was destroyed by the wrath of almighty God through the agency of the Roman army. While the Bible clearly shows that the mother of Jesus and Mary of Magdala are separate people certain individuals in the early Aramaic tradition confused them. (They are both mentioned as being together standing with Jesus as he was being crucified in John 19: 25.) Amy Welborn in De-coding Mary Magdalene mentions (quoting Stephen Shoemaker), “in early Christian Syria, where it seems most likely that the Gnostic Mary traditions first developed, it was believed that Christ first appeared to his mother, Mary of Nazareth, commissioning her with a revelation to deliver to his followers” (page 40). Syria is sometimes a synonym for ‘Aram’ or Aramaic speaking regions. Christian Syria often refers to Christians of the Syriac Aramaic Christian heritage. Welborn also quotes the famous Ephraim the Syrian, who is highly honored in both of the main Aramaic Christians traditions, Syrian Orthodox and Church of the East. The Roman Catholics consider Ephraim one of the great “Doctors of the Church.” Welborn says, “A fourth-century Eastern poet named Ephrem used this image [that of Mary as “Apostle to the Apostles”], although, confusingly to us, he conflates Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the following (as we saw…this was a characteristic of Syrian Christianity in this period):

At the beginning of his coming to earth
A virgin was first to receive him,
And at his raising up from the grave
To a woman he showed his resurrection.
In his beginning and in his fulfillment
The name of this mother cries out and is present.
Mary received him by conception
And saw an angel at his grave.”

(In this reference on page 48,Welborn quotes from Susan Haskins book Mary Magdalene: Myth and Metaphor.) So we see Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus were “conflated” in the Aramaic Jewish and Aramaic Christian traditions. It is possible that Magdalene and Mary of Nazareth were also confused with each other in the ancient Aramaic Baptist tradition.
In southern Iraq and in Iran there is a group of Aramaic people called the Mandaeans. They are also called Sabaeans and are mentioned in the Koran. They are an Aramaic Baptist sect and venerate John the Baptist. They are not Christians, but they have vestiges of an ancient form of Jewish Christianity in their beliefs, practice and their writings. Their theology is Gnostic. Vestiges of their Christianity can be seen in that they worship on Sunday, as early Christians did (1 Corinthians 16:1). According to the earliest historical sources, while Christian Jews did observe the Sabbath day, even the most radical sects of Jewish Christians met together for worship services on Sundays. The Mandaeans also venerate a cross-like object. They call their priests the Nazoreans. In ancient times Christian Jews were called the Nazoreans. Also, they practice baptism by immersion and the laying on of hands (see Hebrews 6:2 and 2 Timothy 1:6). They also venerate Adam, Abel, Seth, Noah, Shem, John the Baptist, Mary and Elizabeth, James the Just, who was the brother of Jesus, and someone named Benjamin. This Benjamin was probably also of the family of Jesus. According to Eusebius, one of the earliest Jewish bishops of Jerusalem was named Benjamin. Often, among the Mandaeans, Jesus is viewed as a false prophet. This isn’t universally true, but now it is the official treating. Mandaeans currently have a good relationship with Christians and with the Roman Catholic Church. In 1990 a delegation of Mandaean priests was received by the Vatican, with whom they currently enjoy cordial relations. There are currently around 50,000 Mandaeans. (There are perhaps over a million Aramaic Christians.) While there are many unorthodox beliefs that are held by the Mandaeans, they also observe fossilized customs that originated from the earliest Christian Jews. The Mandaeans teach that due to persecution by the Jews of their forefathers, they were forced to migrate from the Holy Land and to re-settle in the region of Babylon. This seems to have happened in the first century near the time the Temple was destroyed (70 A.D.).
It is possible that the Mandaean Book of Saint John the Baptist contains oral traditions of Mary of Magdala that was later written down and included in this book which is written in the Aramaic language. The Mandaeans didn’t write many of their sacred scriptures until after the rise of Islam. In the Talmud, the Rabbis often confused Mary the Mother of Jesus with Mary of Magdala. So in the Talmud, both Marys were merged and were incorrectly thought of as being the same person. The same thing seems to have happened in the Mandaean tradition. The Mandaean veneration of either Mary, and of James the Just, shows that they were believers in Jesus at one time in their remote past. (Probably what happened was that groups of the followers of John the Baptist migrated to Iraq. There they mingled with other groups, including Gnostics. Followers of John the Baptist recognized Jesus as John had. When Christianity became dominant, the elders of the Baptists wanted to maintain their traditions and felt threatened by the emerging church and didn’t want to be absorbed into it. They wanted to maintain their distinctive traditions and identity. Certain Baptist elders then revised their beliefs and rejected Jesus. The Baptist sect that has survived is Gnostic. As there were “Christian” Gnostic sects, there were also Baptist Gnostic sects. In ancient times there were probably Baptists sects that were not Gnostic. While they have not survived many of their practices have in the Mandaean religion.) Ancient Christians developed an elaborate story of the childhood of Mary the Mother of Jesus. She was believed to have served in the temple as a child until she reached puberty. These legends are found in books such as The Proto-evangelion of Saint James the Just. In Mandaean literature Mary is called Miriai. In the Mandaean tradition, Miriai like Mary the mother of Jesus, served in the Jewish temple as a child. I believe that the other Mandaean stories about Miriai refer to Mary of Magdala rather than Mary the Mother of Jesus. In the Aramaic Book of St. John the Baptist, Miriai is called the daughter of the kings of Babylon and of the powerful kings of Jerusalem. As a child she serves in the temple of Adonai, the God of Israel. Later she entered into the “Temple of Knowledge’ and accepted the new faith. Her father (called “Lazar” or Eliezar in the tradition) castigates here for this conversion and accuses her of being a prostitute. She proclaims her innocence. (Note that Eliezar is called Lazar, which is the same Galilean Aramaic form Jesus used for his friend Lazarus.) Miriai is condemned as one who has abandoned Judaism and has gone to “love her lord.” “Her lord” is the man who introduced her to her new found faith. Following this story Miriai has flees her persecutors and has gone to Mesopotamia. Here Miriai is presented as the True Vine, “the tree that stands near the mouth of the Euphrates. The leaves of this tree are diamonds. Her fruit are pearls. The leaf of the vine is splendor and its tendrils are precious light. Its perfume has extended to all the trees and has gone out to all the worlds.” Among her branches many find shelter. Mary as the vine is a founding mother who provides sacred food and drink to the community. Her father, Lazar, and her mother and a delegation of priests from Jerusalem have come to apprehend her. Lazar is a Cohen, a priest of the temple. They are pursuing Miriai because she “fled from the priests, loved a man, and they held hands.” This man they accuse of being with Miriai is accused of the crime of breaking down the dovecotes of Jerusalem. For this crime of this man, whom they call a “stranger” or “alien man,” they have “prepared a pole.” This is a reference to the cross of crucifixion. When this delegation of priests finally find Mary they discover that she is now a priestess! This is the only Mandaean writing featuring a priestess. Miriai wears the white robes of a priest, she carries a priestly staff and sits reading scriptures from upon a throne. (Note that is was very unusual for a woman to be literate in ancient times.) Her mother condemns her mentioning that as a child the Torah was upon her lap but now she reads from a different Aramaic sacred text. The Jews are enraged to see Mariai reading these sacred texts. As she speaks, the worlds shake. As she prays and preaches even the fish and birds listen and a fragrant aroma envelopes her disciples that are attentively listening to her. She rebukes her accusers saying, “I am not a woman who has left through wantonness, and it is not that I have loved a man. I did not go away to come back and see you again, you, the vault of error. Go away! Go away from me, you who have testified false witness and lies against me. You have testified against me wantonness and theft and have presented me as you yourselves are. May the man who has freed me from my chains and has planted my feet here be blessed. I have committed no wanton act with him and no theft have I performed in the world. Instead of the testimony that you have borne against me, prayer and praise be showered on me.” After this the wrath of God brings about the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem for the persecution of Mariai and other disciples such as Jacob, who is James the Just.
This Miriai is clearly identified as being a Jewish woman in The Book of John the Baptist. In this Aramaic book Miriai is called the True Vine and the Treasure of Life, Simat Hiia in Aramaic. She is the daughter of kings and is raised in the Holy Temple where she was a minister of the Temple. She begins to wear the white garments of a Mandaean and is a female priest. She is pursued by her persecutors to the mouth of the Euphrates. She overcomes them and is depicted as a founding mother who gives spiritual nourishment to her community. She is called the perfect one and the pious believer. I believe that the story of Miriai is the legend of Mary of Magdala as remembered by the Mandaeans. Here is where we find of the life of Mary of Magdala. Mary/Miriai is born to a noble house of wealth and influence. She joins with a new temple of knowledge, which is the Kingdom community of Jesus. Jesus is this unnamed “seducer.” (It must also be noted that Miriai does not deny a relationship with this man but she does adamantly deny that their relationship was a sexual one. If my interpretation is correct here we have an ancient Aramaic text in which we have Mary Magdalene affirming a relationship with Jesus but denying it was sexual.) I believe that it is interesting that they want to crucify the man they perceive as Mary’s lover because he broke their “dove coats” and took their doves. I believe that one of the primary reasons that the chief priests decided to have Jesus crucified was the incident of the cleansing of the temple. Jesus forcibly cleared out a courtyard in the Lord’s Temple that the chief priests had transformed into a market place in which they were selling animals for sacrifice, including doves! Let us look at the scriptures. In Mark it says, “and Jesus went into the temple, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold doves” (Mark 11:15). In John’s gospel, special attention is brought to the dove sellers again. John states, “And [Jesus] found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and moneychangers doing their business. When he made a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And he said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make my Father’s house a house of merchandise!” (John 2: 14-15). Note that Christ’s actions and his words were directed against the dove sellers. Apparently, after the crucifixion, Mary went to Babylonia and Mesopotamia to preach the message of Jesus to the Aramaic peoples there, the Assyrians, the Chaldeans and the Babylonians. There was a large Jewish community in Babylonia. Much of the standard Jewish texts still used today, the Massoretic text of the Old Testament, the Talmud and certain Targumim, originated from the Jewish community of Babylon. As the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem sent a delegation to question John the Baptist (John 1:19-28) and sent Paul out to apprehend believers in Yeshua (Jesus) even to the city of Damascus (Acts 8:1-3, 9:1-30), it is likely that they sent a delegation to investigate the actions of Mary of Magdala when she was preaching in the Aramaic east. All Jewish communities were seen as being under the authority of the high priest in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was seen as having jurisdiction over all Jewish communities in the world. There was a large and important Jewish community in Babylon that maintained a relationship with the authorities in Jerusalem. It is likely, as these Mandaean texts indicate, that they intended to apprehend Mary of Magdala and perhaps to have her executed as they did Jesus of Nazareth and his servant James the Son of Thunder. The Mandaen texts seem to indicate that these events happened near the time of the martyrdom of James the Just, who was murdered by the high priests in 62 A.D. According to Mandaean tradition and the tradition of the early Christian Jews (no, they didn’t consider that an oxymoron at the time) the Temple was destroyed because God was angry at the Jews for persecuting and killing James the Just. Josephus mentions that others disciples, who are unnamed, were killed along with James. It is possible that the Jews captured Mary of Magdala in Babylonia and brought her in chains back to Jerusalem to face trial and execution with James the Just. It must be noted that the High Priest who had James the Lord’s Brother and others put to death outraged most of the Jewish people by these actions. There was a popular uprising at this and the people demanded that this High Priest, Ananius, be deposed for his crime in killing James and the others and he was. While most Jews did not accept Jesus as Messiah, the majority viewed James and the Nazoreans as devout worshipers of God and as fellow Jews. I believe that these Aramaic traditions of Miriai are stories that were passed down about Mary of Magdala and her missionary journeys to the east. (For more information on the Mandaeans see E.S. Drower The Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran (Oxford 1937), Edmondo Lupieri The Mandaeans: The Last Gnostics (William B. Eerhman’s Publishing Company 2002) and Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley The Mandaeans: Ancient Texts and Modern People (Oxford University Press, 2002).)
In the Aramaic tradition, women had a greater role in the church that was later developed in traditions of the west. Many people are using Gnostic texts to champion a new feminine spirituality. In reality, many of these Gnostic texts are misogynist. While in certain Gnostic groups the female was seen as debased and inferior to the male, in ancient Aramaic Christian tradition women were honored. The female deaconate was a very significant feature of the church within Eastern and Aramaic Christianity. Western Europe did not have deaconesses until around the fifth century and then only begrudgedly. Latin sources are punctuated by prohibitions against the ordination of deaconesses. The early Syriac Aramaic Didascalia Apostolorum, which is called “The Apostolic Constitutions” or “The Teachings of the Apostles” was written around 225-250. Samuel Hugh Moffett in A History of Christianity in Asia: Volume I: Beginnings to 1500 describes it as “the oldest manual of church order extant, written...by a bishop living between Edessa and Antioch who was perhaps Jewish…” (This book by Moffett is the best history of Aramaic Christianity currently available.) The Didaskalia outlines certain activities of deaconesses. They assisted the bishop in the baptism of women and in the anointing with oil. They assisted women who were in need, sick or afflicted. They served as intermediaries between women and the male clergy. They insured that women in the church behaved with respect and propriety, especially towards elderly women. They insured the chastity and godly living of young women in the church. They bore messages and traveled about on church business. They gave instructions to new converts learning the fundamentals of the faith. Particularly with in Aramaic Christianity, deaconesses administered the Lord’s Supper, to women who were sick, to nuns, to younger children and to other deaconesses when the pastor was unavailable. In ancient Aramaic Christianity women had a greater role in the ministry of the Church that is intolerable in the tradition of the Westernized Roman Catholic Church. Since Jesus was a Middle Easterner and a speaker of Aramaic, he belonged to the same culture as the Aramaic people, since he was one of them. In Europe Christianity had to go through many different cultural and linguistic barriers before it reached the common person. Before Christianity reached Roman culture it went from Aramaic, to Greek and then finally into Latin. The common Roman worshiped the God’s of Olympus or belonged to a mystery religion. The culture of the Romans and the Greeks was vastly different from the Semitic cultures of the Near East. The Aramaic people received Christianity directly from the Apostles and they received the Gospel in its original Aramaic language and in its original cultural context. The Aramaic Church, not Rome, is the mother church. The Aramaic tradition more accurately reflects the original practice of the Messiah and his apostles than does the Westernized Roman Catholic Church. The one true church founded by Jesus Christ is the Aramaic Church. The Aramaic church is of the east, the land in which Jesus lived, not of Rome. Jesus was Aramaic. He was not a Roman and he never went to Rome, nor did he found the church of Rome. Jesus founded the Aramaic Church of the Middle East. This is the church of his land and culture. (In the Bible women are described as ministering unto Jesus. In the Greek version of the Bible the Greek verb diadoneo, which mean to minister and to serve, is used. This is the word from which the English word “deacon” is derived, and it is used to describe what the women did in addition to following Jesus. Tertullian of Carthage (c. 160-220 A.D.) considered widows an order (in Latin “ordo”) in the church that were to be given a place of honor in the congregation equal to that of the elders. Paul mentions the role of the Order of Widows, and who should be admitted to this order in 1 Timothy 5:3-16.)
In the Aramaic tradition there were also the “Daughters of the Covenant,” called Benat-Qeyama. These women were totally committed –celibate, single-minded and separated. According to Moffatt, the word most characteristically used of them is singleness, with all its overtures of virginity of the body, commitment of the heart and mystical union with Christ. There were also men “Sons of the Covenant,” the “Benai-Qeyama,” who took vows to be warriors of God against the world, the flesh and the devil.
Mary of Magdala in Western Church Tradition

According to tradition Mary evangelized Ephesus and there died as a martyr. There are later legends of Mary evangelizing France but these are late and unreliable. Mary Magdalene is often compared with the “beloved” searching for her lover in the Song of Songs from the Old Testament. Certain church fathers also portray Magdalene as a second or new Eve who undoes the sin of the first Eve. As previously mentioned, in the Catholic tradition, which includes the legends of Mary of Magdala traveling to France, she is portrayed as Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha. In fact, in these stories, she evangelizes France with Martha and Lazarus and traveled to that land by boat with them. In the Catholic tradition, Mary of Magdala is the pensive penitent. She is the symbol of the repentant sinner. There is a famous legend of Magdalene preaching to the Roman Emperor Tiberius. When he scoffs at the resurrection, Mary of Magdala miraculously changes an egg red before his eyes. Impressed by this miracle and its symbolic meaning, he relieves Pontius Pilate of his duties and banishes him to Gaul for his part in the killing of Jesus.

Junia the Apostle Resources

After Mary of Magdala the second most important woman leader of the early church was Junia, whom Paul calls an “apostle.” In Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels Richard Bauckham convincingly argues that Junia is the same as Joanna, the disciple of Jesus. Other books that have recently been written about Junia/Joanna include The Lost Apostle: Searching for the Truth about Junia by Rena Pederson and Junia: The First Woman Apostle by Elton Jay Epp. Carolyn Osiek, Margaret Y. MacDonald and Janet Tulloch use New Testament references and archeological discoveries in order to recreate the world of Junia and the Magdalene in A Woman’s Place: House Churches in Earliest Christianity.

Mary Magdalene Resources

In my view the two best books on Mary of Magdala that are currently available are Mary R. Thompson’s Mary of Magdala: What the Da Vinci Code Misses and Amy Welborn’s De-coding Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legend, and Lies. Mary R. Thompson’s book has an interesting chapter entitled “Women Leaders in the Ancient World.” In this chapter, she shows that in certain rare cases exceptional women overcame the obstacles set before them and even rose up to be leaders of synagogue. Amy Welborn shows in her book how that, far from being castigated as a whore, Mary Magdalene was highly reverenced. Her book contains a good survey of Mary Magdalene literature from ancient times and the Middle Ages.

Liz Curtis Higgs Mad Mary: A Bad Girl from Magdala, Transformed at His Appearing (Waterbrook Press, Colorado Springs, Colorado 2001). This book has been re-titled Unveiling Mary Magdalene

Shelly Wachsmann The Sea of Galilee Boat: A 2,000 Year Old Discovery from the Sea of Legends (Plenum Press, April 1995) This book is about the “Jesus” boat that was discovered at Magdala. This is an important and amazing archeological discovery that expands our knowledge of Jesus and of Mary of Magdala.

There is a Mary Magdalene web-site: www.magdalene.org. While I cannot endorse everything in this website it is worth taking a look at. This site has links to everything you can imagine about Mary Magdalene, from art to movies and literature. This site was put together by Leslie Bellevie, who is the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Mary Magdalene. The frequently asked questions section is particularly helpful. The complete FAQs can be seen on-line and will be included in Dan Burnstein’s book Secret’s of Mary Magdalene: The Unfolding Story of History’s Most Misunderstood Woman.

Martin Meyer The Gospels of Mary: The Secret Tradition of Mary Magdalene, the Companion of Jesus (Harper Collins, San Francisco 2004). This is a collection of ancient source texts. Medieval legends about Mary Magdalene do not appear in this short volume. This is a useful tool for serious students of Mary of Magdala. However, a collection of such texts with annotations from the traditional Christian perspective has not been published but is greatly needed.

Jane Schaberg The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament (Continuum, New York, 2004)

Bruce Chilton Mary Magdalene: A Biography (Doubleday, New York 2005) Bruce Chilton has written books on Jesus from the Aramaic perspective. Chilton uses the Aramaic Targums in order to understand Christ better. The Targums are ancient versions of the Old Testament in Aramaic. They were not straightforward translations but contain a great amount of commentary and other embellishments. Jesus and the authors of the New Testament quote from Old Testament renderings found in the Targumim (or Targums). The tradition of explaining the Bible in the people’s language, Aramaic, is believed to have begun by the famous scribe Ezra. The story of the beginning of this tradition is found in Nehemiah 8:2-6. Note that Ezra made sure that this traditional way of explaining the Bible was inclusive. Ezra insisted that women were to be present with the men when the Bible was explained. In Nehemiah 8:2 this is specified. In certain religions, past and present, women have been excluded from worship. Christianity has never excluded women from baptism, partaking or the Lord’s Supper or attending preaching services. In the early church, certain positions of church leadership were also open to women.

Alexander Moody Stuart The Three Marys: Mary of Magdala, Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth (Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh 1984) This book was written by Alexander Moody Scott (1809-1898) and was initially published in 1862. I found this book when I was in England when I studied at Oxford with my Seminary. I found it in a famous little town in Wales dedicated to the sale of old used books. This is an excellent, historically, biblically and theologically accurate book that ought to be reprinted.

Meera Lester The Everything Mary Magdalene Book: The Life and Legacy of Jesus’ Most Misunderstood Disciple (Adams Media Corporation, March 2006) and Mary Magdalene: A Modern Guide to the Bible’s Most Mysterious and Misunderstood Woman (Adams Media Corporation, October 2005).

I am a traditionalist and a defender of orthodoxy. My books are The Words of Jesus in the Original Aramaic: Discovering the Semitic Roots of Christianity, Mary of Magdala: Magdalene, the Forgotten Prophetess of Christianity and Treasures of the Language of Jesus: The Aramaic Source of Christ’s Teachings. These books are available from the publishers and are also available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

To contact Stephen A. Missick
PO Box 882
Shepherd, TX 77372
Or email: stephenamissick@hotmail.com

The Lords Prayer in Aramaic

Awoon d’washmaya, nith kaddish shamakh. Tethey malkuthakh, neywey sabianack. Akanna dwashmaya ap bara. How lan lakhma dew sewkana yowmana, wash wack lan cow bane. Akanna dap kannan shwakan la haya wane. Ella talon la neseyona, ella passan men bisha. Mitol didlakhey malkowtha, wa khiey wa tishbokhtha al alom almeen-ahmen.


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