Book of the Week: The Gospels of Mary by Marvin Meyer
by James Tabor
I want to recommend highly the slim little volume The Gospels of Mary: The Secret Tradition of Mary Magdalene the Companion of Jesus (HarperSanFrancisco, 2004) by Marvin Meyer with Esther A. de Boer. Sadly, Marvin died of melanoma earlier this month and his loss will be keenly felt by all who knew him and his work.
I love this little book and I believe it is a worthy addition to any library dealing with Christian Origins. Marvin opens the book with a very helpful and exceptionally clear introduction, offering an overview of the book as a whole:
Of all the disciples of Jesus, none seems to have been as independent, strong, and close to Jesus as Mary Magdalene. This book presents English translation of the earliest and most reliable texts that shed light on this remarkable woman and the literary traditions about her.
Meyer, acknowledging the spur of interest in Mary Magdalene with the book and filmThe Da Vinci Code, and the wildly speculative ideas it has generated, nonetheless tries to reset the stage with a solid historical question–what do our earliest and most reliable texts tell us?
The book then offers introductions, translations, and notes to seven different textual traditions:
- The Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, and Peter
- The Gospel of Mary
- The Gospel of Thomas
- The Gospel of Philip
- The Dialogue of the Savior
- Pistis Sophia
- The Manichean Psalms of Heracleides
The book concludes with a movingly challenging essay by Esther A. de Boer, “‘Should We All Turn and Listen to Her?’ Mary Magdalene in the Spotlight.”
What Meyer has given to us in this beautiful presented little volume I find invaluable. He includes all the relevant materials, given the reader some reliable guidance as to date and provenance in approaching them, and he provides notes and a nice bibliography as well.
Anyone who wants to seriously ask the question–what can we know about Mary Magdalene and how can we know it?–must first immerse oneself in the ancient sources. Clearly, she has not had much if any place in the “standard” presentations of the rise and development of early Christianity, and many of my colleagues would insist her importance is simply a product of late and legendary “gnostic” materials with little or no historical value–a subject of novels and sensationalist speculation, but hardly the stuff belonging to a serious quest for the “historical Jesus.” Marvin Meyer questioned that assumption and in this book, in a solidly responsible way, seeks to put before the general reader the texts themselves, with enough background for one to make informed judgments on the topic.