I have been discussing some of the Gospels that we know about because they are mentioned, or even quoted, by church fathers, but that no longer survive. Another, particularly intriguing, Gospel like this – one that I desperately wish we had, for reasons that will soon become clear — is known as “The Greater Questions of Mary” (i.e., of Mary Magdalene). My following comments on it are more or less lifted from my Introduction in the recent Apocryphal Gospels volume.
One of the “great questions” for scholars is whether such a book ever really did exist. It is mentioned only once in ancient literature, in a highly charged polemical context by Epiphanius of Salamis, a Christian heresy-hunter who was prone to exaggeration and fabrication, who was incautious at best in his attacks against heretical sects in his book the Panarion (= “Medicine Chest”; in it Epiphanius supplies the “antidotes” for the “snake-bites of heresy”).
The most notorious of the groups that Epiphanius attacks were known by a variety of names, including the “Phibionites.” According to Epiphanius — our sole source of knowledge about the group — these gnostic believers engaged in nocturnal sex rituals that involved indiscriminate sex, coitus interruptus, and the consumption of semen and menstrual blood, all in a bizarre act of Christian worship (a sacred eucharist). Really. Moreover, they allegedly possessed apostolic books that supported their outrageous rituals, including this one known as the “Greater Questions of Mary” (Panarion 26, 8).
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