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Lost Gospels: The Greater Questions of Mary. A Blast From the Past

Here is a blast from the past — almost exactly four years ago now —  about one of my all time favorite “lost” Gospels.  If it ever existed.  One very imaginative church father certainly thought it did.  It was a Gospel featuring Mary Magdalene and a rather wild encounter she had with Jesus.  Here is what I said in the post of November 2012.

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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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Comments

  1. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  November 14, 2016

    This has nothing to do with the post, but I would like to take this time to throw a tantrum over not being able to attend the Annual Bible and Archeology Festival this weekend. ??????????
    It’s not fair!!!!

    • Bart
      Bart  November 16, 2016

      It’s a real question of theodicy!!

      • Avatar
        Judith  November 16, 2016

        Funny!

      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  November 17, 2016

        I’m pretty sure every biblio-person on my Facebook is going to the Festival. I hope everyone has a good time. ???

  2. Avatar
    Tempo1936  November 15, 2016

    Are there other non conical books quoted in the Bible than Enoch in the book of Jude ?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 16, 2016

      Do you mean Jewish apocrypha? I don’t believe any are quoted explicitly.

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  November 17, 2016

        Is it Epimenides who is quoted in one of the pastoral epistles, I think) concerning the degeneracy of the Cretans? Also the hymn to Zeus that Acts has Paul quote in Attend would be a non canonical reference. Are other “pagan” works quoted in the NT?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 18, 2016

          Possibly Euripides Bacchae in Acts 26:14; Heraclitus in 2 Peter 2:22, and Menander in 1 Cor. 15:33.

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  November 15, 2016

    Accusations of lewdness appear to be very popular in every culture, during every era of human history. What do you think that says about us as a species?

  4. Avatar
    moose  November 15, 2016

    My view is that although this may seem odd, it may have potential to shed light on who Mary Magdalene was.
    “Taking her to the mountain(…). This mountain was obviously mount Zion.
    And so this text may be interpreted in light of Micah 4:8:
    “As for you, tower of the flock, Hill of the daughter of Zion, To you it will come. Even the former dominion will come, The kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem”.

    Messiah shall return to the Holy City. Messiah shall return to the tower of the flock – Migdol-Edah. Messiah shall return to Mary Magdalene.
    This refers to a later tradition – the women at the tomb. Paul does not mention any women at the tomb in his creed, which indicates that Paul’s creed could be an earlier tradition. Later on this two traditions were combined, and we got the Gospel storyes where Mary Magdalene played a key role.

  5. Avatar
    godspell  November 15, 2016

    Everybody has his or her own Jesus, this I’ve long realized. Even Hitler had his own Jesus (who was not a Jew, obviously. The charisma of our collective vision of this supremely influential figure in human history gets channeled into a million different interpretations–most of which bear no resemblance to the person we see in the gospels (who to be sure, is also something of an interpretation, but much less filtered). So if you’re a sex maniac, Jesus must of course also be a sex maniac. If you’re a warmonger, Jesus was a warmonger. If you’re a racist (well, obviously). If you’re a materialistic person, Jesus wants you to be rich. Etc. People love the image, and ignore the teachings. It’s a problem, and apparently a very old one. Personally, of all the variant Jesus’s out there, the sex maniac Jesus bothers me the least.

  6. Avatar
    Wilusa  November 15, 2016

    Drat. I don’t remember whether I was subscribed to the Blog that long ago – probably not. If I did read this post before, I’d forgotten it.

    I’m “disappointed” because I’d thought this Gospel definitely existed, though only fragments had survived. That scholars had actually seen the part about Jesus pulling the woman out of his side and having sex with her! But I hadn’t remembered the part that supposedly followed it, about the semen – just that Mary Magdalene had fainted.

  7. Avatar
    DavidBeaman  November 15, 2016

    Sure! Being a Princeton man, you would mention Harvard in this context. LOL

  8. Avatar
    Hume  November 15, 2016

    Would you agree that the early church celebrated Jesus’ birth on January 6th then Pope Julius 1st moved it to the 25th of December? If so, why?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 16, 2016

      The earliest church didn’t celebrate it. My sense was that Constantine first promoted it, and as December 25, but in the east it was celebrated on January 6. Maybe I’m wrong about that. Hopefully someone can correct me.

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  November 17, 2016

        MiI read a piece once that claimed the Dec 25 date was inferred from an early Christian tradition that Jesus’s conception and crucifixion took place on the same day of the year. They counted 9 months forward from the Passover of the year they thought he died to get his birth date. This part may be an invented memory, but it may also have said there were different opinions on the date of Passover the year he died, hence the Jan 6 dating of Xmas in some opinions. Have you found any evidence of such a tradition?

    • Avatar
      J.J.  November 16, 2016

      Andrew McGowan at Yale makes a good argument that the differences between east and west on the date of Jesus’ birth arise from differences regarding the date of Easter (and Jesus’ death) between east and west–a much and often debated topic in the early church. McGowan argues that early Christians followed the rabbinic notion that significant things tended to happen on the same day of the calendar (e.g., ninth of Ab had multiple significant events in Jewish thinking)… so the conception of Jesus and annunciation must’ve happened on the day he eventually died… boom, 9 months after conception, Jesus is born on either Dec 25 (west) or Jan 6 (east) based on their notions about the day of Jesus’ death. (These calendar dates have no historicity… it simply explains why these dates ended up being used.)
      http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/new-testament/how-december-25-became-christmas/

  9. Avatar
    Stephen  November 16, 2016

    Prof Ehrman

    When Epiphanius says
    “For in the book called The Greater Questions of Mary (they have also forged one called the Lesser), they indicate that he [Jesus] gave a revelation to her [Mary].”
    What do you think he means by “forged” in this context? Wouldn’t he have regarded these texts as illegitimate in any case?

    thanks

    S

  10. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  November 16, 2016

    I thought it’d be interesting to challenge a Mormon with the fact that there is no ancient reference to it–not in the Bible or in the writings of church fathers or elsewhere–some reference which at least could be interpreted as referring to the Book of Mormon. I asked at a Mormon website. The answer: it was written in the Americas so biblical writers or others around the Mediterranean would naturally not have known of it.
    Ha!

  11. Avatar
    GNGoff  November 17, 2016

    It’s amazing that there were people who believe this. Quite frankly that’s true of most biblical materials. And it is still true today.

  12. Avatar
    drussell60  November 20, 2016

    Oh sheesh!

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