When arguments are made against women preachers, people often cite lack of precedence – women have never been teachers within the church and therefore should not be now. Jesus called only called men to be his followers and to spread his message.
Evidence from the gospels
So what if it is actually quite easy to find evidence of women as teachers and having prominent positions within the early church? What does that do to our current perceptions of women in authoritative positions.
Even Paul who wrote the very earliest Christian texts that we have – the epistles, actually mentioned women who are teachers such as Priscilla. He even mentions a woman called Junia as being amongst the apostles although the interpretation of this passage has often been disputed. But there again he is also quoted as saying women should be quiet and obey their husbands, which is something that scholars think was inserted later. The two attitudes seem at odds.
Evidence from Apocrypha
Things become more confusing when you look outside the gospels to popular apocryphal tales such as Paul and Thecla which forms part of the Acts of Paul.
Image: Paul and Thecla fresco grotto, Epheshus. David Lull Creative Commons Flickr. Note how in this image Thecla’s face and teaching pose has been wiped out in an attempt to hide the fact she is a teacher.
This tells the tale of a young woman called Thecla who despite being engaged to be married, decides to renounce family life to go out and preach the new religion of Christianity having heard Paul preaching in her town. This causes great consternation because in the pagan world, women were meant to be daughters or wives and create families. There was no other lifestyle available to them.
This tale actually describes why Christianity took root with women; with its messages to turn away from family life and sexual procreation, it provided a radical path to freedom for women who would be otherwise tied to domesticity and baby rearing. For people of the pagan world who were centred around family, this was shocking.
The popularity with women was such that it caused the Roman commentator, Celsus to scoff at the fledging religion as one populated with ‘slaves and women’. In such comments we can get a glimpse of the ethos of equality that may have existed in early Christianity. This was a religion which didn’t care about your role in the physical world now, but in your spiritual role in the next world.
Christians today might find this shocking as they see the Church as family centred. But in the early days it was about keeping yourself free from the distractions and attachments of family life so you could devote yourself to the spiritual one in preparation for the End of the Age, which early Christians believed was happening very soon and within their own lifetimes.
The Cover up
Things changed of course and over time the early prominence that women played in the church has not only been forgotten, there are signs that it has been covered up.
One simple example is in Mary Magdalene. In three of the gospels she sees the risen Christ. If this is the definition of an apostle, she is an apostle. But she is hardly mentioned after this.
In fact, as Ann Graham Brock points out in her book, Mary Magdalene, ‘The first Apostle’, in the Gospel of Luke, Mary Magdalene’s role has been diminished and Peter rises to prominence. He is no longer the blunderer that Jesus even calls ‘Satan’ in Matthew’s Gospel when he admonishes Peter for valuing the world of men over God.
Peter is often portrayed as someone who just doesn’t get Jesus’ teachings. But in Luke’s Gospel Peter’s blunderbuss antics are played down and he is put in a more prominent position at the expense of Mary Magdalene.
Looking to extra canonical gospels again this replacement can be even more stark. The Acts of Phillip features a teacher and miracle worker, Mariamne who is thought to be Mary Magdalene in the Greek versions, but in later Coptic versions she is replaced by Peter! In some texts even in Mary Magdalene’s pivotal encounter at the tomb, she is replaced by Mary the Mother of Jesus.
So we have signs that any evidence of women holding high status in the early church has been diminished or even edited out.
Present day cover up
16724149006_3d12e5fecc_z-medium.jpg Image: Flickr Creative commons attribution Steven Zucker https://www.flickr.com/photos/profzucker/
This even continues to the present day as in the case of the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome. These recently rediscovered underground tombs are complete with paintings and frescoes dating from the 3rd Century CE that seem to depict women teachers and even women running a Eucharist meal. However, the idea that these frescoes depict women as teachers or holding any leadership roles were dismissed by the Vatican as pure fantasy.
Although the Vatican may indeed like to dismiss this concept as pure fantasy it is hardly an academic approach. The true approach to scholarship would be to examine the possibility that these early tomb painting indeed depicted women as teachers in the early church because there were actually women as teachers in the early church. I can’t help but look at the image of the women in the red outfit and think it might be referring to Mary Magdalene as she is traditionally clothed in red in art.
But this may be too early to make that connection and I also don’t know if I am looking at the original pigment. It may be completely wrong, but that is not the point. The point is that we should have at least a discussion. We should open up and revisit the issue of women in the early church in an age when at least some of us can look through a lens that does not contain the prejudices of the past.
And when we do, we may find more that we though possible that was staring at us all along about the status of women in the early church that we just were not able to see.
Lastly, you may enjoy this poem that came through me whilst researching this topic. I feel it came from the collective consciousness of the early women so long ignored by the male dominated church.
we weep as we sweep his feet with our hair you leave us no choices you take away our will to be if we lose a man we lose our right to live, to dignity so we do what we can to survive our only choices yet still you denigrate us as sinners yet leave the ones who come to us who pay to violate our bodies in the most carnal ways as sin free somehow it is our fault that we tempted them and yet the the ones who comes to us with deliberation are left without a blemish and we are the ones who bear the stigma of sin for centuries and yet when there is one of us who rises to the status of teacher instead of celebrating her strength and wisdom you wish to bring her too to the status of the fallen like there is nothing less you can tolerate expect your repugnance for our kind so keep your false piety that all you want is for women to rise above it is you who are bringing them down When will you follow the example of he whom you say that you follow when he transcended the flesh and understood the true nature of who we really are who looked beyond the assignments of gender and of physicality to the spirit within his is the example that you say that you follow yet you still deny spirit to a whole half of us saying that spirit does not dwell within our bodies which you see both as imperfect and to be desired Maybe one day you will truly follow in his footsteps And honour the love within
Since its announcement in 2012, there has been a lot of controversy about what is known as the Jesus Wife Papyrus otherwise known as the Gospel of Jesus’ wife.This is a small fragment of text written in the Coptic language that has been examined by a leading scholar from Harvard University, Professor Karen King and her colleagues.
After Professor King announced the existence of the papyrus accusations of forgery quickly followed seemingly due to the contents of the fragment. It appears to feature Jesus saying the words, ‘my wife’.
Professor King is a respected Harvard scholar with a long standing reputation. Before the announcement she had already done some initial investigation and satisfied herself that this was an authentic manuscript, but still the accusations came.
Jesus had a wife?
For Jesus to mention a wife is so abhorrent to some people that they will perhaps always claim it is a forgery. Noticeably these same people do not denigrate every little fragment of the Gospel of Mark or John, presumably because the contents do not offend them in those cases.
Professor Karen King has always been careful to point out that this text does not mean that Jesus was married: just that some early Christians might have thought he was.
After the media frenzy and some further investigation by the likes of MIT scientists, a scholarly publication concluded that the papyrus and the ink were both ancient. Yet still the debate is raging with many still insisting that the fragment is a modern forgery.
In praise of the feminine
In my opinion, as an outsider to Biblical scholarship, there seems to be more debate about this piece of Coptic script than a lot of other pieces of Coptic script. Maybe because the actual text is saying something that many people just do not believe Jesus could have uttered – he praises women and perhaps even refers to someone who is his wife.
The full translation is as follows from both the front and the back of the fragment.
Translation 1 ] “not [to] me. My mother gave me li[fe…” 2 ] .” The disciples said to Jesus, “.[ 3 ] deny. Mary is [not?]worthy of it [ 4 ]…” Jesus said to them, “My wife . .[ 5 ]… she is able to be my disciple . . [ 6 ] . Let wicked people swell up … [ 3 7] . As for me, I am with her 3 in order to . [ 8 ] . an image … [ ] my moth[er ] thr[ee ] …[ ] forth …[ ] (untranslatable) [
This is the translated text in full which is taken from the front and back of this tiny credit card sized fragment. Of course it is just a fragment and there are lots of gaps, but it is mainly the line, ‘Jesus said to them “my wife..”‘ that is causing the controversy.
Comparison of other texts
But if we look more closely, this does fit with other texts that we know of. For example in this fragment, Jesus discusses whether a woman is able to be his disciple. This has parallels with some other non-canonical texts such as the Gospel of Phillip in which there are arguments about whether or not Mary Magdalene was fit to receive teaching from Jesus due to her being a woman.
What drew my attention were the first lines “My mother gave me life” which precedes a passage seeming to praise woman including the phrase “as for me, I am with her”.
A forgotten gospel
This passage seemingly praising the virtues of women reminded me of something called the Tibetan Gospel of Issa. Nowadays this text is pretty much forgotten but about one hundred years ago ‘The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ’ by Nicolai Notovitch caused a bit of a sensation.
Notovitch was an adventurer and writer. Born in 1858 in the Crimea, he was educated at the University of St Petersburg after serving in the Russian-Turkish war as an Officer.
An epic journey
Apparently in 1887 he travelled to Tibet and Kashmir. During his travels he broke his leg which needed an extended stay in a monastery in Tibet. Whilst he was convalescing, apparently the Buddhist monks allowed him to see and to translate some secret writings that revealed the life of a saint they called Issa. Notovitch took this to mean Jesus Christ.
On this return to the West he published this secret Gospel and it caused a sensation. Nowadays most people think this gospel is a fake and even question if Notovitch was ever in Tibet.
Image Pixabay Public Domain
I find this latter point a bit odd as his book, which is readily available as an ebook, provides a vivid account of his travels in India, Nepal and Tibet and is littered with details. Descriptions of roads, people, vehicles and mountain views abound in his account. Indeed his travelog actually takes up a good deal of the book before the ‘gospel’ even starts.
Most people will probably never even attempt to read the book. It is generally believed to be a fake so when those sorts of rumours are in abundance, people don’t even bother investigating something for fear of wasting their time or worse, of looking gullible and foolish. This is irrespective of whether it is truly fake or not. Even if the travelog part is genuine, it is still uncertain as to whether this newly discovered ‘gospel’ is authentic.
Similarities or synchronicities?
However I did find it interesting that the Gospel of Jesus’ wife or Jesus wife papyrus echoes some of the passages of the sayings of Issa. Such as,
Respect woman for in her we see the mother of the universe and all the truth of divine creation is to come through her…She is also the germ of life and death.
Again this is at the start of a long passage of respecting mothers, women and wives as the source of a man’s divinity on earth.
Even as the Lords of Hosts separated the light from the darkness and the dry land from the waters so does woman posses the divine gift…
In my opinion here are parallels between the Lost Gospel of Issa and the Gospel of Jesus wife. Both texts demonstrate respect for women which Jesus was known for in his teaching. This veneration of women was out of keeping for the time of Jesus and also for the Victorian era in which Notovitch was publishing although it was less of a stretch.
Image Pixabay Public Domain
Certain other elements of the texts bring into question whether this is a Victorian fabrication. The Gospel of Issa features an account of the missing years of Issa/Jesus which it says he spent in India. There he was taught the Vedas and other holy scriptures.
Issa the Rebel
The character of Issa doesn’t like the fact that the holy teachings are kept away from the lower castes of India and decided that all people were created equal so started to spread the teachings.
He also ignored the teachings about the many gods of Hinduism preferring to teach that god is the indivisible soul of the universe. These actions of Issa eventually annoy the Hindu priests as they feel that he is disrupting the social order by teaching the lower castes.
The priests decided to send people to kill him, but Issa escaped and headed for the Himalayas for further study. As the text moves on, Issa almost gets into trouble again with teachers in another area before escaping back to Israel at the age of 29 where eventually he is tried by Pilate. These latter details were purportedly provided by merchants traveling between Palestine and India.
During the text there is a repeated doctrine that God is a formless creator and that idols should not be worshipped. It is hard to say if these texts were made up by Notovich. It is reassuring that he himself wrote a critique of the texts and the contradictions they contain.
Jesus in India and Universal Truths
There is a very strong tradition that Jesus spent some of his missing years in India and Tibet. People have also noticed the similarities between the teachings of Jesus and those of Buddhism in places and have suggested that these have arisen due to Jesus’ missing years having been spent in India. Conversely in the canonical Gospels, at times, Jesus seems adamant that people should follow Jewish laws.
Image Pixabay Public Domain
In my opinion Buddhism and Christianity like all religions include some universal truths which mystics have access to no matter the era. So the similarities between Christianity and Buddhism could be less to do with a possible sojourn of Jesus in India and more to do with the fact that these are universal truths.
Now that the materials involved in the fragments of the Jesus Wife Papyrus have been authenticated, I do find it interesting that there are similarities of between the Jesus wife papyrus and the supposed missing gospel of Issa from Tibet. Because the materials of the fragment of papyrus have been authenticated as being ancient, this may be time to revisit the Issa text as there are some similarities with these lost early Christian beliefs.
Image: By Odilia (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or FAL], via Wikimedia Commons
We live in a society influenced by the Bible and in most people’s minds the classic biblical monarchs such as David and Solomon evoke a golden age of Israel: of wisdom, wealth and sophistication.
So it comes as a shock to most people to find out that despite over half a century of archaeological searching, we still cannot find any evidence of a monarchy at the time of King David. No palaces, no temples, no infrastructure, no masses of court records and as one archaeologist said, we cannot even find the garbage! It just did not exist at that time in that place.
Of course people do argue that because the Temple mound, where the Dome of the Rock is currently situated, cannot be excavated, we are unable to confirm if the original Temple of Solomon which used to be the centre of the Jewish faith, actually existed there.
But even so, we would expect to find the artefacts of a great kingdom that existed in the area; an organised society like that simply leaves its mark, but we have found nothing.
This has led some leading experts to rewrite the Biblical stories understanding them to be greatly exaggerated. According to the archaeological evidence, the area around Jerusalem were just sparsely populated highlands at the supposed time of King David.
Le courronnement de David.Paris psalter (BnF MS Grec 139), folio 6v National Library of France. Public Domain
So according to some scholars, the great monarch becomes a tribal chieftain with a band of tribal warriors instead of armies. This may be far from the sumptuous riches that the bible describes, but it fits the picture that we see in the actual evidence.
I find this idea quite strange. Not because I am religious (I am not) or because I have a need to glorify these kings – these were not the heroes of my childhood. I find it odd that King David – such a flawed character would be pure fiction. He is murderous, conniving and backstabbing to the point where even his own sons rise up against him.
Far from being the happy succession from father to son we tend to assume happened, Solomon was not King David’s eldest son but the son of the woman he spied from the rooftops who was married to someone else. David had the husband out of the way and got his wife Bathsheba pregnant. (So much for ‘you shall not commit adultery or murder’!)
I just don’t think it is human nature to provide a character to your glorious made-up ancestral King and make him into such a nasty piece of work. The fact that there are two versions of the story of King David in the bible and one has been sanitised shows that someone was indeed embarrassed at his antics at some point.
It started me wondering if the stories have not been transplanted from another place and time and brought to Jerusalem in the memories of another people. Could it be that we have been looking for evidence in the wrong place.
I find it very intriguing that although nothing like the Temple of Solomon or his kingdom can be found in Jerusalem and the ancient Kingdom of Judah, further north there exists a temple that fits the description of the Temple of Solomon very closely. This is the Ain Dara Temple in Syria and it has some very interesting features.
Its measurements, the way in which it is decorated and its layout greatly resembles the Temple of Solomon in the Bible. There are other Temples in the area which are of a similar style. And in contrast to Judah in the south at this time, the writing of a great civilisation has been found: for example over 20,000 clay tablets at the site of Ebla or Tell Mardikh also near Aleppo in Syria. Here we do find temples, palaces and a lot of writing.
By Odilia (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or FAL], via Wikimedia Commons
Could it be that the stories we see in the Bible are actually memories of people who migrated from north to south? They just transplanted their memories of the glory days to their new habitat.
The Old Testament only started to be written down after the time of the Babylonian exile in 700s BC. The people we now call ‘Jews’ had just been through a massive humiliation. They needed to rally round and write down their history in order to unite under a common story. This was possibly when stories which were originally about what we now call Syria were simply incorporated into the narrative of the people who lived in Judah.
Was it possible that the ones who had migrated from the north brought their stories with them and transplanted them? If so it gives a very interesting slant on what else can be found at Ain Dara.
Because almost as if a god or goddess had entered the temple, the footprints actually exist of what appears to be a giant being. Now the Old Testament does indeed mention giants on some occasions. We are also rediscovering many reports from around the world in the last 200 years especially of giant skeletons having been found.
Could Ain Dara be evidence that the Bible and other giant myths are true? Could the temple be a site where an actual giant god mentioned in the bible was present? I am going to be discussing more about these ideas in the forthcoming book and mystery school so stay tuned.
The Annunciation by Matthew William Peters, Lincoln Cathedral. Credit Dr Manjir Samanta-Laughton
Some people ask me- how did it all start. Where did the concept of the Magdalene Prophecies come from? By the way that is not what I wanted to call the book! The lady herself came through one New Year’s Eve when I was attending a Lebanese Bellydance event – only later did I see the significance of that. The name just came through loud and clear and it had had a great response.
But it all started way back in the 2001 when I was still training to be a GP. I had taken a trip to New Mexico to attend a conference on the science of consciousness. Still to this day I can feel the magic as I arrived by myself to the hotel. I met several people whom I kept bumping into after lectures.
One of them was a woman named Jenna. On the last night of the conference she invited me to her place in Santa Fe before catching my flight back and I agreed.
After chatting for a while, we decided to head out for something to eat and it was then that something very strange happened. We looked at the moon and I have never before or since seen the moon in that way. It is hard to describe but it seemed to change shape. Then suddenly, without either of speaking, we knew that we were the women going to the tomb of Christ that fateful morning after the crucifixion.
I can’t say who was who as such it was as if we were the group consciousness, not anyone particular individual. Now I didn’t even know it at the time but Jenna is Jewish and I have a Hindu background so neither of us had much idea about the New Testament or Mary Magdalene.
That’s how and when the visions began and since that moment I have had many more including being inside Mary Magdalene’s consciousness as she was giving birth to her second child. To find out the full story check out this lecture. Enjoy.