Anyone who has heard of the Da Vinci Code (which is, by now, much of the world) will likely also know that the central idea is that Mary Magdalene was a rather different person in actual life than the person portrayed in church tradition and the gospel extrapolations.
Indeed, as has become better known in the past generation, there were many more gospels floating around the early Christian world than the canonical four (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), most of which were lost to the world through various processes. Among the stronger early traditions that later got branded as heretical was the Gnostic tradition, and in this community, Mary Magdalene had a place of honour.
Drawing from the four canonical gospels, as well as writings such as the Gospel of Peter (in fragmentary form), the Gospel of Thomas (a collection of sayings), the Gospel of Philip, the Pistis Sophia and other texts including the Gospel of Mary, Marvin Meyer presents a new look at the importance of Mary Magdalene as being one of the most important figures in early Christianity. The Eastern church has preserved her memory of prominence, often referring to her as the Apostle to the Apostles, the first to announce the resurrection and the first to witness the risen Christ. These recollections are preserved in the canonical witness.
The Gospel of Mary exists in a fragmentary form among the Nag Hammadi documents, discovered in 1947. Many pages are missing, including the beginning, middle and ending. However, the character of Mary is highlighted in many gospels; Meyer selects texts throughout the various gospels to show an extensive interaction between Jesus and Mary, the other disciples and Mary, and Mary's own prominence as a witness to the outside world.
This text presents a more realistic way of viewing the character of Mary Magdalene than sources such as Da Vinci Code/Holy Blood, Holy Grail/Woman with the Alabaster Jar present. According to Meyer, 'the sources about Mary Magdalene published here may not be as flamboyant as some of these later legends, but they are more trustworthy as witnesses to the figure of Mary and literary traditions about Mary.' Indeed, Meyer speculates that Mary might not have been only 'a' beloved disciple, but perhaps 'the' beloved disciple referred to not by name but by relationship in the canonical gospels.
This is a short text, consisting mostly of Meyer's own translations of the primary documents; Meyer's commentary is kept to a minimum, useful in its way, but he permits the texts to speak for themselves. He gives a useful index and helpful scholarly notes.
This book will be of special interest for those who want to dig deeper into the realities underpinning modern novels and explorations about the subject, and of general interest to those who want to see the diversity in Christian belief, practice and writing in the earlies centuries.