Mary Magdalene as Female Counterpart to Jesus
Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, authors of Jesus and the Lost Goddess, suggest that the “All,” as Mary Magdalene is called in the Dialogue of the Savior, represents the Goddess, who was prominent in the ancient world from the pagan mysteries. Goddess worship had its roots in the Egyptian cult of Isis, the Sister-Bride of Osiris. Their child, known as the God of Light, was named Horus. The Gnostics' assigning of Goddess status to Mary Magdalene may be a reflection of their tendency to borrowing themes, ideas, myths, and practices from other traditions and syncretizing them into their own belief system. In the Egyptian legend, Isis discovers that her husband has been murdered and mutilated. Osiris descended into the underworld, struggled with evil powers, and on the third day rose again. He became equal to Râ, the Sun God. The similarities with Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection cannot be missed. Scholar Margaret Starbird maintains that in the anointing, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the reworking of an old partnership paradigm found in the ancient myths of the Sacred Bride and Bridegroom. She asserts that the Isis and Osiris myth serves as one example.
Mary Magdalene's anointing of Jesus with special oil places her in the Egyptian shamanic tradition as a great priestess. Authors Freke and Gandy suggest that the Gnostic beliefs about Mary Magdalene as the Goddess-consort to Jesus' God-man so threatened the early orthodox church's vision that the church sought to “brutally suppress” such ideas. The church, however, does call Mary Magdalene “Apostle to the Apostles.”
For the orthodox Christians (Catholics and Greek Orthodox), the feminine archetype is embodied in the Blessed Virgin Mary. However, in Gnostic Christianity, Mary Magdalene personified the archetype feminine counterpart to Jesus. The Gnostic texts place Mary Magdalene in a position that the orthodox texts reserve for Peter — that is, as Jesus' closest, pre-eminent, and most trusted disciple. The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas mentions six disciples: Thomas, Matthew, Peter, James, Salome, and Mary Magdalene.
Irenaeus of Lyons, Tertullian of Carthage, Hippolytus of Rome, and others labeled Gnostic beliefs (for example, God as the Sacred Feminine) absurd, their myths ridiculous, their corruption of orthodox scripture dangerous, and their women officiating over the Eucharist deviant. Women were to remain silent and Gnostic texts were to be destroyed.
The Gnostic Gospel of Mary reveals that Jesus' inner circle knew of her elevated standing with Jesus. In a scene from that Gospel, Peter disbelieves Mary Magdalene after he has asked her to share words or a teaching that Jesus may have given her and not him. When she does, he disbelieves and asks whether or not the others think that Jesus would tell her, a woman, something that he would not tell the male disciples. Levi defends Mary Magdalene and asks Peter who he was to reject her if the Savior made her worthy. Levi reminds Peter that the Savior “knows her very well.” Levi suggests that instead of being contentious with Mary, they should “put on the perfect man” and do as Jesus had commanded them (Gospel of Mary 18:10–20).
Some Internet Gnostic sites proclaim an understanding of Mary Magdalene as Jesus' wife and co-Redeemer. They point out that in the canonical gospels, Mary Magdalene's name appears first in lists of women (but behind the Virgin Mary), indicating her important stature. They make note of the Gnostic Gospels' elevation of her over other disciples and point to the Gospel of Philip's statement that Jesus kissed her often on the … , inserting the word “mouth” where the lacuna appears. For others to see Mary Magdalene as a consort or counterpart to Jesus would have dismayed and worried the Christian orthodox fathers because she stood for freedom of the individual over the need of clergy to secure salvation. She represented dangerous ideas that were reprehensible to the church, including sacred marriage and sexuality rather than virginity and abstinence.