Intrigued by 4th Gospel

JFK & Mary Magdalene, May 10, 2019

John F. Kennedy won the Pulitzer Prize for Profiles in Courage. The book deserved the honor but not the purported author. Kennedy did conceive the idea and some of the content, but he did none of the research or writing. Most of that was done by Theodore Sorenson, whom Kennedy called his “research assistant.” Sorenson is the one who gave the book its “drama and flow,” according to historian Herbert Parmet. Ted Sorenson was essentially the ghostwriter of Profiles in Courage

I see a parallel in the gospel I call the “Fourth Gospel” instead of the “Gospel of John.” Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John do not really name authors of the gospels. Each of these gospel names, for various reasons, developed while the gospels were being passed around. They became convenient tags for identifying and discussing the gospels, but they are not the authors’ names.

“John” was thought to be the only real name of the Fourth Gospel, because John is named at the beginning, in Jn 1: 6. But the intriguing character in this gospel is the Beloved Disciple. And that person was Mary Magdalene, according to Ramon Jusino, whose reasoning I presented in my post, “Mary Magdalene authored the 4th G.”

I made the mistake of titling the 2014 post, “Mary Magdalene wrote the 4th Gospel,” and some readers commented that a woman could not possibly have written it. They were right. She didn’t, but she led the community that produced the Fourth Gospel.

All gospels in the New Testament were oral works first, evolving in communities that told stories about Jesus. Finally, the stories were organized and written down. Jusino attributes authorship of the Fourth Gospel to Mary Magdalene by building on the work of Raymond Brown, premier expert on the Fourth Gospel. According to Brown, the gospel was authored by the anonymous Beloved Disciple mentioned in 7 puzzling passages.

I urge readers to follow my link to Jusino’s article in “Mary Magdalene authored the 4th G.” where I summarize his arguments. He turned my initial skepticism into unreserved acceptance of his conclusion. Now it seems obvious to me that Mary Magdalene’s name completes the Beloved Disciple passages and that her name was written out of the story by patriarchal redactors. Go to my post for Jusino’s evidence, but here I intend to show how naturally Mary Magdalene fits into the narrative.

Jn 19: 25-27:
Near the cross of Jesus there stood his mother, his mother’s sister Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Seeing his mother there with the disciple whom he loved, Jesus said to his mother, “Woman there is your son.”
In turn he said to the disciple, “There is your mother.” From that hour onward, the disciple took her into his care.
This passage needs little imagination to see that Mary Magdalene was originally the “disciple whom he loved” and who took care of his mother.

Jn 20: 1-2:
Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been moved away, so she ran off to Simon Peter and the other disciple (the one Jesus loved) and told them, “The Lord has been taken from the tomb! We don’t know where they have put him.”
What follows in Jn 20:3-9 is a race to the tomb between Peter and another (male) disciple, who wins the race. Then this odd sequence in Jn 20:10-11:
With this, the disciple went back home. Meanwhile, Mary stood weeping beside the tomb. Even as she wept, she stooped to peer inside . . .
The redactor had gotten Mary out of the picture by saying she ran off to tell the men. How did Mary suddenly come to be standing at the tomb?

What follows is one of the most touching stories for Christian believers in the gospels. Mary Magdalene sees a man she does not recognize as Jesus until he says, “Mary!” The redactor did not deprive Mary Magdalene of this moment, although he interrupted her poignant story by inserting a race to the tomb by men.

Apocryphal writings that were not chosen for the New Testament state that Peter envied Mary Magdalene’s closeness to Jesus. Jn 21: 20-24 also suggests that Peter envied her. The “disciple whom Jesus loved” asks,
“Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?”
When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?”
Jesus said to him,” If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”
Although Jesus’ meaning is not clear, we infer that he tells Peter to stop competing.

The Fourth Gospel ends by saying the Beloved Disciple witnessed these things and “his” testimony is true. Jusino makes a convincing case for believing that that witness was Mary Magdalene.

I hope readers take the time to read “Mary Magdalene authored the 4th G.” and click on the link to Jusino’s article. His cogent arguments seem indisputable to me. I think the rare doubters I’ve encountered could not possibly have read the evidence and absorbed it.

Inserting Mary Magdalene’s name into the Fourth Gospel, particularly Jn 19: 25-27, Jn 20: 1-11 and Jn 21: 20-24, is the only way to make sense of the odd passages. It also helps to explain the unique perspective of the Fourth Gospel. Giving a man credit for a woman’s accomplishment is an old story repeated in history thousands of times.

Don’t miss reader comments following my original post at “Mary Magdalene authored the 4th G.” I think it provoked the most informed comments I’ve ever received on my blog. Note the varied responses to Dan Brown’s novels. 

Next time I plan to reflect on how I imagine Mary Magdalene’s influence might account for the unique content of the Fourth Gospel.   

Comment by Ron Howes, May 10, 2019:
We were led to believe the gospels were written by the actual disciples of Christ,  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and as a child attending Catholic school, nothing to dissuade that false idea was ever suggested. Until the writings of Paul around 77 A.D. [scholars date them shortly after 50 CE] Jesus was not mentioned in any writings at all, with the exception of a Roman historian, whose works were later disputed.
None of the authors of these gospels were alive, at least as adults, during the time of Jesus, and as we know, oral sources just get better and better with each retelling. Feeding 5,000 with half a dozen fish? I want to see the video.

Intrigued by 4th Gospel, June 13, 2019

The Fourth Gospel is different from the other canonical gospels. I disliked it when I was studying theology because, more than any other gospel, it turns Jesus from a man into God. My attitude was changed by a kernel of information in one of my theology books. Years later I used it in a writers’ group.

A Protestant minister started coming to our group and showed interest in my writings because they gave results of historical-critical research on the Bible. He looked disappointed, though, when he learned that I don’t believe Jesus is God. Quoting what’s usually called the Gospel of John, he said,
I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
“The historical Jesus did not say these things,” I answered. I had learned that discourses in the Fourth Gospel bear the traits of a literary composition that reflect the thought of their literary creator. “Some form of myth creation was clearly involved,” I read in Raymond Collins’ book, Introduction to the New Testament. Literary creators put words into Jesus’ mouth.
The minister never came back to the writers’ group.

The new perspective identifying Mary Magdalene as the Beloved Disciple in the Fourth Gospel (JFK & Mary Magdalene) transformed my reading of it. It spurred me to look for elements to like. Some of my favorite Bible stories appear only in the Fourth, not in any other gospel.

One is the Last Supper account. The Fourth Gospel does not tell the story of the Eucharist being instituted. Very interesting. It may indicate that Mary Magdalene did not recollect it because it didn’t happen.

Walter Kasper, theologian and prominent cardinal close to Pope Francis, wrote a Christology that says the Last Supper passages “are definitely not authentic accounts; they show very clear signs of liturgical stylization.” This means the ritual evolved after Jesus’ death and then became gospel text.

Kasper does not decide whether they are based on history, but I believe, “This is my body . . . this is my blood,” are words put into Jesus’ mouth. Mary Magdalene would have remembered something so startling.

I have no difficulty believing that Jesus intuited his likely end and used the meal as a farewell to his disciples. What Mary Magdalene recollected was the foot-washing at the Last Supper. Only the Fourth tells that story. And I think it more likely that a woman would focus on the master washing the feet of his disciples to make a point.

Lengthy discourses by Jesus mark the Fourth Gospel. From biblical scholars we learn that his discourses follow a pattern established by a female predecessor. Jesus’ sayings in the Fourth Gospel have much in common with Sophia’s sayings in the books of Proverbs, Sirach, Baruch, and Wisdom. I invite readers to a past post that shows how much Sophia and Jesus sayings resemble each other.

Sandra Schneiders gave me another good reason to cherish this gospel as a feminine gospel in an address at Newman Center. She finds in the Fourth Gospel four strong women, not one-dimensional women but women capable of rational intelligence who interact with Jesus unmediated by men. They are more tough-minded, unconventional, courageous, committed, and powerful than many men in the gospels.

The Samaritan woman at the well (Chapter 4) converts many in her Samaritan town.
Martha of Bethany (Chapter 11) leads her household, and her confession, “You are the Messiah, the son of God” in Jn 11:27 surpasses in believable conviction, says Schneiders, the same words from Peter in Mt 16:16.
Mary of Bethany (Chapter 12) anoints the feet of Jesus. When Judas protests her extravagance, Jesus defends her.
Most impressive is Mary Magdalene, the first to witness the risen Christ (Chapter 20).
These women protagonists break the mold of stereotypical portrayals of women.

Even more illuminating is a reflection by a Hindu writer, Ravi Ravindra. He unlocks the true meaning of the Fourth Gospel to me as no Christian author ever did.

Although an outsider to the Christian tradition, Ravindra is “much moved” by the gospel. In it, Jesus speaks as a mysterious higher voice, a “transmitting conduit” for “the deepest Self of every human being, the very kernel of a person.” This echoes Carl Jung’s interpretation of Christ—the symbol of divinity at the core of every person. Ravindra warns against using the I AM passages as proof texts to say Jesus is the only divine son, an exclusive savior. That, he says, is “based on a misunderstanding of the sacred texts, . . .”

The Fourth Gospel leaves Revindra “in an uplifted internal state.” And Ravindra’s reflection does the same for me. He shows us that sacred texts are the voice of Spirit to all humanity, not only to particular religions.


Chris said…
Hi Jeanette ,
Do you believe that the Gospel of John is a gnostic text?
Sandy B said…
Jeannette, I used to wonder why you get so caught up in this area of study, back in the days when you were writing Catholic discourse, sans feminism. I see with the years you have continued on, enlarging your knowledge, becoming a scholar. Now that I no longer live in or near St. Cloud, I can see it from a distance, and you fit into your community just like a puzzle piece, because the region needs a public intellectual, which you are. I'm enthralled by your tenaciousness, and the thoroughness of your study. Amazed. Sandy

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