Composition and redaction in the Coptic "Gospel of Mary"

Ardyth L. Bass, Marquette University


Since the 1896 discovery of the Coptic Gospel of Mary, the identity of Mary as Magdalene has been assumed. This presupposition has overshadowed scholarly research, focusing primarily on the character of Mary Magdalene and the conflict with Peter. Mary Magdalene is presented as one who has achieved superior spirituality in contrast to Peter. This, according to some, allows a window into the prominence of Mary Magdalene in Gnostic communities and early Christianity, evidence of the leadership of women that was suppressed by orthodoxy, represented by Peter. My study does not operate under the assumption that Mary is Magdalene nor does it assume that the conflict with Peter is central to the text. I propose the text is about the authority and reliability of the Savior. The literary unity of the Gos. Mary has been disputed. Some have suggested it consists of two parts that have been joined together to Christianize a Gnostic text. Others have argued for its literary unity as a Gnostic revelation dialogue. I begin with a reexamination of the two parts of the Gos. Mary and argue for the literary unity of the text through evidence of its symmetric structure and deliberate composition. While most scholars acknowledge the two parts, a thorough linguistic analysis of each part was long overdue. Following this analysis, I suggest a different genre for the Gos. Mary. The structure of each part is compared to that of the pronouncement story; specifically, the story of the anointing found in Mark and Matthew. This provides new insights into its purpose and function. The conflict between Mary and Peter is placed in a new perspective. I conclude that the dispute is not about Mary and Peter but the Savior. His authority, behavior, and reliability are called into question. Mary and Peter are the literary devices that open this discussion. The pronouncements settle the debate. They are to rely upon the Savior "who has prepared us and made us into men" and "put on the perfect man and acquire him for ourselves as he commanded us." With this protection, they are exhorted to "go and preach the gospel."

Recommended Citation

Bass, Ardyth L., "Composition and redaction in the Coptic "Gospel of Mary"" (2007). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3263797.