A papyrus first discovered in 2012 made the news again last week when the text was authenticated. It had come to be known as “the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” because one of the several fragmented lines read, “Jesus said to them, my wife …” The controversial Coptic (N. Egypt) text written by an early Christian, not a modern forger, was dated as being from between the 6th and 9th centuries. Karen King, a Harvard Divinity School historian and the original presenter of the papyrus, said she welcomed debate over the text's ambiguities. For all we know, she said, the sentence fragment continues after the point where it’s missing and torn, with Jesus revealing his wife was in fact the church, or perhaps, King suggested humorously a la Shelley Berman, Jesus said, "My wife? Are you kidding? I don't have a wife!"
Nearly all Christian scholars agree there is no evidence Jesus ever married. Though he may not have had the support of a spouse, it is often overlooked, denied, or misunderstood, that there were many women actively serving as partners with Jesus in his mission, working to promote the teachings. Ms. King’s scholarship and other factors such as the discovery of the Gospel of Mary in the Nag Hammadi Library, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/maps/primary/mary... have brought these new perspectives to light. The male dominated hierarchy of the early Roman Church may have suppressed such information to serve their own purposes and also because Mary’s name was so powerful.
Mary Magdalene was the most prominent woman leader in the work of Jesus’ kingdom. In 597 Pope Gregory the Great delivered a homily on Luke’s gospel in which he suggested that this Mary was the same woman who wept at Jesus’ feet in Luke 7:37 and that one of the seven demons Jesus excised from her was sexual immorality. Although the Vatican removed the association of a repentant prostitute from her name, reinstating Mary’s dignity and identity in 1969, the myth persists in our popular culture. See author Rachel Held Evans’ excellent blog about Mary: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/women-of-the-passion-mary-magdalene.
Mary of Magdala became known as “the apostle to the apostles,” in early Christian writings, and “equal to the apostles,” in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Intriguingly, another fragment of text in the 2012 Coptic papyrus says, “she will be able to be my disciple.”
In the Bible, some of the women associated with Jesus mission are even described as financial contributors. From the beginning, Jewish women disciples, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, the daughter of the former chazan of the Nazareth synagogue accompanied Jesus and the apostles, and “were contributing to their support out of their private means (Luke 8:1-3).”
Joanna “the wife of Chuza,” named in Luke 8:1, was “the wife of the manager of Herod’s household.” She was a political asset, probably able to protect Jesus from interference by Herod Antipas by reassuring the king that Jesus’ kingdom was “not of this world.”
Though the apostles went into hiding at the time of Jesus’ death (John 16:32), the women remained close by his side. The gospel of Mark 15:41 reports there were “many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem … These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee.” In this same spirit of devotion, they stand “afar off,” “beholding the things which were done” at the crucifixion (Luke 23:49-56). After witnessing the horrific event, they go back to their homes to prepare “spices and ointments” for his anointing.
Salome, the wife of Zebedee (Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40, 16:1) mentioned as another of the women who accompanied Jesus in Galilee, and who was also present at the crucifixion, (Mark 15:40). “Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger … and Salome” (15:41).
She was also among those who went to Christ’s tomb carrying “sweet spices to anoint his body (Mark 16:1).”
Almost every student of the Bible knows that Mary Magdalene was the first witness to Jesus resurrection on the day after the Sabbath, a Sunday that we now call Easter. She ran to the apostles who were in seclusion proclaiming the good news. As the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels points out, "the first Christian preachers of the Resurrection were not men, but women!"
Let us remember and honor these inspiring women this Easter season.