"THE MAGDALENE GOSPEL: A Journey Behind the New Testament", by Yuri Kuchinsky. Roots Publishing, Toronto, 2002. Copyright 2002 by Yuri Kuchinsky.
ONE GOSPEL THAT REMAINED UNCENSORED
If the evidence presented here is found to be valid, then this may be the most important book about biblical history to have been published in the last few hundred years. Because this volume introduces what appears to be the most ancient Christian gospel of them all. As will be argued further, this is a text that is earlier than any of New Testament gospels. For the first time, this document is now translated for the benefit of the general reader, and analysed as a whole. It is probable that, sooner or later, it will change biblical history as we now know it.
This gospel does not really have a name attached to it. It seems like the Christian believers who used it for great many centuries called it simply "the Gospel". Its anonymity is a very good sign, because, as it is widely accepted by scholars, all earliest Christian communities started out with just one anonymous gospel. Those were the times when they did not yet have the New Testament with its four gospels that needed to be distinguished from each other by name.
Only one copy of this document is known to exist, and it may be something of a miracle that it survived at all. Since this unique manuscript is located at the library of Magdalene College, Cambridge, the name "Magdalene Gospel" appears to be quite appropriate for it. (Also, others have referred to this text as "The Pepysian Gospel Harmony", which name appears to be somewhat problematic for a number of reasons.) Standard designation for this manuscript is MS Pepys 2498.
This rather mysterious text has been known to a narrow circle of specialists already for about 100 years and, incredible as this may sound, they managed to miss its significance almost completely.
The story of this manuscript is quite unusual because it was mis-catalogued in Cambridge, and completely unknown to the world until 1902. The first to notice its anomalous content was Anna Paues, at the time a graduate student at Cambridge, who was doing some research in early English biblical texts. After it was understood that this gospel was quite unlike any other, it was published in 1922 by Oxford University Press. Medieval specialists who were originally dealing with this document believed, contrary to all the evidence, that this was a "gospel harmony" based on the canonical gospels. And so, it was thought at that time that this document will be of interest primarily to the medieval specialists, and to historians of the English language. Yes, dear reader, this fascinating early text, seemingly the earliest of all Christian gospels existing today, is in medieval English (Middle English). To an average modern English speaker, the language of the Magdalene Gospel is likely to appear more or less as a foreign language (some samples of the original Middle English text can be found in the Appendix to this book).
Certainly, an idea, itself, that a very obscure Middle English gospel may represent a text that is earlier than what we find in our standard canonical New Testament will be seen by most people as utterly incredible. But this is exactly what will be argued in this book, and the amount of evidence for this is really quite overwhelming.
So the main argument of this book is to demonstrate that the Magdalene text is pre-canonical almost in its entirety. What I mean by this is that, upon a close comparison, almost every passage in the Magdalene Gospel turns out to be earlier than an equivalent canonical passage (or passages). To be sure, Magdalene text also contains a certain amount of later glosses and expansions, but these are usually quite minor. Such later additions will be probably immediately obvious to the reader, and they seem to represent no more than 1 or 2% of the text.
Now, it is important to note that the discovery of this gospel at Cambridge in 1902, and its subsequent publication did not go completely unnoticed in the world of biblical studies. Some highly eminent European biblical scholars have already been calling attention to it over the years, and yet the rest of their profession, and especially their English-language colleagues, have remained almost completely oblivious. Why is this so, one would like to ask? Why such a lack of interest on the part of biblical professional mainstream?
I will be answering these questions in this book in some detail. But some answers can already be given quite easily. It is because of what this gospel is -- it is a very unusual text with great many Jewish-Christian elements. It is because of clear political bias in the profession. It is because the true story of primitive Christianity, which was certainly Jewish-Christianity, still remains almost completely unknown and highly neglected today.
It is while trying to gain some understanding of the story of Christian origins, while conducting an independent investigation in this area, that I came to discover the Magdalene Gospel. I will be telling about all this further as I go along. But also, a story of yet another very important, and almost equally neglected Jewish-Christian gospel will need to be told in this connection, and this is the story of the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew. It is while studying the Hebrew Matthew, while looking into its background -- both historical and textual -- that I first learned about the Magdalene manuscript.
So it is not just the Magdalene Gospel that they have neglected or dismissed sight unseen. The reception that the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew has received may be seen as even more revealing, and it illustrates quite well all those biases and blind preconceptions that biblical scholars are heirs to. This very intriguing text, published for the first time in 1987 by Prof. George Howard, is quite clearly a very unusual Jewish-Christian document. Is this why it has been so ignored in scholarship ever since it was published? Is this why so few biblical professionals have even looked at it as yet?
A QUEST FOR UNDERSTANDING
So the aim of this book is two-fold. On the one hand, its main purpose is -- for the first time ever -- to make the Magdalene Gospel available in a modern translation for the benefit of the general reader. Now people can read if for themselves, and draw their own conclusions about what this document is really all about.
But also, my second goal is to present some of my findings about the history of primitive Christianity, and about the Historical Jesus -- this rather enigmatic figure. My conclusions may shock and surprise quite a few people, because they are so different from what one usually reads today in mainstream analyses of New Testament history.
My own personal quest to understand these very difficult issues has taken many years already and, certainly, at times, it has not been an easy journey. I will confess that often it felt like I was going round in circles. For the longest time, many key historical problems in this area seemed quite insurmountable, since so much important data was clearly missing.
It is as if you are trying to get to the source but, in the dark, keep hitting some wall... With the benefit of hindsight, I understand now that this was really the wall of ancient ecclesiastical censorship that I was coming up against. This was a wall that was constructed by those ancient Catholic myth-makers, and its purpose was to conceal the real picture of primitive Jewish-Christianity.
But then, gradually, some cracks started to appear in the wall, where I could finally see beyond -- could see the Christian past closer to how it really was... And still more recently, that old paucity of reliable evidence suddenly became what seems like a veritable flood of new information -- the flood that I am still trying to cope with at this time.
So this was a long road that eventually led me to the Hebrew Matthew, and then onwards to the Magdalene Gospel. And, to be sure, even before that, there had been quite a few other surprising discoveries and revelations along the way. In particular, my encounter with the theories of the great French biblical scholar Alfred Loisy -- many of them almost completely unknown today -- was a big formative event for my own personal understanding of the Christian beginnings. In Chapter 6, and elsewhere in the book, I will be describing some of those very important insights that I gained from Loisy, that helped me so much in my quest.
In the last few years, besides spending a lot of time with books, a lot of my research has also been conducted on the Internet, which actually has a very large biblical studies area. Academic discussion groups on the Net count among its members some of today's leading biblical authorities. Certainly, observing and participating in these discussions helped to accelerate my research tremendously -- there is no question about it. But there have also been considerable tensions about some of the ideas that I have been pursuing, and especially more recently.
It certainly may seem like the longer I was active in these Internet discussions, and the more I became familiar with today's world of biblical studies, the more trouble of all sorts I came to encounter, which, on the whole, may sound rather ironic...
In a sense, this book has a very unusual character of being a "post-Internet book". This is because great many of the ideas and findings presented here have already been battle-tested, so to speak, in the hot and stewing cauldron of the Internet. In one way or another, all my main theories have already been presented online to both the biblical specialists and amateurs. After already receiving quite a lot of feedback about them, and after refining them some more, I am certain that they will now stand up to critical examination.
THE HIJACKING OF CHRISTIANITY AND THE BIG COVER-UP THAT FOLLOWED
And now about the main results of my investigation. They are really quite shocking, and many of them will surprise even those people who think they already know their biblical history quite well. My conclusions are as follows.
* In the beginning, Christianity was an entirely Jewish movement. So this is where the Historical Jesus was coming from.
* This situation prevailed for a long time, much longer than most people may suspect. Indeed, there is good evidence that the movement was still overwhelmingly Jewish-Christian even as late as 135 CE (Common Era).
* It was at that time, in the terrible aftermath of the Second Jewish War, which was one of the darkest periods of Jewish history -- when Judaism was basically outlawed by the Roman state -- that the leadership of the movement had been seized by Gentile Christians -- in Rome, as well as in Jerusalem. So this, as I see it, was the Great Gentile Hijacking of Christianity.
* Then, in the aftermath of the Hijacking, a Big Cover-up began. This was an attempt by newly emerging Catholic orthodoxy to falsify the true story of Christian beginnings, which were essentially Jewish-Christian beginnings. And so, this was also the time when the gospels were being re-edited substantially to reflect these doctrinal changes.
* Although far from being trouble-free and easy to impose, still, the Cover-up proved to be remarkably successful -- because it has survived mostly intact even until now. In fact, the academic biblical historians are still very much taken in by that official cover story -- that foundational Catholic myth that was cobbled together back in the second century CE.
This picture, as outlined above, certainly looks very different, compared to what one finds today in any standard introduction to early Christian history (except, perhaps, for the first item on this list). But, at the same time, it can also be said that none of these things should really come as a big surprise to anyone who has read Alfred Loisy. The problem is that so few people nowadays have read him, although good English translations of his most important books are available. Perhaps the only excuse that can be made for our biblical professionals still being ignorant about all this research is that Loisy is not such an easy author to read. In this book, I will try to explain some of his key historical ideas on a more popular level.
As the true story of Christian origins will be unfolding itself in this volume, it should become more and more clear to the reader why today's biblical profession has given such a cold shoulder to both the Hebrew Matthew and the Magdalene Gospel. Indeed, there is just no way that these two very unusual documents can ever fit into what our mainstream scholars still see as their true-to-life picture of early Christianity. Although their more conventional reconstructions of Christian history do vary quite a lot among themselves, they all tend to have one thing in common -- unfortunately, they have rather little to do with historical reality. And this disconnection from history seems to come mostly from the same source -- that same old Catholic foundational myth that was launched in a big way in the second century, and that still seems to be flying high.
Indeed, one should not exaggerate the degree to which mainstream scholars of ancient Christianity agree with each other -- for the most part they do not. So just about the only area where they do seem to agree is this old foundational myth, or a group of interrelated myths. There are great many problems with them, and it can even be said, perhaps, that a lot of people already feel this instinctively in any case... Still, these rather glaring problems are very rarely addressed head on. So let us take a look at some of them right now. Perhaps it is good sometimes that someone would dare to say that the King Is Naked!
DATING THE SEPARATION
Certainly the biggest problem area in the study of Christian origins -- the biggest question that still does not have any satisfying answer -- is the question of how and when Christianity separated itself from Judaism. As it is, almost everyone agrees that Jesus was a religious Jew, and that Christianity started out as a sect within Judaism. Also, almost everyone agrees that all earliest followers of Jesus were also religious Jews. True, there are also today a few misguided theorists who are trying to question the Jewishness of Jesus -- who would like to make him into some sort of a Greek -- and I will address this matter separately in due time. Still, this is definitely very much a minority point of view.
So it can be said quite safely that all earliest Christians were religious Jews who believed in Jesus; indeed, this is the best and the simplest way to define Jewish-Christianity. But, as we all know, mainstream Christianity, whether Catholic or Protestant, is very much unlike Judaism -- because the Christians violate almost every major commandment of traditional Judaism, such as Sabbath-observance, the dietary restrictions, observance of all major Jewish religious festivals, etc.
Naturally, a question may be asked, How and under what circumstances did such a situation come about? So how did a movement of religious Jews cease to be Jewish? Surely, you would think, the answers to these questions would be quite easy to find in our mainstream New Testament literature? But you would be wrong, dear reader, if you think so. In fact, believe it or not, our professional biblical scholars provide hardly any clear answers here. And, often enough, they are not even able to provide any answers at all! So then these are the sorts of answers that I will try to provide in this book.
Let us look at the Sabbath-observance, for example, which is very important indeed for all religious Jews, and which may be described as perhaps the central commandment of Judaism. Surely, in our present context, it should be extremely important for us to know when the Christians first stopped observing the Sabbath... So then it should be quite easy to find this out in our standard reference books on Christian history, right? Yes, one would think so... until one actually tries to find this out. And then, it will very soon become obvious that the mainstream biblical scholars who write these books are really no big help in this area at all. In fact, it seems like none of them really want to deal with this subject! And this, dear friends, should already serve as a clear sign that there is some sort of a cover-up going on in this area...
Usually, these reference books will tell you very helpfully that observing Sunday as the "Lord's Day" was quite an early custom for Christians. This may or may not be so but, at the same time, this is not really directly relevant to when Christians gave up Sabbath-observance, is it? After all, they could have honoured both days of the week and, if fact, such a custom of observing both Saturday and Sunday is quite well attested among ancient Christians in various places. So our mainstream scholars are simply trying to avoid this very important problem, it seems... Shifting attention to "observing Sunday as the Lord's day" may be just an excuse not to face the real issue in this case.
Well, the truth of the matter may surprise lots of people now. In actual fact, as I will document further on, it seems like as late as in the fifth (!) century, the majority of Christians were still Sabbath-observers -- this will become quite clear from the testimony of St. Augustine and others...
And once we know this to be so, quite a few important conclusions may already be drawn from this fact -- for our understanding of the Historical Jesus, as well as of his immediate followers. This sure tends to indicate, one would think, that the big break from Judaism was not really as early as all that? And this may also explain, at least to some extent, why our mainstream scholars are so silent about this subject...
And exactly the same things will also be confirmed when, in Chapter 7, we will investigate the early Christian Easter observance -- how and when it lost its very close connection with the Jewish Passover, that it originally had. Quite a few people may be surprised at some of our findings in this area as well... The historical evidence will point to 135 CE as a crucial turning point, when the Christian leadership in certain key urban locations had taken the big decision to separate itself from Judaism. But, still, it seems like, everywhere else, Christians were rather unreceptive to these very radical doctrinal changes -- and this applies especially to the rank-and-file Christians. In fact, in some places, such as in Asia Minor (what is now Turkey), and in Syria, these Gentile-oriented changes will still be resisted very widely for centuries to come.
A JEWISH-CHRISTIAN GOSPEL
Right from the beginning, there is one thing that needs to be made clear about the Magdalene Gospel -- for the most part, it is a Jewish-Christian document. This will soon become quite self-evident for the reader, and one can say that these features are found pretty much on the surface of this text. It may, of course, be debated about when and how these Jewish-Christian features derived, but their presence, itself, can hardly be in dispute.
And, certainly, the same thing can also be said about the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew. In his commentary to this text, Prof. Howard provides plenty of evidence showing why this is so. It is certainly a most curious fact that this was one aspect of the Hebrew Matthew that all of its critics to date -- and I have read all of their criticisms carefully -- have done their best to neglect. It sure does seem like they would rather look the other way... Might there be a 500 pound gorilla in the room, by any chance? If so, then, definitely, it looks like nobody among the academic critics of the Hebrew Matthew wish to be the first to mention this inconvenient fact.
And we can observe a very similar pattern about the critical reception that the Magdalene Gospel has received so far, such as it was. The only scholar who really tried to study this text in the last few years is Prof. M.-E. Boismard, who also happens to be one of the leading biblical scholars in France today. His was the distinction of having published the first book dedicated to an analysis of this text... And yet even he remained silent about this general theological profile of the Magdalene Gospel.
As to some other published opinions about this document, these are very few indeed and, likewise, nowhere does one find a single reference to the fact that it has so many Jewish-Christian features.
But still, I certainly would not like to detract from Boismard's achievement. What he has done for the Magdalene Gospel has been very important indeed. Basically, he demonstrated conclusively, with many detailed textual comparisons, that this text goes back to the second century CE, and that it represents quite well yet another ancient document -- a gospel text that was used very extensively by St. Justin Martyr (all this will be dealt with in more detail later on). Because of Boismard, my own research in this area was certainly made a lot easier. Had I been the first to call attention to this text at this time, no doubt I would have simply been ridiculed and laughed at in all those Internet discussions about the Magdalene Gospel that I have started. But as it was, because -- at least to some extent -- I had Boismard paving the way for me, the general reaction to my findings, when I presented them to the scholars, was usually silent astonishment; although ill-concealed rancour was also rather common in those few replies that, now and then, did arrive from the professionals... In any case, the reception that I experienced very rarely descended into open sneers, which might certainly have been expected otherwise if not for Boismard.
But at the same time, from my own perspective, there are also some problems with the way Boismard approached this text, and being reticent about its overall Jewish-Christian character would be only one of them. While I do respect Boismard tremendously for a lot of things he has done in New Testament studies, at the same time, I also do not always agree with him about certain areas of early Christian history.
In general, it may be said that the ancient Jewish-Christianity happens to be one subject that often brings up unpleasant reactions in your typical New Testament scholar. There always seems to be some air of danger and controversy hanging about it... Could this be, among other things, because so few really understand what it was all about?
Any way you look at it, this seems to have always been like that ever since the second century, when Jewish-Christianity was rather commonly seen as the enemy number one by Church fathers. Also we can note that, in general, the responses to Jewish-Christianity coming from both the Christian and the Jewish commentators appear to be almost equally negative, and quite as emotional. So this is probably yet another reason why the subject is still so difficult for a historian to deal with on a rational level. There are too many painful memories in this area all around, or so it seems...
So here are the features of the Magdalene Gospel that clearly place it as a Jewish-Christian document. To begin with, there are numerous passages where,
1. the family of Jesus,
2. his mother,
3. his disciples
4. John the Baptist,
5. the disciples of John
are all treated in a more positive light, compared to what one finds in our canonical gospels.
Also, other Jews, including,
6. the common people,
7. the Pharisees, as well as
8. the scribes,
are also treated in a more positive light. There are great many passages such as these that I have now identified in the Magdalene Gospel.
Also, the Magdalene text consistently depicts,
9. a much closer association between Jesus and John the Baptist, including also the disciples of John.
Thus, clearly, the attitude that the Magdalene Gospel adopts towards the people of Israel is a lot more positive, compared to the canonical texts. And the same can also be said about how Jesus, himself, treats people around him, as portrayed in the Magdalene Gospel. In fact, what we find in it is this image of a "nice" Jesus -- a Jesus who is invariably very kind and gentle with the people, much more so than what we observe in our standard canonical texts.
And it is not only this that is significant -- also, the people are paying back the compliments. So, in the Magdalene,
10. the people of Israel tend to like Jesus a lot more than in standard Greek texts, and generally to give him a friendlier reception.
To me, all this constitutes some pretty significant evidence indicating that the Magdalene Gospel represents an ancient Jewish-Christian composition. But we are not done yet; there are also,
11. great many textual parallels between the Magdalene Gospel and the
Hebrew Matthew, parallels that are often unique;
12. in the Magdalene Gospel, John the Baptist is portrayed as a vegetarian, which is clearly a Jewish-Christian theme.
So these are 12 clear characteristics of this document that indicate its Jewish-Christian provenance, and all this involves at least 45 separate passages in the Magdalene!
So who would have been interested in producing a text like this in the middle ages, I would like to ask? Does anyone have any idea? Of course not. So then maybe it is not a medieval text at all, but a one that goes back at least to the second century?
But my proof that the Magdalene Gospel is indeed a pre-canonical text is certainly not limited to its Jewish-Christian features alone. Altogether, I have already identified at least 80 separate items of evidence to this effect, that also involve various other areas of primitive Christianity. Details of this are listed in Chapter 15 of this book -- perhaps the most important chapter of them all, since it contains plenty of hard proof that the Magdalene text is indeed earlier than the canonical texts.Go to Part 2 of the Introduction to THE MAGDALENE GOSPEL.