"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 (PART 2)
MORE PROOF OF PRIMITIVITY
My main thesis is that, for the most part, the Magdalene Gospel represents a very early second century synopsis (or anthology) of primitive gospel texts. No, this is not the ultimate source of all Christian gospels -- if indeed such a source even existed. Rather, the Magdalene represents an intermediate stage between the earliest source-text (or texts) and the final canonical product that we now have in Greek. Thus, if seen from this perspective, the Magdalene Gospel can be considered as the source of New Testament gospels.
But, at the same time, clearly this is far from being such a simple and one-dimensional text. Because, also, some Magdalene passages do seem to be "harmonistic" in nature, as they tend to combine and weave together smaller pieces of text coming from two or more separate (pre-canonical) gospels. In this regard, the difference between a "harmony" of the gospels and a "synopsis" of the gospels is very important, and I will return to this subject further on.
So, as I see it, from a textual perspective, this is what this gospel is all about -- it is mainly a synopsis of primitive texts. And this amounts to saying that the Magdalene Gospel is pre-canonical almost it its entirety.
And so, this is really the central thesis of my book. Is this gospel really a pre-canonical text? I maintain that yes, and these 80 textual case studies, as supplied in Chapter 15, are meant to demonstrate this beyond any reasonable doubt. Accordingly, this is a rather simple methodology that I will be following in my textual comparisons -- I will be comparing the Magdalene text directly with standard Greek texts that are parallel to it. The purpose of these comparisons will be to demonstrate that, in each of these cases, the Magdalene text is more primitive.
The truth of the matter is that no such direct comparison between the Magdalene and the canonical texts has ever really been done before in any systematic way. Yes, Boismard has done something rather similar, but not quite -- because he has mostly compared Magdalene passages with various, often very obscure, ancient witnesses. In the process of so doing, he has clearly demonstrated -- at least in my view -- that the Magdalene Gospel represents a second century text. But, even if one fully accepts the validity of his detailed comparisons, this still leaves open a very important question of exactly how the Magdalene and the canonical texts relate to each other. Thus, it looks like Boismard has only gone half-way to where I will be going in this book.
Now, one may also ask, What were the criteria that I used for selecting these 80 case studies? Indeed, if the Magdalene Gospel is really pre-canonical, then there probably should be a lot more such examples? Yes, indeed, and I will even go so far as to say that just about every page of the Magdalene Gospel can supply great many examples showing its pre-canonical status... Potentially, there may even be thousands of such arguments that can be made! So, these particular 80 items simply seem to me like they are the most persuasive -- since they will be very difficult to reverse.
Just to give you an example of many other arguments that can be made to the same effect, let us consider a very special "abbreviating" character of the Magdalene Gospel. Typically, and quite obviously, Magdalene passages are a lot shorter than what one finds in the canonical texts. And, right away, this, in itself, should be counted as one very important argument for its primitivity.
Indeed, there are innumerable "omissions" that the Magdalene makes, in comparison with our standard Greek texts -- the total count of these "omissions" will no doubt be in the thousands. But, in fact, most likely these are not really "abbreviations" or "omissions", but rather the places where our canonical texts had been expanded with later material...
Thus, all kinds of good arguments for priority can be made on this basis as well. But, also, to argue on this basis may sometimes prove to be inconclusive, since quite a few subjective judgements may be involved about what would be considered an omission and what would be an expansion. And so, many such potential case studies based on Magdalene's "abbreviating" character may be seen, at least to some extent, as reversible.
Besides, there will also be an additional complication in these types of arguments, because, on occasion, some Magdalene passages also happen to be longer than canonical texts. Now, this can be for two reasons. Either because some stuff was added later to the Magdalene Gospel -- and some such apparent additions there may well be, although they would be rather few. Or else -- and this seems to be a lot more common -- these may be some primitive words or phrases that, in the course of time, had been edited out or abridged by the canonical editors...
But, at this point, we do not need to worry about any of these complications. In fact, this is exactly why I have selected these 80 examples -- because they will be very difficult to reverse. For instance, it certainly will not be so easy to reverse an argument about a passage in the Magdalene Gospel where John the Baptist, or the disciples of Jesus, are treated especially reverentially... The only counter-argument that my opponents can make in such a case, perhaps, is that the difference had come about by accident? But what if we have a dozen such cases? What an unlikely succession of accidents would this be...
Thus, since we now have 80 clear and non-reversible case studies demonstrating the priority of the Magdalene text, this should show beyond any reasonable doubt that this text is pre-canonical.
Indeed, the only way all this evidence can be countered is if my opponents manage to come up with some sort of an alternative scenario that can explain how all these changes could have been made by some mysterious medieval "harmonist", who worked from canonical texts but, apparently, would have also been treating them with "extreme liberty and creativity". And not only how these changes could be made, but also, even more importantly, why? I submit that this would be quite impossible to do.
And especially the why question will be very difficult to answer in any coherent fashion -- for two reasons. First, as far as we know, quite a few of these highly unusual theological motifs, as found in the Magdalene text, were basically unknown in the middle ages. And second, a lot of them would have also been considered as quite "heretical", and very dangerous to hold -- keeping in mind all that censorship and persecution of dissidents that were so common in the middle ages, wherever the political control of the Vatican could reach.
OTHER BIG HISTORICAL PUZZLES
There is so much else about primitive Christianity, and about early gospels that I would like to cover in this book but, unfortunately, limitations of space will not permit it. For the most part, I would like to stick to the essentials here, because I think it is only right that the Magdalene Gospel, itself, should be the centrepiece of this book. In fact, a more detailed commentary on this gospel, alone, will definitely need to take up more than one volume.
There is only so much that can be covered in one book. The subjects that I have already broached are truly immense, and there is so much more that needs to be considered. For example, if indeed this is such a primitive and very valuable text, naturally, it may be asked, How on earth did it ever get to the medieval England? And why England, anyway? Why is it not attested elsewhere?
But this is not quite right, because something like this is attested elsewhere. And here, another important and rather difficult subject will need to be raised, the subject of the Diatessaron, and of the Diatessaronic textual tradition more generally. Because, as all scholars agree, this is the tradition that the Magdalene Gospel really belongs to.
As any standard reference book or Encyclopedia will inform you, the Diatessaron was a rather mysterious ancient gospel that is generally believed to have been produced in the second century by Tatian, a Church father with a somewhat questionable reputation. Most people have never even heard about the Diatessaron, or about Tatian, for that matter. And this is no surprise, because the subject is generally considered as quite obscure and very difficult even among the biblical professionals. Also, although the number of the Diatessaronic specialists in the world today is extremely small, still, a range of disputes among them is really quite remarkable, and rather disproportionate to how many study this subject. Certainly, there are numerous unanswered questions about this ancient gospel, and how it may have looked like originally. Although some rather corrupt copies of it still survive, their exact relationship with the original text is still being disputed by our Diatessaronic savants.
Any way you look at it, the Magdalene Gospel certainly does not exist in a complete isolation from the broader Christian gospel tradition, including the Diatessaronic textual tradition. True, this text is unique, but not that unique. Because there exists yet another very obscure medieval gospel of a Diatessaronic type, known as the Liege Diatessaron, that is quite relevant. It is in the medieval Dutch language (although it has already been translated into English twice); its only manuscript dates from about the same period as the Magdalene manuscript; and there are great many textual parallels -- seemingly hundreds of them -- between it and the Magdalene Gospel. I will bring up some of these parallels in the course of this study.
So in Part 6 of this book, I will try to answer some big questions about the history of the Diatessaron, and to introduce some clarity to this matter. Among my conclusions are that,
* Tatian did not really write the Diatessaron,
* the Diatessaron is not really what it is generally taken to be, and that,
* in fact it represents, and up to now has tended to mask behind itself, the Gospel According to the Hebrews.
And now, the next question that arises, What is the Gospel According to the Hebrews? This is quite an unusual gospel indeed -- it was a primitive gospel that was very well known and widely used in antiquity. We hear about it very often from our earliest historical witnesses, but until now it has been believed to be lost. But maybe it is not really lost, after all... Perhaps this is what the Magdalene Gospel really is? Indeed, there seem to be many good indications to this effect.
So how did the Magdalene Gospel ever get to England, and who may be responsible for preserving and transmitting it all that time before the 14th century? This is a very good question, and it needs to be answered. In fact, there is evidence that this document may be connected with the ancient Celtic Church, whose faith tradition was obviously very different from the Catholic tradition, also most likely being more primitive.
So this is yet another area of ancient history that is extremely obscure and often rather misunderstood. Certainly, very few people nowadays have even heard about the ancient Culdees of Scotland. As I found out, often even the Scots seem to know very little about them! Now, that is obscure! And yet, the Culdees were simply the ministers of the Celtic Church, and their main base seemed to be on the sacred island of Iona, which, itself, is quite well known in Britain.
Besides Scotland, there were also many Culdees in all other Celtic-speaking areas of the British Isles, as well as on the Continent. Later on, the British Culdees also founded great many churches and monasteries in Germany, France, and elsewhere on the Continent. The most famous of these missionaries was St. Columban, who first sailed to France with his twelve companions in 585 CE.
To great many people it will come as a surprise that, before its independence was suppressed in the 7th and 8th centuries, the Celtic Church preserved many traditions that can be described as "Judaizing" (or to put it in another way, very primitive). And here is where the connection with the Magdalene Gospel will come up...
Again, most modern Scots do not even suspect that, even as late as the 17th century, their ancestors still generally avoided the consumption of pork, and of some other foods that the Torah forbids to Jews. This, most likely, was the old Culdee influence, that is still being hushed up, or so it seems, in our standard treatments of British history. In Chapter 38, I will also cover some of this material as well.
THE SON OF MAN SCREEN
Another very important subject that is being considered in this book is the history of the "Son of Man" title of Jesus.
Since modern biblical scholarship began, literally thousands of books and articles have been written about this title. And yet, even so, the theory that I am now proposing in this regard is still completely new. Essentially, what I am saying is that, in early gospel texts, this title lacked completely. It seems like only later, some time in the second century, was it inserted into the canonical texts, where it is now found all over the place.
Indeed, until now, nobody has had a slightest idea about the phenomenon that I have now discovered -- that there are, in fact, quite a few important extra-canonical gospel texts that lack "Son of Man". As for the Magdalene Gospel, it lacks this title entirely -- which highly significant pattern remained unnoticed, and un-commented upon, ever since its discovery nearly 100 years ago. (I suppose this should demonstrate just how well this gospel has been studied, and just how carefully it has been read by those very few who have even bothered to read it...)
So this is yet another item of evidence that should indicate the primitivity of Magdalene text. Altogether, "Son of Man" title is found around 80 times in our Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (give or take a few depending on which version of the Bible one consults), so it is very common in the canonical gospels. Now, assuming for a moment that the Magdalene text was really based on the canonicals, then it will follow that its compiler would have made the decision to omit "Son of Man" around 80 times. But why? No satisfactory answer has been suggested so far by anyone and, certainly, it was not for a lack of asking.
Of course, the Magdalene Gospel -- being an "abbreviating" source that it is -- completely omits many canonical passages that include "Son of Man". But still, there are 31 passages where the Magdalene does include an entire sentence -- as also found in the canonical version or versions -- where one would expect to find "Son of Man". Instead, words like "I", "he", "me", "him", and "himself" are found there in the Magdalene.
So how does one deal with these extremely unusual textual variants? Clearly, the simplest answer to this puzzle would be that these passages are preserved in the Magdalene in their original pre-canonical form. And, indeed, as I have been recently discovering, there is now quite substantial evidence to support this view, coming from other ancient and medieval texts.
And so, it seems like the Magdalene Gospel has now helped us to uncover what may be described as a very ancient pre-"Son of Man" stratum of gospel composition. While quite a few scholars actually did propose in the past that this title of Jesus was introduced rather late, until now, any textual support for this has been lacking.
So what would be the larger significance of these findings? It seems like now we are finally getting access to the ipsissima vox (the true voice) of Jesus. Instead of speaking about himself rather woodenly in the third person, and portraying himself as some sort of an apocalyptic heavenly figure, a more human Jesus is finally emerging from behind a thick theological screen that the late canonical editors seem to have erected around him. The significance of these findings for our whole understanding of Christian history is difficult to overestimate. In Chapter 25, we will consider this matter in more detail.
So, yes, dear friends, however incredible this may sound, it does seem like the long-lost source of our New Testament gospels has now been identified. Full implications of this discovery promise to be truly astounding; in fact, myself, I am rather at a loss to know what they might be in the long run...
As for the short run, it is a safe guess that, true to form, the biblical profession will try to avoid dealing with this evidence as long as they can -- this part actually seems quite predictable.
It is obvious that, when compared with standard canonical texts, virtually every passage of the Magdalene Gospel is different in many particulars. Some of these differences seem very important, others maybe less so. The bolded text in my translation makes it possible to see all these differing words and passages at a glance.
Often these differences can be very subtle but, at the same time, tremendously important theologically. But also, very often, the differences will indeed seem rather striking to anyone who is well familiar with standard gospel texts. (Of course it is also possible to highlight the standard canonical texts so that those passages or words that are not found in the Magdalene Gospel are marked off clearly. I have no doubt that most of them can be classified quite easily as later expansions.)
And so, if the Magdalene Gospel indeed preserves our familiar biblical narratives in their more primitive pre-canonical form, a whole new light seems to be cast on them now. It is as if a broad window suddenly opened up into many previously extremely obscure and dim regions of early Christianity...
What a tremendous and unbelievable concept! Indeed, while the concept, itself, may be unbelievable, yet the evidence is overwhelming that it is real. As they say, the proof is in the pudding, and this book is this pudding.
If my evidence is accepted as valid, then what was previously merely a matter for speculation now lies in broad daylight, and on the palm of your hand. Important textual disputes that have occupied scholars for many generations can be now finally resolved. The words of Jesus that go back to the earliest layers of tradition have now been pinpointed, and can now be analysed in their more original shape.
Indeed, this may be the beginning of a whole new age of biblical scholarship.Go back to THE MAGDALENE GOSPEL Introduction Page.