The Gospel According to…Mary?


Every time I visit the beach, I’m reminded that even though the rhythms are unchanging, life is never exactly the same from day to day.  The way the ocean waves break on the beach are a little different each day, the shells that wash up on the beach are infinitely varied, the osprey that make their nests on the sound bring new life each spring.

And while the words we writers use to describe the life around us are relatively fixed, the ways we put those words together are ever new.  And so discovering a new author is one of the great pleasures of reading.  I love that feeling—reading something that pulls me into the world of the book—even though I feel a little sad when I reach the end.  I rush to buy every other book the author has written, and I wait with anticipation for the next book to appear.

So imagine my surprise when I read in the WashingtonPost today that a group of theologians from most of the major religions have published a new book called A New New Testament—a book containing ten “new” books from the early years of Christianity.  Each of the ten books is prefaced by an explanation of its origins—some found only in the last century and others considered and rejected for inclusion in the original biblical texts.  But all have been researched and found to have been popular in the early years of Christianity.  The council that put this text together includes theologians from the United Church of Christ, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal churches, as well as two Catholic nuns and a rabbi—graduates of some of the most renowned seminaries in the country.

The titles alone are intriguing:  the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary (Magdalene), the Letter of Peter to Philip, and The Thunder: Perfect Mind. The council theologians are clear that they are not trying to replace the traditional New Testament.  Instead, they offer readers an opportunity to reconsider the traditional texts in light of the new.  The primary editor, Hal Taussig, says in the Preface, “These new works neither revolt against the contents of the more established gospels and letters, nor do they blandly mimic them.  They tell new stories, from new perspectives, but they pulse with familiar passion and power in their depiction of spiritual experiences and deep quests for meaning.”

Predictably, some churches rejected the texts before they were even published and without having read them.  But I don’t see these books as a threat to the traditional biblical canon, any more than I see diverse new literary texts as a threat to the literary canon.  So I have already downloaded the book to my e-reader and will look forward to reading it as I have time.  I will continue to read each morning the traditional texts of my faith, but I’ll look forward to reading Thomas and Mary and Peter—three of my favorites from the traditional stories for their very human doubts and failings.

And I wonder what would happen if all of us could read our sacred texts with a fresh perspective and an inquiring mind—if we could appreciate new insights into our faith just as we are in awe of every new sunrise over the ever-the-same, ever-changing waves.

So tell me a story of your own sudden insights into something you’ve seen or heard hundreds of times.