Where I postulate freely that Mary Magdalene was both the disciple Jesus loved, and possibly the true author of the gospel of John.

This is a paper from a truly exciting class on History and Literature of the New Testament, taught in 1993 by the amazing prof's Buck and Luotto — thank you both so much! Clarifying later comments are added in the blockquotes.

There has been much speculation on the identity of "[T]he disciple he [Jesus] loved…. (John 13:23)" This is the person who claims to be the witness who wrote the Gospel of John. This paper is an unsolicited speculation on the identity of that person. It is my assertion that this person was in fact a woman, namely Mary Magdalene. There are several assumptions I have made which I will delineate to show my reasoning.

One should first look at the time in which the Gospels, Synoptic and otherwise, were written, as they weren't written while Jesus was alive. Women were definitely second-class citizenry, and often weren't considered independent people unless they were widows who had inherited enough money to make them a force to reckon with. It would be acceptable (barely) for Jesus to witness to women, and even to have women followers.

Witness: to proselytize, to convert to another faith or religion.

The Synoptic Gospels are Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The 'otherwise' referred to is mostly John. The Gospels were all written with "posthumous inspiration" by their attributed authors. It was a standard conceit of the time to write stories and claim they'd been dictated to you by some form of inspirational spirit.

However, to have one of Jesus' chosen not be male might be an uncomfortable thing for most Christians of the time. To top that problem off, Mary Magdalene apparently wasn't a widow, and was thus of questionable worth when it came to witnessing the words of Christ. Indeed, to have women present in any important meeting between Christ and his disciples seems to have been anathema.

This seems odd if one believes Paul's assertion that there is no male or female in Christ, and Mark's belief that Christ was there for all, including women. Why were there no female disciples? Some of the disciples must have had sisters — indeed, according to the scriptures Jesus himself is supposed to have had a few.

This may be a possibly deliberate omission on the part of Jesus' chroniclers. Consider as an example the fact that a man's word was worth more than a woman's in a Jewish court of law. It would be in the best interests of anyone wanting to insert the Gospel of John into accepted New Testament texts to have the work credited to a man, not a woman. This leads to my second thought — why is this particular disciple never referred to by name? Could it be that the name was easily recognizable as that of a woman?

If the Johannine texts are indeed edited, as most modern scholars assert, then it would be easy for an intelligent and educated person of that time, of either gender, to realize a man would be more acceptable as author than a woman. How easy it would be to simply change all references to "her" into "him," and to change the female name to that of "the disciple he loved."

With this thought in mind, I re-read all the references to this particular disciple. The first one is the above-quoted verse from John 13, which is the description of the Last Supper. If the group was indeed using Roman couches and reclining two by two, face-to-face on them, this would be a very intimate seating arrangement. Jews apparently heartily disapproved of male intimacy. Would not that seating arrangement smack of "decadent Roman" behavior — if the apostle reclining with Jesus was male? On the other hand, to recline so with a woman would be acceptable.

The second time this disciple is possibly mentioned is when s/he intercedes for Simon Peter so that he may enter Annas' courtyard. It is not clear if this disciple is the one Jesus loved. However, why would a fisherman following an itinerant (or wandering) preacher know the High Priest's father-in-law?

On the other hand, perhaps a wealthy and high-born young woman might be able to speak with Annas. As it turns out, this person was able to go into the house to speak to Annas (albeit fruitlessly), while Peter was made to wait outside in the cold, with Annas' servants.

Mary Magdalene was supposed to have been both wealthy and high-born. The assertion that she was a whore is a medieval fantasy designed to cheapen her worth.

The most telling part of the identity of this disciple occurred for me in John 19:25-27. The names of the people standing at the foot of Jesus' cross are all given. I quote "[N]ear the cross where Jesus hung stood his mother, with her sister, Mary wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Jesus saw his mother, with the disciple whom he loved standing beside her." There are only two people standing near his mother.

It is unlikely a married woman would recline with a somewhat disreputable preacher, even if he was her nephew. Who is left? Only Mary of Magdala. She is never described as married, she is a devout follower, and she seems to not be of a respectable age to be running around by herself. Surely it seemed better to the author or editor of John not to name her directly as the disciple Jesus loved.

"Disreputable"? Jesus would have been considered somewhat disreputable because he wandered about teaching peculiar ethics rather than settling down and marrying, like a proper Jewish boy.

Mary of Magdala is mentioned again, on Easter Sunday: it is she who finds Christ's empty tomb. It is unsurprising to me that someone who is so loved by Jesus should return that love. How logical then that she should go alone to his tomb to grieve in private. Unfortunately for my theory, she is described as talking to Peter and "the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. (John 20:2)" Still, some wild- er, resourceful speculation can come up with an answer to this dilemma. Mary mentions "…and we do not know where they have laid him." Obviously she was alone, and is not a plural person.

Perhaps the mention of "we" is literary license, and thus the mention of her running up to Peter and the other disciple is more of the same, to keep people from drawing the obvious conclusion concerning the identity of the other disciple. Indeed, it would make sense a small, slight woman afire with conviction could outrun a disbelieving Peter, and yet might still be too frightened to enter the tomb alone, as happens later in the verse. Better to wait until Peter entered first and verified the absence of possibly hostile grave-robbers.

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