If you want to be spiritual, ask uncomfortable questions,’ Goddess News, Spiritual Blog, Divine Feminine,
Dr Joanna Kujawa
If you prefer a short video version of the blog, please click on the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wb1SfMvff4E
I invite you to the 50th production of the Goddess News Blog. Let’s celebrate!
In this blog I would like to take you, along with me, along with myth, imagination and historical possibilities, on a great spiritual investigation. All I ask of you is your patience, as we need to follow the not always visible and often hidden threads of the life of one of the most fascinating figures in Western history – Mary Magdalene.
As I promised in my Manifesto of Mary Magdalene https://www.joannakujawa.com/manifesto-of-mary-magdalene/, I will discuss of the possibility of Mary Magdalene escaping to Alexandria, Egypt, after the Crucifixion, as suggested by Margaret Starbird in her now-famous book The Woman with the Alabaster Jar. I am not going to get involved in any discussions on the different ideas about the Crucifixion but rather will focus on the figure of a remarkable being who rises again in our collective psyche with great power – Mary Magdalene. Starbird believes that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife and had a child with him: a girl called either Sarah or Tomar, depending on the tradition.
I am not particularly interested in her marital status and whether she was a mother. However, I am deeply interested in Mary Magdalene as a remarkable woman (and perhaps more than a human woman) who was, as the Gnostic Gospel of Philip says, a companion or consort of Jesus and who, as the Gnostic Gospel of Mary Magdalene suggests (as well as another Gnostic work, Pistis Sophia), was either the lead disciple or a favoured disciple of Jesus. This honour was later transferred to Peter by the Orthodox traditions. And since I am interested more in her profile as a wise woman and the possible representation of the Divine Feminine and Divine Wisdom in the tradition of Sophia in Jesus’ life, her arrival in Alexandria is an interesting possibility.
Starbird argues that after the Crucifixion, a pregnant Mary Magdalene and Joseph of Arimathea (the wealthy man who agreed that Jesus’ body be placed in his family tomb) escaped to Alexandria in Egypt. Interestingly, alternative and mythical traditions often place Mary Magdalene in Egypt in some period of her life. I find this interesting of itself.
Joseph Campbell teaches that myths should be treated seriously, as they carry a larger truth within which is often repressed or dismissed by our rational minds. Myth is a collective, if allegorical, memory stored in our subconscious. Myth can preserve for us the essence of the Truth, even if it is vague on details and can be difficult to trace within the hard facts of history.
Myth preserves for us what was quite possibly edited out of history for the convenience of the powers at hand. Even if a myth cannot be trusted with specific details, it does point us in the right direction of the truths hidden beneath the surface of our subconscious minds. So although I do not necessarily believe every wild story about Mary Magdalene in Egypt, I do believe there must be some connection between the woman I have come to admire and Egypt, specifically Alexandria.
Why Alexandria, you may ask?
There are many possible reasons for this.
Alexandria was a port city and the centre of learning in the first century. It was a place where the greatest minds of the West and East met, and its famous library stored thousands of manuscripts, scrolls and papyri from around the world. Without any exaggeration, Alexandria was Paris, Rome, New York and London all in one. Also – and this is important – Alexandria was a place where many rebel philosophers argued about their own understanding of the scriptures of all traditions; it was the centre of what the institutionalised and dogmatic traditions later called ‘heretical thought’. Interestingly, Carl Jung in his Gnostic work, Seven Sermons to the Dead, chose Alexandria and not Jerusalem as the city where the spiritual truth resides.
It is easy to imagine great and rebellious thinkers, explorers and heretics discussing matters of the soul in the corners of Alexandria’s famous library. If I could pick one time and place in history to visit, you know my choice. (On a more personal level, I fell in love with my first husband once I saw his plans for an architectural competition to rebuild the library of Alexandria! It was like discovering an ancient memory in my psyche.)
But back to the essence of our search for Mary Magdalene in Alexandria. I hope you see my point now that, as a learned woman, as a favoured disciple and possibly a consort of Jesus, she would find Alexandria, with its great library and reputation as an intellectual enclave for the free thinkers, a natural place to be.
Let’s go through some sources which can give us more direct reasons for her escape to this city, apart from her natural predisposition for learning. And evidence can sometimes be found in surprising and unorthodox places. For example, the Urantia Book, which is a modern, vaguely Gnostic source of revelation to some, has a chapter on young Jesus travelling to Alexandria. According to the Urantia Book, the young scholarly Jesus met an Indian businessman (Gonod) who hired him as a tutor for his son (Ganid) on his tour of the Mediterranean. At this stage, the young Jesus was already an accomplished scholar and known as the ‘scribe of Damascus’, where he had spent some time. In Alexandria, Jesus and Ganid visited the great Library where learned professors gave daily lectures. They anticipated hearing there the most famous of the first century philosophers of Alexandria, Philo of Alexandria, but were disappointed that Philo had fallen ill and could not meet them.
If we trust the Urantia Book’s story, there was already a connection between Jesus and Alexandria. By extension, why would it also not be possible for Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ lead disciple and partner, to look for safe refuge in the same city of great and liberal minds, a place Jesus had once also enjoyed? It is also probably no coincidence that later ‘heretics’, who claimed Mary Magdalene was the main disciple and the consort of Jesus, came from Egypt. Moreover, the first copy of the actual Gospel of Mary Magdalene was rediscovered over 1800 years later – also in Egypt.
Is it so hard to believe that Mary Magdalene herself was able to pass on her own story for our benefit, a story which was later erased by the patriarchy and dogma of the Church?
But let’s follow the thread of Philo of Alexandria, the philosopher and contemporary of Mary Magdalene. We know that Philo of Alexandria was an historical figure, known as a great philosopher of his time, and lived between 20 BCE and 50 CE. If Jesus had wanted to meet him for a philosophical discussion and only Philo’s illness had prevented him from doing so, wouldn’t it have been possible that about 10 years later Mary Magdalene might have tried to have met him too?
Now, I can already hear the old scholarly voices contradicting me: Philo, a famous philosopher and a man of his times, would not even have considered meeting a woman for a philosophical discussion, right?
Wrong. Philo of Alexandria was probably as misogynistic as his times. But, as in all eras, there is always an intellectual elite that disobeys any boring and, frankly, idiotic societal restrictions. And, indeed, it did not take me long in my detective work to find a book written by a scholar, Joan E Taylor, on women philosophers of the first century in Alexandria.
Guess who wrote about them? Yes, our friend, Philo of Alexandria.
In his Vita Contemplativa, Philo mentions a group of Alexandrian philosophers called the Therapeutae who had women philosophers among them. He describes the Therapeutae as a group of philosophers ‘whose devotion consists in striving to see a vision of the Divine Being while leading contemplative lives’. Philo also says that they lived in ‘many parts of the world’ but that they were especially ‘superabundant … around Alexandria’.
Apart from the fact that this group included both women and men and thus would have been a natural ally to a learned disciple such as Mary Magdalene, there are two other interesting things about the Therapeutae.
Firstly, they were linked to the Essenes, a heretical Jewish group which, according to the Dead Sea Scrolls, included John the Baptist (or John the Baptiser). As a quick reminder, the Dead Sea Scrolls were ancient documents rediscovered in 1947 in a cave, near Wadi Qumran in Palestine. They were originally written between 130 BCE and 70 CE – well within the lifespan of Mary Magdalene. Thus, we have another reason for Mary Magdalene to go to Alexandria, as the Therapeutae not only had women scholars among them but were linked to a spiritual group in Palestine very similar (if not identical) to Jesus’ movement.
Secondly, the word ‘Therapeutae’, Taylor says in her book, has several meanings, such as ‘healers’ (particularly healers of the soul) and/or ‘attendants’ (both female and male) to the gods, and the goddess Isis especially. To read about the possible connection between Mary Magdalene and Isis please check my blogs: https://www.joannakujawa.com/inanna-ishtar-isis-mary-magdalene-recovering-the-lineage-of-the-lost-goddess-and-other-stolen-stories/ , and https://www.joannakujawa.com/hathor-isis-mother-and-mary-magdalene-who-tells-your-story-for-you/).
Depending how speculative we want to be in our journey as spiritual detectives, we can draw different conclusions from these similarities which I will explore in future blogs as well.
Is there definite proof that Mary Magdalene came to Alexandria after the Crucifixion? No, this kind of hard evidence does not exist, except for the persistent connection of her story with Egypt that has survived two millennia of repression. I would suggest that if Mary Magdalene did choose to go to Alexandria, she had plenty of reasons to do so, including making scholarly and spiritual connections with several groups in Jewish and Gnostic circles in general or even with the Egyptian cults of Isis, who were later deleted from history for nearly 2000 years until the discovery of the Gnostic Gospels in Nag Hammadi in 1945 and the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947.
So, to simplify the complex detective work, this is how I see Mary Magdalene in Alexandria.
After the Crucifixion she came to Alexandria, where she found many philosophical associates and, possibly, friends with mystical ties, which I have discussed more in other blogs. She found a support network among the Therapeutae – a group of spiritual philosophers who admitted learned women into their ranks and who had links with the mysterious Essenes from Palestine. She walked the streets of the great city, recovering from the great tragedy of her life – not as prostitute but as a scholar. She received support and was given time to think about what was next for her. And, I would like to believe, it was in meetings with the free thinkers of Alexandria that she was able to share her true story as a woman of power and wisdom, sensing that her story would survive the ravages of time and dogma and remain unburied, as, inevitably, truth always is. She did so consciously and without illusions, knowing it would take a long time for the world to understand that the Divine Feminine is needed as much as the Divine Masculine and that in the past they walked together, hand in hand. Just as they will walk together again.
My story of Mary Magdalene is not necessarily that of a pregnant mother (a ‘bride in exile’) escaping persecution as Margaret Starbird believes. For me, the story Mary Magdalene is a story of Sophia, the Divine Wisdom who partnered with Christ on a Journey possibly in many incarnations. It is a story that is now resurfacing again. More, it is a story that has just began to unfold.
As always, I would love to hear from you in your comments – especially on this one.
If you prefer a short video version of the blog: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wb1SfMvff4E
Dr Joanna Kujawa
Spiritual Detective for Goddess News©Joanna Kujawa