Mary Magdalene and the Resurrection of Jesus:
Some ancient and modern traditions and Baha'i and Perspectives

By Stephen Lambden

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #60
Bosch Bahá'í School: Santa Cruz, California, USA
May 26–29, 2005
(see list of papers from #60)

    New Testament scholars generally regard Mary Magdalene a female contemporary of Jesus, one of his ardent admirers, and a Jewish woman who was the most important female figure within the New Testament relative to the genesis of the Jesus movement that became Christianity. The gospels conclusively have it that she was the first to announce the risen Christ after the death of Jesus upon the cross. Mary was the first to experience his allegedly quasi-physical or spiritual presence prior to his ascension to Heaven around (tradition has it) 40 days later. It was Mary Magdalene who encouraged key disciples of Jesus to post-crucifixion faith. She enabled Peter and others to open themselves to the regenerative experience of the risen Christ. Peter might have been the "rock" upon which the future church came to be built but Mary Magdalene might be pictured as its foremost pillar, architect and fountainhead. She was much more than an allegedly wayward prostitute, which patriarchal male Christian writers (without any evidence at all to back up their contentions) in later centuries came to unfairly marginalize and dismiss her.

    A Bahá'í pilgrim note has it that at the mention of Mary Magdalene Bahá'u'lláh (d. 1892), the founder of the Bahá'í religion, was moved to smile with joy. In various of his numerous Arabic and Persian talks and Tablets, `Abdu'l-Bahá (d. 1921) the saintly and sage-like son of Bahá'u'lláh, repeatedly underlined the centrality of the spirituality of Mary Magdalene for the growth of Christian understanding, spirituality and religiosity. Decades before the discovery of the lost (for more than 1,500 years) 'Gospel of Mary Magdalene' now included within the Nag Hammadi codices (discovered 1947 but dating to the early centuries C.E.), `Abdu'l-Bahá perceived the importance of this woman from Magdala (in Palestine) with the same name as Jesus' mother. He often spoke of her and told her story in interesting ways. The Christian realization of the risen Christ, which constitutes the genesis and foundation of the Christian religion, has its roots in the spirituality of Mary Magdalene. Rather like the Bábí Tahirih's excellent status among the male `Letters of the Living', she was ahead of the male disciples of Jesus. In this paper, something of the role, mythical history and theological position of Mary Magdalene will be sketched in light of statements of Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá about her importance. This will be supplemented by some observations about the Bahá'í understanding of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

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