The Bible and Beyond Podcast Episode

Has a Missing Fragment of the Gospel of Mary Been Discovered?

An Interview with Dr. Sarah Parkhouse

Dr. Sarah Parkhouse

Dr. Sarah Parkhouse

Dr. Sarah Parkhouse has made a discovery that is quite noteworthy for anyone interested in the Gospel of Mary. One of the hundreds, if not thousands, of small fragments of papyri found in the garbage dump Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, just might be one of the missing parts of the Gospel of Mary. Dr. Parkhouse considers the possibility cautiously, but in this podcast interview, she shares her reasons for thinking this Greek fragment could easily fit within one of the lacunae of the texts now available to the world.

The specific part where it may fit is in the section where Mary is describing to her fellow disciples the ascent of the soul. The most complete text we have so far begins with Mary part way through this discussion. This rather small new fragment does specifically mention that Jesus is talking to Mary about something.

It appears to include elements that would fit the ascent of the soul. When we look at some of Paul’s writings, we recognize that the soul’s journey might refer to some kind of baptismal ritual, and this fragment is talking about baptism.

An English translation of one side of the fragment is something like:

John said, I wash you with water, but a man will come and will wash you with fire and spirit. Therefore, I say to you, Mary, seek to combine water and fire, you will no longer appear as an image of flesh, but as an image of the eternal, incorruptible light, bringing together from two intertwined. . . elements. …. Intellectual … Mary

Of course, if this fragment should prove to be one of the missing parts of the Gospel of Mary, this would add considerably to our understanding of the gospel. But, as Dr. Parkhouse points out, even if it should come to light that it does not belong to the Gospel of Mary, then it is still exciting because that would imply there are even more texts which include discussions between Mary and Jesus on important themes.

Either way, the discovery of this fragment is cause for joy among those interested in this gospel and in the study of early Christian thought.

Dr. Sarah Parkhouse, a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in Religion and Theology at the University of Manchester, UK, is a religious historian. She focuses on the ancient Mediterranean and the emergence of Christianity within the Greco-Roman-Egyptian context. She has published work on gospel literature, canonical and extracanonical, gender, papyrology, and martyrdom. Examples include studies on the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of John, First Apocalypse of James, and the Acts of Paul and Thecla. She is also co-editor of a new book series, Coptic Gospels and Associated Texts.

Sarah’s more general research interests are ancient religion, lived religion, place and landscape, objects, practices, ritual, magic, and comparative religion.

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