Obviously it would have been extremely unlikely for the Gospels to have been written by women. It would have violated societal and religious norms of first century Judaism. Women were not generally given the opportunity to be schooled and were considered unworthy to even study religious manuscripts, much less author them. In fact, in reference to the founding religious document of Judaism, the Torah, the Talmud suggests "Let the Torah rather be destroyed by fire than imparted to woman." Women learned about the sacred through their fathers, their husbands and the rabbis.
The inspired gospel accounts, authored by men, have of necessity been expressed and conveyed in male imagery. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with the masculine view, but the feminine perspective often remains unspoken.
Several years ago, I emerged from an ultra-conservative church environment where men were the primary source of spiritual authority and teaching. Again, this is not a criticism of the male outlook, but the total absence of female input can lead to an imbalanced overview. I had been immersed in this restrictive atmosphere from age seven. Strange as it may seen, I had never read any books, written by men or women, on spiritual topics other than what had been published by my former denomination. It was a very closed community and "outside" reading was highly discouraged.
Once freed from these limitations, I felt somewhat lost and was eager to hear what other women had to say about their own spiritual journey. We, as women, receive courage from hearing each other's stories, told with openness, in the language of our own hearts. It gives value to our feminine nature because we sometimes find it difficult to believe our unique views as women are worthwhile. So, like a child in a candy store, I found myself pleasantly overwhelmed with the volumes of material out there by Christian female authors. One book title in particular intrigued me--The Magdalene Gospel with the subtitle "What If Women Had Written the Gospels" by Mary Ellen Ashcroft. It was one of the first books I read.
The Magdalene Gospel is an imaginative retelling of the gospel narratives from the perspective of Jesus' women followers. It provides feminine insight to the Gospels and offered me a new way to see Jesus. It gives voice to the group simply referred to as "the women," who were so close to Christ during his ministry.
In the time frame of the book, Mary Magdalene and "the women" are together scant hours after the death of their beloved friend and teacher. Envisioning myself sitting silently in the shadows of their candlelit room, I listened as they, stricken with grief, each tearfully shared cherished memories of their experiences with Jesus. They had just witnessed the horrors of the crucifixion and the premature death of their champion. They had watched Joseph of Arimathea carefully remove Jesus' body from from the cross and followed the somber procession of those who carried him to the rock-hewn tomb. They didn't fully understand that he would be raised up, so the loss of their master was suffocating. These women, through the heartfelt telling of their individual stories, introduced Jesus to me in a personal and touching way.
The inspired words of the gospel writers remain the same, but in this book, the words are filtered through the eyes and the hearts of "the women" Jesus befriended. They were healed, comforted, lifted up, and valued by Jesus in an oppressive society where women were viewed as second-class citizens. Their lives were overturned by his gentle and tender treatment of them. And they responded with emotion and devotion to their master. And so did I. These ladies opened the door for me to begin to view Jesus in a deeper, more relational context.
The Magdalene Gospel launched an in-depth and ongoing study on my part of the gospel accounts embracing "the women." And there is a part of me that is able to identify with each one as she interacted with Jesus while he lived as the Son of Man on this earth. Every story reveals a facet of Jesus' extraordinary unconditional love and compassion, uniquely expressed within the framework of a woman's needs.
No. Women didn't write the Gospels. But women were a vital and influential part of the gospel stories. Their voices can be heard today if we will just listen.
*The Talmud is a collection of ancient Jewish writings consisting of early scriptural interpretations of the law.
(C) Joyce Catherwood 2010