Mary and Peter
As Jesus grew within Mary she commenced her ministry. It was Jesus who spoke through her.
She began to spread the word to the people. They laughed at her. “Is this the woman Mary who is preaching to us?” Others were angry and would drive her out, beat her or try to have her stoned. “How dare you, a woman, talk to us about God!”
But a few, a very few listened. These were the worse type of people, the prostitutes, the beggars, the sinners and idlers. They did not believe her but they listened. Some of these were to become the disciples. As it says in the ‘long ending’ of Mark:
Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not. (Mark 16)
In John puts it more succinctly:
Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had spoken these things to her. (John 20)
This point in the gospel story, where Mary gives the disciples the news that Jesus has risen, is in fact the same as the coming of Jesus to the disciples. The end of the gospels is the beginning. When the angel in the tomb talks to Mary and the other women in the Gospel of Mark he tells them that Jesus will appear to his disciples in Galilee. But there is another place in the gospels where Jesus appears to his disciples in Galilee – at the beginning of his ministry.
The disciples disbelieve Mary until they see him for themselves. It was not enough for Mary to talk to them about Jesus. He had to appear to them and become manifest. So she showed Jesus to them. She took them down into death with Jesus, down in the darkness of the tomb. They were given the gift of the resurrection and they saw.
Yet there was something different about their experiences. The women saw Jesus just like Mary. The men saw him too but more dimly. But they were given something else, something so beautiful, so true that it changed their lives just as Jesus had changed Mary’s. They were given the spirit in the form of a girl bride robed in white. For the realities of men and women are different and opposed: the reality of woman is man, and the reality of man is woman.
And Jesus instructed the disciples through Mary. He told them to go out and preach in his name and do miracles and prophesise so that the people might be amazed. And the disciples did these things, always acting in the name of Jesus. Thus did the ministry of Jesus commence.
It came to Mary that she should take a male pseudonym so that the disciples would refer to her by this name. And no one should know that it was her Mary who was the leader, except those who had seen Jesus. For only in this way could the movement spread without the difficulties and ridicule that would attach to a female leader. Now Magdalene means in Aramaic ‘The tower’. It symbolises strength and solidity. So Jesus gave her a male name which carried the same qualities. She would be known also by the name “The Rock” – in Aramaic this is Cephas and in Greek Peter. As Jesus told her:
And I say to you, that you are a rock, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. (Mathew 16)
So Mary had three identities: she was known as the Tower, the Rock and her spirit was Jesus, which means Saviour. All three names are linked in a passage in 2 Samuel where they are used as expressions to describe god -
The God of my rock; in him will I trust: he is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my saviour; (2 Samuel 22)
The portrait of Peter that has merged over time is that of Simon Peter, a bearded middle-aged disciple who is impetuous, boastful and sometimes foolish but basically a loyal and warm-hearted follower of Jesus. Yet a close examination of the earliest sources reveals a very different picture.
The earliest evidence is from the epistles of Paul who confusingly appears to use both the names Cephas and Peter but who never calls either of them Simon. In the epistles of Paul Cephas emerges as a shadowy enigmatic leader of the Jesus movement who has come on the scene long before Paul.
Turning to the gospels of belief, the earliest source Mark does say that Peter and Simon are the same but he never uses the term Simon Peter. A close examination of Mark’s uses of the names suggests that they were originally separate and that it is the author of Mark himself who has made the connection.
At the beginning of Mark the name Simon is used exclusively. Mark tells us that Simon has a brother called Andrew, that Simon and Andrew are both fishermen and that the two are the first disciples called by Jesus. Simon also has a mother in law who is taken ill and who is cured by Jesus. This all appears to be factual and straightforward information.
But in the gospels of belief things are never what they seem. First the role of fisherman is highly symbolic. As Jesus says to them ‘Follow me and I shall make you fishers of men’. What do the fish stand for? Fish live under the waters and the waters stand for the underworld that is frequently depicted as being situated under the water as well as, or instead of, being under the ground. So the fish are denizens of the underworld; they are symbols of the soul. The operation of fishing is symbolic of the raising of the soul out of the underworld and into the air – that is into its spirit form. In this sense it parallels baptism. A fisherman is one who can help others to the pneumatic resurrection. According to Mark immediately after his encounter with Simon and Andrew, Jesus converts another two disciples James and John who also, by some strange coincidence, happen to be both brothers and fishermen. These four disciples form the hard core of the twelve in Mark - indeed they are the only ones, apart from Levi and Judas Iscariot, that the author of Mark appears to know anything about other than their names. It is unlikely that any of them were fishermen in a literal sense and they probably were not biological brothers either. The depiction as brothers is probably a confusion generated by the early Christian practise of referring to other Christians as brothers and sisters. James is described as ‘James of Zebedee’ and John as his brother. Most likely this has given rise to the misunderstanding that both James and John were sons of Zebedee.
The curing of Simon’s mother in law should not be taken literally either. This is the description in Mark -
The mother-in-law of Simon was lying in a fever, and immediately they tell him about her, and having come near, he raised her up, having laid hold of her hand, and the fever left her immediately, and she then ministered to them. (Mark 1)
Elements of this story suggest the spiritual resurrection. The three are present - Jesus, Simon and Simon’s mother in law as the dark third. The dark third is under the shadow of death – in this case represented by a fever. Jesus goes to the dark third who is lying down and holding her hand raises her up. As for the expression mother in law that can be understood in terms of the fact that a man’s female spirit is referred to as his wife, sister, mother or daughter. If Mark had come across a reference to the ‘mother and wife’ of Simon being raised up by Jesus and then serving Jesus then he would have naturally assumed that ‘mother and wife’ must be a mistake for ‘mother of the wife’. Simon’s ‘mother in law’ is his female soul/spirit that is raised by Jesus.
In his list of the disciples Mark refers to James and John in the following terms:
..James of Zebedee, and John the brother of James, and he gave them the name Boanerges, that is, `Sons of thunder;' (Mark 3)
What does the strange designation ‘Sons of Thunder’ mean? The title of the enigmatic Gnostic work Thunder: Perfect Mind suggests a meaning. The subject of this poem is Achamoth who is presented in the guise of both Wisdom and Isis. The title ‘Thunder’ a feminine noun in Greek, is apparently a name assigned to Achamoth. Moreover thunder as a phenomenon is regarded like Achamoth as being an emanation from god and a way in which god makes his will known on Earth. The term ‘Sons of Thunder’ may be a confused representation of the fact that both James and John were sons of feminine Thunder or Achamoth. They are pneumatics who, like Simon, experience a female spirit.
After using the name Simon in the first section of the gospel, the author of Mark switches to using Peter almost exclusively. Peter appears at key times in the narrative. It is Peter who is the first one to recognise Jesus as the Christ but then shortly afterwards he is severely rebuked by Jesus. It is Peter, along with James and John, who witnesses the transfiguration of Jesus on the mount. Climbing the mount is symbolic of the ascent in the spiritual region. Jesus appears to them in spiritual form along with Elijah and Moses. It is Peter, again with James and John, who keeps watch with Jesus on the night before the crucifixion. It is Peter who penetrates close to the trial of Jesus but then denies Jesus three times. All of these indicate the special role that Peter plays.
Simon and Peter are linked on only two occasions. In Mark’s list of the disciples the first entry is:
Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter) (Mark 3)
The second time that Peter and Simon are mentioned as one person is when Jesus goes apart in the garden of Gethsemane. He comes back to find Peter/Simon asleep:
Coming back he finds them sleeping, and says to Peter, `Simon, you sleep! You were not able to watch one hour!’ (Mark 14)
Sleep is a term used for the state of the soul before the pneumatic awakening of the resurrection. Jesus awakens the soul of the disciple into the spirit. The words spoken by Jesus, ‘Simon you sleep’, is the clue that this was taken from a story about the resurrection experience of a person called Simon who was not necessarily the same as the disciple Simon. Later in the passion narrative there is another Simon, Simon the Cyrenian, who carries the cross for Jesus. Most likely these two fragments are both borrowings by the gospel of Mark from the resurrection experience of this Simon the Cyrenian. The reference to Peter is made for the purpose of narrative, to blend the story of the Simon who is asleep into the main story by making the connection that this Simon is the same as the disciple Simon and hence the same as Peter.
The gospel of Mark reveals the true status of Peter in the words of the angel who appears to Mary and the other women in the empty tomb says to them about Jesus - ‘Go! Say to his disciples, and Peter, that he does go before you to Galilee’. Peter is mentioned as being separate to the disciples. The same formula occurs in Paul’s account of the resurrection appearances - ‘that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve’. These make it quite clear that Peter is not a disciple at all. He has a special status over and above the disciples – he is the founder of Christianity. But to Mark, writing a literal gospel, he cannot be the founder as this role is taken by Jesus himself. Therefore Mark must squeeze him in among the Twelve.
What has happened can be reconstructed. The author of Mark has available to him a few stories and scant scraps of information about four disciples - Simon, John, James and Andrew. He has a greater number of prominent traditions about Cephas or Peter, most of them in fact grossly distorted by verbal transmission over a number of years. He also has a list of the twelve that embarrassingly does not include Peter. He incorporates all this material into his narrative by first setting out the stories about the four disciples. He then includes his list of the disciples and brings in Peter by giving us the information that Peter was another name for Simon. He then sets out his stories about Peter adding in the names of John, James and Andrew at various points to give the impression that Peter was one among many. With this arrangement the author of Mark has bridged the chasm between Peter and the disciples with the minimum of alteration to his raw materials.
It is unlikely that the author of Mark completely made up the identification of Peter and Simon. He attempts to be truthful to his materials, although he has little understanding of those materials, and inevitably warps them in trying to incorporate them into a literal framework. There may have been an early confusion between the mysterious Cephas and the prominent disciple Simon. Or perhaps it resulted from confusion between Cephas and Simon Magus, who may have been the same as the disciple Simon. Another possibility is that the later apostle Peter who became hopelessly confused with Cephas may have changed his name from Simon. Peter as a name was almost unknown before its appearance in Christianity and the apostle Peter has clearly taken his name from the founder.
Once Mark had made the mistaken connection between Simon and Peter the other gospel writers took up its use and Peter becomes Simon Peter. Even the Gospel of Thomas is affected as references to Peter are changed to Simon Peter.
In Mathew the section where Peter tells Jesus he is the Christ continues with the assignment of extraordinary powers to Peter:
He said to them, `And you, who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered saying `You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' And Jesus answering, said to him, `Happy are you, Simon Bar-Jona, because flesh and blood did not reveal to you, but my Father who is in the heavens. And I say to you, that you are a rock, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it; and I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you may bind upon the earth shall be bound in the heavens, and whatever you loose upon the earth shall be loosed in the heavens.' (Mathew 16)
The designation of Simon, Bar-Jona, means son of the dove, the symbol of the spirit, and is a reference to the fact that Simon is a pneumatic. In Mark it is Peter who makes the ‘confession of faith’ so why does Jesus reply to him as Simon in Mathew? The reason is that this is the point chosen by the author of Mathew for Jesus to name Simon as Peter. Mark only tells us that Jesus has named Simon as Peter whereas Mathew, in a further development of the Simon Peter story, has invented the circumstances in which this naming occurs.
The powers assigned to Peter are remarkable and completely contradict the role of Peter as one disciple among twelve. They show Peter as the founder being granted special powers by the spirit Jesus. The granting of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven signifies that Peter has the power to induce the pneumatic resurrection in others. Without this power the Jesus movement would have gone nowhere. Paul’s list of the witnesses to the resurrection is most likely the list of those receiving the resurrection directly from Mary/Peter. Through the pneumatic resurrection the gates of Hades are defeated as the soul is reborn out of Hades as a spirit.
The reference to binding and loosening means determining what is forbidden and what is permitted. To the Jewish rabbis binding was the act of forbidding a thing or behaviour, and loosening was the act of permitting a thing or behaviour. Jesus is here giving Peter complete power to make the rules. But the author of Mathew has completely misunderstood this power. He thinks that Jesus is giving Peter the power to make rules for others. In fact Peter and all pneumatics are being given the power to make the rules for themselves based on their own spiritual revelation.
Why does Mathew choose this particular point for the naming of Simon? To the author of Mathew the name Peter is a name of honour conveyed on Simon, which is given along with his powers as the rewarded for correctly perceiving that Jesus is the Christ. Mathew is a brilliant propagandist and here uses a passage in Mark both to bring out a meaning not in Mark and to overwrite a very embarrassing reference to Peter. In response to Jesus’ question ‘Who do men say I am?' the disciples in Mark answer -
`Some John the Baptist, others Elijah, but others one of the prophets.' And he said to them, `And you - who do you say I am?' and Peter answering said to him, `You are the Christ.' And he strictly charged them that they should tell no one about it, and began to teach them, that it behoves the Son of Man to suffer many things, and to be rejected by the elders, and chief priests, and scribes, and to be killed, and after three days to rise again; and he was openly speaking the word. And Peter having taken him aside, began to rebuke him, and he, having turned, and having looked on his disciples, rebuked Peter, saying, `Get behind me, Satan, because you do not mind the things of God, but the things of men.' (Mark 8)
In this Mark passage Peter is not rewarded for saying that Jesus is the Christ. Indeed he is very quickly rebuked. The form of the story has been taken from a saying from the gospel of the Twin where Jesus asks the disciples who he is like. Following the answers he takes one disciple, Thomas, aside and imparts to him special knowledge that consists of three words or three things. The knowledge is apparently blasphemous and would get Thomas stoned if he repeats it. Now Thomas means ‘twin’ and it is the twin of Jesus to whom Jesus imparts this blasphemous knowledge. The twin of Jesus is Mary so the original saying records that some of the spiritual revelations passed from Jesus to Mary are blasphemous in nature. In the version in Mark’s gospel this special knowledge is taken, wrongly, as being about Jesus’ coming passion. But there is also a hint that Jesus is telling them about his role as the Son of God.
In Mark’s version the elements about Peter have been overlaid on the original saying. These elements are first that Peter recognises that Jesus is the Christ and second that Jesus says to Peter ‘Get behind me Satan …’. The meaning of these can be understood by the telling phrase in Mark that Jesus ‘did appear first to Mary the Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven demons’. The same information that is given about Mary is being repeated in a different form and being assigned to Mary’s other identity Peter. First we are told that it is Peter who first recognises Jesus as the Christ – this parallels the fact that Jesus appears first to Mary. Second that Jesus then exorcises devils from Peter for this is the meaning of the phrase ‘Get behind me Satan …’. It is not a rebuke, as the author of Mark thinks, but an exorcism. The seven demons do not just dwell in Mary/Peter but are present in all men and women, corrupting them and giving them the mind of man. With the coming of the spirit the devils are cast out by its power and the person assumes the mind of god.
The identity between Peter and Mary is indicated by much more than the similarity of the names. In Paul’s list of those who had experienced the pneumatic resurrection the first appearance was to Cephas followed by the twelve. Mary the Magdalene is not mentioned. The gospels of belief have Jesus appearing first to Mary. There must have been a very strong tradition behind this story otherwise the gospels would not have assigned this role to a woman who were regarded in Jewish society as being ineligible as witnesses. The two accounts can only be reconciled if Cephas is a codename for Mary or vice versa. It is very easy to see why a woman should adopt a male identity as a codename, very difficult to see why a man would adopt a female identity!
The identity of Peter and Mary is also indicated by the inter-linked roles they play as witnesses to the passion story. It is Peter who along with others is with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. It is Peter alone who penetrates to Jesus’ trial where, according to Mark, he denies Jesus three times. It is Mary (both as the Magdalene and in other identities) who is the witness of the crucifixion. It is Mary who goes to the tomb and witnesses the empty tomb and the angel. In Mark the angel then tells her that Jesus will appear to Peter but it is to Mary that Jesus actually makes his first appearance. These are indications that Mary and Peter are one and the same - together they have witnessed the whole crucifixion and resurrection.
The gospels show great confusion between Peter and Mary at key points of the resurrection account. For they are attempting to combine two contradictory traditions – that it was Mary and that it was Peter who first witnessed the resurrection. For example in Luke it is written -
It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things to the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they did not believed them. But Peter arose and ran to the tomb; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which had happened. (Luke 24)
Luke attempts to reconcile the two traditions by saying that although Peter did not actually witness the resurrection first he saw the empty tomb and the grave cloths and marvelled.
In John the confusion is not just between Mary and Peter but also with the disciple ‘whom Jesus loved’. This mysterious disciple has been cynically co-opted by the author of John who presents his gospel as having been written by this disciple. This is a brilliant move because John, the last of the gospels, was written a very long time after Jesus’ life and so has a problem of establishing its credibility. By pretending to be written by a disciple who can be assumed to have privileged knowledge from Jesus the Gospel of John sets out its credentials of being the one true gospel that draws on this secret knowledge. John is always very careful to keep the identity of this disciple a mystery. It is very hard for anyone to attack the pretended authorship if no one knows whom the author is supposed to be!
In truth the disciple who Jesus loved is Mary the Magdalene herself in her role as the bride of Christ. John has got even the sex of the disciple wrong. This is not surprising as it would be very damaging for author of a literal gospel to write that the disciple whom Jesus loved was a woman. In his account of the resurrection John grapples with presenting three traditions in the same story – that it was Mary, or perhaps Peter, or perhaps the disciple Jesus loved who first witnessed the resurrection. The result is a highly confused and artificial account of events -
On the first day of the week came Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, to the tomb, and sees the stone taken away from the tomb. She runs and comes to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and says to them, They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the tomb. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the tomb. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet he did not go in. Then came Simon Peter following him, and he went into the tomb, and sees the linen clothes where they lie, and the cloth, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but folded up in a place by itself. Then entered also that other disciple, which came first to the tomb, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they did not knew the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again to their own home. (John 20)
After this pantomime of Peter and the other disciple racing to and then bobbing in and out of the tomb the story reverts right back to where it started with Mary going back into the tomb alone and receiving the revelation of the angel. The confusion is explained if Mary, Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved are all the same person.
The final connection between Mary and Peter is that in many of the non-canonical works Mary and Peter are continually opposed to each other. This holds the clue to another otherwise mystifying problem – why Peter gets such a negative press. If Peter is the founder then he should be revered above all others in early Christian writings. Yet he is portrayed as something of a buffoon. For this portrayal to have become prevalent it must go back to Mary herself. It seems that she contrasted her alter ego Peter with her Mary identity. She told stories about her two ego-selves with one on each side of the question and Peter always in the wrong. Peter, as Mary’s lower masculine identity would also have been contrasted with Jesus, the perfect man. In this comparison Peter would bear some of Mary’s own weaknesses.
It seems from this game that Mary had a sense of humour. She may have been obliged to assume a male identity but that did not mean that she had to like it. She assigned to her Peter identity many of the male chauvinistic attitudes she encountered. Yet these stories had a serious purpose also. She was attempting to change the attitudes of her disciples, both male and female, so that they would accept that in things of the spirit men and women are equal. In this she was only partly successful. The early Christian church was remarkably open to women but very soon traditional attitudes began to reassert themselves.
One of the negative sayings is in the Gospel of Thomas:
“Simon Peter said to them: Let Mary go out from among us, for women are not worthy of the life.”
In the “Gospel according to Mary” Mary receives communications directly form a spiritual Jesus after the resurrection. Peter seeks to deny Mary’s link to Jesus:
Peter answered and spoke concerning these same things. He questioned them about the Savior: Did He really speak privately with a woman and not openly to us? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did He prefer her to us?
Then Mary wept and said to Peter, My brother Peter, what do you think? Do you think that I have thought this up myself in my heart, or that I am lying about the Savior?
Levi answered and said to Peter, Peter you have always been hot tempered. Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries. But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well. That is why He loved her more than us. Rather let us be ashamed and put on the perfect Man, and separate as He commanded us and preach the gospel, not laying down any other rule or other law beyond what the Savior said.
These words recall her Mary identity’s answer to her Peter identity. Jesus loves me more for I am his bride.
So Mary’s disciples preached the word of Jesus, first just the Twelve, but then in increasing numbers. And under the name of Cephas was Mary known, and many were the ones, both men and woman, whom Mary initiated and gave birth to.