I translated the Coptic “Exegesis on the Soul” for one of my graduate courses back in the 1970s, but I did not at that time realize its possible significance. Recently, working on a novel, I looked at the translation in the Nag Hammadi Library in English, saw that the middle section might be useful, and handcopied it into a notebook. Handcopying always changes the way one perceives any writing.
I have been thinking for a while that Mary might have written a prayer or a hymn addressed to her husband, but how could it have survived? Yesterday, I was looking at that “Exegesis” material, which appears to be an allegory about the soul—yet the soul is mentioned only once. Its focus is on a bride. It was in third person. “This would be far more dramatic in first person,” I thought; so I began to rewrite it—and it caught fire: Observe:
1. When I was young, I waited for him, not knowing when he would come, or even if he would come.
2. I did not know what he would look like; I had forgotten his appearance after I left our Father’s house.
3. I dreamed of him, knowing that I loved him.
4. On my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not.
5. Then he came to do his Father’s will, came to me in the bridal chamber he had prepared and beautified,
6. .Saying to me, “How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride!
7. “You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.”
8. Our marriage was not merely physical, for our lovemaking was a glory that joined us into a single mind and soul,
9. As Moses wrote of the first man and woman, “They will become a single being,”
10. For we were originally one being in one another when we dwelt with our Father [and our Mother].
11. My self has become one with my true love.
12. When I adorned myself in beauty, I enjoyed my beloved and he loved me in our joy.
13. As we made love I received the seed of the life-giving spirit; so I bear good children and raise them with love.
14. Such is the great and perfect marvel of birth, for our marriage was made perfect by the will of the Father.
15. It was good to regenerate myself, to become again what I was before.
16. I received my divine nature from our Father for my rejuvenation, my restoration to where I had originally been.
17. This is the resurrection of the dead.
18. This is the ransom from captivity.
19. This is the ascent to our Father in Heaven.
20. Becoming young again, I will ascend, praising our Father and the brother who has rescued me.
21. By being born again I will be saved, not by repeated words or learned skills or knowledge in books,
22. But by the grace of the gift of the Father.
Now, some commentary:
A. I added lines 4, 6, and 7 from the Song of Songs; they fit and it is obvious that the writer was referring to it.
B. Line 5 establishes that the bridegroom is Jesus; therefore the woman must be Mary, since there are no other plausible candidates.
C. Line 8 is the crucial statement: I think it confirms my speculation about what Jesus meant by “They shall become one flesh” and “When you make the two into one” as I discuss in my essay on Aphrodiphobia on this blog. It does seem like evidence that Jesus did know about the orgasmic enlightenment that is the reward of an ideal marriage.
Could this originally have been written by Mary? Not very likely. Is it about Mary? That seems a plausible interpretation. If so, it shows that these particular Christians looked to Mary as not only the apostle who founded their community, but also as the Co-Redemptrix with her brother. I have discovered a recently established Gnostic church in Oregon which calls her “the Lady Christ.” Here’s an interesting question: if you believe that the Father sent His Son, can you also believe that the Mother sent Her Daughter?
Clement of Alexandria wrote about these Christians in his area that “These … treat … sexual intercourse as a sacred religious mystery and think it will bring them to the Kingdom of God” (Miscellanies 3.2.29). This could be the specific text he was complaining about. . He could not perceive it as possibly being true, since he was a devout heretic.
Who, Clement? Yes, along with a great many others. Putting this no doubt way too briefly, thinking about the first commandment (Gen. 1:24, “Go forth and multiply”) has led me to conclude that the belief that sex itself is inherently sinful is the first and worst of all the heresies that have corrupted what I now think the Radical Rabbi from Nazareth (or maybe Capernaum) must have taught. I will expand on that idea later. I think I’m beginning to see how it might expand into a book. Stay tuned. (You wouldn’t want to be out of tune, would you?)