Mary Magdalene the Oracular Priestess

Gospel of John Second Edition

What follows is a addition to the Second Edition of The Gospel of John, my restoration of that original text, free from the later interpolations and excisions of the organized Christian religion, and translated afresh from the Greek. You will find ordering information here.

Mary Magdalene’s duties as (apparently high) priestess at the Samaritan Temple may have been not only sacred-sexual but oracular, since John the Presbyter’s text mentions several matters that he, as a literary Greek, would have known were also the case with the typical Mediterranean oracle, especially in Greece. Let us, for example, consider the most famous, the Oracle at Delphi.

The Pythia (the oracular priestess) muttered her mysteries (the English words come from the same root) at Mount Parnassus, near the Castalian Spring, just as Mary’s sacred duties were at Mount Gerizim, near Jacob’s Spring. Indeed, Mary in John 4 may have been collecting water for oracular purposes, which would underscore Jesus’s reference to her “five husbands”, to the deities invoked at Gerizim. Note that Parnassus is in the region of Greece called Æonia, which on page 576 is associated with Jesus’s use of the term “Æon”.

The adyton (“inaccessible” in Greek, the place at Delphi where the oracles were given) was presided over by five όσιοι (“holy ones”). It is no longer known who or what these were, but they were probably gods or god-avatars; they sound much like Origen’s “five gods” (page 294) explanation of Jesus’s comment about “five husbands” (John 4:18). Besides, if having five όσιοι was the typical arrangement at these oracles that were so common in the Mediterranean region, this may explain why Origen said five gods instead of the actual seven (II Kings 17:24-34).

Every month on the seventh day (because Apollo was born on the seventh day of the month Thargelion) the Pythia would ceremonially purify herself by bathing naked in the Castalian Spring, and then drink from the holy waters of the Kassotis, nearer the temple. Jesus and Mary likewise met when they ceremonially bathed naked at the beginning of the Jewish year (pages 260-65), and then they met again to drink from the waters of Jacob’s Well on the eve of the seventh day.

Diodorus Siculus (16:26:4) says the Pythia was traditionally a beautiful virgin, married to the god, likely meaning that her sexual activities were reserved as ceremonial. Other sources suggest she may have been of any age and background, the important factor being her oracular ability. Plutarch, who served as a priest at Delphi, tells how Maenads (female dévotées of Dionysos) held ceremonies in the Korykion Cave on Parnassus, surely of a sexual nature; he adds that his dear friend the Delphic priestess Clea was also involved with the Dionysian rites, suggesting a friendly cooperation, a coordination of rituals. Mary as oracular priestess would have been likewise central to the sexual rites at Gerizim, and Jesus is frequently associated in this gospel with Dionysos. Jesus in early iconography is often depicted as Dionysos or Apollo; Apollo too is closely associated with the Delphic oracle.

There was a priesthood associated with the Pythia, as there was a priesthood in the Samaritan Temple. There were also “prophets” at Delphi, whose work may have included interpretation of the oracles. This gives new meaning to Mary saying “I see you are a prophet” (4:19).

Diodorus also says at Delphi people would often experience a frenzied state, and even convulsions and trances, in a narrative that brings to mind Celsus’s description of Mary (page 601).

Plutarch says the giving of the oracle would be occasionally accompanied by “a fragrance and a breeze, as if the adyton were exuding the sweetest and most expensive of perfumes from a spring” (Moralia, 437c). And the setting of Jacob’s Spring is clearly scented by flowers, and Mary is associated with perfume (12:3).

Plutarch mentions too the prominent ancient image of the letter Ε at Delphi, and in a Platonic-style dialogue he and his friends discuss its meaning, which was at the time much debated. Most interesting in this context is that this letter represents in Greek script the number five (the five όσιοι ? Origen’s “five gods” again?), and as a word its meaning is “thou art”, the second person singular of the verb “to be”, equivalent to the Hindu तत् त्वम् असि (tat tvam asi; “that thou art”, that the individual soul, atman, is one with the universal soul, Brahman), similar to Jesus’s hope that “they may all be one” in God, through the Λογος, just as Jesus and God already are (7:21-23).

The Tanakh has several references to such oracular divination, including at Deuteronomy 18:11 and Isaiah 8:19, 29:4. Even Paul seems to describe this phenomenon at Romans 8:26-27. This means of divination was found everywhere in these eastern Mediterranean lands, and indeed in the entire world at that time. Jesus, Mary, and first-century readers of this gospel both Jew and gentile, would have been familiar with it. While there is nothing directly linking the Samaritan Temple to it, we know that it accepted Hellenistic influence, as discussed on page 597, and so, especially to cater to the considerable inflow of Greeks and Romans in the region, an oracle may well have been among the Temple’s offerings.

James David Audlin (89 Posts)

Born in the Thousand Islands. Retired; after decades as a pastor, newspaper editor, university professor, caregiver, musician, editor. Most recently lived in southern France; now lives in rural mountainous Panama; married to a Spanish-speaking local lady. Two children in Vermont. Author of 18+ books, with a dozen more on the way.


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