Many Christians don’t know that it took 500 years to compile the New Testament. Early Christianity was fraught with conflicts and controversies. Many of the gospels written as early as 50 years after the death of Jesus were known to church leaders, but never made it into the new Canon. Until the discovery of the Nag Hamadi codices, our knowledge of Gnostics and Gnosticism was gleaned from the writings of their detractors – the early church bishops. Now that the actual Gnostic gospels have come to light, we understand there were many Christian sects in the years following Jesus’ death and many interpretations of his teachings.
Of particular interest to me is the role of women in these communities. Far from being banned from any meaningful leadership positions in the church, women had equal footing with men among the Gnostics. In fact, many of these forbidden gospels give Mary Magdalene (who was wrongfully depicted as a prostitute by Pope Gregory in the sixth century) an exalted status as the favorite of Jesus.