The Goddess of Christmas Past

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, here’s something interesting about the origins of Christianity: Many scholars and others believe that the Virgin Mary originated from earlier female deities – for example Artemis – with whom she shares characteristics. But over the centuries Mary has lost much of her spiritual power, particularly when Protestant Christians booted her out to create an all-male club of deities.

An op-ed in yesterday’s NY Times offered a refreshing reminder that things were not always thus. The Bible as we know it was carefully constructed over the centuries, and part of that construction involved eliminating certain texts, including those that emphasize the voices of women.

Previously, these texts were known as the Gnostic Gospels and were viewed as heretical. But scholars are now reconsidering the texts and have even included some in a volume published this year called the New New Testament. This new Bible includes, for instance, the Gospel of Mary, which tells the story not of the Virgin but of Mary Magdalene and her close relationship with Jesus, who gives her the authority to pass on his teachings to his disciples. The new good book also includes poetry in the voice of a female deity, and verses that venerate the “womb of all that grows.”

Even if you’re not Christian or not religious, this is pretty revolutionary stuff. I’ll be taking a close look at these texts soon and reporting on what I find. In the meantime, their publication in a new Bible is the most meaningful Christmas gift I can imagine.