I have read some oddball apocrypha texts but this may be one of the strangest. Being quite fond of the Theotokos, I’ve been tracking down some apocrypha relating to her as of late. While watching the below video, it mentioned a text that included Gnostic elements! I have time stamped the video, so check it out real quick.
Wow, a text in which Jesus tells his mother of secret knowledge to bypass the rulers of the world! So I had to track down this text and see what it’s all about. Searching online, I did not find it at all, just articles talking about it. So I had to break down and purchase the $70 paperback book Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption by Stephen J. Shoemaker. This is the only easily accessible way to read an English translation of the text.
This text, which also goes under the name “Liber Requiei Mariae”, survives in Ethiopic Ge’ez, but also in various fragments from various different languages. In this aspect, it’s quite popular due to the amount of evidence that survives. So why does this text not get spoken of much, and if it has Gnostic elements, why does it not get included in the numerous “Gnostic” collection books that seem to populate various online book stores?
The translation of this text contains the full Ge’ez to English translation, but also where other fragments survive, the text goes into two columns and has the Ge’ez to English on one side, and the other fragment translation to the right. I love this! I wish more translations did this. Here is my summary of the text, which will be split into three separate blog posts.
The beginning of the text has an angel appearing to (Mother) Mary with a book that she is to give to the apostles, so they could read it to her and upon the third day, she will leave her body. Mary asks the angel for it’s name, but the angel tells her that she must go to the Mount of Olives to hear his name, because if his name is mentioned there, the whole city of Jerusalem would be destroyed due to the power of the name. So she obliges and goes to the Mount of Olives with the book in her hands. When she arrives at the top of the mountain, all the trees inclined their heads and venerated the book she is holding. Mary then knew that the angel was Jesus. He states why the trees did this and the power that comes from him.
Now the story goes into flashback mode (which happens quite a few times) and Jesus speaks to his mother of a childhood memory. It involved them, along with Joseph, when they were in Egypt, when they could not find any food and Joseph begins to complain about having to leave his seven children behind (the Georgian language fragment states three sons, but the Ge’ez translation states seven children), but the surprising complaint is that he questions Mary’s Chasity. He even questions himself that perhaps he was drunk and had intercourse with Mary but then recalls he was only with Mary five months prior to her giving birth. Joseph eventually states that the child had to come from the Holy Spirit and he calms down from his ranting. This was quite the interesting conversation to be presented in the text!
The next two pages involves child Jesus speaking to a date-palm to lower it’s head so they may eat the fruit from it. Yes, another example of plants behaving out of the ordinary. The story goes back to it’s present setting and Jesus explaining to his mother of what will happen in the near future regarding her bodily death and ascension into paradise. Now this part does speak of her body remaining intact and being taken to paradise to remain there until the last day, in which it will then be resurrected. So in that aspect, it stays true with the typical Christian mythology in regards to the body. Gnostic tradition would shed the body without second thought.
The next part of the text involves Jesus telling Mary of secret prayers that must be said to ascend. Here are some examples of the text:
Mary, know from where the prayer has come and what it is, as you will need to observe it with every world. And even if a person has gained the whole world, and he has been abandoned to the beast with the body of a lion and the tail of a snake, what is his profit? And even if he is wise and richer than the whole world, and he has been abandoned to the monsters, will he not forfeit all of his possessions, even his body? Truly it is thus, Mary; for it is not possible to pass by the beast with the body of a lion and the tail of a snake, so as to pass through every world, because of the hatred of Satan, which he has brought on everyone. But, the one who understands this completely will give all his possessions in order to save his body.
This paragraph is obviously alluding to the demiurge, though the text never specifically refers to Yaldabaoth. The next page does make a reference to “The Ruler [Archon]” creating Adam, similar to the Apocryphon of John story. I do find it interesting this pops up in the text however. Unfortunately no mention of what the secret prayer(s) are.
The apostles enter the story and they beseech of Jesus to the prayer/repentance of a thief that was among them. Jesus does not comply and goes into a lesson with the apostles involving a visual parable involving trees (again with the plants! lol). The apostles don’t understand the lesson at first and get angry but eventually get it once it is explained to them.
After this lesson, Jesus tells his mother to give the sign to the apostles so they will tell of the mystery to those who believe. He goes into a story about how he is the “third that was created, and I am not the Son; there is no one greater than me.” He also mentions that he is the one who destroyed every firstborn of Egypt because of the great evil that was in them! This is referring to the Exodus story. A back story is given to this reasoning. One of the Israelites named Eleazar became ill and did not show up to work. An overseer came to visit him and ask why he had not come to work. Eleazar did not answer so the overseer went to the Pharaoh to ask what to do. The Pharaoh did not have any pity for the man and demanded that the man’s wife take his place. By doing this, it will also set a precedent among the others that the work will get done regardless. The overseer went to Eleazar’s house and seized his wife, Rachel, and brought her to the brick works. She was beaten to near death and then forced to work. The woman was pregnant and almost due. However, the overseer had no patience for her wanting to rest from her laboring in the brick works. She was forced to get back to work and during all this, she gave birth to twins. The first born child had died during this incident and Rachel prayed to God regarding this situation. Jesus was the one who responded to her promising for the firstborns of Egypt to meet the same fate.
And just as they caused your infants to fall, I will make their infants fall similarly. Thus I will make you see the Egyptians when their firstborn are made to fall from their mothers’ wombs. And now, Rachel, arise and do your work; for God has sent me to exact a blood vengeance for you.
After this story, it is also mentioned that Jesus was the one who went into Sodom to save Lot and destroy his wife. He is also the one who caused Joseph’s bones to be found, which the Pharaoh had hidden. This story goes on a bit before Jesus finally ends with him telling Mary that his name is “Adonai’el”. He hands her a book and tells her to give the apostles his name, before turning into pure light and ascending to heaven.
The strangeness will continue in part 2!