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Making Oneself Male

From The Gospel of Thomas, one of the papyri found at Nag Hamadi:

114. Simon Peter said to them, "Make Mary leave us, for females don't deserve life."

Jesus said, "Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven."

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When I first looked at this verse from a twenty-first century perspective, my first thought was, "What? Do I have to have some major surgery?" Of course, that is ridiculous, simply because such things weren’t even on the far-flung edge of ‘first-century’ thought, much less deed. So, this line of thought can be happily and hastily abandoned.

But what did the Christ mean, and why was Simon Peter so vehemently anti-female that he would prefer Mary Magdalene dead?

We have to examine the culture, and the roles and functions of men and women in that ancient time. In the Judaic culture of the time, women only existed for one purpose- to bear sons. Daughters were considered a necessary evil, but if they bore sons too, they were tolerated. Women did not have souls, had no function in the Temple, were ‘unclean’ for many days of the month, and could be killed for touching a male not of her own kin, or being perceived as dishonoring the males of her family. They were empty vessels, easily corruptible, and because of their unclean tendencies, always ‘willing’ to corrupt men through their mere presence. They were considered cunning, but not intelligent, and were not educated in the same manner as the men.

To the men raised in this culture, Jesus’ attention to Mary Magdalene and his inclusion of her in his group of disciples was an outrageous insult above any imaginable. A woman with no soul, unclean because she is a woman, perhaps educated and well read in defiance of the cultural norm- tempting the men by her mere corrupting presence- how dare she? It is a reflection of the Christ’s deep wisdom and influence that she was permitted to remain or participate at all.

In the canonical Scriptures that were edited and became the accepted Bible, all references to any relationship between the Christ and the Magdalene were completely edited out, or obscured in such a way that no relationship was discernable. That she made it at all into the ‘accepted’ New Testament is a reflection of the high regard in which the Christ held her, and perhaps to errors in its editing by the deciding councils that ‘finished’ the Gospels.

So, what did the Christ mean when he said, "Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven." What does making (one)self ‘male’ incur? And how does this affect us, two millennia later?

What guidance would the Christ give to Mary to ‘make her male’? Perhaps first, he would have had to reeducate her as to her true spiritual nature, and help her to retrieve and realize her concept of having a ‘spirit’ or a soul. Remember, she was raised to believe that she was pretty much nothing, with no soul or purpose except to serve men and bear sons. He would have had to teach her that it was OK to say ‘no’ to a man's sexual advances and demands, and to find her freedom in being her own person, outside the bounds of captivity and marriage. In that culture, married women were basically domestic slaves, and tightly bound to the home. Since Mary was a follower of the Christ, it had to be assumed that she was unmarried, and had no children or controlling male relatives she had to answer to. Jesus certainly wouldn’t be openly showing affection to another’s wife and mother of his kids! The penalty for such an outrage would have been death for both of them.

Being freed of the bonds of marriage and childbearing, he would then begin to educate her as to the nature of God, His Messenger, and the Holy Spirit, which indwells all people, regardless of their gender. He would have to teach her that ‘uncleanliness’ resided in all people- men and women, and was the result of the aggregate of their thoughts and deeds, not their bodily functions. Only by making right the consequences of their actions could they be redeemed and be ‘clean’.

He would have then taught her that because she was not bound to any man or had any responsibility to children, had a soul, and was spiritually cleansed, she was basically on the same footing and equal to any male of similar status. Because of this profound spiritual transformation of thought and insight, she became ‘male’ by the standards of the culture and the time. She had the status and education/gnosis of the spirit to enable her to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

In our day and time, ‘man’ is the default neuter gender in the English Language. "Man" and "mankind" refer to all humans, regardless of gender. But strangely enough, the word ‘female’ or ‘woman’ means ‘not male’ or ‘wife of man’. Biologically, we know that female is actually the default conceptual gender, and boys are ‘made male’ by a hormonal signal at eight weeks gestation. But the cultural bias and imperative still exists. Men are ‘superior’ and desired. Women are not.

And women are still bound by their sexual capacity- the assumption that all females will become wives, mothers, or mates of a male at some point in their lives. Although our Western culture isn’t as starkly sexist and patriarchal as it was 2000 years ago, most girls are still brought up to undertake their roles as a ‘helpmeet’ to men. To be taught that they can have their own lives, souls, and purpose is extremely rare, and most Western women have a long fight ahead from girlhood to unlearn these biases, achieve true sexual and social independence and be on the same footing as males are assumed to be from birth.

Women have had this choice and ability for less than a century, and are a very long ways from having it as a birthright. The struggle to obtain the spiritual status of ‘males’ is a long and hard one, and many women give up and surrender to the forces of overriding culture rather than tough it out. And even if they do achieve it, they are looked upon as freakish or outcasts because they dared to accept their true birthright as independent spiritual beings with lives and souls of their own.

No wonder Simon Peter was so outraged. Many men today echo his ‘how dare she’ attitude and keep their women tightly bound to their dogmas.

Jesus said, "For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven." What did he mean by this? He meant that when a woman overcame the weight of male contempt and and her own culturally imposed spiritual ignorance, truly understood the concept of "The Kingdom of God within"; and made that tenet part of her life without surrendering her integrity, she would be awakened to the Inner Light of the Christ’s purpose, and would ultimately escape this world of matter.

To ‘make oneself male’, then is to lay aside the chains that bind us to the demands, delusions, and desires of men. We must understand that all the weaknesses men accuse us of harboring are also their own. It is to realize that we are also are humans, with a soul, and the same yearning as the men to return to the Ultimate from whom we came. It means laying aside the socially imposed obligation to marriage and motherhood, and concentrating instead on the big picture, the elevation of all mankind from the material chains of this plane. It means accepting the insight and guidance of the Holy Spirit, who is also called Sophia and Shekinah, and understanding the true meaning of the Christ’s message.

It means shearing away from dogma and cultural constraints, and choosing instead to get your guidance directly from the Kingdom of God within you, and eschewing all outside interpretation of your place and function in the world. It means serving God instead of men, and being strong enough to stand up to men who are under the delusion that they are ‘superior’ because of their gender and the ancient cultural biases of the Bible. It means understanding that the Christ himself will back you up- these words he spoke, although not in the final cut of the accepted Bible, are thought by scholars to be his actual words. No matter what Paul says about the function and place of women in the churches and in service, Jesus' words trump them.

It is a solitary, edgy, and sometimes frightening and lonely path, but there are other brave sojourners upon it. It is the road less traveled that leads to that narrow gate that the Christ speaks of. It is up to you to find the strength and courage to travel down that road. The Christ will be your delighted companion.

2001 by Sunfell

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