Gospel of the Lots of Mary: A Christian Book of Change? (c. 5th Century CE)


‘The Gospel of the Lots of Mary, the Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom the Archangel Angel Gabriel brought the good news, he who will go forward with his whole heart, will obtain what he seeks, only do not be of two minds.’

Gospel of the Lots of Mary: Translated by Professor Anne Marie Luijendijk

The so-called ‘Gospel of the Lots of Mary’ is written in Egyptian Coptic (which uses the Greek alphabet) and contains 37 different chapters or ‘oracles’ designed to offer advice and guidance to those seeking assistance in their lives.  It is not a gospel in the traditional sense, as it does not follow the orthodoxy of the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church rose to prominence around the 5th century CE, and once it had gained Roman governmental support, set about ruthlessly suppressing and destroying the many other Christian sects that existed, but which followed very different interpretation and practises – all believed to have originated with Jesus Christ.

The book entitled ‘Gospel of the Lots of Mary’ had been heavily used, presumably by the Christian community it served, and was probably used as a random access, shamanistic (divination) device, by a Christian priest or ‘keeper’, whose job it was to consult the text whenever a follower approached with a question. The consultation process may have been as random as simply opening the book haphazardly, and reading the chapter discovered. Other than in its introduction, this oracle-text never again mentions Christian theology (other than calling upon the name of Jesus a handful of times). Each oracle, like its Chinese counter-part in the ‘Book of Change’ is written in a vague and yet precise manner, so that any advice it contains, could be used to interpret many different and varied circumstances. For instance, the book is more concerned about a person attaining happiness by not existing in a state of ‘two minds’, or what might be termed ‘duality’. The abandoning of dualistic thinking is viewed by this book as a movement toward the end of suffering. for instance, the book states:

‘Stop being of two minds, oh human, whether this thing will happen or not. Yes, it will happen. Be brave and do not be of two minds, because it will remain with you a long time, and you will receive joy and happiness.’

The codex is made up of eighty parchment leaves and is written in a well-trained hand in the Sahidic dialect, and it is through the handwriting that Professor Anne Marie Luijendijk (of Princetown University) dates the text to around the 5th century CE.  Luijendijk further suggests that the codex stems from the Shrine of St. Colluthus in Antinoë, where archaeologists have discovered many other oracular texts. As the Roman Catholic Church forbade the use of oracles amongst its followers, all such texts were suppressed and destroyed, so as to wipe-out any historical connection between early Christianity and the practice of oracle consultation. The Gospel of the Lots of Mary suggests that there was a thriving Christian culture prior to the rise of Roman Catholicism that extensively partook in the act of fortune telling, and that this superstition may well have been a corner-stone of early Christian practice. The parchment codex is housed in Harvard University’s Sackler museum where it has been kept since 1984.



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