Unlike with the rich Six Books manuscript tradition, which includes the long text of the fifth-century palimpsest against which shorter manuscripts can be compared, the Acts of Philip
survives only in much later manuscripts, mostly short. Even the longest manuscripts have large gaps in the text, either due to missing folios or scribal excision. The process of centuries of scribal redaction in the Acts of Philip manuscript tradition was so complex that, according to Bovon
, even the longest manuscript, the fourteenth-century Xenophontos 32 from Mt. Athos, contains evidence of rewriting, passages omitted, sources added, and individual folios extracted by an unknown hand. Bovon
observed that the acts that survived in Xenophontos 32 were “considerably larger and less expurgated”2—but some of the acts survived only in one of the shorter manuscripts, and Act 10, as well as portions of other acts, remain lost.3
Due to missing folios as well as scribal redaction of the text, Bovon
and his associates compiled the narrative about the apostle Mariamne using the three most important manuscript fragments of the Acts of Philip. They fit sections together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. These three manuscript fragments are the fourteenth-century Xenophontos 32 in Mount Athos, the eleventh-century Vaticanus graecus 824 in Rome, and the fifteenth-century Atheniensis 346 in Athens.
Each of these three manuscripts preserves some of the same parts of the narrative about Mariamne’s evangelical activity, but more importantly, each also preserves unique narrative elements describing her liturgical authority. If only one manuscript were studied, these individual unique elements might be dismissed as the fanciful additions of a later scribe. As Bovon
has demonstrated, the texts of all three manuscripts together provide a complex portrait of Mariamne as an apostle.
Who was Mariamne? The Acts of Philip is one of several ancient texts that are not specific regarding which Mary is its protagonist, whether Mary of Bethany, the Magdalene, the mother, or some other Mariamne.4 This lack of specificity is probably because the manuscript is fragmentary and the text was abbreviated over centuries. Most likely it originally included stronger clues regarding which Mary was meant. According to the surviving text, Mariamne was Philip’s sister—but it is uncertain whether this means she was his blood sister or his spiritual sister.
Mary Ann Beavis has pointed out that the text says Mariamne “prepared the bread and the salt, and the breaking of the bread,” while Martha
served the crowds—here Mariamne’s association with Martha could signify that Mariamne was to be seen as Mary of Bethany.5 Recent research, however, suggests that the presence of Martha cannot be considered decisive, because sometimes later scribes added Martha to scenes that originally had a solo Mary, usually to diffuse, or even undermine, Mary’s authority.6 By this analogy, if originally “Martha” was not present, then Mariamne both prepared the bread and also served the crowds. Bovon
, who edited the Acts of Philip, concluded that Mariamne probably represented Mary Magdalene—but pointed out that the oldest manuscript of the Protevangelium, Papyrus Bodmer 5,
similarly called Jesus’s mother “Mariamne,” spelling it the same way, and that “titles, metaphors, and functions applied to the mother [of Jesus] in patristic texts appear here as characteristic of Mariamne.”7 Given the fragmentary state of the medieval manuscripts of the Acts of Philip, it seems unlikely we will ever know with certainty which Mary the author intended to signify—Mary from Bethany, Magdala, Nazareth, or somewhere else. For the purpose of this argument, I agree with Ann Graham Brock
that Mariamne most likely represented Mary Magdalene.8 What is most important here, however, is that originally the Acts of Philip described Mariamne, like Philip, as an apostle who baptized people.
Vaticanus graecus 824 preserves the ending of Act 8 and part of Act 9, which is where the author repeatedly called Mariamne an “apostle.”9 Atheniensis 346 preserves the first half of Act 8, which explains how she became an apostle. Mariamne stood beside Jesus and “held the register of the regions” while Jesus assigned missions, and—because Philip was afraid—Jesus sent Mariamne to evangelize with Philip.10
Vaticanus graecus 824 preserved an exorcism
that paired Mariamne and Bartholomew, who was on the same mission, at the ritual: “Philip said to Bartholomew and Mariamne: ‘Now rise, lift up your hands with the cup that we hold, and sprinkle in the air the sign of the cross.’”11
The text of the same manuscript depicted Mariamne preaching to a woman named Nicanora, as well as Mariamne persuading people to enter a house where Philip and Bartholomew were preaching.12 Bovon
argued that since at each step of her missionary journey Mariamne was seen with the duties and privileges of an apostle, and also called an “apostle,” most likely the original composition had depicted Mariamne with a preaching load as full as that of the male apostles.13
Even more explicit pairings of male and female clergy survived in Xenophontos 32, the manuscript which according to Bovon
contained the longest and least expurgated text for the few acts which it preserves. For example, according to its Act 14, “Philip was baptizing the men and Mariamne the women.”14
Act 1 of Xenophontos 32 again paired male and female clergy in a passage that depicted blasphemers being tortured in hell. The author wrote that the people being tortured had been condemned to hell because they had “blasphemed against male and female priests,
, and virgins with lies about debauchery and adultery.”15
translated πρεσβυτέρους and πρεσβύτιδας (presbuterous and presbutidas) here as male priests and female priests, concurring with Maximilien
Bonnet that when an ancient author paralleled masculine and feminine church titles, then both titles must be treated in the same way, which was how Bonnet also treated them when he found the gender-parallel church titles of πρεσβύτερος and πρεσβυ̑τις (presbuteros and presbutis) paired in the
Martyrdom of Matthew