In 1902, British Syriac scholar Agnes Smith Lewis published the oldest Dormition manuscript, a narrative about the death of Jesus’s mother. Its fifth-century text described scenes where Mary exorcised, healed, sealed, sprinkled water, preached, and led the apostles in prayer. Later copyists, however, independently redacted these heterodox markers of Mary’s ecclesial authority, and Dormition homilists went further, adding orthodox markers of female respectability to their texts. Supplementing the traditions about female priesthood in the Dormition narrative, other early Christian writings about Mary the mother, or a female protagonist named just “Mary,” contain literary artifacts indicating that their authors believed she had been a Eucharistic priest. The heterodox nature of these writings suggests their composition belongs to the second century at the latest, along with the Protevangelium and the Gospel of Mary. As such, they may contain first-century oral traditions about a Jewish woman named Mary, the historical mother of Jesus.


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