The Gospel of the Lots of Mary

Previously unknown 1,500-year-old ‘gospel’ contains oracles


AnneMarie Luijendijk has studied a previously unknown Late Antique text called The Gospel of the Lots of Mary. Photo: Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Mrs. Beatrice Kelekian in memory of her husband, Charles Dikran Kelekian, 1984.669.

Princeton University professor of religion AnneMarie Luijendijk has identified a previously unknown text called The Gospel of the Lots of Mary in a fifth–sixth-century C.E. Coptic miniature codex. Luijendijk’s research is presented in her recently published book Forbidden Oracles? The Gospel of the Lots of Mary (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014).

The miniature codex, LiveScience reports, is composed of pages just 3 inches in height and contains 37 oracles that would have been used for divination.

The opening lines of the codex read, in Coptic (a script adapted from Greek and used by Egyptian Christians):

“The Gospel of the lots of Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, she to whom Gabriel the Archangel 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.”

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In this context, “lots” refer to objects drawn at random to make a decision. The Gospel of the Lots of Mary is not a gospel (from evangelion—“good news”) in the traditional sense that it describes the life and death of Jesus or is canonized as part of the New Testament. This gospel combines divinatory phrases and Biblical allusions.

“The fact that this book is called that way is very significant,” Luijendijk told LiveScience. “To me, it also really indicated that it had something to do [with] how people would consult it and also about being [seen] as good news. Nobody who wants to know the future wants to hear bad news in a sense.”

According to Luijendijk, the gospel would have been used like this: A person who needed guidance or an answer to a question would go through the book and randomly pick out an oracle for the solution—leaving the selection all up to chance. The small size of the codex meant it could be carried around easily.

The Gospel of the Lots of Mary, then, is sort of like an ancient Magic 8 Ball. And like the Magic 8 Ball, the oracles are vague enough that one could draw personalized interpretations from them. For instance, oracle 34 reads:

“Go forward immediately. This is a thing from God. You know that, behold, for many days you are suffering greatly. But it is of no concern to you, because you have come to the haven of victory.”

Read more about The Gospel of the Lots of Mary in LiveScience.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

The Oracle of Delphi—Was She Really Stoned?

Word Play: The power of the written word in ancient Israel

What Is Coptic and Who Were the Copts in Ancient Egypt?

Ancient Amulets with Incipits by Joseph E. Sanzo


Posted in News, Post-Biblical Period.

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  • Kali says

    Augustine was convicted and converted by opening the Bible to a random passage– he got Romans 13:13-14

  • Darryl says

    KiwiChristian: “What thou do, doest thou quickly!” 8^)

  • Kurt says

    Canonical and Apocryphal Gospels
    Between 41 and 98 C.E., Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote down “the history of Jesus Christ.” (Matthew 1:1) These accounts are sometimes called gospels, meaning “good news” about Jesus Christ.—Mark 1:1.
    While there may have been oral traditions as well as other writings about Jesus, these four Gospels were the only ones considered inspired of God and worthy of being part of the Holy Scriptures—providing “the certainty of the things” regarding Jesus’ earthly life and teachings. (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1, 2; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17) These four Gospels are mentioned in all the ancient catalogs of the Christian Greek Scriptures. There is no basis for questioning their canonicity—their status as part of the inspired Word of God.
    In time, though, other writings started to appear that were also given the name gospels. These other gospels were called apocryphal.*
    At the end of the second century, Irenaeus of Lyon wrote that those who had apostatized from Christianity had “an unspeakable number of apocryphal and spurious writings,” including gospels that “they themselves have forged, to bewilder the minds of foolish men.” Hence, the apocryphal gospels ended up being considered dangerous not only to read but even to own.
    However, medieval monks and copyists kept those works from going into oblivion. In the 19th century, interest in the subject increased greatly and many collections of texts and critical editions of the apocrypha, including several gospels, came to light. Today there are editions published in many of the major modern languages.

  • a says

    Random phrases for guidance from a book? Reminds me of the story of the bloke who tried the same with the Bible. First verse it fell open to ends with “…and he went and hanged himself”. Decided that wasn’t helpful so tried again and the next verse ended with Jesus instructing “Go thou and do likewise”.

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