In several Gnostic Gospels... written by Christians whose alternative views of Jesus were eventually suppressed as heresy... Mary Magdalene rivals Peter for the leadership of the early church because of her superior understanding of Jesus' teaching. The Gospel of Philip, for example, describes her as Jesus' close companion whose counsel he often sought. In an era when women were commonly identified in relation to a husband, father or brother, Mary was identified instead by her town of origin. This title was traditionally bestowed to individuals of significance. Scholars believe she was one of a number of women who provided monetary support for Jesus' ministry. Additionally, when the male disciples fled, Mary steadfastly witnessed Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection, providing the thread of continuity in the central story of Christian history.
Early non-canonical Christian writings show faith communities growing up around Mary's ministry, where she is portrayed as understanding Jesus' message better than did Peter and the male disciples. Scholars surmise that these writings are not about the historical persons Mary and Peter but instead reflect tensions over women's roles in the early church. Prominent leaders such as Mary and Peter were evoked to justify opposing points of view. What is not disputed is the recognition of Mary of Magdala as an important woman leader in earliest Christianity.
In 312, when Constantine made Christianity the religion of the empire, the Christian community was caught in a cultural conflict as it moved from worship in house churches where women's leadership was accepted, to worship in public places where women's leadership violated Roman social norms. In the fourth century, male church leaders at the Council of Laodicea suppressed women leaders because of the belief that women should be subordinate to men. During this same time period, we see the memory of Mary of Magdala changing from that of a strong female disciple and proclaimer of the Resurrection to a repentant prostitute and public sinner. Scholars such as Dr. Jane Schaberg believe this was done deliberately to discourage female leadership in the church.
It is clear that Mary of Magdala not only bankrolled Jesus' ministry, but was a trusted, respected and most beloved Apostle. In the days and weeks that followed Jesus' crucifixion, Mary acted as a stabilizing force among the disciples... witnessed the resurrection and laid the groundwork for early Christianity... hence the title "Apostle to the Apostles". It is also clear that Mary's teachings suffered the same fate as many of the Gnostic Gospels that favored individual gnosis over subservience to a dogmatic hierarchal church.