Ramon Justino makes the case for Mary Magdalene as the author of the fourth gospel. The traditional view is that John, the son of Zebedee, is the author, though this view is held by fewer and fewer people all the time.
The church father, Iraneus, is the one who first designated John, son of Zebedee, as the author. Iraneus is taken seriously on the matter because of his association with St. Polycarp, who is said to have been a "disciple of John."
On the other hand, the designation of John is also based on a childhood memory of Iraneus'. Other candidates for the authorship of the fourth gospel include Lazarus, and John the presbyter.
Justino's thesis is that Mary Magdalene was "the disciple whom Jesus loved." He bases this partly on texts external to the New Testament, such as the Gospel of Philip, for example: "And the companion of the [Savior is] Mary Magdalene. [But Christ loved] her more than [all] the disciples [and used to] kiss her [often] on her [mouth]."
He cites several other "hints" within the text itself, such as John 19: 25ff: "Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said..." If you just read that far, you would assume that Mary Magdalene was "the disciple whom he loved." (Compare also the Gospel of Philip: "There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary his mother and her sister and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary.")
John 19 goes on to say: "he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home." Justino argues that the gender of the beloved disciple was changed in the text because of a power struggle in the early church between the followers of Mary Magdalene and those of Peter, a contest which Peter won.
One of the most intriguing things to me about the fourth gospel is that, whether or not Mary Magdalene is the Beloved Disciple, there seems to be some tension between that Beloved Disciple and Peter:
- in 13:23-26 the Beloved Disciple is resting on Jesus' chest while Peter has to petition the Disciple to ask Jesus a question for him;
- in 18:15-16 the Beloved Disciple has access to the high priest's palace while Peter does not;
- in 20:2-10 the Beloved Disciple immediately believes in the Resurrection while Peter and the rest of the disciples do not understand;
- in 21:7 the Beloved Disciple is the only one who recognizes the Risen Christ while he speaks from the shore to the disciples on their fishing boat;
- in 21:20-23 Peter jealously asks Jesus about the fate of the Beloved Disciple.
One of the foremost authorities on the fourth gospel is, of course, the late Ray Brown. He argues that there was a "Johannine community," centered on the figure of the Beloved Disciple, that existed independently of the "head office" of the church, in Jerusalem, led by Peter and James. There was some tension between this community and the "head office," though they had not broken fellowship.
Then, in the AD 60s-80s, tension also flared within the Johannine community resulting in a break between one faction that went "gnostic," and another faction that eventually united with the Jerusalem church, bringing with them their sacred text, the fourth gospel, which was then integrated into what would later become the canonical scriptures. It is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility to imagine a scenario whereby the Jerusalem church happily welcomes the Johannine faction, and their holy book, provided that certain editorial changes be made.
It would answer the question of why Mary Magdalene is so prominent in the cross and resurrection accounts of all four gospels, but virtually invisible otherwise. (The only other place is Luke 8 where Luke mentions Mary Magdalene "from whom seven demons had gone out," and who apparently helped provide financially for Jesus.) Justino speculates that the place of Mary Magdalene in the cross and resurrection accounts was well known among the early Christians, and she couldn't be edited out of the story without it being obvious.