Rumor has it that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. I know you’ve heard this idea before.
Stained glass window of Jesus and a pregnant Mary Magdalene from Kilmore Church in Dervaig, Scotland.
Maybe you read or watched The DaVinci Code, or maybe in your super-intelligent brain postulated the theory yourself. I would hazard a guess that you didn’t hear about it in church. Unless, that is, you went to our church. We tossed around this idea yesterday, not as rumor, but as distinct possibility given the multitude of clues that exist in the Bible and in the Gnostic Gospels.Traditional Christian doctrine would have you believe that Jesus was single and celibate, but not because the Bible asserts that. In fact, the church simply assumes this because of the lack of any direct mention of a wife. And they like to quote Matthew 19:3-12 where Jesus talks a tiny bit about men who have chosen celibacy “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”
Let me back up for some simplified history of scripture. Early Christianity was far from having one official, correct teaching. In actuality, there were a multiplicity of teachings circulating during the late first and second centuries. Then in 313 CE the Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the official state religion and gathered a group of powerful church men to determine what the definitive teachings of the church would be (this made it all the easier to persecute those who weren’t going along.) As tends to happen in committees, the issues were debated and one side won. This side is what we now know as the Roman Catholic Church. The side that lost became labeled as Gnostic and were seen as heretics. These heretics saw the writing on the wall and buried hundred of scrolls bearing their sacred stories and theology. It wasn’t until more than 1500 years later that these scrolls were discovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt and people began to realize that there were many other views of Jesus, his life and his teachings. But in those 1500 years the winners had written the traditional theology of the Christian church and it was well ingrained.
Interestingly enough, the Gnostics (while they held many of the same ideas about Jesus) emphasized inner spiritual transformation, had communities and churches with women leaders, priests and disciples, held Mary Magdalene in a special place of honor as Jesus’ companion and best student, and saw love as a spiritual path. Perhaps it is time to reintegrate the two strands of Christianity and determine if together they might offer a more complete understanding of Jesus and his teachings.
As I mentioned, there are many clues that lead us to question, if not believe that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were intimate companions if not husband and wife. To begin, there are the logical arguments that if Jesus had grown up a normal Jewish man, he would have been married by his late teens. And certainly to be considered a respected rabbi one would have had to be married. But the Bible also offers us significant hints. Three of the four gospels specify that Mary Magdalene was a witness to Jesus’ burial. All four gospels name Mary Magdalene as the premiere witness to Jesus’ resurrection. All four gospels insist that while the disciples all flee after the crucifixion, Mary Magdalene stands firm. And, in three of the gospels Jesus specifically sends her to tell the others; it is the first apostolic appointment (an apostle being one who is sent out).
In addition, in John 20:1-18 Mary Magdalene calls Jesus “my Lord” and “Rabboni”, both titles appropriate in Jewish society only for a wife to use in addressing her rabbi husband. Also, Mary demands access to Jesus’ body from the one she believes is the gardener, “an act appropriate only for the deceased’s nearest of kin.” (John Shelby Spong, Sins of Scripture, p. 107)
The Gospel of Philip (2nd century) – “Three women always walked with the master: Mary his mother, <his> sister, and Mary Magdalene, who is called his companion.”
“The companion of the [savior] is Mary Magdalene. The [savior loved] her more than [all] the disciples, [and he] kissed her often on her mouth].”
The Gospel of Mary (late 1st or early 2nd century) – Peter said to Mary, “Sister, we know the savior loved you more than any other woman.”
The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (possibly 4th century) – In September 2012, a new papyrus fragment was found to contain references to Mary Magdalene including the phrase, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’”
Bishop John Shelby Spong & Margaret Starbird – Both of these theologians suggest that “Magdalene” did not refer to the village of Magdala (as in Mary of Magdala), as no one has been able to locate it. Instead it is possible that Magdalene is a play on the word migdal, referring to a tower, or something tall, large and of great significance. She then becomes “Mary the Great.”
There are many more clues, but I will stop here. If you are curious to examine the clues yourself, check out some of these references:
- Karen King, The Gospel of Mary of Magdala
- Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene
- John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture
- Marvin Meyer, The Gospels of Mary
- Margaret Starbird, The Woman with the Alabaster Jar
The more I read, the broader my understanding of Christianity, the more accessible my image of Jesus and the more expansive my God. Perhaps the same will be true for you as well.