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The international success of Dan Brown's popular novel "The Da Vinci Code" (2003) and the film version of the book (2006) has once more stimulated informed discussion about the nature of the relationship between Jesus of Nazareth and Mary Magdalene.
Influential elements within the early church gave Mary Magdalene the title "Apostle to the Apostles." The view is emerging that Mary has a better claim to be considered the founder of the Church than St Peter or St Paul.
In 2003, the Irish artist, Emer O’Boyle, produced a painting depicting Mary Magdalene preaching to the Apostles. That picture can be seen here. And in 2005, Christina Miller painted an image entitled: "Yeshua and Magdalena a Week Before Passover." That painting can be seen here.
But how intimate might Jesus and Mary Magdalene have been?
In his book "Born of a Woman" (1992), Bishop John Spong noted that negativity towards the idea that Jesus may have been married to Mary Magdalene seems increasingly strange in our age.
Lynn Picknett addresses this issue in "Mary Magdalene - Christianity's Hidden Goddess"; Constable and Robinson (2003); ISBN 1841-1984-47. This is what the Spring 2004 edition of the "The Watkins Review" said about her book:
"The Gnostic Gospels reveal that for the early Church, Mary Magdalene was second in importance only to Jesus. Mary and Jesus were lovers and spiritual partners, and she may even have borne him a child. She may or may not have been a Jewish woman, but could have come from Ethiopia."
"Picknett re-evaluates the evidence from the Gospels, the contemporary Gnostic works, and ancient Egyptian texts, seeking Christianity's hidden goddess in fields as diverse as the art of Leonardo da Vinci and the statues of Black Madonnas."
"Picknett believes that virtually everything the Church teaches about Mary is a deliberate attempt to cover up uncomfortable facts; that it is time to see the real woman and to reassess the history of Christianity."
But there is plenty of other accessible stuff on the web about all this. For example there are useful introductory essays by Tau Malachi and Lesa Bellevie.
Tau Malachi observes that "nowhere in the New Testament does it state that Jesus was celibate. As a matter of fact, in Judaism an unmarried man is considered incomplete. Typically, all Jewish holy men – teachers and prophets alike – were married. It would have been highly unusual for a recognized rabbi (teacher) to be single. Originally, Christianity was a Jewish spiritual movement, and Jesus taught Jewish individuals primarily. Bearing that in mind, it would have been easier for students to accept that Jesus was married than to accept a rabbi unwilling or unable to sustain a marriage. This is quite the opposite of the unnatural view we have been led to believe – that the union of Jesus with a wife and consort would somehow diminish his spiritual status. The truth is that it would have exalted him all the more, and this is precisely the Sophian view."
And Lesa Bellevie quotes from 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." Bellevie comments: "The word 'companion' has often been interpreted to mean 'consort,' which implies a very different sort of relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus."
Orthodox sceptics might find solace from these ideas in Birger Pearson's capable survey of recent Magdalene enthusiasms here.
Excerpts from "The Gospel of Mary" in a Coptic papyrus can be found here.
The same fragmentary text of "The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene" with archive notes can be read here.
And The Reluctant Messenger has a small piece entitled a "Syncretic View of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene" here.
In recent years, Mary Magdalene’s own words about her relationship with Jesus have been brought to light. For example, in one place she states: “The Gospels recount me as a prostitute, for all Initiates of my order wore a gold arm bracelet that was a serpent; and it was understood that we practiced sexual magic; and in the eyes of the Hebrews we were whores.”
“When I saw Yeshua (Jesus) and our eyes met, I understood that we had been destined for each other. What I am about to tell you has not been known, except by those who were with me. Many legends abound as to what happened. But for me it is a story of deepest love. That Yeshua had a vision of the world does not touch me. My story is a love story.”
“Many people followed Yeshua. And the opportunities for us to be alone together were very few. It is not written in the Gospels for no-one knew, only the closest to us. Before Yeshua went to the Garden of Gethsemane, we conceived a child, and her name was Sarah.”
I quote from pages 17-18 of “The Magdalene Manuscript” by Tom Kenyon and Judi Sion (2002); ORB Communications; ISBN 1-931032-05-X.
The publisher’s blurb for this book can be found at Tom Kenyon’s website here.
One of the interesting issues arising from the success of The Da Vinci Code is simply accounting rationally for its success. Why should a self-confessed fiction of this kind be so widely noticed and so widely railed against? Similar questions have been asked about the Harry Potter novels.
Perhaps it is because the core energy of these books connects with what a lot of people intuit to be veridical. Or to dip into the overworked vocabulary of churchianity, perhaps it is because "The Holy Spirit" is bringing certain of the central ideas in these books to wider attention.
It has been suggested that The Da Vinci Code cannot be taken seriously, first because it is fiction, and second because it is historically inaccurate at a number of important points. But the Bible has far more fiction in it, and far more historical inaccuracy than The Da Vinci Code, and those things have not stopped it from being successful.
The uncomfortable reality for both modern Western liberals and modern Western fundamentalists seems to be that certain texts very obviously have the force with them, and certain other texts very obviously do not. And, frankly, we haven't a clue why.
Scholarly Smackdown: Were Mary Magdalene and Jesus Married?
A debate on Beliefnet (May 2006). Bart Ehrman says there is no evidence. Barbara Thiering disagrees, arguing that John's Gospel and a Gnostic text offer clues to a marriage.
Mary Magdalene's Secret
Extracts from Margaret Starbird's book "The Woman with the Alabaster Jar" (1993).
What we're talking about when we talk about the feminine divine in Christianity - an article by Rosemary Radford Ruether on Beliefnet.
The great Da Vinci Code distraction
Article by Geza Vermes, Professor Emeritus of Jewish Studies at Oxford University - Times (London) 06.05.06
The code breakers
Martyn Palmer discusses Ron Howard's 2006 film of The Da Vinci Code - Times (London) - 06.05.06
Catholics form Da Vinci film team
British Roman Catholic leaders are afraid of the influence of The Da Vinci Code film. They have set up the Da Vinci Code Response Group - BBC News (London) - 06.05.06
Why the world is chasing its Grail
Article about The Da Vinci Code book and film by Peter Conrad, English lecturer at Christ Church, Oxford University - The Observer (London) - 07.05.06
Thrills, fun but no masterpiece
James Christopher's review of the 2006 Da Vinci Code film in The Times (London) - 17.05.06
Dan Brown has resurrected a heresy that rattles the Church
Article by Boris Johnson in The Daily Telegraph (London) - 18.05.06
The Da Vinci Code - a true phenomenon or a load of codswallop?
Philip French's review of the 2006 Da Vinci Code film in The Observer (London) - 21.05.06
The secret's out - The Da Vinci Code is dull, verbose - and yes, worse than the book
Cosmo Landesman's review of the 2006 Da Vinci Code film in The Sunday Times (London) - 21.05.06
Same suspense, same success, same errors
Review of the 2006 Da Vinci Code film by The Rev Dr David Hilborn, Head of Theology at the Evangelical Alliance
Who cares what the reviews say?
Mark Lawson considers why the Da Vinci Code film-goers are taking no notice of the critics - The Guardian (London) 24.05.06
Opus Dei murder
Secretive Opus Dei honours banker who was cut up with a chainsaw - Sunday Times (London) 23.07.06
The saint and his virgin
Sacred sexuality in early Christianity and the inner teachings of Jesus - an article by Walter Last
The Order of Mary Magdala
This is the website of a modern esoteric Christian order which studies the teachings, mystical techniques, meditations and prayers of Yeshua and Mary Magdalene. The site includes a Magdalene images gallery here. And there is a useful essay entitled "Temple Prostitutes and Temple Virgins. Were they Temple Priestesses?" here.