Were Jesus and Mary Magdalene really married?
or "Is the premise of 'The DaVinci Code' really true?"
by Collie Collier
Short answer: Quite possibly, but we'll never know for sure.
The desire for certainty
I've been seriously asked several times now if I thought Jesus was really married to Mary Magdalene. Barring religious issues, I feel there are several logical and productive ways to look at this question.
1) Was it culturally likely?
The first is to look at the culture of the time (as best we can through the obscuring lens of two thousand passing years) and see if marriage is a feasible cultural ritual for Jesus to have been part of.
Under that time period's viewpoint, it would be downright peculiar for a rabbi to be unmarried -- and Jesus was most certainly a rabbi, being obviously qualified to teach Jewish law. Also, most of the male disciples are described as married. Yet the bible mentions no social opprobrium cast on Jesus for his then-socially-unacceptable unmarried state.
Much like Jesus, Mary Magdalene also is never described as married, or even a widow. Being both unchaperoned and never married is an exceedingly improper state for a nice Hebrew woman in the society of that time, so it's likely that was not actually her status.
However, her fidelity to Jesus is unquestionable; she and other women are described in the Gospels as grieving at the foot of Jesus' cross when everyone else has fled, and it is she who discovers the empty tomb -- not any of the male disciples.
So the answer to question one (is it culturally likely?) is a definite yes. It is peculiar and noteworthy for the times that both Jesus and Mary Magdalene are never described as married individuals.
2) Is there anything to support this theory?
When we look for mention of Mary Magdalene in the various books in the Bible and the Apocrypha, we find quite a bit of evidence for a special relationship between her and Jesus. As noted above, the Gospels themselves state unequivocally it is Mary Magdalene who is most loyal to Jesus.
There is also repeated mention of this special relationship in the following Apocryphal books: the Gospel of Phillip, the Gospel of Mary, the Pistis Sophia, and the Gospel of Thomas.
Sadly, there are also several incidents of Peter jealously fighting against this special relationship. Peter is obviously not the sharpest crayon in the box, nor anything like the leader Mary is, as these texts will clearly demonstrate.
Gospel of Phillip
This Gnostic text apparently consists of verses collected from other, no-longer-extant sources. Like most religious texts of the time (including the original books of the bible, and the other Apocrypha) it is unfortunately neither completely saved nor completely intact. What this means is we have only some of the original scrolls, and there are holes and blurry parts in the ones we have -- which means translation of the now "dead" language is sometimes a real doozy.
I recommend therefore that you read several translations of the original, in order to most closely catch the actual meanings of the text within proper context -- because I've seen different translations use the words "loved" and "companion" instead of "mate."
Here's Verse 36 -- a fascinating one, where Mary Magdalene's special relationship with Jesus is particularly mentioned.
36. There were three Mariams who walked with the Lord at all times: his mother and her sister and Magdalene -- she who is called his Mate. Thus his Mother, Sister, and Mate are called 'Mariam.'
She's provocatively mentioned again in Verses 59 and 60, as being more gifted in enlightenment than the rest of the disciples:
 And the Mate of the [lost text] is Mariam the Magdalene. The [lost text] loved Mariam more than all the other Disciples, and he kissed her often on her [lost text]. The other Disciples saw his loving Mariam, they say to him: Why do thou love her more than all of us? The Savior replied, he says to them: Why do I not love you as I do her?
Gospel of Mary
Again, I recommend you read several translations of the original, as this also is a much-debated text. For now, this is the beginning of Chapter 5 of the Gospel of Mary, and Jesus has just "departed":
 But they [the disciples] were grieved. They wept greatly, saying, How shall we go to the Gentiles and preach the gospel of the Kingdom of the Son of Man? If they did not spare Him, how will they spare us?
Remember the phrase, "made us into Men," for later. Also note a couple of interesting things:
Next we have the Pistis Sophia, a rather confusing and repetitive Gnostic mystery text. In it Jesus is referred to as the "First Mystery," as having already risen from the dead, and as spending the next eleven years (post-resurrection) occupied in teaching his disciples about the "Mysteries."
He is definitely more divine than human in this rendition, being repeatedly referred to as "the Light," and repeatedly mentioning leaving his "garment" (his carnal body?) behind.
In the portions of the writings which still remain, Jesus appears to be encouraging the disciples to speak interpretations of the mysteries. I'm not sure, but it sounds much like the classic "speaking in tongues," where you open your mouth in faith, and the holy spirit (Sophia/Wisdom?) speaks insight in a foreign tongue, through you.
Here's an example from Chapter 17:
Now when [Jesus] had said these things to his disciples, he said to them: "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." Now it happened when Mariam heard these words as the Saviour was saying them, she stared for one hour into the air and said: "My Lord, command me that I speak openly."
Notice Jesus promises to "complete" Mary, and compliments her by mentioning her spiritual enlightenment in comparison to the other disciples. Later in this text Mary is also referred to by Jesus as "Mariam," "the blessed one," and "Maria the beautiful in her speech."
Here's a particularly effusive description of her from Chapter 19, which is another indication (as in the Gospel of Mary) of her unique relationship with Jesus:
Now it happened when Maria finished saying these words, [Jesus] said: "Excellent, Maria. Thou art blessed beyond all women upon earth, because thou shalt be the pleroma [fullness, abundance] of all Pleromas and the completion of all completions."
Jesus states quite bluntly at one point that of all his disciples, those who most clearly understand his teachings are Mary Magdalene and "John the Virgin." I don't know who this John is, though I'm guessing it's the John we know as the Apostle, not John the Baptist.
Also, remember the comment from the Gospel of Mary about Jesus making Men out of them all? There's an interesting tendency in the Pistis Sophia for the various disciples, as they speak, to refer to "my man of light" as aiding them in their revelations on the teachings Jesus is sharing with them.
Initially I wondered if they were referring to Jesus himself, but I would guess not, for the simple reason they constantly refer to him as Lord, Savior, Rabbi -- as external to themselves, and with the titles apparently capitalized. The phrase "my man of light," though, is used possessively and individually.
I mention this specifically because of the third example we have of Jesus and Mary's special relationship, which is the Gospel of Thomas.
Gospel of Thomas
This book purports to give the "secret teachings" of Jesus, rather than the story of his life and death. Admittedly, many of the sayings are as confusingly strange as Zen koans, but I still find them fascinating.
Like the other two books, this gospel refers to Simon Peter being a little brat to Mary. I'll discuss Peter's issues in just a bit, though -- for now, here's the relevant verse:
Simon Peter said to them [Jesus and the disciples], 'Make Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.' Jesus said, 'I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.'
No one knows what precisely that's supposed to mean, although I've heard several likely theories.
One states the verse represents Jesus using "enlightened sarcasm" on Simon Peter, to try to get him to think past earthly sensory input, and into intellectual enlightenment.
Another theory postulates Jesus is speaking metaphorically of how he will make Mary Magdalene of one divine spirit with him, a true "Bride of Christ," as she's referred to in some of the Apocryphal books. This is because according to some versions of early christianity, male and female must spiritually become one to enter the kingdom of heaven.
The theory I consider most likely, however, takes the culture of the time into account, as well as comments such as were mentioned above, regarding the disciples all being "made into Men" and the individual references to "my man of light."
According to this theory the compiler of the sayings uses 'female' and 'male' metaphorically to refer to the 'higher' and 'lower' aspects of human nature. Thus Jesus will personally guide Mary in undergoing a spiritual transformation from her earthly, material, passionate nature (which the compiler here equates with the 'lower' female) to a heavenly, spiritual, intellectual nature (which here equates with the 'higher' male).
Symbolic transformations like this usually denoted spiritual illumination through rituals or ascetic practices, and signified liberation from death and other "base" earthly matters.
While we may find the gender categorizations shocking today, it is still worth noting there are no examples of Jesus offering to do this for his male apostles.
So the answer to our second question, "Is there anything to support this theory?" is an unqualified yes. From this data, it's entirely reasonable to assume Jesus was indeed married to Mary Magdalene.
3) Could this information have been lost?
Without a doubt, especially since we know other less contentious information within the bible has also been lost, mistranslated, censored, or re-written.
Why do I consider biblical rewriting of Jesus' life to be such a certain thing? Story modification in the bible has occurred so repeatedly that bible scholars have descriptive nicknames for the various author-groups in the Old Testament. They can do this because the writing of the various books alters consistently in grammar, vocabulary, and style, depending on who the current author-group is.
If this interests you, you should really read a more thorough review of the subject -- it's quite fascinating. Check out the books they refer to also; they're excellent.
Also, stories get re-written when people have problems they're trying to cope with. It's obvious Simon Peter has some serious emotional issues concerning his insecurity around clever and enlightened women in general, and Mary Magdalene in particular. Unfortunately this means he also has excellent reason to encourage someone literate to just drop a few pesky little details from the bible stories.
Obviously these insecurities (for I doubt Simon Peter was the only one with issues about enlightened women) strongly affected the bible. It is in the Apocrypha we're more likely to see less edited or censored versions of stories concerning Mary Magdalene. For example, Peter is openly resentful of her in the Gospel of Mary -- giving her grief after she acquiesces to his request for more of Jesus' teachings!
Gospel of Mary (again)
At the beginning of Chapter 9, Mary has just finished sharing Jesus' special teachings -- most of which are lost to us, since the texts are unfortunately missing, darnit!
 When Mary had said this, she fell silent, since it was to this point that the Savior had spoken with her.  But Andrew answered and said to the brethren, Say what you wish to say about what she has said. I at least do not believe that the Savior said this. For certainly these teachings are strange ideas.
There's that "perfect Man" reference again, too. Fascinating how often it pops up when you know what to look for!
Pistis Sophia (again)
We see the same problem cropping up again in the Pistis Sophia, in Chapter 36. Mary has once again been encouraged by Jesus to expound upon the Gnostic "mystery of repentance," and been congratulated by him for her insight -- and Peter feels the need to whine:
It happened now, when Jesus finished saying these words to his disciples, he said: "Do you understand in what manner I am speaking with you?" Peter leapt forward, he said to Jesus: "My Lord, we are not able to suffer this woman who takes the opportunity from us, and does not allow anyone of us to speak, but she speaks many times."
Keep in mind everyone has spoken several times now at Jesus' direction. Also, there are several women present and listed as disciples with the men: Mary Magdalene, Phillip, Mary the mother of Jesus, Peter himself, Martha, John, Andrew, Matthew, James, Salome, and Thomas -- who initially seems a bit shy about coming forward, mentioning not wanting to get in his brothers' way. Perhaps he's picking up on Peter's hostility?
Nevertheless it is (perhaps unsurprisingly) only Mary at whom Peter directs his petulance. Poor Mary is obviously getting the hairy eyeball (or something similar) from Peter, for in Chapter 72 we read:
Now it happened when the First Mystery [Jesus] finished saying these words to the disciples, Mary came forward. She said: "My Lord, my mind is understanding at all times that I should come forward at any time and give the interpretation of the words which she [Pistis Sophia] spoke, but I am afraid of Peter, for he threatens me and he hates our race."
Jesus' statement is an interesting one, in that it implies one is unstoppable when filled with the understanding of the Spirit of light.
Therefore if Peter has nothing to say it would seem to be due not to Mary Magdalene's speaking too often, but rather to his own lack of comprehension of the mysteries. It must've been hard for him, to be so constantly shown to be mentally slow -- especially by a hated and "inferior" woman.
The New Testament (revised version)
We've already covered Peter's blatant hostility to Mary Magdalene in the Gospel of Thomas. His lack of status compared to Mary Magdalene is indirectly referred to in the bible as well. For example, Mary's fidelity to Jesus is indisputable -- but poor Peter is the one who suffers a panic attack and fearfully denies Jesus three times before the cock crows, in the courtyard of Annas, the High Priest's father-in-law.
A question which has always bothered me: why do we revere such a coward and false friend, but ignore or denigrate Mary Magdalene -- the person Jesus himself chose as the "Apostle to the Apostles"? Could it be we also are sharing in Simon Peter's psychoses? Isn't it time to drop that emotional sickness, and be more like Jesus himself?
Interestingly, Simon Peter had to have the disciple Jesus loved (Mary Magdalene?) intercede for him just so he could simply hang out with the servants in Annas' courtyard. It was the disciple Jesus loved who was able to enter the house to talk to the also-nobly-born Annas. How this must have rankled to the "hot tempered" Peter!
Unfortunately, he posthumously has the last word on women -- at least from a biblical viewpoint -- stating flatly women should always be "submissive" to their husbands. Despite Jesus' actual teachings, despite the presence of Mary Magdalene and other female apostles -- to Peter a woman should have no more freedom or self-determination within the church than without.
I always wonder what marvelous religious teachings we lost due to the insecurities of Peter and other male religious teachers. It's rather sad he had the metaphorical last word, in that Mary Magdalene (the most brilliant and enlightened of the apostles) has had her words carefully struck from the books of the bible, so this simple, rather childish peasant could be given pre-eminence.
The New Testament's actual authors and editors
The New Testament is in the same stylistic situation as the Old Testament, regarding its various books being repeatedly rewritten. While it wasn't created quite so long ago, it too was based on oral traditions and letters selected by the vagaries of time and various editors -- as the textual examples above demonstrate.
Also, initially nothing was written down because everyone expected Jesus to return literally any day. This led to a surprising fact most people don't know -- none of the true authors of the New Testament actually met Jesus!
Paul was the closest chronologically to Jesus, although he also never met the man. What we have from him are extensive letters wherein he encourages various members of the new, fledgling little sect.
He also scolds Peter for fence-sitting concerning some religious dogma squabbles Paul is having with Jesus' brother James. Once again, in this argument between Paul and James, poor Peter demonstrates what a dreadful leader he is. He hasn't the strength of will to do more than simply agree with whomever he's last talked to.
It's clear Paul wasn't aware of the Gospels, nor were their authors aware of Paul's work. Interestingly, the Gospels (and several of Paul's purported letters) were written via "inspiration," a common conceit of the time -- someone would write down what they felt the spirit of an earlier, usually deceased famous person was dictating to them.
The lack of recognition between Paul and the authors of the Gospels isn't surprising once you realize the large variance in the dates the Gospels were written. The earliest is Mark at about 65 CE (Common Era), while John is usually dated at about 95 to 100 CE. Here's another Straight Dope article dedicated to the Pauline and Gospel scriptures, which is also well worth reading -- as is their excellent review of how and when the various books of the New Testament were compiled.
We've lost whatever might have been written by Jesus' brothers (such as James, who as we've noticed greatly disagreed with some of Paul's teachings) due to the Romans practically leveling Jerusalem in 70 CE in retribution for rebellious activities. However, that incident has helped us more accurately date the writing time of the various Gospels. For a single, simple example, if they refer to the razing of Jerusalem, obviously they were written after that incident occurred.
There is one other influence on the New Testament which we should keep in mind. As happens with all myths and legends, the stories are refined and retold repeatedly. This will often cause unwanted details to be dropped (as we've already seen), and extra details tend to creep in.
It is therefore entirely likely later editors and censors of the bible simply removed all reference to Jesus' married state, as his story was revised by those who were jealous of Mary Magdalene, and as others sought to re-cast Jesus in the role of immaculate non-carnal sacrifice to god.
Therefore, to sum up the first three questions: it makes perfect cultural sense for the time, for Jesus and Mary Magdalene to be husband and wife. However, we must remember the bible was originally a collection of oral histories written down after centuries of re-telling, then modified, lost, added to, deleted from, and reshuffled over more centuries, to suit the cultural needs of the times.
It would thus be relatively easy for uncomfortable "facts" or unwanted books to be quietly edited, or discarded and forgotten -- and we'll never know for sure.
4) Does it matter?
My final thought on the question is entirely pragmatic -- what does it matter if two fictional characters were married? The Romans were compulsive record keepers, but aside from the bible there's no physical or written evidence whatsoever of Jesus.
No kidding, there's none. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Absolutely, unequivocally nothing. Therefore, if what we're talking about here is just a nice inspirational story, then modifying it to suit your personal needs seems entirely reasonable.
I'll readily admit a religion based on a virgin mother and celibate son (let's not even get into his father planning his murder) is a little creepy -- few will be able to find or maintain themselves for long in those impossible role models. Also, casting sexuality as sinful and dirty, and excising it from spiritual life, seems like a mistake to me.
Sexuality is a natural part of being human -- and aren't we supposed to be created in the image of god? Refusing your sexuality is a distortion, a denial, an attack on your basic human nature -- as we can see from the oft-repeated clerical sex scandals. You might as unhealthily cut off your arm because someone told you god said it was icky.
That's why I like the stories about Mary Magdalene and Jesus. She's not just Jesus' sex partner or mate or companion -- or whatever. She's the cleverest and most enlightened of the apostles, and it's obvious he loves her.
Now that's a religious role model I can be inspired by: Jesus as a person who is human and sexual, as well as divine, and Mary as an apostle who is both human and gendered female -- but also, and more importantly, renown as a brilliant student, teacher, and leader.
So I'd say the decision is ultimately up to you. Do you feel the need to believe in Jesus the pure Sacrificial Lamb sacrificed to his Godself and untouched by the "pollution" of women? Then in the good old US of A it is your right and ability to do so, and to choose the religion you wish to follow.
Do you prefer a Jesus who is more a Son of Man, as he is originally always referred to, and Mary as the Bride of Christ, in a religion not based on obliterating all female contact Jesus may have had? If so, go for it! I certainly feel Mary Magdalene as Jesus' brilliant complement and enlightened companion allows for more gender balance, and a more emotionally stable and healthy religious ideal.
I speculate Jesus' marital state matters only because some people pursue a sort of Platonic, unshakeable "Truth-with-a-capital-T" that can be invariably and absolutely depended on. People want stability and order in their lives, and having a deity that's straightforward, un-mysterious, unchallenging, completely external, and completely understandable (Big Brother is watching you) may be part of that for many folks.
Unfortunately, an "absolute truth" like that should give consistent and dependable results. Looking to organized religion for that sort of dependability in life is unlikely to produce consistent results.
My advice is to seek your own spirituality. I consider true religious gnosis (or personal knowledge) to be found within -- rather than in the fossilized, externally-focused organization which Christianity has become.
Take a look at Verse 70 of the Gospel of Thomas, which offers what I consider a compelling view of true spirituality:
 If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.
As Elaine Pagels puts it in her fascinating book Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, "It's a question of knowing who you really are. Not at the ordinary level of your name and your social class or your position, but knowing yourself at a deep level. The secret of gnosis is that when you know yourself at that level you will also come to know God, because you will discover that the divine is within you."
That's my spiritual advice: Know Yourself. Remember the various stories the way that makes you happy and suits your spiritual needs -- and get on with your life. If you must have a Truth to lean on, I suggest the following:
This Truth crops up in multiple religions, handles most moral issues well, throws responsibility on yourself instead of some distant deity, and is easy to remember... if not to implement.
Good luck. Keep the faith. ;-)
04.06.07: Kelly's thoughts
Fascinating that you should choose this topic at this particular time... I was just having a conversation on this very subject the other night with a chorus mate who has recently gotten her doctor of divinity degree from Yale. Hmmm. Guess I'm going to have to seek out Pagels' books. :D In my copious spare time! LOL Oh. And The DaVinci Code as well.
If you're going to read Pagels' books, I'd recommend John Shelby Spong's really fascinating review of Christianity today, too: Why Christianity Must Change or Die. He's surprisingly Gnostic sounding! Hey, let me know what you think of the books, and maybe I could put up your thoughts too?
I did read Spong's book. It's fabulous! I'm in the process of releasing most of my books (trying to downsize my possessions), but that one is a keeper. I really don't know what my fascination with religion is all about. Considering the brainwashing I had as a kid, you'd think I'd be SO over the whole topic. LOL
04.06.21: Lou's thoughts
One thing I noticed that I thought very interesting here is that a lot of the text is described as "lost." How much of that do you think was lost -- quite possible, considering the ages it has had to pass through -- and how much of it was deliberately censored by various parts of the Church at different times?
You do know this question is one of those unprovable, opinion-only subjects, much like the question of whether Mary & Jesus were married, right? ;)
I guess I would have read "perfect man" as to have been the ideal goal that was being striven for, and that "man" was being used in the generic form, not in the gender-specific form. This is very much an issue of translation, and probably my not wanting to dwell on gender differences much. I certainly don't know what they were thinking at the time.
You keep using "NT" and I keep thinking, "What?!" because I know NT as a proper noun for Microsoft's operating system, not an abbreviation for New Testament.
Geek. ;) Okay, I fixed it. Sorry about the confusion -- it's just a writing convention I've seen when referring to biblical studies.
08.31.04: George's comments
Easily one of your best offerings to date, perhaps your absolute best article to date. It is clear and seems to be very well researched. I very much enjoyed the entire thing. I have little knowledge on the subject, so I have no "notes" as such, only congratulations.
Wow! Thanks, George!! ;-D
10.01.04: Dobie's comments
Happy almost Birthday! :)
Thank you! ;)
Just FYI, there was a recent History Channel special on the whole DaVinci Code book and some of it's speculative fiction. Elaine Pagels spoke and said that while Mary was clearly a disciple, there's not much to validate any such claims they were married or had a physical relationship. Might be worth looking up!
Yeppers, it's called fiction for a reason. ;)
10.08.04: It's amazing the amount of hoo-ha it's caused - the Catholic Church writing official responses and all that.
Well, I'm guessing here, but I think the brouhaha was caused for two main reasons:
*nod* Yeah. I thought it was a pretty amusing thing to put in a book of fiction.
Just because the data you do have says this situation is so... does not necessarily make it so. I'm reminded of the classic spoof of the scientist who gravely concluded grasshoppers had their ears in their legs, because when he cut off their legs and made a loud noise, they no longer jumped. ;)
Hmm. Makes a certain amount of sense.
Second, the CC is an extremely large and easy target, and who wants to be associated with a tired, outdated, and pathetic sore loser such as they've turned out to be? In the last century or so they've made an awful lot of blunderingly stupid and counter-biblical decisions, many of which are only being exacerbated by the current sad little Pope who, astonishingly, apparently really believes in his own infallibility. Talk about megalomania...!
I honestly doubt given the sheer temporal and otherwise power that the CC has, that it will fade away. I suspect that perhaps in our lifetime we might see schisms start to crack the facade of monolithic power - since most American Catholics don't abide by a good number of the Pope's edicts and what not.
There's no perhaps about it, Dobie -- it has been happening for some time now. Consider but one example: Ireland used to be unremittingly, proudly, rebelliously catholic. Now, due to clerical pederasty scandals, the inability of raped children to get abortions, and other embarrassing catholic excesses there, the European press refers to Ireland as "post-Catholic."
Unfortunately, the culprit that looks most likely to usurp the CC's moral authority is fundamentalist Protestantism and other evangelicals, who has been growing in power as the country's political bent drifts rightward. Faith-based aid and all that. Pretty scary.
That's only in this country; I certainly don't count hysterical U.S. prudishness to be a good indicator for the world's major religions. Furthermore, I suspect even in the U.S. this is just a reactive hysteria, and the faith in secularity will eventually officially win out.
Christopher Hitchens has an interesting article about Buddhism and the Dalai Lama on Slate, indicating that there's plenty of room in Buddhism for scary orthodoxy as any other faith.
Actually, that's already happened, in... drat, don't remember the country. Was it Thailand or Myanmar? But yes, all religions are available for co-opting by either zealotry or the unscrupulous. If you read what I wrote again, you'll note I made no reference to Buddhism being perfect, but rather for its being able to assimilate well.
10.08.04: *nod* Unless you're counting apocrypha and stuff in the various gnostic gospels. Cool stuff.