Virtual Reality Christianity: The Da Vinci Code and the Brown-Out of Historical Christianity, Part Three

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mary Madgalene is the epitome of the sacred feminine in Brown's book. She is the Holy Grail, the chalice who together with Christ bore children and continued the lineage of Jesus all the way down to this present day....supposedly. So the very first question we need to ask and answer is quite simple: Who was Mary Magdala and was she married to Jesus?

First, let's look at the ancient documentary evidence for Mary Madgalene and go from there.

· New Testament References (Matt. 27:56, 61; 28:1; Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1, 9; Luke 8:2; 24:10; John 19:25; 20:1, 11, 16, 18). Strangely she doesn’t appear again, including Acts which if she were Jesus’ wife, we would expect find her among the apostles.

· Extra-biblical references. Gospel of Philip (compare the broken text of 63:33-36 with the undamaged text of 58:34-59:4); Gospel of Mary Magdala (17:10-18:21).

· Out of all the biblical and extra-biblical references to her, there is not even a hint that they were married.

This is the only ancient documentary evidence which exists regarding Mary Madgalene. Now, in light of this evidence, imagine this line of reasoning for a moment, a line of reasoning which Brown proclaims with great certainty in his book.

Jesus and Mary Magdalene are in all actuality married to each other. What is more they produced children together. But no one really knows about it. And the reason is because there’s been a cover up. In fact, it amounts to the greatest cover up in history. The marital status of Jesus was actually hidden by Christian leaders through a huge conspiracy. It is this conspiracy which explains the absence of any mention of Jesus’ marriage in the NT as well as the church’s denial of it throughout all of history. So the reason we don't read about Jesus' marriage anywhere in ancient documentary evidence is because it was excised somewhere along the line proving the cover up!

That, dear readers, is nothing short of incredible. I believe it was my high school logic teacher who told me that the argument from silence is the weakest logical argument in existence. YEt Brown builds his massive cover up theory on this very argument. What we have then is a line of reasoning which tells us that even if there is no historical, documented evidence of any kind suggesting a particular thought process or theory, and even if it argues against every other piece of historical, documented evidence in history, it is possibly true and worthy of consideration. I love the way the infamous Jesus scholar John Dominic Crossan answered this matter when he was asked on Beliefnet.Com whether or not Jesus was married.

“There is an ancient and venerable principle of biblical exegesis [interpretation] which states that it if looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it must be a camel in disguise. So let’s apply that to whether or not Jesus was married. There is no evidence that Jesus was married (looks like a duck), multiple indications that he was not (walks like a duck), and no early texts suggesting wife or children (quacks like a duck)…so he must be an incognito bridegroom (camel in disguise).”[1]

There it is, then, in all of its glory...this amazing line of reasoning that strangely seems so infatuating to our postmodern generation today. What is more, this line of reasoning concludes: Even if there’s no evidence for it, not only is it possibly true, it may even be probably true. The excitement which a theory produces in the minds of readers and listeners is really the only standard that is used to determine whether or not that theory has any historical or factual possibility.

So as I indicated before, we are living in a generation where the theory, the unproven, the fictional, the non-factual, is preferred over historicity and fact. This is why history can be strung together like beads or gems on a designer necklace, removed and put back on at will with only our unlimited imagination guiding the process. That is why we can take some of the same exact historical figures and groups in history that The Da Vinci Code does and rearrange them to come up with something totally different in the blockbuster action movie National Treasure starring Nicolas Cage.

What should make this so troubling for us is that this kind of fantasy can only survive in a postmodern generation where no one is right, everyone’s opinion counts, and anybody who tells me what they think is right is wrong. How ironic then that this same postmodern generation is being led in a direction opposite their fundamental beliefs when the fact of the matter is that such explosive excitement about such works as The Da Vinci Code can be chalked up to people seeing what they’ve been told to see.

In other words, postmodernism says to us, “what the church has told you to see and believe about Christianity and the Bible isn’t true. Don’t believe what they’ve told you. Belief is about one’s own personal religious journey. So let me tell you what you should believe about all of this.” So postmodernism is turned on its head by showing how easily it contradicts itself – denying the existence of anything authoritative while looking to Dan Brown’s fanciful depiction of Christianity as an authoritative reflection of history. Are we living through the short-lived season of postmodernism and entering into a new era of history called postmodern modernism?

Now, as to the issue of whether or not Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, there are a couple of important considerations. The first regards the plain way in which people of that day and time were identified publicly. The second deals with the supposed historical, ancient documented evidence for this idea. I’ll deal with them in this order.

What Does the Bible Say About Mary Madgalene

In NT times, there were no last names as we have today. Instead we find in general two fixed ways by which to identify persons from each other. The first is by their geographical location. This method was a means of identification based on where a person was from. During that time in history, not unlike some parts of our own culture today, it was believed that where a person hailed from said a lot about them. So Jesus of Nazareth, identifies his origin by means of geographical location, and it also says a lot about the town he came from. Remember Nathaniel, the disciple who asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). The same goes for the case of the woman known to us today as Mary Magdala or Mary Magdalene. Magdala was the geographical location from where she came. So also with Mary of Bethany, who is identified as having come from the city of Bethany.

At this point, allow me to pause and say that these two Marys are completely different women. One is from one town, the other is from another town. They are not the same woman, and this has been a confusing point for many for so long because supposed a handful of scholars and writers did not recognize this most basic, fundamental distinction about personal names in the culture of the New Testament at that time.

Some have also confused us by saying that the town mentioned after Mary is merely indicative of where she was living at the time she was mentioned. But that’s plainly just not the way names and towns were used. If this is the case, then Mary stands as the only example in all of the NT who is called by two different city names. It is inconsistent with the usage of persons and geographical locations to say that Mary’s case is somehow different from everyone else in the NT.

The case of Jesus and both Marys leads us to the second fixed means by which persons were identified in that day and time: by parental or husband name. Peter was also known as Simon Bar-Jonah, or Simon the Son of Jonah. James and John were known as the sons of Zebedee, and were also undoubtedly referred to in Hebrew and Aramaic as James and John Bar-Zebedee. We also notice in the gospel accounts that there were two Jameses. The other was called James Son of Alphaeus. Then there was Judas son of James who is different from Judas Iscariot. In Luke 8:1-3 we find a Joanna who is referred to as Joanna of Chuza who was undoubtedly her husband (since there is no town named Chuza). But in the same list we also find Mary of Magdala.

So what’s the issue here? Geographical locations seemed to be used for those who were not married, and family names were used for those who were. That’s as plain and simple as I can make it. If there’s a location after a person’s name, they probably weren’t married. If there’s a family name, that probably means they were. All of this means that if Mary of Magdala and Jesus were in fact married, then she would have been called Mary of Jesus and not Mary of Magdala. She would have been referred to by her husband’s name and not by a geographical location. All of this is, of course, presuming that the gospel accounts we have in the NT are accurate, and we have no reason at this point to presume otherwise.

In short, based upon the evidence presented in the four gospels in the New Testament, as well as other “gospels” found throughout history, none presents any evidence whatsoever that Jesus was married. As further proof of this I would point our attention to 1 Corinthians 9:5 where Paul is making a point with regard to marriage. If there was ever a text in which an opportunity arose to mention Jesus’ wife, this verse is it. Further, when He was crucified and rose from the dead, there is no mention of a wife (a pretty significant moment in which to mention one too, don’t you think?). Whenever we see Jesus’ family referred to in the New Testament gospels, we find brothers and sisters and mother, but where’s the wife? What is more, this rules out any argument of Him being a widower. If there’s no mention of a wife, there’s no wife who died either.

What About the Evidence that She and Jesus Were Seen Kissing?

The second consideration I mentioned earlier has to do with the supposed historical, ancient documented evidence in support of Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s marriage. And if I may go ahead and let the cat out of the bag on this point, allow me to point out that I have in my library both the hardcover volumes and electronic version of the writings of the church fathers which make up some 38 volumes, small print, double column, numbering in the hundreds of pages for each volume. Out of all of these writings, only three texts or passages can be pointed to as even remote likely candidates for the theory that there was anything going on between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Notice I use the word theory because even if you look at these three texts no one can possibly and rightly conclude that there is even any “hanky panky” going on between the two, much less marriage.

So that’s three texts out of thousands and thousands of texts. And of these three texts themselves, one will be forever shrouded in mystery because it is damaged in a way that much of the sentence is missing, appearing as holes in the manuscript. Two texts are found in the Gospel of Philip (compare the broken text of 63:33-36 with the undamaged text of 58:34-59:4) and the other is found in the Gospel of Mary Magdala (17:10-18:21). I’ll briefly deal with these in order.

Some really smart people who are familiar with the infamous Gospel of Philip text may be recalling that passage in which Jesus is supposedly portrayed kissing Mary of Magdala. The text has been translated as follows.

“And the companion of the […] Mary Magdalene. […loved] her more than [all] the disciples [and used to] kiss her [often] on the […]”

The brackets reflect broken spaces in the manuscript where there is no wording because the manuscript itself is damaged. What a great entry for a Mad Libs book! Remember those fun little books we all used to play with in elementary or junior high school? A sentence was given with blanks and you were free to fill in the blanks however you wanted to complete the sentence. Most of the time the results were rather hilarious as I’m sure that was the intended motivation behind which words to use in those blanks.

So here we are facing this text in the Gospel of Philip, and what Brown has seemingly done, standing on the shoulders of other radically liberal scholars is to fill in the blank with whatever strikes their fancy, even if it’s bad scholarship and historically inaccurate. Despite the troubling nature of the manuscript itself (the fact that there are holes in it), and despite the unmistakable figurative/spiritual nature of the text itself (Gnostic texts are hardly ever literal), Brown’s character concludes that the verse definitely speaks of Jesus kissing Mary Magdalene on the lips. Proof positive that they were married! Really? Let’s supposed Jesus was in the habit of kissing Mary on the lips. Does that mean they were married? Quite a leap of logic if you ask me. But if you aren’t asking me, then chuck logic out of the picture and write what you want!

Given the culturally acceptable “holy kiss” referred to in the New Testament, if this gospel is even true to the Scriptures at all (hypothetically speaking), Jesus could have been kissing her hand or head or her feet. Given Brown’s obsession with the preeminence of the divine feminine the latter part of the body – the feet – seems a more appropriate alternative doesn’t it?

The manuscript itself, having actual holes in the text, seems to be missing a subject as well as the direct object here. So why presume as so many radically liberal scholars do that Jesus is kissing her on the lips? Some will presuppose that this is precisely why the Gospel of Philip didn’t make it into the New Testament. Per Brown, such an exclusion was surely part of a conspiracy theory to keep Jesus in a publicly pristine condition and such a text would have ruined the church’s opportunity to continue keeping the masses deceived into blindly following the church and giving it all their money.

The bottom line is that this seems far-fetched and comes from the minds of people who read far too much fiction and watch far too much television and movies. The fact is, the Gospel of Philip (1) is a Gnostic gospel which is filled with figurative/spiritual imagery and language, demanding that even if they were kissing there is a deeper meaning at hand as is almost always the case in such Gnostic writings; and (2) the gospel itself doesn’t coincide doctrinally or factually with the events in the other four gospels…gospels, which I might add at this point, were written long before the supposed Gospel of Philip, and had been accepted by Christians and churches all over the known world long before the Gospel of Thomas showed up on the scene.

The only other text available to Brown and his characters is The Gospel of Mary Magdalene which seems to reflect some sort of favoritism that Jesus showed to Mary Magdalene and which also greatly upset some of the apostles, not the least of which was supposedly Peter. A key theme in the Gnostic gospels is two-fold. First, there are specially select persons and second, they receive specially select knowledge from God. It is no surprise then that controversy would abound among them as to exactly how such persons receive such knowledge. This is what we find in this particular text, Peter disagreeing with the revelation and attention Mary received from Jesus because he didn’t agree with how she received it or possibly even why.

The emphasis seems to be that Peter didn’t agree with her receiving such knowledge because, after all, she was a woman! And the other apostles, being men, didn’t receive this revelation. The implication in the text seems to be that Jesus knew she was worthy enough to receive this revelation without giving it to the others. And this is supposed to point to Jesus’ supposedly special love for her as his wife. Yet strangely nowhere in the entire gospel is she mentioned as being his wife. Don’t you think that in a gospel named after her that this point would not go unmentioned?

Conclusion on Mary Magdalene

The conclusion on this dear woman we only know as Mary of Magdala is that she was simply one of the many Marys who followed Jesus during the course of His ministry. All we know of her is that she was delivered from demonization, she followed Jesus faithfully like many others, and she also was privileged to be one of the first to meet the resurrected Christ. And none of these writings, whether in the NT or outside the NT, ever give even the slightest impression that Jesus was married to her. She was a faithful disciple of the Savior, plain and simple.

Tomorrow: Is 30 to 2 a Relatively Close Score? The Greatest Doctrinal Landslide in Christian History


[1] Quoted in Breaking the Da Vinci Code by Darrell Bock, Nelson, 2004.

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