The Relationship Between Mary Magdalene and Jesus of Nazareth

Dan Brown’s work, the Da Vinci Code, caused a stir because it was based on the idea that Jesus of Nazareth and Mary Magdalene were married and had children. And more recently there was even more discussion of that issue due to the discovery of an ancient text fragment that reported Jesus as mentioning “My wife ...”

Now, even if that text fragment turns out to be a fake, it should be understood that evidence that Jesus of Nazareth and Mary Magdalene had a special and intimate relationship began to surface in 1773 with the discovery of a relevant ancient Christian text, and evidence has mounted since the discovery of many other ancient Christian manuscripts in 1945 in Nag Hammadi.

Called the Nag Hammadi Library, the collection includes 52 Gnostic Christian texts and three Hermetic Greek texts that had been hidden in jars and buried, probably when  they were labeled as “heretical” and condemned by the Pauline Christian Bishop Athanasius in or around 364 C.E., which is when the Council of Laodicea decided which Christian writings were to be selected for the official Church canon (Bible).   

Now, regarding the relationship between Jesus and Mary, the texts discovered at Nag Hammadi include the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary, which reveal an intimate and special relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. And considering what they say, it is not difficult to see that such a relationship is even confirmed in the officially approved and canonized gospels we read in the Christian Bible. 

But first let’s look at what the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas says: ". . . the companion of the Savior is Mary Magdalene. But Christ loved here more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples were offended . . . They said to him, 'Why do you love her more than all of us?' The Savior answered and said to them, 'Why do I not love you as I love her?' "  

The truth is better revealed when you understand that the word for "companion" as used in this instance is koinonos, which refers to a consort of a sexual nature because Koinonia is the anglicisation of a Greek word that means intimate participation or partnership. But, the traditional Pauline Christian interpretation of koinonos is that it refers to the relationship between all Christians in the early church as well as the communal act of sharing bread as Jesus prescribed during the Passover meal. And that of course was characterized by Paul as establishing the “new covenant” promised by the prophet Jeremiah, as well as ceremonial communion in remembrance of Jesus.

Now granted, communion eating bread together in remembrance of Jesus is good. However, Jesus most likely did not mean it in the way Paul did, because as is explained in the article on The New Covenant, if we examine what Jeremiah actually wrote it becomes clear that new covenant has not been fulfilled yet and Paul was wrong about that.

If we consider all the evidence that’s been discovered so far, it’s easier to understand at least part of the reason why the Gnostic Gospels were labeled as “heretical,” and why the true relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene was ignored and belittled by the patriarchal Christians led by Paul and Peter.

For example, the fact that Mary had a special relationship with Jesus is supported by the Pistis Sophia (Faithful Wisdom) as well. In that text Mary Magdalene is seen as the "apostle of apostles" and the center of Jesus’ attention. He praises her as "one whose heart is raised to the kingdom of heaven more than all your brethren." Jesus even says that she "will tower over all my disciples and over all men who shall receive the mysteries." And, after Jesus’ death, Mary Magdalene is the one who encourages the apostles to join her in fully understanding and living out the teachings of Jesus.

The importance of Mary Magdalene is even confirmed in the approved and official Pauline Christian church canon, such as in Luke 8:1-3 where Mary Magdalene is listed as a financial supporter of Jesus' ministry. In the Gospel of Mark, it is written that Mary was the first person Jesus appeared to as a ghost, and the Gospel of John says the same thing. That would seem to confirm that Jesus regarded Mary as the “apostle of apostles,” as is stated in the Pistis Sophia. 

All that has been ignored or denied by the official Christian Churches, by the Roman Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Church, Protestant churches, and others. And the reason for that is mostly because some time after Jesus died Saul of Tarsus had a spiritual experience, converted to Christianity and became known as Paul. And Paul regarded himself as the “chosen vessel” to establish the church, and he teamed up with Peter who, so the story goes according to Matthew, was deemed as the patriarchal “rock” upon which the church was to be founded.

The patriarchal Roman Catholic Church adopted Pauline Christianity in the 4th Century, as is discussed in the article About Christianity. And the patriarchal aspect was even made more blatant in a speech delivered by Pope Gregory I in 591 CE (AD), when he labeled Mary Magdalene as a prostitute to further ensure that she would not be regarded as significant a person as Paul and the male apostles. However, if we were to believe Pope Gregory, we would have to believe that Jesus and the group who traveled with him lived off the wages of a prostitute (which is probably why the Roman Catholic Church finally apologized for Gregory’s mistake some time ago).

It’s rather amazing that Pope Gregory labeled Mary Magdalene as prostitute in the first place, though, since in the Roman Catholic tradition Mary Magdalene is identified with and as Mary of Bethany, who anoints Jesus with spikenard (also called nard) oil before his execution. That is according to John 12:1–10 and Mark 14:3 when Jesus arrived in Bethany. There Mary uses that oil to anoint Jesus. 

Matthew 26:6-13 also mentions the event in a way consistent with Mark. And it is relevant to mention that at that time Judas Iscariot, the keeper of the money purse, complained because the oil used to anoint Jesus was so expensive (because it comes from a plant that grows only in high elevations and not easily harvested). And the fact that Mary of Bethany was able to afford the expensive oil supports the case that she was in fact Mary Magdalene, because again, Luke 8:1-3 states that Mary Magdalene is listed as one of the financial supporters of Jesus' ministry.

Furthermore, that event supports the idea that Jesus and Mary were sexually intimate, because it is consistent with what is written in Solomon’s Song of Songs, which reveals that a female lover uses spikenard oil to anoint her male lover, especially the king or mashiach.

Therefore, even though some Christian sects and denominations do not regard Mary Magdalene as the same woman as Mary of Bethany, there is significant evidence that she was. And if that is the case, it tells us a lot about Jesus' relationship to Mary Magdalene because whoever the anointer was, she and Jesus had an intimate relationship.

It also reveals that neither Jesus nor Mary paid any attention to the traditional Jewish laws or customs that prevented women from such interaction with a man. A woman was not to let her hair down except with her husband in private, and yet Mary dried the feet of Jesus with her flowing hair. Then she opened an alabaster jar containing costly spikenard oil and used it to anoint Jesus. And Jesus then says:

"I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her." (Mark 14:9). In other words, Jesus saw Mary’s act of anointing him not only as appropriate but as fulfilling custom, and probably because he regarded her as a legitimate priestess fit to perform the ceremony.

In other words, it may have been far more than a spontaneous pre-burial ritual. Since the Chief Priests of the Jewish Temple did not recognize Jesus as a Mashaiach, and since traditionally it was Chief Priests who anointed Jewish kings and mashiachs, someone else fitting should anoint him with oil (even though he had already been spiritually anointed with the Holy Spirit). After all, the title of Christ (from the Greek Christos) means anointed one, as does the title of Mashiach or Messiah. (Also see the article titled A Messiah Is Not The Savior.)

Furthermore, since the mission of Jesus was to reform and expand Judaism and make it more inclusive, it is not surprising that he disobeyed the traditional Jewish law and custom ruling that women were not permitted to perform important religious rites or even say ritual prayers at home. 

Jesus made it clear in several ways that “religion” was not as important as relationship with God and each other. Like Hillel the Elder before him, Jesus said that the Golden Rule was a summation of Torah (Jewish Law), and he said things like “The Sabbath was made for Man, not Man for the Sabbath.”

However, perhaps the main reason this issue is important in modern times is that it speaks to the male-female relationship and gender roles, and it can go a long way toward eliminating sexist religious customs and traditions, not only in Christianity, but in Judaism and Islam.

As one Jesus Seminar member, Karen Armstrong states in her best-selling book, A History of God,  “Seeing God as a person [or Father] becomes a grave liability. ... He can be a mere idol carved in our own image, a projection of our limited needs, fears and desires. We can assume that he loves what we love and hates what we hate, endorsing our prejudices instead of compelling us to transcend them.” Moreover, according to Armstrong, the idea that God is a male figure is “also limiting.”  “It means that the sexuality of half the human race is sacralized [made sacred] at the expense of the female and can lead to a neurotic and inadequate imbalance in human sexual mores.”

All this is important to women today, and it is time to realize and acknowledge how and why women have been not only marginalized but made victims of sexist discrimination that has been perpetuated by religious leaders and continues even today. (See the article on The Man-Woman Relationship.)

We see this and the effect of patriarchal religious traditions in all sorts of ways even in America, where women’s rights are jeopardized in many ways raising many issues including gender roles, equal pay, contraception, abortion, and other ways in which women's rights are denied or jeopardized or questioned.

It’s time now to step through the door to a brighter and more equal future, and leave all the nonsense behind.