Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Would It Matter If Mary Magdalene Was Married to Jesus?

My blogging friend, Danny Miller, left a comment on my post regarding Listening to The DaVinci Code, where I called the book a bad piece of writing:
I couldn't agree more with the above assessment of the book (even though I never got that far with my audio copy). It just seemed like really lousy writing, from the first sentence on. Is that sour grapes on my part (I haven't exactly sold 40 million copies of anything I've written)? I think the film is equally absurd and offensive on all sorts of levels. But one thing I don't get, not being a Christian, is why on earth it would even matter if they could somehow prove that Jesus did have a relationship with Mary Magdalene. I still don't see why that should have a negative impact on his message or his teachings.
Danny raises an important question, one that, as I continued to listen to the audiobook of the Dan Brown book yesterday, I thought I should address here.

In a nutshell, it wouldn't have had a negative impact on the Church or the teachings of the Gospel if Jesus had decided to marry Mary Magdalene.

Of course, a key premise of the Brown book is that the Church covered up "the fact" of a marital relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. To paraphrase The DaVinci Code character, Sir Leigh Tiebing, the Church proclaims a divine Jesus and for such a Jesus to have had children would have made him too earthy. The character also claims that the Church invented the lie that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute in order to discredit her and safeguard its version of Jesus.

A few facts:
  • No Christian preacher or scholar I know of ever has described Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. Although I'm sure that somewhere in the two-thousand year history of the Church, there have been some misguided Christian leaders who have said this, the Bible never makes this claim. It says that Jesus first encountered Mary Magdalene when He cast seven demons out of her (Luke 8:1-3; Mark 16:8-10).
Of course, the portrayal of Mary of Magdala as a prostitute has become a convention of movie presentations of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Anne Bancroft even plays her this way in my favorite film about Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, directed by Franco Zefferelli and co-written by novelist Anthony Burgess.

As far as I can tell, the portrayal of Mary as a prostitute is one of those pieces of popular folklore that has arisen around the Bible. It's akin to the mythology of three wise men leaving gifts for the baby Jesus, even though the Bible is silent on how many "wise men" (Matthew calls them maji, magicians or astrologers) there were. Some people even believe that there was a "little drummer boy" who played for the baby Jesus, something that would have really broken with what popular myth has always insisted was a "silent night."

The fact is that every Christian preacher I've ever heard address the subject--including this one--has tried to correct the false impression that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute before she encountered Jesus. There were people whose pasts were shady to whom Jesus brought forgiveness (the woman caught in adultery and Zacchaeus, the extorting tax collector, are two who immediately spring to mind), but Magdalene was never called a prostitute in the Bible or, so far as I know, by the Church.
  • The divine Jesus is also an earthy Jesus. For the Christian, one of the great mysteries of the faith is that in Jesus Christ, God became human. This is what we call "the incarnation" or "the embodiment." "The Word became flesh and lived among us," John proclaims in the prologue to His Gospel. An ancient confession of the Church, still recited by Christians, the Nicene Creed, calls Jesus "true God and true man." God doesn't disdain the world, although some passages of Scripture--particularly some in the Gospel of John--use the term "the world" to describe a systemic rejection of God and His love that's the result of sin.
  • God is earthy. God invented the earth. He also invented sex, part of the creation He describes as being "very good." Sex, according to the Bible, was designed by God to be used by married couples for three reasons: as a sign and seal of their commitment to one another; as a means of enjoying each other's sexual physicality; and, in some instances, as a way of making babies. (See here.) Neither the Bible or the Church, so far as I know, has ever called sex or earthiness bad things. What is bad, from a Biblical point of view, is the misuse of sex, including sexual intimacy outside of marriage or rape.
  • Jesus therefore, could have chosen to wed Mary Magdalene and enjoyed sexual intimacy with her without in any way negating His mission as the pure, perfect, sinless Savior of the world which we Christians confess Him to be. Sex between a husband and a wife is not sin. It's God's plan.
  • The problem with the assertion of the characters in Brown's book that Jesus was married is that there simply is no credible evidence to support the idea. In fact, the Bible portrays Jesus as being single.
  • As to the notion expressed by Brown's Sir Lee Tiebing that Jesus, as a good Judean, had to have been married by the time of His crucifixion, this is simply not true. Ancient Israel and Judea had a custom surrounding marriage which belies this idea: A man was expected to become economically established before arranging a marriage to a much younger woman. The negotiations over these arrangements involved the prospective groom and the bride-to-be's parents, usually the father. Men rarely married before they were thirty and most scholars agree that Jesus was between the ages of 28 and 33 when He was crucified.
Why then, did Jesus forego marriage? We can only speculate, of course. Two possible, interrelated reasons:
  • So that He could focus on His mission. (My colleague, Pastor Mark Roberts writes about that here.)
  • So that He could spare a prospective wife functional widowhood. I describe it in this way because we believe that Jesus rose from the dead, yet He later ascended to heaven, which had He been married, would have left a wife whose life would have been like that of a widow behind.
While I'm certain that Jesus never married, it would not have changed our proclamation of Who He is if He had.

1 comment:

Mark Jones said...

Hear hear.

I've never understood why Da Vinci Code-ists are so fervent in their attempts to prove that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, and that this would undermine the Gospel story.

The reason a marriage isn't in the Gospels is because it didn't happen. If it had occured, it would have been part of the story.

I don't think that there is any reason within the Jewish prophecies for Jesus not to have married.

I accept Jesus as the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies. The reason he wasn't accepted as such by many Jews of the time (and by those today) is because he wasn't the warrior king expected, and he hung around with the lowest, and most despised kinds of people (because they're the ones most in need of salvation, duh!)

In not fulfilling the expectations of the majority, and in breaking taboos, what bar would then have remained to prevent Jesus from having married, should he have so wished?

The oddness of The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail crowd is the ferociousness of their fervor to undermine something they clearly don't believe in the first place.

Perhaps they protest too much...? May the Lord guide and nurture them all.