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Jesus Kissing Mary Magdalene: A Bizarre Scene in the Gospel of Philip

A number of readers responded to my post about whether Jesus and Mary Magdalene were intimate by pointing out that the non-canonical Gospel of Philip sure does seem to *say* they were!   So, what do I have to say about that?

I’ve dealt with the issue on the blog before, but a lot of you were just a twinkle in our eye at the time, so here I’ll deal with it again.   I have a reasonably full discussion of the relevant issues in my book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene.   In the book I put the discussion in the context of – yes, you guessed it —  Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, the one source many people turn to for the Gospel of Philip (!).  Few people who talk about the relevant passage have actually read the book.  It strikes many readers today as unusually strange.  But in any event, this is what I say about the book and the Kissing Passage there.

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Some of the historical claims about the non-canonical Gospels in the Da Vinci Code have struck scholars as outrageous, or at least outrageously funny.  The book claims, for example, that some of these Gospels were discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls.  That of course is completely wrong: the Dead Sea Scrolls do not contain any Gospels, or any Christian writings of any sort.  They are Jewish texts, which never mention Jesus or any of his followers.  And the novel claims that Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene is frequently reported in the Gospels that did not make it into the New Testament.  On the contrary, not only is their marriage not reported frequently, it is never reported at all, in any surviving Gospel, canonical or non-canonical.  I’ll have more to say about this in a later chapter.  For now I want to consider the Gospel of Philip, which is the Da Vinci Code’s star witness for the case that Jesus and were husband and wife.

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Interview with Buddhists on the New Testament
What About Accurately Preserved *Oral* Traditions?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    fishician  February 11, 2020

    Dr. E, I recently purchased a 2nd Century complete copy of the Gospel of Philip and here’s what the passage actually says: “And the companion of the Lord Mary Magdalene, Jesus respected her more than the other women among the disciples so he would only kiss her symbolically on her ear which received His wisdom.” Of course, this is complete nonsense, but why should Dan Brown be the only one to have fun with this by making stuff up?!

    • Bart
      Bart  February 12, 2020

      Interesting. That’s a very *loose* translation of the Coptic (and among other things seems to fill in the gaps with ease!) Can you tell me whose translation it is? But you’re right, if scholars can make stuff up, why not novelists?

  2. fefferdan
    fefferdan  February 11, 2020

    In the Gnostic literature [of which Philip is one example], Mary Magdalene is several times portrayed as the disciple who understands Jesus best. I think it is in this sense that we should understand her “intimacy” with Jesus. In the Dialogue of the Savior, for example, she “understands completely,” but what she understands is that a true disciple renounces the life of the flesh. Marriage in the sexual sense would be out of the question, not only in this text but many other Gnostic scriptures. I’ve written further on this here. https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Dialogue_of_the_Saviour

  3. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  February 11, 2020

    :”Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene” is a good book.

  4. Avatar
    godspell  February 11, 2020

    We tend to forget that kissing–even on the mouth–was not so uncommon a form of greeting between men in Mediterannean culture (the tradition persists to this day). Judas greets Jesus with a kiss when he betrays him. (Maybe Dan Brown will try a bit of slash fic next?)

    But in our somewhat more buttoned-down culture, kissing is seen first and foremost as a romantic and sexual gesture. Hence the misunderstanding. Though I’m a bit unclear whether men kissing women who were neither spouses nor close relations was considered acceptable in Jewish society then.

    Imagine a film based on one of the gospels, where Jesus acts like a Palestinian Jewish peasant of the First Century, instead of the ethereal otherworldly and physically undemonstrative being he’s usually portrayed as. Laughing, drinking, kissing. Would people ever recover?

    • Avatar
      tskorick  February 12, 2020

      I grew up in the Mediterranean region, and I’d like to offer a point of clarification on the “men in the Mediterranean kissing” thing. In the older days (pre-1990s) adult men and women — usually in Slavic countries, but in more Western European cultures as well — would *sometimes* greet each other with a kiss on either cheek. Not often though; if they hadn’t seen someone in a while or if there were a religious observance going on, etc. This practice has dwindled someone since the 1990s. Never ever EVER did dudes greet each other with a kiss on the mouth. not in Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Spain, or any other country I lived in or visited.

      • Avatar
        godspell  February 16, 2020

        Understood. However, we’re talking about the ancient Mediterranean world here. What you’re describing is an increasing self-consciousness about physical affection between men, that wouldn’t have existed then. Nobody thought about anyone being gay or straight. That wasn’t a category they had. So what you’ve observed is real, but we have evidence this wasn’t always the case. In that era, nobody would call you queer because you kissed another man. There was a certain contempt for men who played ‘the part of the woman’ in sex–but that wasn’t homophobia, but rather male chauvinism. To behave like a woman was to lower your social status (this is still very much a thing, though it has also somewhat diminished).

        So I’m sorry I overstated my point–and I’m a bit sorry to learn that I did. Though I’ve never really been the kissy type. My people lived by a different sea. 😉

        • Avatar
          tskorick  February 17, 2020

          I wasn’t talking about anything ancient, just addressing your assertion that the tradition persists to this day. I can confirm that there is no way you’re getting modern straight Mediterranean man to kiss on the mouth.

  5. Avatar
    nichael  February 12, 2020

    Hmmmm…

    So, might we assume that this is a continuation of the discussion of “accurately preserved oral traditions”?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 14, 2020

      Well, inaccurately?

      • Avatar
        nichael  February 14, 2020

        Sorry. As you note in your response to a different comment below this, too, this was intended as a kind of double entendre. (Also, as you note I, too, am “…not sure it worked very well….”)

      • Avatar
        Sixtus  February 18, 2020

        Depends on how accurately Jesus aimed his kisses.

  6. Avatar
    Bewilderbeast  February 12, 2020

    Serious question: Were there other substances besides wine that people could take that gave a high or some sort of altered state back then? Was marijuana or opium or khat around? Writing while under some sort of influence is not uncommon now – – then?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 14, 2020

      I know a fellow writing a book on this (I thnk he’s on the blog and can respond, if he sees this). But no, no marijuana or opium in Palestine. Some hallucengenic plants, but I don’t know much about it.

      • Avatar
        godspell  February 16, 2020

        There’s pretty much no place that doesn’t have something can make you high. The druids in Ireland and Britain made a concoction out of Ivy that served as a psychotropic drug. Because Ivy is toxic, they had to mix it carefully, but apparently it served well enough. All part of God’s plan. 😉

      • Avatar
        Edward_Dodge  May 12, 2020

        I am responding to this blog a little late. There was plenty of cannabis in the ancient world, it has been around in the Near East since the Neolithic Revolution, thousands of years before the events of the Bible. Hemp was a prominent fiber alongside linen, but hemp is stronger so it was used for ropes, canvas, and shipbuilding. When you see mourners wearing sackcloth in the Bible, that’s cannabis hemp.

        Cannabis drugs, like hashish, have been around basically forever. Hashish was an ingredient in incense, often mixed with myrrh, and was being burned in temples throughout the ancient world, including King Solomon’s 1st Hebrew temple. Cannabis was quite sacred in the nature based goddess worshipping traditions of Asherah, Astarte, and Anat, the Canaanite/Phoenician triple goddess. Biblical ‘strong drink’ was wine with drugs.

        Cannabis is mentioned 5 times by name in the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament, but is mistranslated as a different plant, either as calamus or as aromatic cane. The most important reference in Exodus 30:23 where it is an ingredient in Moses’s holy anointing oil. Moses was quite intimate with cannabis, the smoke in the tent of the meeting, the Menorah, the burning bush, etc.

    • Avatar
      chixter  February 15, 2020

      Acacia wood which is abundant in the region, (the ark of the covenant was constructed from it) has DMT compounds in its bark. DMT is the #1 hallucinogen used in shamanic rituals.

  7. Avatar
    Duke12  February 13, 2020

    Modern Orthodox Christians still exchange the kiss of peace, especially during the Paschal season.

  8. Avatar
    Theintegrator  February 13, 2020

    As an ex-English prof I am struck by your use of “a twinkle in our eye” as a general reference to “our” advanced age and presumed wisdom, rather than its original, pg-13 implication. Good example of language evolution to add to my life-long collection of same, which I am one day going to present in a monograph that will stun readers with its insights.

    Thanks.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 14, 2020

      Yeah, I meant it as a double entendre. Not sure it worked very well….

  9. Avatar
    zebman  February 14, 2020

    When I read “gospels” such as this it makes me wonder if the writing found was written by a person that was not writing in their native tongue. Or, by a person that was very immature or with very little training about about writing at all. Many young kids have had cursory training at writing, but what comes out is often nonsensical. If this is the case, whey do we even waste time reading such things. It appears that there are those that spend large amounts of energy searching and attempting to disprove the writings that were carefully screened and selected by the early church leaders.

  10. AstroBoy
    AstroBoy  February 14, 2020

    Greetings Dr. Ehrman,

    I am new to your blog, and as such still learning to navigate it, so I try my best to comment and ask questions on the most pertinent sections.

    You have asserted that the Jesus of the bible is an historical person. Yet a lot of your research highlights discrepancies among the gospels and the great variations through time which may lead one to conclude that they are not inerrand, in many cases inaccurate, and in others contradictory.

    What evidence exists from “Jesus” contemporaries. The authorship of the gospels cannot be ascetained! The Gospels were written many decades after the time of “Jesus”. The gospels were not written by eyewitnesses to “Jesus works”!

    If I were summoned as a juror what evidence do I have?

    I heard that Romans were great historians and documented well, sonis there any third-party documentation of any laims in the gospels. An acquaintance connectured that id the Jesus persona performed all those miracles, surely someone would have written about it… rumor mill was just as effective then as in the 21st century.

    Not sure how to spell Eusibius, Jesifus (sic) I am refering to the Jewish (?) historian who purportedly mentions Jesus, though some may claim he may not be refering to “THE” “Jesus”… but he is not a contemporary of Jesus, so in my eyes he has less credibility, especially if he does not include his sources/references.

    So… what ecidence is there for the “historical Jesus” outside the gospels… I hate for in 2000 years historian conclude that Captain Kirk was real because four different Star Trek series mention him.

    I believe you yourself place in doubt events called in the gospels such as the tax/census event, and the trip from Egypt… so with so many questions, and variants in the gospels, how can it selectively be said that they are wrong/contadictory in many cases, but with regards to the historicity of Jesus they are correct?

    Cheers,

    Marco

    • Bart
      Bart  February 16, 2020

      I wroote an entire book about that! It’s called Did Jesus Exist, and it marshalls all the key evidence. Short story: contradictory reports don’t have much to do with it. Think of the contradictory reports one gets on Donald or Hillary. Doesn’t meant htey didn’t exist! One has to look at evidence, and it’s pretty massive, as it turns out. I’ve talked about it on the blog a good bit (and there is a public debate I had posted on it). Search for “mythicist”

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