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Jesus Kissing Mary Magdalene: A Blast From the Past

Now for something *completely* different.  Here is a question that was asked and answered almost exactly four years ago, of ongoing intrigue!

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QUESTION:

I know that the “Gospel of Philip does not have much if any real historical veracity to it about Jesus’ life, but does the references about Jesus and Mary Magdalene being lovers and the holes in the papyrus ‘kissing’ verse (verses 32 and 55 in your “Lost Scriptures” book), help support the view that this most likely Gnostic Christian sect truly believed and taught that Jesus and Mary M were married?

RESPONSE:

Yes, this is one of those questions I get asked about on occasion.   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. (!)   Here’s what I say 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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Small Differences that Make a Difference
Jesus and Paul: Similarities and Differences

20

Comments

  1. justyn  February 6, 2018

    I assume that the reason you hear about the Dead Sea Scrolls more often than Nag Hammadi, even in a Christian context, is that the former has a cool and easy to remember name!

  2. Seeker1952  February 6, 2018

    I’m sure you are right and Brown is wrong. But I have the impression that “legends” (not non-canonical gospels) about an intimate relationship between Jesus and Mary M go back a very very long time, ie, something that caught on in the popular imagination and was sometimes put into writing, and that the church was not able to silence.

    Is that correct? If so, is there a scholarly account of the development of such a legend?

    While acknowledging that it’s purely legendary, I wonder if a “myth” about Jesus having an intimate relationship with Mary M could be incorporated into the mainstream Christian tradition as an antidote to its history of being anti-sex?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 7, 2018

      No, we don’t have evidence of an intimate relationship between Jesus and Mary in our early sources. That’s my point!

  3. fishician  February 6, 2018

    Is it unreasonable to suppose that the reason otherwise obscure Mary Magdalene is placed at the resurrection is because she was the first to have visions of a risen Jesus? And the male disciples couldn’t have her being in such a special position, so they, not surprisingly, also started having visions of a risen Jesus? And the stories grow from there. But then, why does Paul never mention Mary M? Perhaps he associated her with the Judaizing believers? Or maybe she hadn’t become part of the oral tradition yet?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 7, 2018

      Yes, I think that’s plausible. My guess is that Paul had never heard of her.

    • AnotherBart  February 7, 2018

      For the same reason the synoptic gospels don’t identify her as the woman with the alabaster jar, or Peter as the swordsman who cut off Malchus’ ear.

      She was alive, a key eye witness.

  4. RonaldTaska  February 6, 2018

    The “A Gentile does not die…” paragraph reminds me of paragraphs I used to read to medical students to illustrate the looseness of associations that is characteristic of schizophrenia.

  5. jhague  February 6, 2018

    “There were three who always walked with the lord: Mary his mother and her sister and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary.”

    It appears that all three women were named Mary. But the passage first says “Mary his mother and her sister.” His mother’s sister would be Jesus’ aunt. But then the passage says “His sister and his mother…”

    What do you make of this “Mary” being both Jesus’ aunt and sister?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 7, 2018

      It’s a very strange passage. I’m not sure what to make of it.

      • 3Timothy  February 9, 2018

        The Gospel of Philip says “His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary.”

        Bart, I always wanted to ask you what you make of John’s gospel never mentioning the name of Jesus’s mother.

        May we conclude that John did not know that the mother’s name was Mary? (If yes, then it seems John never read Mark or Matthew or Luke.)

        I can’t read the original Greek, so I cannot tell if “Mary the wife of Clopas” is the mother’s sister (it would be odd if two sisters are named Mary though maybe “sister” means sister-in-law)–or if this wife of Clopas is a non-related Mary.

        In other words, are 3 people mentioned in John 19:25, or does this mean 4 people?

        John 19:25: “Standing close to Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene”

        • Bart
          Bart  February 11, 2018

          In John 19:25 the grammar *suggests* (though this isn’t completely definitive) that he is talking about three people, that Mary wife of Clopas was his mother’s sister.

        • AnotherBart  February 11, 2018

          “May we conclude that John did not know that the mother’s name was Mary? (If yes, then it seems John never read Mark or Matthew or Luke.)”

          Good questions. Argumentum ex silentio is a logical fallacy. Unfortunately, some apply it all too often in New Testament studies.
          http://www.philosophicalsociety.com/Logical%20Fallacies.htm

  6. Wilusa  February 6, 2018

    But is there any reason to think the author of this “Gospel” knew *anything* about the real Jesus and his associates?

    And…

    “There were three who always walked with the lord: Mary his mother and her sister and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary.”

    Is there a typo here, or is the author really mentioning Mary’s sister in the first sentence, then turning her into Jesus’s sister in the next?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2018

      YEs, it’s a very strange text. But I’m afraid I’m out of town for a few days and can’t look it up to try to figure it out!

  7. Telling
    Telling  February 6, 2018

    This gospel must be read with a metaphysical understanding.

    For whatever it’s worth, I think, in your posted excerpt, the author is comparing winter and summer to incarnations over many lifetimes (or even the rhythm of waking and sleeping), the “non-believer” having no inner sense of Self and is dead to his changing identities. The more developed “believer”, sensing his eternal Self that is separate from the world, must be on guard, lest he fall into forgetfulness and enter his former unaware state. I would guess the author goes on to say something to the effect that the Self (the greater mind) builds the cities that unaware men labor and find residence in. In our former mold as “Hebrews” we had only the World, whereas as “Christians” we understand the dual nature of both outer World and Self.

    The goal such mystics is to identify with the Self which is eternal, and let go of emotional attachments to the temporal world. This is also Buddhism and Hinduism.

    Your excerpt re-posted here:
    “A gentile does not die, for he has never lived in order that he may die. He who has believed in the truth has found life, and this one is in danger of dying, for he is alive. Since Christ came the world has been created, the cities adorned, the dead carried out. When we were Hebrews we were orphans and had only our mother, but when we became Christians we had both father and mother. Those who sow in winter reap in summer. The winter is the world, the summer the other eternal realm…”.

  8. talmoore
    talmoore  February 6, 2018

    Today we consider a kiss on the lips to be especially intimate. But in ancient times, a kiss on the lips — even between two men — was not only not necessarily sexual, it was often times quite casual. It kind of reminds me of how acceptable female attire and exposure of certain female body parts has flipped over time. In ancient times, if a woman exposed her breasts in public, it wasn’t necessarily a big deal. In fact, in some cultures, woman purposely worn clothing that exposed their entire breasts (or, more often, the material was so sheer that their breasts were essentially entirely visible). But if an ancient woman exposed her legs in public, even just a little, she might be publicly accused of engaging in prostitution. Today, of course, the culture has completely flipped. If a woman publicly exposes her breasts, she’s instantly berated and told to cover up. But if she wears a miniskirt or shorts, no one thinks twice about it.

  9. Tony  February 6, 2018

    I never understood why Christian and secular scholars got so excited about the Da Vinci Code. It’s a novel, not a scholarly work! My takeaway from reading it was that there are non-canonical gospels, something I did not know prior.

    The first posted gospel of Philip segment becomes more understandable if read through gnostic eyes, (knowledge is gnosis). Brackets are mine

    “A gentile (without knowledge) does not die, for he has never lived in order that he may die. He (with knowledge) who has believed in the truth has found life, and this one (with knowledge) is in danger of dying, for he is alive. Since Christ came the world has been created, the cities adorned, the dead carried out. When we were Hebrews (without knowledge) we were orphans and had only our mother, but when we became Christians (with knowledge) we had both father and mother. Those who sow in winter reap in summer. The winter (without knowledge) is the world, the summer (with knowledge) the other eternal realm….”

  10. Stephen  February 6, 2018

    I think “unbeknownst to Brown” might have made a good subtitle for any number of your books!

    In your responses both literary and oral you seem to take Dan Brown’s foolishness in stride, as a teaching opportunity. But that makes me wonder, is there any aspect of popular cultural Jesus mythology that does “get your goat”? Make you want to throw things when you hear it repeated?

    Thanks

  11. john76  February 6, 2018

    If the Son of God can’t get a date …

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