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Jesus and Mary Magdalene

I pointed out in my last post that most people simply assume that Jesus was not married because there is no mention of his wife in any of our sources, or any mention that he ever had a wife. And so it is assumed that he did not have one. As Karen King pointed out in our discussion the other night at the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, that is an argument from silence, and as such is not a very strong one – since, among other things, none of these sources indicates, either, that he was not married. And so this is not evidence in one direction or another.

It’s a good point, but my own view is that the silence in this case is telling – though not for the reason people sometimes say. It is sometimes wrongly asserted – by no less authority than Dan Brown, in the Da Vinci Code – that if there was not claim that Jesus was not married that must mean that he was married, since Jewish men were “always” married. In my last post I showed why that simply is not true, and will not go over the same ground here. Instead I want to make the case that the fact that Jesus is never said to be married is probably – despite Karen’s well-stated view – evidence that he was not married.

In my view, the “non-mention” of Jesus’ wife has to be put into the broader context of the “mention” of those who were his family members and associates. That is to say, Jesus’ mother is mentioned in our sources (repeatedly). So is his father. So are his brothers. So are his sisters. So are his disciples. So are other people he came into contact with.

The early Christian traditions were not at all averse to mentioning Jesus’ relations and companioins. Given that circumstance, why would his wife not be mentioned if he had a wife? This is a far louder silence than normal.

 

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Jesus and Marriage: An Actual Argument!
Was Jesus Married?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  January 26, 2014

    This covers the basics of the argument pretty well and people, using confirmation bias, do think what they what to think

  2. Avatar
    dfogarty1  January 26, 2014

    In Mark, the women, including MM were told to alert the Disciples that Jesus had risen. But they were
    frightened and told no one. When did the added Resurrection narrative in Mark first appear?

  3. Avatar
    fallingblood  January 26, 2014

    I think I would have to agree with Karen King here though. I agree with your position on Mary Magdalene, as the account given does not relate them as being married.

    However, and this is a big however, there is still silence about the early life of Jesus. While the Gospels may mention some family of Jesus (I would disagree in regards to the father of Jesus who really is not mentioned outside of the birth narratives), it is only that family that is around during that time. They played an active role in the story. But, this means little in regards to the relations Jesus had in his earlier life. It could be that Jesus was married, but was divorced, or maybe even a widow.

    With divorce in particular, it could be the reason why he forbids it in Matthew, to the degree he does. And that could be stretching as well, but I think we must be careful with labeling Jesus as his early life may have been different than what the Gospels portray.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 27, 2014

      My view is that if we think anything about a person from the past, we need to have evidence. I don’t know of any evidence to indicate that Jesus was ever divorced. Maybe. But maybe all sorts of things!

  4. Avatar
    SJB  January 26, 2014

    Prof Ehrman

    I think the idea of “silence” from those of a conspiratorial bent is that the marriage of Jesus and Mary was deliberately suppressed and edited out of the records by those evil church fathers.

    What I find interesting is how Mary Magdalene is identified in the popular mind with other unidentified women characters in the New Testament such as the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet and the woman taken in adultery. Of course the movies do this all the time.

  5. Avatar
    jhague  January 27, 2014

    Knowing that our earliest gospels were edited multiple times and knowing that they were also greatly influenced by Paul’s teachings, what’s to say that one of the gospels or other first century writings did mention that Jesus was married and was then edited out? The gospels wanted to present Jesus as divine so they couldn’t have him be married!

    • Avatar
      jhague  January 27, 2014

      Also, the silence of whether Jesus is married in the writings that we have certainly does not support the idea that Jesus was not married. The gospels do not mention that Peter was married but we assume he had a wife due to the mentioning of his mother in law. Had his mother in law not been mentioned, it was still probable that he was married. The only reason that we know that Paul was not married is because his writings state that he was not married. Without that statement, we probably would have assumed Paul to have been married. Also, Paul makes mention of other apostles and Jesus’ brothers being married:
      1 Corinthians 9:5
      5 Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?
      For me, this is a point that only matters if someone thinks that Jesus was divine. It’s really a non-point for those of us who believe that Jesus was a normal man.

      • Avatar
        willow  January 31, 2014

        I stand in full agreement, with you, so well believing that there was at least one reason to edit out a wife. The divinity, indeed.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 27, 2014

      Maybe. But you would want to know if there’s any evidence that that’s the case. And I’m afraid there isn’t any. (You could say that he had a male lover and that it was edited out, and I’d have to say, maybe — but there isn’t any evidence that that’s the case)

      • Avatar
        jhague  March 6, 2015

        Since it appears from independent sources that there is some historical value to Mary Magdalene being at the tomb for the purpose of preparing Jesus’ body for burial, is it true that this function is usually done by a family member…a mother, sister, wife, etc.? If so, does it provide some evidence that Mary Magdalene was more than just a follower that provided some financial resources?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 7, 2015

          Preparation was normally done by a family member because they were the closest to the deceased. If none was around, then a friend would do it. Or a follower. Or just anyone who felt like it ought to be done.

          • Avatar
            jhague  March 7, 2015

            Actually, since Jesus’ body was likely thrown into a common pit with the other criminals’ bodies, does that lead us to believe that all of the tomb visiting stories were fabricated to make the point of Jesus’ resurrection?

          • Bart
            Bart  March 9, 2015

            That’s my view.

    • Avatar
      godspell  December 18, 2015

      Very late responding, but this doesn’t logically follow. Why couldn’t Jesus be a divine being and still marry a mortal woman? Genesis says that certain ‘Sons of God’ (angels) married the daughters of man. There are certainly instances of pagan demi-gods (like Hercules, Perseus, Theseus) marrying mortal women.

      If Jesus had been married, they’d have just rationalized it that way. There was no tradition of priestly celibacy at that point (that came much much later). Some of the disciples were married men, as we know from Paul (who apparently did not marry, but thought it would be permissable for him to do so).

      Jesus didn’t marry, and we can’t know why, precisely, but the most likely explanation is that he came to believe that his destiny was to die, and he would have to leave the mortal world behind.

  6. Brad Billips
    Brad Billips  January 27, 2014

    Paul mentions Peter’s wife accompanying him but nothing on Jesus’ wife. This may help add to the case even though we only have a select few letters from Paul. He never mentions Jesus’ mother either, but only his brother, James. Small evidence I assume. The synoptic gospels don’t have any of his family in the picture. Only John’s gospel mentions his mother. Meaning the family accompanying Jesus (potential wife) can’t pass the historical criteria test.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 27, 2014

      Actually, Paul does mention Jesus’ mother in Gal. 4:4. And he mentions plural brothers; one of whom he calls James. But he doesn’t mention a father or sisters or wife .

      • Brad Billips
        Brad Billips  January 28, 2014

        Ah! Missed that one…for years (lifetime). Thanks. Maybe a fresh post on why the early gospels down play the family’s significance. Moreover, on why James is hardly mentioned even though he led the church in Jerusalem. James must have seen the light too, according to Paul??

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  January 30, 2014

          My view is that James had a vision of his brother after his death (as Peter Paul and Mary did), and this converted him.

  7. Avatar
    willow  January 27, 2014

    The evidence as I see it:

    -It was Mary Magdalene who smeared (anointed) Jesus with oil (expensive perfume) prior to the crucifixion, herself then deeming him the Messiah – the term “messiah” comes to us from the Hebrew word masah which means to smear with oil for the purpose of setting someone (or something) apart for a particular purpose. It does not mean “savior” which is a common misconception within the church.
    -She was present at the crucifixion
    -She was the first, or among the first, to arrive at the tomb after the Sabbath, for the purpose of preparing his body for burial. Only close family members were left to that task, is my understanding.
    -She announced the resurrection of Jesus

    These things considered (among others) I find it difficult to consider her just another woman in the life of Jesus. Her’s is the only official “anointing” we are told of in Scripture, as far as I know, and isn’t that extremely unusual – a common woman heralded as the one who anointed Jesus?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 27, 2014

      Where do you see that Mary Magdalene was the one who anointed him?

      • Avatar
        willow  January 28, 2014

        Through a compilation of verses, but in particular Luke 7:36-50. In trying to sort it all out (all of the Mary’s) I ran across this (should you have the time) and drew my conclusions from it:

        http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0665.html

        Keep in mind, Bart, that I have not ever read, nor do I know the first thing about, the Di Vinci Code. I did, however, and just because I so LOVE anything Tom Hanks, watch Angels and Demons and found it to be absolutely ridiculous. I’m no fan of Indiana Jones, either. 😉

  8. Avatar
    fishician  January 27, 2014

    In Matthew 19 in Jesus’ discussion of marriage and divorce he goes on to say that some men have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of God. I suspect he is referring to himself in that statement but doesn’t explicitly say so. And in passages where Jesus mentions his family like Mark 3:31-35 he mentions mother, brothers and sisters, but no wife. If he had a wife I imagine her feelings were badly hurt by his consistent refusal to mention her! However, I suppose some people believe that the early church could have erased all references to Jesus’ wife for theological reasons, but not only would that be hard to do, but where is the evidence for it?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 27, 2014

      I don’t think Jesus had castrated himself! (That’s what “becoming a eunuch normally meant in the ancient world)

      • Avatar
        fishician  January 28, 2014

        But in the Matthew 19 passage, Jesus is responding to the disciples saying after Jesus’ comments on divorce, that maybe “it is better not to marry.” Then Jesus responds, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given.” Then he makes the statement about various kinds of eunuchs. He seems to be talking of refraining from marriage, not the castration (or testicle crushing) aspect of being a eunuch. Although I understand that some early church leaders did take Jesus literally in this statement.

  9. Avatar
    jmorgan  January 27, 2014

    Paul, having spoken to Jesus’s brother, would have known if Jesus were married or not.
    If Jesus were married, Paul probably would not have wrote this in 1 Corinthians:

    “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.”

    I can’t imagine Paul thinking: “Jesus got married. Not even our Lord has the level of self-control I do!”.

  10. Avatar
    Wilusa  January 27, 2014

    You make great points that I hadn’t thought of, even though I’ve never believed they were married!

    I’m wondering…do you think that in that era, outsiders would have assumed the women accompanying Jesus and his disciples to Jerusalem were having sex with them, whether or not they really were?

    And…whatever became of Peter’s wife? (And their children, if any?)

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 27, 2014

      My guess is that they were not sharing quarters together, and probably they were not thought to be sexually active together. We have no record of Peter’s wife, or of whether he had children.

  11. Avatar
    Rosekeister  January 27, 2014

    That is a good argument from silence. I’ve been thinking lately that there are sometimes strong arguments from silence. Mark for example tells a dramatic disciples narrative in which the disciples do not understand Jesus. One disciple betrays him to be crucified and the others abandon Jesus to his death at his arrest. One disciple denies Jesus three times while he is being tried before his crucifixion and then the remaining women flee from the empty tomb while a young man proclaims the resurrection.

    After that I don’t find it credible that the disciples a few days or weeks or even years later could proclaim that now they understand. Jesus rose from his grave and has now explained it all to them. Jesus can’t explain it to you because he was last seen floating up through the clouds. The disciples could proclaim this but who would listen to the people who betrayed, denied and abandoned Jesus? If you read Q you don’t find these stories but I’ve listened to your argument that we just can’t know Q because we don’t have the text (although we do have the complete text of Thomas).

    Paul however would know. At various times he was in Jerusalem, Damascus and Antioch. He spoke with Peter and James. The letters we have of his come from the last decade or so of his life. In them are mentioned problems he must have had his entire life as a Christian. That is, his apostleship is questioned, he has major disagreements with Peter which he probably lost and James and his representatives teach a different gospel. When Paul speaks of these issues he speaks vehemently. He calls down curses on those who teach a different gospel. He stand up to Peter to his face and states his disagreements and Peter’s hypocrisy. The one thing Paul does not do is mention any of the stories from Mark about the failures of the disciples and especially Peter. I feel strongly that Paul when angry would have mentioned these stories especially when his apostleship and beliefs are called into question.

    Do you think this could be considered a strong argument from silence? Could Mark perhaps be a gentile interpretation of Jesus as the Son of God arguing against a Jewish interpretation of Jesus which saw him as the true prophet equal to Moses and Elijah which is why the ending of the empty tomb is entirely appropriate and understandable by the intended audience?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 30, 2014

      I do think that Mark was a Gentile (as were his readers). But I don’t really know what Paul talked about with James and Peter. Wish I did!

      • Avatar
        Rosekeister  January 30, 2014

        That’s true but I think we can reasonably believe what Paul did not talk about with James, Peter, Jerusalem, Damascus and Antioch Christians. The disciples narrative and Jewish narrative of misunderstanding, betrayal, abandonment, denial and death do not appear until the Marcan text which was written c. 75 at a time the gentile believers would want to distance themselves from the Jewish nation and the Jerusalem church. So when the bulk of the Marcan text is a parallel account of the disciples’ betrayal and the Jewish conspiracies merging into the Passion narrative which then ends with a young man proclaiming the resurrection belief from which the last remaining women flee in fear, it appears that the gospel of Mark was written to supplant earlier beliefs represented by the Q source with the resurrection kerygma. These disciple and Jewish narratives became embedded in the tradition when the gospels of Matthew and Luke followed the Marcan text to construct their gospels.

        Which brings me back to the argument from silence. Do you think the lack of the disciples narrative of betrayal in Paul (as well as the Q source) followed by its inclusion in the Marcan text dates its construction between 60-75?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  January 30, 2014

          I don’t think that traditions developed at the same rate, in teh same way, with the same content, in every place and time. There were tons of traditions among Christian churches that Paul simply never heard, even though they were around at his time.

  12. Avatar
    donmax  January 28, 2014

    Bart,

    Sorry to get in on this discussion so late, but I much prefer Karen King’s argument from silence. At least she (and Mark) don’t keep beating that “same ole tired drum” you once referred to in an earlier post. Yes, and from where I sit, the noise is almost deafening!

    Here is a condensed version of my initial reaction.

    When you say, “The early Christian traditions were not at all averse to mentioning Jesus’ relations and companions,” and when you ask, “why would his wife not be mentioned IF he had a wife?” and when you suggest the “non-mentioning of Jesus’ wife” is somehow “evidence” of his being “unmarried,” I am reminded of the following:

    A. Whatever you say about “early traditions,” people who wrote the New Testament came on the scene long after Jesus was dead. In fact, there are major features of his existence that have always been UNKNOWN BY THEIR ABSENCE, more so than by the numerous and widely-heralded misrepresentations almost anyone can cite without much trouble.
    B. As you must know, most of the New Testament was written by Paul, Paul imposters, Paul’s disciples, and Pauline Christians. Given the political and religious climate during the formative stages of “the Jesus story,” it is NOT at all surprising, even “highly probable,” that as many things were OMITTED as INVENTED. Both of these literary and historical factors, without considering any others, amount to a plausible explanation as to why the importance of women, including and most especially Mary Magdalene, may have been and probably were WRITTEN OUT OF THE NT — just like fanciful depictions of virgin births and dead people walking were written in.
    C. I ask you, why should it be a surprise that MM “hardly ever shows up in the Gospels during Jesus’ public ministry”? Whether or not she was *really* more or less important at the time when so-called “real events” were happening, the script showed up as an “after-the-fact” recreation by absent authors relying on hearsay, their own imaginations and personal biases. Everyone knows the Gospels were written as much as a hundred years after Jesus’ birth, decades after his crucifixion (and Paul’s conversion), and long after the destruction of the Temple, where brother James, other relatives of the family, and fellow Nazarenes had been pro-actively WORSHIPING AS JEWS for decades.
    D. From what I surmise, you seem to overstate your point, perhaps because it is so indefensible. If silence means what you say it does, then your arguments only illustrate the weakness of a wayward or ill-conceived methodology. We all have a tendency to withhold what might be harmful to our cause, and that alone is a more probable explanation for silence than the rationale you suggest.
    E. When you ask, “Why would Mary Magdalene be mentioned several times without the author pointing out – Oh, by the way, that was Jesus’ wife?” someone might answer, “Because the reality didn’t fit the storyline!” After all, it was, and still is, a STORY…something written much later than the events they purport to describe. Remember, we are talking about religious contrivances here, within a literary framework, to be sure, but ones that include fictive editorial embellishments and a substantial number of indeterminate facts.

    Last of all…
    I THINK YOU’VE GOT THE MOTIVES OF HELLENIZED CHRISTIANS AND GREEK-SPEAKING GOSPEL WRITERS WRONG. THEY WERE NOT INTERESTED IN TELLING THE WHOLE STORY, CERTAINLY NOT “THE WHOLE TRUTH” ABOUT THE JEWISH JESUS, OR HIS JEWISH MOVEMENT, OR THE SUPPORTING CAST OF JEWISH AND ROMAN CHARACTERS, EVEN IF THEY KNEW IT, WHICH THEY MOST PROBABLY DIDN’T.

    Regrettably, it’s a tradition that hasn’t stopped.

    DCS
    (BTW, did you ever see, Bang The Drum Slowly?)

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