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Was Jesus Intimate with 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 scholars often, and rightly, argue, that is an argument from silence, and on it’s own it is not a very strong one – since, among other things, none of these sources indicates, either, that he was not married. And so it  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 an inimitable authority than Dan Brown, in the Da Vinci Code – that if there was no 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 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 companions. Given that circumstance, why would his wife not be mentioned if he had a wife? This is a far louder silence than normal.

This way of looking at things applies in particular to Mary Magalene, the woman who is most commonly associated with Jesus as a possible spouse and/or lover in the minds of modern novelists, film-makers, and other makers of fiction.   Here I should say several things about Mary Magdalene.   The first is – to the surprise of many people – she…

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Demons and Christians in Antiquity! Guest Post By Travis Proctor
So… WAS Jesus Married?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    jhague  February 4, 2020

    Since our earliest gospel, Mark, is written about 40 years after Jesus death by someone who said Jesus was the son of God, could it be that the authors of the books of the Bible wrote out a wife (whoever she may have been) since they did not think the son of God should be married?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 5, 2020

      Yup, they could have done that — and it would not have required 40 years! As always, the question is “what should make us think they did?” I.e. what is the evidence that Jesus was probably married? (I’ll be getting to the counter evidence in my next post)

      • Avatar
        jhague  February 5, 2020

        Another thought, do we know if men and women traditionally married young in Jesus day?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 6, 2020

          Women yes, early teenagers. Men no, 20s or maybe 30s.

          • Avatar
            jhague  February 7, 2020

            Do we know why women married young and men not so much?

          • Bart
            Bart  February 9, 2020

            I think it’s because the men had to be financially stable, and the women just need to be child-bearing age.

  2. Avatar
    Maglaw  February 4, 2020

    Bart, I am surprised that you are claiming the few references to Mary Magdalene based on only the gospels in the New Testament, as you know, they were the ones selected by the Bishop of Alexandria in the 4th century when he told the churches to throw the others out. And you edited “The Lost Scriptures” which includes:
    The Gospel of Mary – Peter said to Mary, “Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of women…”
    The Gospel of Phillip v. 32 – There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary his mother, his sister, and Magdalene, whom they call his lover. A Mary is his sister and his mother and his lover.
    v. 55 – …the consort of Christ is Mary Magdalene. The Lord loved Mary more than all the other disciples and he kissed her on the mouth many times….

    I’m nor arguing for the idea that Jesus was married because I agree it has no foundation, but the above verses were written with no apparent agenda or reason to lie. There IS a reason, however, to throw them out because they don’t stack up with the narrative of Jesus as more God than man.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 5, 2020

      yes, I absolutely deal with the Gospel of Philip in several of my books, and these passages in particular (which do not actually say what people assume they say; see my discussion in my book on the Da Vinci Code). But is it your view that the Gospel of Philip gives us reliable information about the historical Jesus? Not sure if you’ve ever read through it, but I’d suggest it! It’s quite a trip.

  3. Avatar
    Stephen  February 4, 2020

    Why was Mary (Miriam?) such a popular name for first century Jewish women? Is there someone they’re being named after?

    thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  February 5, 2020

      I don’t know!

      • Avatar
        Monarch  February 6, 2020

        Yes, and famously, even so that Mary’s mother had a sister named Mary. I like Joseph Atwill’s assertion that, as the meaning of the name “Mary” is “rebel,” and as the gospels were (he theorizes) written from a Flavian, anti-Jewish perspective, the Romans called female Jews “Marys,” or “rebels,” just as in more modern times we give nicknames such as “Rebs,” “Japs,” “Jerries,” and “Gooks” to our adversaries. I know, you dismiss Atwill out of hand, but he and Eisenman seem to me to have penetrated much deeper into the the historical and ideological melleau of first century Palestine than anything else I’ve seen, and I’m disappointed that you cannot even entertain such a notion as the above. It sure beats “I don’t know!” for an explanation of why the name “Mary” would not only suddenly appear, but also explode in popularity, and all in the first century!

        • Bart
          Bart  February 6, 2020

          To my knowledge Atwill doens’t know the ancient languages. Do you know what his argement about the name is? (He certainly doesn’t know much about Jewish and Roman history!)

          • Avatar
            Monarch  February 7, 2020

            Atwill knows Greek and Latin, so he’s on firm ground with Josephus and the New Testament. He does not give an argument about the name Mary, but merely states that it means “rebellious,” however, most Google search results acknowledge this definition for Mary, for example, from behindthename.com, which states ‘The meaning is not known for certain, but there are several theories including “sea of bitterness”, “rebelliousness”, and “wished for child.”‘ A more scholarly site at chaimbentorah.com, in a word study of Mary, says “There is the general belief that the name Mary in the Hebrew is Miriam. The problem with this is that Miriam means rebellious or bitter.” As for Atwill’s knowledge of Jewish and Roman history, to me it seems prodigious, and frankly, how would you know he “certainly doesn’t know it,” not having read him? Is it because you don’t like what you know about his conclusions? Bart, I repeatedly saw in my own academic career that people who think outside the box are dismissed out of hand by those within the more traditional, orthodox realm. Albert Einstein and Emile Durkheim (and countless others) experienced this phenomenon, and I once quoted them to you about it. I understand that a paradigm shift in New Testament studies would be a huge upheaval, and I’m not saying that this will happen, but I think that Atwill has a very strong argument, and that you owe it to yourself–and to those inquiring minds who follow you–to read him. (Hey, get the audio version, 17 hours, and knock it off on your next few road trips.) Bart, I’ve read almost all your books, and love ya, but I think you need to be able to address, rather than dismiss, Joseph Atwill. Thanks!

          • Bart
            Bart  February 9, 2020

            I’ve certainly addressed him in my mind! You won’t find a bona fide historian of ancient Roman history who gives him the time of day. That should at least be the first clue that there is something amiss here. He’s not thinking outside the box. He’s propounding a ridiculous theory. (I don’t spend time refuting claims that the lunar landing was staged either!)

    • Avatar
      AstaKask  February 6, 2020

      I think they’re named after Miriam the Prophetess, who was the sister of Moses and Aaron. Micah 6:4 says

      I brought you up out of Egypt
      and redeemed you from the land of slavery.
      I sent Moses to lead you,
      also Aaron and Miriam.

  4. Avatar
    fishician  February 4, 2020

    I think of Matthew 19:12 in which Jesus (supposedly) said, “there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” I tend to think he was referring to himself and others who forsook sexual relations and marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (like Paul). Also, the Bible is full of names of places and people, even obscure people, yet no mention of Jesus’ wife?! But, do you think it’s possible that the prudes who took control of the early church erased references to Jesus being married because they wanted to promote abstinence in the light of the impending return of Jesus? (Knowing that some early Christians thought that even married couples should remain abstinent.)

  5. Avatar
    Baligomingo  February 4, 2020

    I suppose, if you wanted to defend the marriage position, you would argue that while the Gospels clearly reference Jesus’ family, they also consistently downplay their centrality to Jesus’ ministry – that despite the fact that we know his own brother effectively takes over the shop after the crucifixion – a fact that can’t be completely avoided but certainly Acts does to its best to make secondary. The idea that there was not just a wife, but therefore a child of this Perfect Man/evovling divine being would have been I think a more difficult thing to acknowledge and fit into the evolving faith, and so Mary M. gets made into a “supporter,” and her presence at the crucification and the tomb – first witness – are authentic remnants that the editor didn’t think needed to be excluded.

    Now, i don’t believe that. I find it more compelling that Jesus comes out of the Essenic tradition, is practicing high purity regulations including celibacy like John and certainly like his brother James is described as doing. Getting out that word that the Heavenly host is coming doesn’t get you off the hook for keeping clean. I’m just trying to make the best case for the other position.

  6. Avatar
    Steefen  February 4, 2020

    exegete: an expounder or textual interpreter, especially of scripture.

    Dr. Ehrman,
    1) Are New Testament critics, such as yourself, exegetes?
    2) Are investigators of biblical history accuracy exegetes because they explain in detail (expound on) the Hebrew telling of history by going beyond the autobiography of the Hebrews to a cross-cultural context of ancient history, perhaps by bringing in the history of Ancient Canaan, Ancient Egypt, and Ancient Rome?

    Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 5, 2020

      1. Almost all are, yes. Most of my training was in exegesis. 2. Depends what they’re doing. Exegesis is simply the scholarly interpretation of the meaning of a text.

  7. Avatar
    godspell  February 4, 2020

    I’m detecting a Valentine’s Day theme here, but that’s ten days off. How many more Jesus Nookie posts are we getting?

    Jesus was probably in his 30’s when he started his ministry, and entered history. So he could have had a fair bit of sexual experience (he could even have been married and divorced/widowed, though I don’t think that’s the case).

    Truthfully, he doesn’t seem that interested in talking about sex. I think he figured–correctly–that once you go down that road, everything else gets overshadowed (somebody should have told Paul and Augustine, and I hope that story about Origen isn’t true). He didn’t think it was the best or the worst thing people do. He definitely didn’t think it was the root of all evil. (One guess what he thought that was.)

    He had a sense of sexual morality–which was mainly related to how you treated the other party to the act–but I get no sense he thought sex was inherently immoral. Perhaps inherently distracting. In that, he’d be on about the same page with most mystics, Jewish and otherwise. Try not to think too much about it. Easy for them to say.

  8. Avatar
    Matt2239  February 4, 2020

    And look what happened when someone said Jesus was married — it claimed the existence of a royal bloodline. Without a theocratic monarchy, Christianity was left with the pope-and-conclave process of elevating a leader. Some might call this representative democracy, sort of like the American political system, but we practice separation of church and state (going back to the ‘render unto Caesar’ days (but Jesus probably didn’t say that)).

  9. Avatar
    mwbaugh  February 4, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman, I’m posting incontrovertible evidence that Jesus and Mary M were married. It’s astonishing and ironclad and totally not photoshopped. I can’t attach it here so I’m putting it on your facebook post. 🙂

  10. Avatar
    timcfix  February 5, 2020

    Atheists and agnostics can put together the story of the Watchers and know that Jesus would not even consider such conduct. Why can’t Christians figure that out?

  11. Avatar
    jbickle  February 5, 2020

    Hi, could you maybe discuss your feelings on the words found in the Gospel of Philip from the Nag Hamadi scrolls which seem to have a different slant i.e.”and used to kiss her often on her […]. The rest of the disciples […]. They said to him “Why do you love her more than all of us?”

    Would that not be SOME evidence/implication that she was just more than just a follower like the rest of the women?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 5, 2020

      Yes, someone else has asked about that. I better post on it!

  12. Avatar
    jhbaker731  February 5, 2020

    Bart, this is a side question, but in those times was polygamy still an accepted practice among Jewish men? I know Paul talks about being the husband of one wife but that is for eldership. I often ask others why was slavery and homosexuality wrong but polygamy was not.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 5, 2020

      No, by then it was strictly monogamous. And slavery wasn’t wrong either!

  13. Avatar
    aar8818  February 5, 2020

    Dr Ehrman, in regards to beliefs of resurrection, when do you think the early Christians started claiming/believing Jesus’ physical earthly body was raised (and could eat fish) Do you think it was after Paul’s lifetime? Can we conclude from Paul’s writings that he believed in an earthly ressurection or a heavenly body ressurection as alluded to in 1 cor 15?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 6, 2020

      I think they thought his physical body was raised the second they thought he had been resurrected. In jewish tradition the resurrection was the resurrection of the *body*. I’ll be talking about this in my next book. Paul definitely thought it was jesus actual body. It was “spiritual” in the sense that the matter of the body was transformed into superior matter — but it was transformed, not replace.

      • Avatar
        aar8818  February 7, 2020

        Ok. Thanks so much. Looking forward to these next 2 books.

  14. Cheryl
    Cheryl  February 7, 2020

    Hi Bart,
    The Luke passage would be especially odd to me if Mary was his wife. The listing of her name, without a qualifier, among several financial supporters doesn’t seem to suggest marriage.

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