Walking the Cat . . .

Because life's kinda like that . . .

About Mary Magdalene and . . .you know

with 2 comments

Sometimes I think my penchant for writing on religious topics stems from my basic irreverence for anything having to do with establishment-type dogma; other times I think it’s a reaction to having been raised Roman Catholic and doing time as an altar boy (more for the perquisites than any deep-seated religious fervor).  Still other times I think, being a rational person, I just can’t get my head around what, for me, is an irrational hypothesis.  For whatever reason, religion has become my “go-to” topic when I’m stuck for something to write about (and let’s face it, there always something to write about when it comes to religion).  Besides, it’s December.  Christmas (Saturnalia, Yule, Kwanzaa . . .Festivus?) is coming, so why not write about religion?

In this post I want to talk about Mary Magdalene and, to a lesser degree, her relationship with Jesus of Nazareth.  I know what you’re thinking, “He’s not going to rehash the ‘Da Vinci Code, wife of Jesus” thing, is he?”  While I may not be able to stop you from making that particular mental connection, the answer to your unasked question is, “No, I’m not. At least not directly.”

What we know of Mary of Magdala comes by way of scriptural accounts.  She is described, in the Gospel of Luke (Ch. 8; v 1-3), as one of many women who followed Jesus and the twelve “and ministered unto him from their sustenance (resources)”.  She was an early convert, having been exorcised of seven demons early in Jesus’ ministry.  As we learn in Luke, Mary, also called Magdalene, was not Jesus’ only sponsor, but she was the most constant.  She stayed with him throughout his ministry, until the end.  She is identified as one of three women who witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion, along with Mary, the mother of Jesus and Mary’s sister. And she was the first to discover his empty tomb.  All of this we know from the canonical sources. But there are other sources which shed still more light on the figure of the Magdalene.  From the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, one of a number of scrolls uncovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945, we have a description of Mary of Magdala as “the one Jesus loved more than all the others, and he used to kiss her on the . . .” (the last part was too corrupted to read).

There can be little doubt Mary of Magdala shared some degree of intimacy with Jesus.  There is no evidence their relationship was sexual in nature (and I’m not going to speculate).  Whatever their relationship, it resulted in the Magdalene becoming Jesus’ most accomplished disciple, able to comprehend even the most obscure of Jesus’ teachings, and to go “toe-to-toe” with Peter, the pre-eminent apostle, on the finer points of Jesus’ teaching.

It would be no great stretch to imagine Jesus being attracted to the Magdalene.  He would have been 27 or 28 years old at this stage of his ministry; a prime age for a man to be thinking of taking a wife and starting a family. Living in close proximity on a daily, or near daily, basis, having shared interests and common goals are attributes all men look for in a prospective mate.  Mary of Magdala would seem the perfect choice.

Let us assume Jesus was, indeed, attracted to the Magdalene and, wanting to have her as his wife, proposes marriage.  But the Magdalene saw no need of a husband.  She was prosperous in her own right and was not willing to submit to a husband’s will as was required by Jewish law.  And so she refuses Jesus’ proposal of marriage.

There would have been other reasons to reject a proposal of marriage.  A marriage could damage Jesus’ ministry.  Mary was already feeling the first twinges of jealousy from some of the apostles, most notably Peter.  Some of them were convinced Jesus’ was the Messiah of prophecy; others, like Thomas, were not so certain. If she should be elevated to the status of Jesus’ wife, it could weaken their faith and splinter the group.  And what of the authorities?

King Herod was already curious about the preacher some called, “the Baptist reborn”.  It would not be long before he set his dogs to the chase.  She could not bear to see her husband languishing in Macherus.  And the Romans, what of them?  If they were to decide Jesus posed a threat, there would be nowhere he could flee that would be beyond their reach; and as his wife, she would have to flee as well and his ministry would come to an end.

I think — no, I believe — the Magdalene felt a deep kinship, perhaps even love, with Jesus of Nazareth (whether for the man or his ministry, I cannot tell), but for all the above stated reasons and for others, no less valid for being unsaid, I believe Mary of Magdala, also called the Magdalene, would have declined Jesus’ offer of marriage.

Does this make her a feminist? Or a realist?  Perhaps.  I’ll let the reader(s) decide for themselves.

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  1. She may have been a protofeminist, but that depends entirely on her reasons for denying this suggested proposal. If she denied the proposal because she was, as you wrote, “… prosperous in her own right and was not willing to submit to a husband’s will as was required by Jewish law.”, in this case she is clearly acting within a very general feminist ideology. However, if she denied the proposal out of caution for the effect accepting the proposal may have had on Jesus’ disciples and/or followers at large, then her reasons are of a more political nature.
    In my opinion, based on the idea that Jesus was a reformer who was more than willing to speak out against Jewish law in public. It is much more likely that Jewish law had little bearing on Jesus and Mary’s decision to remain single or anything else pertaining to the private life of Jesus of Nazareth.

    Joshua Stephen Thomas Sr.

    September 2, 2015 at 9:28 am

    • I wrote this post as a way to put certan thoughts I had regarding what was (at the time) a “brouhaha” surrounding the discovery of a scrap of papyrus by Dr Karen Armstrong, regarding the marital status of Jesus. The fragment (the authenticity of which is in doubt) purported to contain words to the effect that Jesus said, ” . . my wife . .”. There was no mention of who the “wife” was supposed to be. It was assumed to be the Magdalene, based on the further assumption that if Jesus was, in fact married, she would be the “logical” choice (although, she is described elsewhere in the Gospels as having been “cured of seven demons”; in which case, I cannot bring myself to believe Jesus would have married someone inclined to demonic possession — every argument the two had would devolve into an exorcism.) In any event, I only wrote the post as a means of trying to put some of my thoughts on the subject into some sort of context for the book I hoped to write (parts of which you’ve read.) For my part, I do not believe Jesus was a living, distinct personality, but rather a composite created as the “figurehead” of a belief system the Gospel writers (and by extension Christianity as a whole) hoped would be tolerated, and eventually embraced by the larger Roman world. As one of the popes (I think it was Leo XIII) once remarked, “It has served us well, this myth of Christ.” Thanks for your thoughts. -S-

      stevewthomas

      September 2, 2015 at 12:53 pm


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