There is a lot of talk going around these days about Mary Magdalene, how that she was a prostitute, the wife of Jesus, the mother of His children, etc. Was Mary Magdalene really the wife of Jesus? Or a much loved and devoted disciple? Where are we to look for the truth, the reality for who Mary Magdalene really was?
Claims from The Da Vinci Code Regarding Mary Magdalene
The popular book The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown, makes a number of fantastical claims about Mary Magdalene.
- That she was the “first and greatest apostle” (P 247-248). That Jesus intended for His church to be left in her hands.
- That she in fact was the “Holy Grail” that had been long searched for, rather than the actual cup which Jesus drank wine from at the Last Supper (P. 237)
- That she was of “royal blood”, and that by marrying she and Jesus established some type of “right” to the throne of Solomon (P. 249)
- That she was married to Jesus (P 244, 249).
Brown makes these claims based on the assertions of several other popular works written over the last decade (Holy Blood, Holy Grail, for example), plus some of the writings of what are collectively called the Gnostic Gospels. What are we to say to these claims? What about these “other gospels” – do they warrant the same respect as gospels in the New Testament? Where do we start?
The Importance of Primary Sources
When looking at historical documents, one thing you want to do in searching for truth is to examine PRIMARY source documents. Those that are dated earlier than others, and especially those penned by eye witnesses.
The four gospels qualify as primary sources where questions concerning Mary Magdalene are concerned. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were all written by apostles or by disciples who walked with them. According to scholars, the four gospels date between 40 AD and 90 AD – much earlier by decades than the acclaimed “Gnostic texts”. In addition, the four New Testament gospels were penned by eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus, and the events surrounding His ministry.
The so-called Gnostic gospels, which present stories about Mary Magdalene (see the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, etc.) date much later. These do not qualify as primary documents, in contrast to the four gospels and other New Testament writings. Why?
- They were written much later, as much as 100 years later. In fact, the so-called “Gospel of Thomas”, by many thought to be the earliest of the Gnostic texts, is dated c 150 AD. Other so-called “gospels” and wisdom text are dated to the second and third centuries.
- In contrast to the earlier four gospels, these other texts could not have been written by eye-witnesses. They were penned by people generations removed from the actual events, and so it is no surprise they include material that seems fanciful in nature, and often inconsistent with the New Testament.
What Do The Earliest Texts Say About Mary Magdalene?
The four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – are the earliest texts relating to Mary Magdalene (written c. 40-90 AD). Here is what they have to say:
- Mary was Delivered from Seven Demons
Luke 8:2 “and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses – Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons,”
- Mary Magdalene, along with other women, Supported Jesus and the Apostles
Luke 8:2-3 “Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance.”
- Mary is with Other Women at the Cross
Matthew, 27: 55-56 “And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.”
Mark, 15: 40-41 “There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome, who also followed Him and ministered to Him when He was in Galilee; and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem.
John 19:25 “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene.”
- She is With “the Other Mary” At the Tomb When He is Laid to Rest
Matthew, 27:61 “And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.”
Mark, 15:47 “And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid.”
- She and Other Women are First at the Tomb Sunday Morning
Matthew, 28:1 “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.”
Mark, 16:1-2 “Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.”
John, 20:1 “On the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.”
- Mary Along with Other Women Bring the News to the Apostles
Luke, 24:9-10 “Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who told these things to the apostles.”
John, 20:2 “Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.””
- She is First to See the Appearance of Jesus
Mark, 16:9 “Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons.”
John 20: 11-18 “But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.”
“Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabbboni!” (which is to say, Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to my God and your God.’”
“Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.”
What About The Da Vinci Code Claims?
- Was she the “first and greatest apostle”? Was she preferred by Jesus above all the other apostles, and was His plan was to leave the leadership of His church to her after He was done? This is an assertion based on an extract from “The Gospel of Mary”, one of the Gnostic texts. Part of the text is found in The Da Vinci Code on Page 247. The actual Gospel of Mary 17:10-18:21 it reads as follows:
But Andrew answered and said to the brethren, “Say what you (wish to) say about what she has said. I at least do not believe that the Savior said this. For certainly these teachings are strange ideas.” Peter answered and spoke concerning these same things. He questioned them about the Savior: “Did He really speak with a woman without our knowledge and not openly? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did He prefer her to us? Then Mary wept and said to Peter, “My bother Peter, what do you think? Do you think that I have thought this up in my heart, or that I am lying about the Savior?” Levi answered and said to Peter, “Peter, you have always been hot-tempered. Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries. But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well. That is why He loved her more than us. Rather let us be ashamed and put on the perfect Man, and separate as He commanded us and preach the gospel, not laying down any other rule or other law beyond what the Savior said.”
Points to note:
- This material is from a Gnostic document, written decades after the time of the apostles, and probably not by Mary Magdalene. We can’t be sure who wrote this. It was common to attribute these later texts to apostles or important figures of the early church, in order to achieve credibility; which is why Mary’s name was ascribed. Like other such documents, the text promotes the Gnostic philosophy. These texts have to be taken as potentially fiction, and cannot lay claim to the same level of authority as New Testament primary texts.
- As with other Gnostic texts, “secret knowledge” is involved. Mary is the recipient of “secret knowledge” that the other disciples were not privy to. Even in this Gnostic text we are not told what this secret message was – that it was, as The Da Vinci Code claims, instructions on “how to carry on His church” is wishful thinking and not supported by the text. This is a common theme in Gnostic texts – that those who receive “special knowledge” are the ones who are saved, in contrast to the gospel, which teaches that those who receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior are saved.
- If Mary was truly preferred by Jesus above all of the other apostles, this would be evident in the other primary source documents. But in fact it isn’t. At the cross, when Jesus is saying His last words, He could have easily proclaimed Mary Magdalene as the leader for the church. But He took the opportunity to tell John that he was to treat Jesus’ mother Mary as his mother, and that she was to treat John as her son.
- There is nothing, even this Gnostic text, that indicates anything more than a familiar relationship with Mary Magdalene – ie., only that Jesus has appeared to her and delivered a special message. Nothing more.
In sum, the evidence indicates that Mary was a devoted and loyal disciple, one which Jesus loved dearly. But nothing more. Certainly not His wife, and not “the greatest apostle”.
- Was Mary Magdalene the “Holy Grail”? The Da Vinci Code claims that “Christ made that claim” (P. 242), but this is not supported by any evidence. Christ never made such a claim. The search for the “Holy Grail” has a lot of history associated with it dating to the middle ages, but to claim that the Holy Grail is a woman — Mary Magdalene – is nonsense, the product of people who have a feminist agenda they wish to promote.
What is important is NOT the grail, but what the grail held — the wine that represented His precious blood, the blood that He poured out for the sins of the whole world. Luke 22:20 records: “Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.”
- Was Mary Magdalene “of royal blood”? (P 249), and was Jesus’ plan to unit the David line and line of Benjamin, laying claim to the throne of Solomon.
Points to note:
1. That Mary was “of royal blood” is simply without any historical merit, and has no basis in fact. There is nothing in history to support this claim. Its another of The Da Vinci Code fabrications, derived from recent popular tales such as Holy Blood, Holy Grail.
2. What does it matter? Jesus was asked if he was here to setup an earthly kingdom, and He very clearly stated that indeed He was a King, but that His kingdom was not of this world (see John 18:36). He had no interest in reclaiming an earthly throne – not of Solomon or anyone else. That was not His mission, not why He was sent. If you read the primary sources, you can clearly see His mission: to give His life as a ransom for us, so we can have the opportunity to come into a right relationship with our Creator.
- Was Mary Magdalene married to Jesus? (P 244, 249) Please see our page on Was Jesus Married for more on this topic. There is simply no support in the Gospels, the New Testament writings, or even in the extra-biblical documents such as the Gnostic texts for this assertion. All the evidence points to a close and special relationship, but nothing more. This is again a fabrication in The Da Vinci Code.
Who Was Mary Magdalene?
Let’s recap what the Gospels, the oldest and primary texts, say about Mary:
1. Mary was healed of seven demons, and as a result became a devoted follower and supporter of Jesus, along with other women.
2. Mary Magdalene was at the cross with several other women when Jesus was crucified
3. She was with the “other Mary” (the mother of Joses) at the tomb after they had just laid Him to rest. Both Marys clearly had deep affection for Jesus — so much so that they stayed by the tomb for a while after He had been laid to rest.
4. She went to the tomb early in morning on the first day of the week (Sunday) with two other women.
5. When she discovered that the tomb was empty, she along with several other women ran to bring this news to the apostles and other disciples.
6. She was the first to see the risen Lord Jesus after His resurrection.
What CAN we reasonably conclude about Mary Magdalene?
- Mary was healed of seven demons, and became a devoted follower of Jesus.
- Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene, who He no doubt loved dearly and had a special fondness for. She likewise clearly loved the Lord dearly, by virtue of the fact that she tried to cling to Him after she recognized Jesus. But to make more of this is to read something into gospel record that simply isn’t there.
- There is no evidence that she had any closer relationship with Jesus, other than one of fondness. If she had been married to Him, the gospels and the other New Testament wirings would have recorded this. They don’t because Mary Magdalene was in fact never married to Jesus.
- Mary was with always with other women in these circumstances. She was part of an “entourage” that had traveled with and ministered to Jesus and the apostles during their ministry.
Mary Magdalene, along with “the other Mary”, also fulfilled some very special purposes:
1) rather than the apostles, the women who had ministered to Jesus were the last at the tomb and the first back to it prior to the resurrection,
2) they were also the first to receive the news that Jesus had risen from the dead, and
3) they were selected as messengers to bring this joyous news to the other disciples and apostles.
In those days women were not qualified to testify in important matters – yet the gospels doesn’t revise or gloss over what actually transpired. Like a historical record should, the gospel recounts precisely what happened - nothing more, nothing less.
Let’s give Mary Magdalene her rightful due – a beloved disciple of the Lord, one who followed Him, supported Him, and loved Him.
Let’s not try to remake her into something she wasn’t.
Note: quotes from the Bible are taken from the New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Publishers.
1. The Da Vinci Hoax, by Carl E. Olson and Sandra Miesel. Ignatius publishers, 2004.
2. Breaking the Da Vinci Code, by Darrell L. Bock, Ph.D. Nelson publishers, 2004
3. The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown. Doubleday publishers, 2003.