The DaVinci Inquest part 4
Who Was Mary Magdalene?
(a.k.a. There's Something About Mary)
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
June 4, 2006

 

Main Passage: Luke 8:1-3 (NLT)

 

[Video Clip – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade]


For many of us, our knowledge of the Holy Grail comes from this movie… from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Or perhaps you’d add to that the knowledge gained from another movie… Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And because of these movies and because of stories told throughout the centuries, we’ve come to understand the term “Holy Grail” to refer to the cup of Christ. We’ll talk more about that in a little while.

But first, I want to address The DaVinci Code’s claim of what the Holy Grail is. If you’ve read the book… if you’ve seen the movie… then you know that The DaVinci Code claims that the Holy Grail was not actually a thing… it was a person. It was Mary Magdalene. And all the Grail legends through the centuries were actually telling us Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus, and they had a child named Sarah. And so Mary Magdalene was the Holy Grail in that she continued the bloodline of Jesus.

That’s what The DaVinci Code claims, and it uses a lot of different supposed proofs that show that Jesus and Mary were married. None of which bear much credibility, but let’s look at one of them… Leonardo DaVinci’s painting of the Last Supper. This is the painting that The DaVinci Code really focuses on as the proof that Jesus was married. Let me show it to you.

[PowerPoint – Last Supper]

We’ve all seen this painting before. It’s one of the most famous paintings in the world. Actually, it’s a fresco, which is a painting applied to a surface while the plaster is still wet. So you could think of it more as a mural than a painting. It’s when Jesus said, “Hey, everyone on this side of the table if you want to be in the picture.” And according to The DaVinci Code, this painting contains the true Grail story, focusing in on the person to Jesus’ right (our left). This person has always been understood to be John, often referred to as the disciple Jesus loved. Well, The DaVinci Code twists this a bit, and says that it is indeed someone Jesus loved, but it’s not his disciple John… it’s his wife! It’s Mary Magdalene.

According to The DaVinci Code, Leonardo was using this painting to tell us about this marriage. Remember, Leonardo was supposed to have been a Grand Master of the Priory of Sion… a secret society which had been protecting this truth since the year 1099. Of course, we’ve already discovered that the Priory of Sion was a hoax concocted by Pierre Plantard using forged documents. The real Priory of Sion was created in 1956 to promote affordable housing.

But regardless, could Leonardo have still been trying to tell us Jesus was married? After all, as The DaVinci Code points out, the space between this person and Jesus forms a V, which according to Robert Langdon is an ancient symbol of femininity and fertility. And the outline of the two forms a perfect M. Well, not so perfect. But an M nonetheless. And that, of course, stands for Mary Magdalene, or matrimonial. Or maybe macaroni. Hey, he was Italian.

Well, I studied this painting a bit more, and I discovered another message. Look… here’s an A. And over here… here’s a J. Well, A is for Apple, J is for Jack, and that led me to conclude that Leonardo was telling me about a secret society known as Kellogg’s, and that they’ve been guarding the truth of these cinnamon-toasty Apple Jacks all these years.

Actually, you can find all the letters of the alphabet in here. I even found my name right here. I don’t think that was supposed to be a secret message. So let me tell you what this painting is really about. It’s Leonardo’s depiction of the Last Supper as it’s told in the Gospel of John, chapter 13. And I should mention that John, unlike the other Gospels, does not make reference to Jesus taking some bread and taking a cup and passing them around. This is based on John 13, and more specifically on verse 21, at the moment that Jesus announced that one of those at the table would betray Him. And Leonardo grouped the disciples into groups of three to show their individual reactions and to make Jesus seem more isolated.

[John 3:21-22 NLT - Now Jesus was in great anguish of spirit, and he exclaimed, “The truth is, one of you will betray me!” The disciples looked at each other, wondering whom he could mean.]

In fact, in Leonardo’s own notes, he names who each of the disciples is. And he himself identifies the person in question as being John. Which makes sense, since we’re told that John was close enough to Jesus to lean against him to ask a question.

But he does look a little effeminate, doesn’t he? I mean, couldn’t this be a girl? Well, I would say that Dan Brown, although he claims to have studied art history at the University of Seville, must have skipped the section on the Renaissance. Because it was common practice for young men… pre-bearded men… to be portrayed this way. To my understanding, pretty much every Renaissance artist did this. But we’re talking about Leonardo. So let me show you his depiction of John the Baptist.

[PowerPoint - Leonardo’s John the Baptist]

Looks a little feminine to me, but I’m pretty sure it’s not Jeanne the Baptist.

Plus, if that’s really supposed to be Mary, then where’s the other disciple? I mean, there were 12 disciples. Plus Jesus… that makes 13. And if Mary’s there, that’s 14. But there are only 13 people in this fresco. Leonardo was a stickler for details… why would he leave someone out?

Some people have also made a big deal about there not being a large chalice or grail shown on the table. Well, this supper was actually a Passover meal. And for those of you who were at our Jews for Jesus presentation last year, you may recall that there were four cups of wine or pure grape juice that every Jew would need to drink at specified times. We don’t have time this morning to get into what each cup means, but you’re free to read up on it on the Internet. But the point is, that each person would have had their own individual cup, and that there was no one special chalice. And if I can add, in this fresco, Jesus is actually pointing to some bread on his left and a cup on his right. So it’s a little ridiculous for The DaVinci Code to say that Jesus didn’t have a cup.

The DaVinci Code also makes mention of a disembodied hand holding a dagger threatening the alleged Mary. But a restoration of this painting clearly shows that the hand belongs to Peter. Plus, the dagger (or bread knife) is aimed toward Bartholomew who tradition tells us was flayed to death (or skinned alive). And it also foreshadows that within a few hours, Peter would use his dagger to cut off the ear of one of the men who came to arrest Jesus.

Amazing how a little reality clears up the whole debate, isn’t it?

But even if all of that doesn’t matter… even if Leonardo did paint Mary Magdalene at the Last Supper… what does that prove? Leonardo painted this in the 1490s… about 1460 years after the actual event. And just because he painted it a certain way, that doesn’t prove it’s the way it really was. Back at Easter time, I showed you this painting by Rembrandt. Rembrandt painted himself into the scene at the foot of the cross. Does that prove that Rembrandt was actually there? If you believe that, then you’d also believe that Forrest Gump really did meet Richard Nixon. [PowerPoint screenshot of Gump with Nixon]

 

But let me ask you a question: So what? What if Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene? What difference does it make?

In fact, just turn to someone right now and answer that question. [PARTICIPATION]

As a matter of doctrine, it would make absolutely no difference. Marriage is a good thing… Jesus was fully God and also fully human… so what would be wrong with Jesus getting married? What would be wrong if Jesus actually did participate in the holy and sacred union which He created in the first place? Nothing. Oh, it might challenge our preconceptions, but it’s not really anti-biblical and it wouldn’t change who Jesus is.

Even if they had a kid, what difference would it make? Sure, Jesus was without sin. But Mary wasn’t. And remember, one sin in the Garden of Eden contaminated all of Creation. So whatever offspring they might have had would have inherited that mark of sinfulness from the mother and would have been just as depraved as the rest of us. It wouldn’t be like we’d have a bunch of mini-gods walking around.

It really doesn’t matter from a doctrinal or theological point of view. Where it does matter is just as a matter of truth. I’m married, and if someone was going around saying I wasn’t married, then that would matter. I’d want them to get their facts right. So as a matter of truth, was Jesus married? I seriously doubt it, and I’ll tell you why…

 

Was Jesus Married?

I seriously doubt it because…

1. The Bible seems to imply He was not married.

The Bible makes clear references to Jesus’ mother Mary and to Joseph, to Jesus’ brothers and sisters, and to other relatives like Elizabeth and Zechariah and John the Baptist. You even see some of those verses in your notes this morning. But in no place is there a mention of a wife. Which implies there isn’t one.

[Mark 6:2-3 (NLT)
“Where did he get all his wisdom and the power to perform such miracles? He’s just the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.”

Matthew 13:54-56 (NLT)
“Where does he get his wisdom and his miracles? He’s just a carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers--James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. All his sisters live right here among us. What makes him so great?”

Luke 1:36 (NLT)
The angel foretelling the birth of Jesus tells His mother] “What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age!”]

 

2. On the cross, Jesus expressed no concern for a wife.

When Jesus was on the cross, he looked down and saw his mother standing there with John the disciple, and this is what he said…

John 19:26-27 (NLT)
…He said to her, “Woman, he is your son.” And he said to this disciple, “She is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home.

You know who else was there at the cross? Mary Magdalene. Assuming she was married to Jesus, she was about to be husbandless in a very patriarchal society. Yet Jesus makes no special arrangements for her, which would seem strange… if they were married.

 

3. When Paul was stating the case for marriage, he never mentioned Jesus’ marriage.

Paul talked about his own right to get married, if he wanted to, when he wrote…

1 Corinthians 9:5 (CEV)
We each have the right to marry one of the Lord’s followers and to take her along with us, just as the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Peter do.

So Paul points out that he has every right to get married just like the other apostles, and the brothers of Jesus, and Peter specifically. But no reference to Jesus himself having a wife. If Paul was really trying to build a case, and if Jesus was married, then he missed his greatest supporting argument. But he didn’t mention it.

 

4. Contrary to The DaVinci Code, it was not required for all Jewish men to get married.

Dan Brown tells us in The DaVinci Code that no self-respecting Jewish male would remain single. It was unacceptable in that culture. He wrote…

“…Jesus was a Jew… and the social decorum during that time virtually forbid a Jewish man to be unmarried. According to Jewish custom, celibacy was condemned…”
~ The DaVinci Code, page 245 (hardcover)

But that’s simply not true. It was the norm for people to get married, just like it is today, but it certainly wasn’t required. In fact, Jewish tradition included a long line of unmarried prophets such as Elijah and Jeremiah. John the Baptist was apparently unmarried. Jesus himself suggested that some people might want to stay single when He said…

Matthew 19:12 (NLT)
“Some are born as eunuchs, some have been made that way by others, and some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

You know, it’s funny. Dan Brown references the Dead Sea Scrolls to support many of his claims. He must have expected people to just accept what he said and not check it out. Because what he claims the Dead Sea Scrolls say about Jesus and Mary and the Holy Grail, they don’t actually say. They were Jewish writings, mostly pre-Christian, and never even referenced Jesus or Mary or the Grail, apart from the Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah.

But they do tell us that there was a whole group of deeply devoted religious men who remained unmarried and were highly respected in the culture. They were called the Essenes, and were basically another socio-political group like the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Zealots. So Dan Brown’s just wrong when he says all Jews had to get married. Most did, but there was certainly no requirement.

 

5. Not even the Gnostic gospels claim Jesus was married.

Last week we talked about the Gnostic gospels and saw how they were documents which were written three or four centuries after the Biblical gospels, and they really tried to combine Christianity with Judaism and Greek philosophy and pagan mythology. And we saw that they really have no credibility as historic or theological texts.

But let’s consider them anyway. Dan Brown claims that these texts teach the Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. But do they really? Well, one of the things that we learned last week was that the Gnostics saw anything physical as being evil and corrupt, and they never would have condoned marriage. But what about those passages that Dan Brown quotes in The DaVinci Code? Well, let’s look at those references.
 

“These are photocopies of the Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea scrolls, which I mentioned earlier,” Teabing said… Flipping toward the middle of the book, Teabing pointed to a passage. “The Gospel of Philip is always a good place to start.” Sophie read the passage:
And the companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene. Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval. They said to him, “Why do you love her more than all of us?”
The words surprised Sophie, and yet they hardly seemed conclusive. “It says nothing of marriage.”
“Au contraire.” Teabing smiled, pointing to the first line. “As any Aramaic scholar will tell you, the word companion, in those days, literally meant spouse.”
The DaVinci Code, pages 245-246 (hardcover)
 

Well, first of all, the Aramaic word for companion did not mean spouse. That’s a bit of a stretch. But it doesn’t really matter because the Gospel of Philip was not written in Aramaic. It was written in Coptic, an ancient Egyptian language. And the word for companion was borrowed from the Greek, just like we borrow from other languages… “Adios”, “C’est la vie”… that kind of thing. So the Greek word that was used was koinonos, and it simply means friend or companion or someone you have fellowship with. In fact, that very word is used ten times in the New Testament and never once refers to marriage.

But how about that whole kissing thing? Let me show you that quote that Teabing mentions…

“And the companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene. Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on her mouth.”
~ Gnostic gospel of Philip, quoted in The DaVinci Code

Well, keep in mind that kissing in the Jewish culture was a normal form of greeting. I mean, Judas kissed Jesus, and I don’t think there was anything sexual there. The Bible even says, “Greet each other with a holy kiss.” (Romans 16:16 NIV). It was a normal greeting in Jewish culture, and still is. We don’t do it here… and I’m not advocating it. I’m perfectly fine with a handshake, thank you very much. But to say that Jesus kissed Mary, that’s nothing earth-shattering.

But more importantly, we don’t actually know what the gospel of Philip said. We have one copy of the gospel of Philip… discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945… and it’s an old document that is literally filled with holes. So let me show you what it actually says… at least what we know it says…

“And the companion of the [……….] Mary Magdalene [……….] her more than [……….] the disciples [……….] kiss her [……….] on her [……….]”

That’s it. That’s all we’ve got. Everything else is conjecture… it’s guessing.
But The DaVinci Code does use one other passage. Let me read that for you…
 

Sir Leigh Teabing was still talking. “I shan’t bore you with the countless references to Jesus and Magdalene’s union. That has been explored ad nauseum by modern historians. I would, however, like to point out the following.” He motioned to another passage. “This is from the Gospel of Mary Magdalene.”
Sophie had not known a gospel existed in Magdalene’s words. She read the text:
And Peter said, “Did the Saviour really speak with a woman without our knowledge? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?”
And Levi answered, “Peter, you have always been hot-tempered. Now I see you contending against the woman like an adversary. If the Saviour made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Saviour knows her very well. That is why he loved her more than us.”
“The woman they are speaking of,” Teabing explained, “is Mary Magdalene. Peter is jealous of her.”
~ The DaVinci Code, pages 247-248 (hardcover)


Both this reference and the one from the gospel of Philip indicate that the disciples were jealous of the way that Jesus treated Mary. They couldn’t understand why Jesus seemed to prefer her. But let me ask you, if Jesus was married to Mary, wouldn’t it be obvious to Peter why Jesus preferred her? So even these Gnostic texts that Dan Brown uses don’t actually say that Jesus was married.

Oh, and by the way, it’s the gospel of Mary, not the gospel of Mary Magdalene. The text never actually says which Mary it’s talking about. There were seven Mary’s mentioned in the New Testament. Take your pick. Many believe it refers to His mother. Or maybe it’s D, none of the above. Plus, it was written early in the third century, so if Mary Magdalene wrote it in her own words as The DaVinci Code claims, she would have been about 200 years old.

So the reason I don’t believe Jesus was married is because the weight of evidence tells me that Jesus was not married. Wouldn’t be a problem if He was, but He wasn’t. There is no ancient text… biblical or otherwise… which makes that claim.

 

So Who Was Mary Magdalene?

If Mary was not the wife of Jesus, who was she really? For centuries, people believed she was a prostitute. Was she?

Was Mary a Prostitute?

Well, probably not. We don’t really know what she did, so I can’t say for sure. But it would seem that she gained that reputation in the sixth century when Pope Gregory I mentioned it in a sermon. He claimed that the sinful woman (thought to be a prostitute) that was mentioned at the end of Luke 7 was Mary Magdalene, because she’s mentioned at the start of Luke 8. But there’s no real reason to draw such a conclusion.

But The DaVinci Code claims that she was labelled a prostitute as part of a smear campaign. Well, if that’s so, then we’ve done a terrible job. Because she’s been held in very high esteem for centuries. She’s one of the most famous women of history. She’s even been named a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. Some smear campaign.

 

Was Mary intended to be the successor to Jesus?

The DaVinci Code claims that Mary was supposed to succeed Jesus as the leader of the Church. But Peter and the other disciples staged a coup. Is that true? Well, let’s find out…

Ephesians 2:19-20 (NLT)
You are members of God’s family. We are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself.

Colossians 1:18 (NLT)
Christ is the head of the church, which is his body.

And Peter said himself:

1 Peter 2:9 (NLT)
…For you are a chosen people. You are a kingdom of priests, God’s holy nation, His very own possession. This is so you can show others the goodness of God, for He called you out of the darkness into His wonderful light.

Remember, all of these verses were written after the death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Yet Jesus is still referred to as the head of the Church. He didn’t need a successor because He never ceased being the Head. As for the rest of us, we are all intended to carry on His ministry. He gave that responsibility and that authority to each one of us who follow Him.

So no, Jesus didn’t choose Mary as His successor. He didn’t choose Peter, either. He didn’t choose any ONE person. He is still the head, and we are all His body.

 

So what do we know about Mary?

Well, in your notes is a summary of everything the Bible tells us about Mary.

• Mary was one of seven with this name in the New Testament.
• Mary was from Magdala, a small city located near the Sea of Galilee. (Luke 8:1-3)
• Mary had been demon-possessed and Jesus freed her. (Luke 8:1-2)
• Mary traveled with Jesus, along with the disciples and some other women. (Luke 8:1-2)
• Mary was present at the cross with a few others. (Matthew 27:55-56)
• Mary was at the tomb with Jesus’ mother as Jesus was buried. (Matthew 27:61)
• She went with others to the tomb to anoint His body with spices. (Mark 16:1)
• Mary was the first to see Jesus after the resurrection. (John 20:10-18)

And let me add, when Mary saw Jesus alive again, she shouted out “Teacher”. Now, I’m not exactly sure of the protocol for greeting a resurrected husband, but I’m pretty sure calling him “Teacher” isn’t it. But it’s not “Honey”, it’s not “Dear”, it’s not “Sweetums”… It’s not even “Pumpkin”. It’s “Teacher.” It’s not the response of a wife… it’s the response of a deeply devoted follower.

And that’s who Mary was. She was simply a woman who had been miraculously healed by Jesus, and from that moment on she was a devoted follower of His because of her extreme gratitude for what He had done. He was her Lord, and she was His disciple.

And what became of her? Who knows? We’re not told anything else about her. We do know that persecution caused the early Christians to spread out throughout the Roman Empire. So perhaps she did end up in France. Maybe she did have a kid (with someone else). Maybe she even had a kid before she met Jesus. I don’t know. Another tradition says she moved to Ephesus, and after she died her remains were taken to Constantinople. No one really knows what happened to her.


So all of that is to say, “No, Mary was not the Holy Grail.” So the question remains, what is the Holy Grail? Is there any such thing?

 

What Is the Holy Grail?

Well, there is no Biblical reference to any specific magical Grail. There just isn’t. In fact, the first written reference we have to the grail dates back to a poem called Perceval which was written in 1170. In it, the grail was just a jewelled dish. But over the next hundred years, it became intertwined with the legends of King Arthur, and became a glamorized, mystical chalice. So what was the Grail?
 

a. A legendary dish or cup, traced to the 12th century

b. The legends identify the grail as either:

• The cup Jesus used at the Last Supper
• A cup which caught the blood of Jesus as He hung on the cross

That’s what the legends tell us. But is there a real Holy Grail? Well, my answer may surprise you: Yes. Yes, there is a Holy Grail. Take a look at this…

Matthew 26:26-28 (NLT)
As they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread and asked God’s blessing on it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take it and eat it, for this is my body.” And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which seals the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out to forgive the sins of many.”

So what’s the Grail? No, the Grail is not a dish like in the medieval legends, and it’s not a wooden cup like we see in Indiana Jones. And it’s not Mary Magdalene. So what is it? Well, Dan Brown was actually right. The Grail is not a thing, it’s a person. In fact, it’s persons. That cup Jesus picked up there contained some wine which Jesus said was symbolic of His blood which was about to be poured out. Why was it about to be poured out? For the forgiveness of sins… so that the penalty would be paid for our sins and so that in return we could receive eternal life. And what happened to that symbolic blood? His followers drank it. Just like His followers have continued to do through the centuries and like we’re about to do here this morning. You and I are the real Holy Grail!

 

c. The real Holy Grail is any follower of Jesus.

We are the beneficiaries of the spilt blood of Jesus. We are His bloodline. Not in the way that Dan Brown intended, but in a much more powerful way. And because of His blood, you and I have the hope of eternal life. And it seems to me, that’s the true Grail story.

So this morning, we’re going to finish by celebrating the Lord’s Supper together…
 

 

 

 

Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2006 SunriseOnline.ca