Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Cracking the Code

Since everyone's reading it, or read it, and many are asking me about it, and it does somehow concern the historical Jesus and my field of studies, I suppose I could spare a few random thoughts on Cracking the Da Vinci Code... Plus, I'm giving a lecture at Somerset College on it, so if you're kind enough to read this and offer comments that would be great!

Code One: Who was Mary?
We know that Mary Magdalene was a faithful disciple, a witness to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. There is no evidence to suggest she was a prostitute. Some later texts outside the New Testament suggest that she was privileged to receive revelation from Jesus [The Gospel of Mary]. There is no evidence to suggest she was married to Jesus. Nothing in the New Testament or later Christian writings ever state this, or even suggest it. But there is a particular text that is used in support for this theory. Let’s examine a piece from The Gospel of Philip, 59:
The wisdom which (humans) call barren is herself the Mother of the Angels. And the Consort of the [...] is Mariam the Magdalene. The [...] Mariam more than [...] Disciples, [...] kissed her often on her [...]. The other [...] saw his love for Mariam, they say to him: Why do thou love [...] more than all of us? The Savior replied, he says to them: Why do I not love you as her?
The brackets here indicate the broken sections of our manuscript. So, you can see the historian or textual critic is set the impossible task of trying to guess what was written in between those brackets. Wesley Isenberg has suggested that the date of the gospel be around 350 C.E.[Isenberg, W. W., and Layton, B. “The Gospel of Philip: Introduction, Translation, Coptic Text, and Notes” in Nag Hammadi Codex II,2–7, ed. B. Layton. NHS. Leiden.] He goes on to suggest that:

Gos. Phil. is not like one of the NT Gospels. It is a compilation of statements in a variety of literary types: parable, paraenesis, narrative dialogue, dominical saying, aphorism, and analogy, along with samples of biblical exegesis, dogma, and polemics. These statements, however, are not placed into a narrative framework but are arranged in a sequence that is neither strictly topical nor predictable. Efforts to analyze the scheme of arrangement are hampered by inconvenient lacunae in the ms.[Isenberg, W. “Philip, the Gospel of” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary ed. Freedman, David Noel, [Doubleday, 1992]]

So trying to use this text to suggest that Jesus and Mary were in fact married seems to be stretching the imagination into the realms of pure illusion. The text can only be constructed via guess work and even the constructions given don't prove or even suggest that Jesus was married. They merely hypothetically suggest that Jesus on a particular occassion showed Mary affection. Something the early Church was prone to do [Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thess 5:26; 1 Pet 5:14].

Another text used in support for Brown’s illustrious theory is that of the Gospel of Mary. The text is dated to the late second century and is also plagued with the problem of missing fragments. Pheme Perkins explains that:

What remains of Gospel of Mary consists of the ending of two separate revelations held together by a frame story about the gathering of the apostles after Jesus’ ascent to the heavens. The first revelation is a dialogue between the risen Jesus and his disciples. The second is Mary’s report of a private vision and its interpretation that the Lord had granted her… Instead of fulfilling the commission, the disciples despair over the suffering that surely awaits them. At this point, Mary reminds them of the Lord’s grace and protection. She alludes to their restoration to their true gnostic identity, “he has prepared us and made us into men” (cf. Gos. Thom. 114; and “put on the perfect man,” Gos. Phil. 75: 20–35). Peter requests that Mary recount a revelation that she had had from the Lord which was unknown to the apostles.[Perkins, Pheme “Mary, the Gospel of” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary ed. Freedman, David Noel, [Doubleday, 1992]]

From the various verses in The Gospel of Mary it seems impossible to try and use this as evidence to suppose that Mary was married to Jesus. The pericope in question, 17:10-18:21, tells us nothing that even remotely suggests that they were engaged in any activity or action that suggests sexual union or anything about them being married. So the argument being constructed here is dubious.
For another excellent portrait of Mary Magdalene, see Mary, Mary Extraordinary.
The next code will be up soon...

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