A significant piece of the lost gospels series I’m working is controversial. I argue in favor of the theory that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus. In addition, I posit that Mark, the writer of the earliest gospel that appears in the New Testament, was their son. It’s not as outlandish an argument as you might think. There is sufficient evidence in the scriptures to connect Mary to Jesus as well as Mary to Mark and Mark to Jesus.
Mary appears often in the first four gospels. Perhaps her most dramatic appearance is the one attested to in John 12:3 (and also mentioned in Mark 14:1-9 and Matthew 26:6-13). According to these accounts, while Jesus was reclining or laying back in either a chair or perhaps even a sofa beside a table, Mary anointed Jesus by pouring expensive oil on his head . . . but also according to the account in John 12:3, she went even further. She anointed his feet . . . and wiped the nard off his feet with his hair.
The significance of this may not be readily apparent until you unpack the scenario and think about it. Aside from one sick woman who sneaks up and grasps Jesus’ cloak (and is healed in the process) no other woman touches Jesus except for the sinful woman in the Pharisee’s house, who also washes Jesus feet with oil. See Luke 7:36-50. Jesus of course uses the sinful woman’s act of love as an opportunity to teach of forgiveness as well as the ignobility of judging others, and then he tells the sinful woman to go in peace. In the very next chapter, we hear of Mary Magdalene, as well as several other women who walk and talk with the Savior–which again indicates that at a very minimum, Mary was some sort of female disciple or close follower and friend of the Savior. See Luke 8:1-4.
The anointing scene involving Mary is nonetheless unique and beautiful. In the New Testament, Jesus only touches other women to heal them . . . but here we have this woman who approaches him while he’s reclining at a table, and she does something that really only an intimate friend or family member would do (or a woman incredibly desperate for redemption and forgiveness would do)—and she also does a holy or sacred act (which for certain is what anointing is). And she does all of this in a society where women simply don’t do such things . . . and note that none of the disciples object to how she touches him (whereas the owner of the house where the sinful woman touches Jesus does object, and is schooled on the real meaning of love and forgiveness). The only objection uttered by the disciples to Mary’s anointing goes to the issue of her wasting money by pouring out the whole expensive jar of nard.
The other thing to note is Jesus’ strong reaction to the indignation of those present (again, they object to the wasting of money, not to her laying hands on his head and feet). Jesus tells them to leave Mary alone and goes on to say:
She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. Mark 14:6-9.
Think about it: why was this woman the one who anointed Jesus before he died? Why does he speak of her so forcefully and fondly? If there was someone closer to him than Mary, then why didn’t they do the anointing?
These questions really haven’t been asked! The fact is this: it simply wouldn’t have been appropriate for anyone other than the wife of the Savior to do this very intimate act. If Mary wasn’t his wife, then his brother James or his mother (the other Mary) or perhaps his Uncle Joseph of Arithmea or even the beloved apostle John or even the outspoken apostle Peter would have been more obvious choices . . . unless of course the theory that Mary was his beloved is correct.
Speaking of beloved, who else but a wife would lay before the tomb of the beautiful soul who was the Savior and sit vigil with him after he died? Perhaps a mother or a sister or a brother . . . but that’s it. After all, Mary was not a single woman (as we will discuss later)—she had a son for certain (as well as a daughter named Sarah). So it would have been totally inappropriate, unusual, unlikely, and incomprehensible for Mary to touch the Savior or sit by his grave if she were simply a single mother of two. Moreover, none of the other disciples either touched Jeuss or came to watch over the dead Savior’s tomb—which is an obvious clue as to the true nature of Mary.
And here’s another thing that gets passed over, and that’s in part because the gospels are incomplete (we know this because of the Nag Hammadi dig): when Jesus does rise, he talks to Mary. He has a long discussion with her, the woman some commentators have called the Thirteenth Apostle . . . and once he speaks with her, he urges her to share his message with the other apostles. In other words, Jesus trusts his last words with a woman . . . how can the Savior trust this message with a woman who is not trustworthy? The answer is blindingly obvious, but most biblical commentators have been limited by their gender and by their prejudice, as well as by their mistaken expectation that a holy man cannot take a wife.
Jesus never said a man cannot marry or be in love while also serving God. Indeed, he speaks against adultery, but never against love . . . and while he says that a disciple must be willing to leave his family, he never dismisses Mary—indeed, he allows her to anoint him for death, he allows her to stand by his side at his Crucifixion, and he gives her an important message to deliver to the other disciples once he rises from the grave. Is this radical? Was this radical at the time the Savior lived?
The answer is NO! And at the time, rabbis could in fact marry. The Essene monks who taught Jesus often married . . . so did the Sadducee and Pharisee rabbis at the time. And so too did Jesus.
We do know more about Mary from the gospels found in Nag Hammadi. We know from the Gospel of Phillip that Mary and Jesus often kissed. And we know from the fragments of Mary’s lost gospel that she received and then disseminated a very complex piece of teaching, full of symbolism and mystical elements, and replete with deep musings on the nature of sin, the process of dying, and the afterworld, that Jesus trusted Mary with gnostic or real and deep teachings. Mary, in other words, was close to Jesus—close enough to receive some of his final words (before he returned to speak to the other disciples). We also know, from the gospel of Mary, that several apostles, including Peter, discounted Mary’s authority. So it should be no surprise that her influence and role has been steadily attacked over the years since the Savior left the earth for good.
Please tune in later this week for the second part in the discussion that explores the link between Mary and Mark and Jesus and Mark.