Long before the debut of Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code," people have speculated on Mary Magdalene's relationship to Jesus. Beliefnet recently asked two biblical scholars with opposing views to weigh the evidence and defend their conclusions about the woman from Magdala.

Bart D. Ehrman is the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina. He has published numerous books including "Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code," "Misquoting Jesus," and the recent "Peter, Paul, and Mary Magadalene."

Dr. Barbara Thiering, a retired academic, is the author of "Jesus the Man" (1992), published in the U.S. as "Jesus and the Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls."

    Round 1    Round 2
Bart Ehrman  Bart Ehrman
Barbara Thiering Barbara Thiering

From: Bart Ehrman
To: Barbara Thiering
Date: May 11, 2006

Dear Dr. Thiering,

As you know, most scholars who study the New Testament and early Christianity are persuaded that Jesus was single and celibate, like the Essenes before his day (and afterwards) and like the Apostle Paul. In particular, there are compelling reasons for thinking that Jesus was not married to Mary of Magdala.

Because I know you disagree, I would be interested in your answers to these questions:

(1) If Jesus was married to Mary, why is there not a single reference to the marriage in any source in the ancient world? You can list all of the gospels we know besides the canonical four--the Gospels of Peter, Thomas, Philip, Mary, the Nazareans, the Ebionites, the Hebrews, and so on.  In none of these gospels is there a solitary reference to Jesus' marriage to Mary.  Plus, it's not just  the Gospels. There is no reference to Jesus and Mary being married in any Christian (or non-Christian, for that matter) writing of any kind from the ancient world. Modern historians, of course, can only argue about historical probability based on surviving evidence.  But what evidence is there for Jesus and Mary being married? There's not a single reference to it in any historical source.

(2) On a related point, if Mary was important in Jesus' earthly life (for example, during his public ministry prior to his death), why do the two have almost no contact with each other in the Gospels? To the surprise of many people who owe their knowledge of Jesus more to Hollywood than to the New Testament, Mary is scarcely ever mentioned in Jesus' company in the four Gospels of the New Testament--our earliest and best sources for knowing about the historical Jesus. In these sources, our only first-century records of Jesus' life, how often is Mary associated with Jesus during his public ministry? Once. And only in the company of other women.

We are told in Luke 8:1-3 (this is the one and only reference to Mary in connection with Jesus before his crucifixion) that Mary, Joanna, Susanna, and a group of other women all accompanied Jesus and the Twelve on their itinerant preaching ministry in Galilee, and were provided with the funds they needed. We are also told in Luke that Mary is the one who had seven demons cast out from her, but we are not told that Jesus was the one who performed the exorcism. If Mary was married to Jesus, wouldn't she figure more prominently in the stories? Wouldn't she be named throughout his public ministry? At least sometimes? Or a few times? As it is, she is no more prominent than, say, Joanna. And far less prominent than Mary of Bethany (a different woman from the Judean town of Bethany; the other Mary comes from the Galilean town of Magdala) or Martha, Mary of Bethany's sister.

(3) If Mary was married to Jesus, why is she identified the way she is, as Mary of Magdala? All of the Marys of the New Testament are given some kind of qualifying description to differentiate them from one another. Mary was such a common name and peasants didn't have last names. We have Mary "the mother of Jesus," Mary "who came from Bethany," and Mary "who came from Magdala," for example. Each Mary is identified by the distinguishing feature that makes her stand out from the others. Now, if this particular Mary was in fact married to Jesus as his lifelong spouse and lover, couldn't you imagine some way to identify her more distinctively from the others, other than the fact that she came from a fishing village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee?