2016-06-30
Click on a question to go directly to the answer:  
Was Jesus Married?
 
There is no evidence to prove that Jesus was married. There is also no evidence to prove that he was not married. That has not stopped some scholars from citing various texts as suggesting that Jesus was, in fact, husband to Mary Magdalene, a claim fundamental to the "Da Vinci Code" story. But in truth, this textual evidence is ambiguous at best.
 
The New Testament does not mention Jesus having a wife, and even in other ancient writings from that time--where Mary Magdalene is often described as having a particularly close relationship with Jesus--she is never called Jesus’ wife. An argument from silence, however, is not proof that he was unmarried. 
 
Many have argued that Jesus must have been married, since this was the norm for Jewish men in his time. Additionally, in the Gospel of Mary, a second-century text telling of Jesus’ post-resurrection dialogues with the apostles, Jesus’ disciples ask Mary Magdalene, “Sister, we know you were greatly loved by the Savior, as no other woman. Therefore tell us those words of the Savior which you know but which we haven’t heard.”  Later in the text, Peter challenges Mary’s teaching, and is rebuked by Levi, “If the Savior considered her to be worthy, who are you to disregard her? For he knew her completely and loved her steadfastly.” These lines could imply that Jesus and Mary had an intimate romantic relationship. However, the context of this dialogue relates to apostleship; at issue is who is worthy of going out and spreading the gospel, and whether or not a woman could or should fill that role. Levi insists that Mary was not only a disciple, but the best one. There is no indication that the love between Jesus and Mary was a romantic love.  
 
Suggested Reading
Who Was Mary Magdalene?
 
According to the Gospel of Luke (8:1-3), Mary Magdalene was one of the women who accompanied Jesus and his disciples. She helped to support them financially, and was cured of evil spirits. She was present at Jesus' crucifixion, and together with other women, was the first to discover the empty tomb. According to the Gospels of Matthew and John, Mary Magdalene was the first to encounter the raised Christ (Matthew 28:9-10; John 20:11-18). 
 
Although Mary is often thought of as a repentant prostitute, no early Christian text even hints as such an identity. It was not until the fifth century that Pope Gregory argued that the unnamed adulteress in John 8 was Mary Magdalene. However, there is no indication anywhere in the New Testament, or among Christians before Pope Gregory, that Mary was called a sinner.
 
According to early Christian texts, Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus’ disciples--even the one who was the closest to him. Various ancient tests describe her as Jesus’ companion or a disciple. But the Gospel of Thomas, a text containing sayings attributed to Jesus, suggests that Mary will only have a place in the Kingdom as a man: “Simon Peter said to them, "Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of Life." Jesus said, ‘I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven’.”
 
In Pistis Sophia, a text in which Jesus reveals earthly and heavenly mysteries to his disciples, Mary Magdalene has access to secret knowledge about Christ, and this access troubles a jealous Peter in the Gospel of Mary.However, that book ends with a rebuke to Peter, and an appreciation for the source of knowledge about Jesus’ teachings, whether that source be a man or a woman. 
 
Although many of these non-canonical texts were later denounced as heretical, it is clear that Mary Magdalene was a major figure for some early Christians, though there's no evidence for the type of formalized Mary-focused cult, complete with its own rituals, that  Dan Brown writes of in "Da Vinci." Like most major figures (particularly women) her story was used by later Christians in different ways to support competing values, particularly the issue of women’s authority.

Suggested Reading

What Is Gnosticism?
 
Gnosticism is a term used by modern scholars to describe a variety of practices deemed by some early Christian leaders to be heretical. The Greek term gnosis means knowledge, but the term “Gnosticism” is employed most often to refer to false knowledge. According to most definitions, Gnostics believed that the creator god of the Hebrew Bible was an evil and ignorant power, and not the true God. A savior (Jesus) came into this world in order to teach people true knowledge (gnosis) about the nature of the created and uncreated worlds. Generally, Gnostics are understood to reject Hebrew Scripture, to embrace a dualistic theology in which there are good and evil powers controlling the world. They are also thought to have engaged in either ascetic or libertine practices.
 
Despite this negative judgment, it is important to keep in mind that ancient people who might fall under the category of “gnostic” would not have thought of themselves as deviant or in any way heretical. Early Christian “heresiologists” (Christians who wrote treatises denouncing beliefs and practices that they considered heretical) argued that gnostics (among others) imported ideas from the outside culture which poisoned the pure tradition of Christian faith stemming from Jesus. 
 
However, evidence shows that a concept of Christian orthodoxy was never present in the earliest Christian centuries. Instead, after Jesus’ death, there were many groups of Christians, each trying to interpret the meaning of his life and death, and those groups often differed radically. Calling someone “Gnostic” was a way for one Christian thinker to denounce another. 
 
In 1945 a trove of documents called the Nag Hammadi Codex was discovered in Egypt. This provided, for the first time, writings by groups that would have been condemned as heretical (though they're not, as "The Da Vinci Code" claims, the oldest Christian sources we have). These documents, including The Apocryphon of John, The Gospel of Truth, and The Gospel of Mary, show theological and ethical ideas at odds with the way the heresiologists described the gnostics. Many contemporary scholars are rethinking the category of “Gnosticism” in the light of this valuable new material.  
 
Suggested Reading

Were There Gospels Aside From the Four in the Christian Bible?
 
Yes. The word gospel means “good news.” In the years following Jesus' death, stories about his teachings--and the meaning of his life and death--were transmitted orally. At some point, different members of the early Christian Church began writing down their versions of these stories and teachings, and it was not until the middle of the second century that we hear of disputes over which gospels should be accepted as authoritative. Even then, it took another few centuries before the Church decided what would be in the official list (canon) of the New Testament. 
 
The non-canonical gospels provide a window into the diversity of early Christian belief and practice, and show that there was a level of variety among early Christians of which many contemporary people are unaware.
 
Here are some of the gospels that did not make it into that canon:
 
"The Gospel of Thomas": This gospel is mostly a list of sayings attributed to Jesus. It has almost no narrative. The text claims that these secret sayings of Jesus were recorded by a man named Didymos Judas Thomas. While some of the sayings in this gospel are also found in the canonical gospels, others are unique. For example: “Jesus said: Become passers-by.” (Gospel of Thomas 42). In general, this gospel shows Jesus urging his disciples to remove themselves from the world and to seek wisdom: “Jesus said: Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find” (Gospel of Thomas 2).
 
"The Gospel of Mary": This gospel begins by telling of a resurrected Jesus, who is preaching to the apostles. His teaching emphasizes inner, spiritual knowledge. Jesus encourages his disciples not to get mired in the physical passions. After the preaching is finished, an argument ensues between Peter and Mary Magdalene over who is the best disciple, and who understood most about Jesus’ teaching.
 
"The Infancy Gospel of James": This text contains the story of the miraculous birth and childhood of Mary, the mother of Jesus. According to this gospel, Mary was raised in the Jerusalem Temple. Upon reaching puberty, she is sent to live with Joseph, who refuses to marry her, but agrees to be her guardian. The story continues with Jesus’ conception and birth, following the basic narrative in the Gospel of Matthew, with a few differences.
 
Suggested Reading


Why Were Only Four Gospels Included in the Christian Bible?

In the second century C.E., a Christian teacher named Marcion argued that only Mark and some of Paul’s letters truly represented Jesus’ teachings. For Marcion, all other versions of the Gospel were too Jewish; he did not believe that any part of the Jewish Bible should be considered Holy Scripture. Other Church leaders argued that not one, but four gospels were to be considered Holy Scripture--the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John--and Marcion was declared a heretic.
 
Over the next few centuries, culminating with the Council of Nicea in the fourth century, Church leaders worked on establishing “orthodox” Christianity. The texts included in the New Testament reflect what they believed to be orthodox, reflecting Jesus’ true teachings. Even concerning the four gospels that we consider canonical today, Church leader engaged in heated debates about which to include in the Bible, and eventually some consensus formed around the four. Until the fourth century, however, it is clear that different Christian communities accepted as authoritative texts which would later be declared heretical or apocryphal (outside the canon).

Suggested Reading 

What Is the Feminine Divine in Christianity? 
The feminine divine is, as the terms implies, the idea of God in feminine terms. For example, in the Apocryphon of John, a text found in the Nag Hammadi Codex, God speaks to John, the brother of James, saying, “I am the One who is with you always, I am the Father, I am the Mother, I am the Son.” Another Nag Hammadi text describes the Spirit as “Mother of many,” and an even more radical text records, “I am the first and the last, I am the honored one and the scorned one, I am the whore and the holy one, I am the wife and the virgin, I am the mother and the daughter....”
 
While these texts were not included in the New Testament, and many were rejected as heretical, they show that some Christians in the first centuries did not see a problem speaking of God in feminine terms.
     
Many people are accustomed to thinking of God as a male figure, referring to God as He, Father, Master, or King. However, many Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theologians would point out that any theology in which God is not physical cannot insist on limiting God to a single gender. God is found to be "gendered" in the Bible partly because Greek and Hebrew are both gendered languages. 
 
While many other religions freely imagine God as female, the monotheistic religions tend to limit such descriptions. Additionally, many ancient writers probably had difficulty imagining the power of God in the possession of anyone but a male figure. However, some ancient biblical writers did imagine the divine as feminine. For example, Isaiah 66 describes God as a woman in childbirth and then as a nursing mother. Thus the feminine divine is already present in the Hebrew Bible. 
                             
In the biblical Book of Proverbs, the concept of Wisdom (hokhma, a feminine noun) is personified as a woman (chapters 7-9). That book describes Wisdom as a power which pre-existed the world (3:19-20), and through which God created the world. For Christians, the feminine divine is present in the role of Sophia, the (feminine) Greek term for Wisdom. According to these texts, truth comes into the world through a combination of the male God and the female Sophia.
 
Contrary to Dan Brown's portrayal, there is no evidence that the feminine divine was intentionally snuffed out by early Church leaders, as hints of this aspect of the divine remain in Christian texts.   In a generally patriarchal society, it was not difficult for proponents of a patriarchal church to have their way as orthodoxy developed--but there's no evidence of the sort of intentional plot depicted in "The Da Vinci Code," in which a particular group of leaders conspired to oust Christians who wanted a greater role for women and the feminine divine.
     
Suggested Reading