- Was Jesus Married?
- Who was Mary Magdalene?
- What is Gnosticism?
- Were there other gospels not included in the Christian Bible?
- Why were these gospels not included?
- What is the feminine divine in Christianity?
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.
- On Beliefnet: Was Jesus Married?
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.
- On Beliefnet: Magdalene Art: An Audio Slide Show
- On Beliefnet: A Mary Quite Contrary
- On Beliefnet: Letting Mary Magdalene Speak
- On Beliefnet: Full Mary Magdalene Features
- Book: Karen L. King, "The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle"
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.
- On Beliefnet: The Christianity Battles
- Book: "The Beliefnet Guide to Gnosticism and Other Vanished Christianities"
- Book: Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels
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.
- On Beliefnet: What would Christianity be like if gnostic texts had made it into the Bible?
- On Beliefnet: What are the gnostic gospels?
- Book: Robert J. Miller, ed. "The Complete Gospels"
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).
- On Beliefnet: Gnostic Texts vs. the New Testament
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.
- On Beliefnet: God as Woman
- Book: Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, ed. "Searching the Scriptures: A Feminist Commentary"