Excerpted from "The Woman with the Alabaster Jar" with permission of Bear & Co.

The Fourth Gospel says very clearly that the woman who anointed Jesus at Bethany was Mary, the sister of Lazarus. Mary Magdalen's name is not mentioned in connection with the anointing scene, but it is she who accompanies Jesus to Calvary in the Gospels, standing near the cross; and it is she who goes at dawn on Easter morning to finish the anointing for burial that she began several days before. Why was Mary of Bethany called "the Magdalen"? Why was she forced to flee Jerusalem? And what became of the sacred bloodline she carried with her?

I have come to suspect that Jesus had a secret dynastic marriage with Mary of Bethany and that she was a daughter of the tribe of Benjamin, whose ancestral heritage was the land surrounding the Holy City of David, the city Jerusalem. A dynastic marriage between Jesus and a royal daughter of the Benjamites would have been perceived as a source of healing to the people of Israel during their time of misery as an occupied nation.

Israel's first anointed King Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin, and his daughter Michol was the wife of King David. Throughout the history of the tribes of Israel, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin were the closest and most loyal of allies. Their destinies were intertwined. A dynastic marriage between a Benjamite heiress to the lands surrounding the Holy City and the messianic Son of David would have appealed to the fundamentalist Zealot faction of the Jewish nation. It would have been seen as a sign of hope and blessing during Israel's darkest hour.

In the novel King Jesus (1946), Robert Graves, the twentieth-century mythographer, suggests that Jesus' lineage and marriage were concealed from all but a select circle of royalist leaders. To protect the royal bloodline, this marriage would have been kept secret from the Romans and the Herodian tetrarchs, and after the crucifixion of Jesus, the protection of his wife and family would have been a sacred trust for those few who knew their identity. All reference to the marriage of Jesus would have been deliberately obscured, edited, or eradicated. Yet the pregnant wife of the anointed Son of David would have been the bearer of the hope of Israel--the bearer of the Sangraal, the royal bloodline.

It is probable that the original references to Mary Magdalen in the oral tradition, the "pericopes" of the New Testament, were misunderstood before they were ever committed to writing. I suspect that the epithet "Magdaleri" was meant to be an allusion to the "Magdaleder" found in Micah, the promise of the restoration of Sion following her exile. Perhaps the earliest verbal references attaching the epithet "Magdala" to Mary of Bethany's name had nothing to do with an obscure town in Galilee, as is suggested, but were deliberate references to these lines in Micah, to the "watchtower" or "stronghold" of the Daughter of Sion who was forced into political exile.

The place name Magdal-eder literally means "tower of the flock," in the sense of a high place used by a shepherd as a vantage point from which to watch over his sheep. In Hebrew, the epithet Magdala literally means "tower" or "elevated, great, magnificent.."2 This meaning has particular relevance if the Mary so named was in fact the wife of the Messiah. It would have been the Hebrew equivalent of calling her "Mary the Great," while at the same time referring to the prophesied return of dominion to "the daughter of Jerusalem" (Mic. 4:8).

In Old French legend, the exiled "Magdal-eder," the refugee Mary who seeks asylum on the southern coast of France, is Mary of Bethany, the Magdalen. The early French legend records that Mary "Magdalen," traveling with Martha and Lazarus of Bethany, landed in a boat on the coast of Provence in France.

Other legends credit Joseph of Arimathea as being the custodian of the Sangraal, which I have suggested may be the royal bloodline of Israel rather than a literal chalice. The vessel that contained this bloodline, the archetypal chalice of medieval myth, must have been the wife of the anointed King Jesus.

The image of Jesus that emerges in our story is that of a charismatic leader who embodies the roles of prophet, healer, and Messiah-King, a leader who was executed by the Roman Army of Occupation and whose wife and bloodline were secretly taken from Israel by his loyal friends and transplanted in Western Europe to await the fullness of time and the culmination of prophecy. The friends of Jesus who believed so fervently that he was the Messiah, the Anointed of God, would have perceived the preservation of his family as a sacred duty. The vessel, the chalice that embodied the promises of the Millennium the "Sangraal" of medieval legend, was, I have come to believe, Mary Magdalen.

Under the conditions of the Roman occupation of Israel, the Holy Family would have been kept secret and protected at all costs by the royalist faction in Palestine. It seems obvious that after the crucifixion of Jesus, Mary Magdalen was no longer in Jerusalem. there is no mention of Mary, Martha, or Lazarus in the Book of Acts or in Paul's letters. In any case, it is unlikely that Mary would ever have been identified as the widow of Jesus. The danger would have been too great. It seems more likely that these special friends of Jesus were no longer part of the community in Jerusalem at the time Paul's letters were written (C.E. 51-63), but their departure is unexplained. If they had been aprt of that community following the Ascension of Jesus, their names might have been mentioned in the later New Testament works that were declared canonical.

Instead, post-Ascension references to Mary Magdalen occur only in the Gnostic Gospels (of which ancient Coptic scrolls were found in Nag Hammadi in 1945 and in other sites in Egypt), texts that confirm that Mary Magdalen was an intimate companion of Jesus. The Gospel of Philip says: "There were three who walked with the Lord at all times: Mary his mother, her sister, and Magdalen, the one who is called his companion." Mary Magdalen is described in this Gnostic gospel found at Nag Hammadi as having aroused the jealousy of the Apostles because she was the close companion or "consort" of the Lord, who often kissed her on the mouth.

It is clear from the four canonical Gospels that Mary Magdalen enjoyed special precedence in the community of believers, since she was the first person to see and speak to Jesus on Easter Sunday, having hurried to his tomb at first light to perform embalming rites for his dead body. There are seven lists in the four Gospels that name the women who accompanied Jesus. In six of the seven, the name of Mary Magdalen is given first--ahead of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and ahead of the other women mentioned. The Gospel writers, beginning with Mark, are most likely reflecting the status of the Magdalen in the Christian community--that of First Lady.

It has been the consensus of Christians for nearly two thousand years that [Jesus] was no mere magician. He was an earthen vessel filled with the Spirit of God. And it was this powerful charisma that so inevitably led to his crucifixion as a political incendiary and to the desperate flight of his immediate family from Jerusalem.

What does legend say about the refugee Holy Family? Scripture, of course, in the New Testament Gospel of Matthew, reports that a "Holy Family" fled to Egypt to avoid having its child murdered by King Herod, who was worried about his claim to the throne of Israel. Joseph, "the husband of Mary," was told in a dream to take Mary and Jesus and flee into Egypt (Matt. 2:13). The widely held belief of many modern biblical scholars is that this is "mythology," used by the author of Matthew's gospel to fulfill the word of the Prophet: "out of Egypt I called my son" (Hosea ll).

The "fossil of truth" in this story is the strong tradition of danger to the royal bloodline of Judah. An apocryphal gospel is the source of the tradition that Saint Joseph's staff sprouted as a sign from God that he was chosen to be the husband of Mary and the earthly father of her child. But the "flowering staff," which is shown in Saint Joseph's hand in Catholic churches worldwide, also serves to remind us that Joseph was the custodian of the "shoot," understood to be Jesus himself based on the prophecy of Isaiah: "A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his root a bud shall blossom" (Isaiah ll:1).

But tradition derived from an Old French legend from the Mediterranean coast tells us that another Joseph, Joseph of Arimathea, was the custodian of the "Sangraal" and that the child on the boat was Egyptian, which means quite literally "born in Egypt." It seems likely that after the crucifixion of Jesus, Mary the Magdalen found it necessary to flee for the sake of her unborn child to the nearest refuge. The influential friend of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, could very well have been her protector.

If our theory is correct, the child actually was born in Egypt. Egypt was the traditional place of asylum for Jews whose safety was threatened in Israel; Alexandria was easily reached from Judea and contained well-established Jewish communities at the time of Jesus. In all probability, the emergency refuge of Mary Magdalen and Joseph of Arimathea was Egypt. And later--years later--they left Alexandria and sought an even safer haven on the coast of France.

Scholars of archaeology and linguistics have found that place names and legends of an area contain "fossils" from that area's remote past. The truth may be embellished by changes, and stories may suffer abridgment through the years of telling, but traces of the truth remain in fossil form, buried in the names of people and places.

In the town of Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in France, there is a festival every May 23 to 25 at a shrine in honor of Saint Sarah the Egyptian, also called Sara Kali, the "Black Queen." Close scrutiny reveals that this festival, which originated in the Middle Ages, is in honor of an "Egyptian" child who accompanied Mary Magdalen, Martha, and Lazarus, arriving with them in a small boat that came ashore at this location in approximately 42 C.E. The people seem to have assumed that the child, being "Egyptian," was dark-skinned and, by further interpolation, that she must have been the servant of the family from Bethany, since no other reasonable explanation could be found for her presence.

The name Sarah means "queen" or "princess" in Hebrew. This Sarah is further characterized in local legends as "young," no more than a child. So we have, in a tiny coastal town in France, a yearly festival in honor of a young, dark-skinned girl child called Sarah. The fossil in this legend is that the child is called "princess" in Hebrew.

A child of Jesus, born after Mary's flight to Alexandria, would have been about twelve years of age at the time of the voyage to Gaul recorded in the legend. She, like the princes of David's line, is symbolically black, "unrecognized in the streets" (Lam. 4:8). The Magdalen was herself the "Sangraal," in the sense that she was the "chalice," or vessel, that once carried the royal bloodline in utero.

The symbolic blackness of the Bride in Canticles and the Davidic princes of Lamentations is extended to this hidden Mary and her child. It appears that the festival of the Black Princess, Sara Kali, is in honor of this same symbolically black child. It is likely that those in later centuries who knew this legend and the identity of the Magdalen as the wife of Jesus equated her with the black bride from Canticles. She was the Sister-Bride and the Beloved. Her "blackness" would have been symbolic of her hidden state; she was the unknown queen--unacknowledged, repudiated, and vilified by the church through the centuries in an attempt to deny the legitimate bloodline and to maintain its own doctrines of the divinity and celibacy of Jesus.

Her blackness is also a direct reference to the deposed Davidic princes of Jerusalem: "Brighter than snow were her princes, whiter than milk . . . now their appearance is blacker than soot, they are unrecognized on the streets" (Lam. 4:8).

Fossils of truth remain buried in our symbols, our proper names of persons and places, our rituals and folk tales. This understood, it is plausible that the flight into Egypt was taken by the "other Joseph," Joseph of Arimathea, and the "other Mary," Mary Magdalen, to protect the unborn child of Jesus from the Romans and the sons of Herod after the crucifixion. The discrepancies in the story and the obvious generation gap can easily be understood in light of the danger to the bloodline--which required the utmost secrecy as to their whereabouts--and in light of the time that elapsed before the story was committed to writing. This seems to be another case of a myth being formed because the truth was too dangerous to be told.

In summary, the two royal refugees from Israel, mother and daughter, might logically be represented in early European art as a dark-skinned mother and child, the hidden ones. The Black Madonnas of the early shrines in Europe (fifth to twelfth centuries) might then have been venerated as symbolic of this other Mary and her child, the Sangraal, which Joseph of Arimathea brought in safety to the coast of France. The symbol for a male of the royal house of David would be a flowering or budding staff, but the symbol for a woman would be the chalice--a cup or vessel contianing the royal blood of Jesus. And that is exactly what the Holy Grail is said to have been!

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