Before the "Left Behind" series catapulted to the top of the bestseller list, the idea that Christians could be lifted bodily into the clouds during the Rapture was an idea that only obscure theologians studied. These days, of course, lots of people believe that's what will happen the day the world ends.

Now a new novel is forcing people to confront another biblical puzzle. The DaVinci Code, a thriller by Dan Brown, tells the story of a Harvard professor summoned to the Louvre Museum after a murder there to examine cryptic symbols relating to DaVinci's work. During the course of his investigation, he uncovers an ancient secret: the claim that Mary Magdalene represents the divine feminine, and that she and Jesus had a sexual relationship.

Is it possible Jesus had this kind of relationship with her or that they were, as some suggest, married?

Karen Leigh King, a Harvard professor who is the world's leading authority on early Christian texts about Mary Magdalene, gives "The DaVinci Code" a thumbs-up--but only as fiction. ("It's a good read but historically way off.")

"The book certainly fits our times.. Since the 1960s there has been a hostility toward traditions in Christianity that are anti-sexuality," says King, adding that the novel also plays to interest in women's issues.

But, she says: "there's no historical information whatsoever that either of them was married, let alone to each other. When there's an argument from silence, you can jump either way. On one hand, why not? Why shouldn't they have sex? On the other hand, why every time you put a man and woman together do they have to have sex?"

The possibility of Jesus' marriage fascinates people; biblical scholars say they are often asked by audiences and readers about it. In general, only the most liberal scholars even bother to entertain the question.

Here is what we can say about Jesus' sex life:

  • Most mainstream biblical scholars do not believe Jesus was married to anyone, because the Gospels don't mention it.
  • A few biblical scholars argue it's likely Jesus was married--even though the Bible doesn't mention it-because Jewish men at that time nearly always married. These scholars tend not to care one way or another whether his wife was Mary Magdalene.
  • A handful of scholars argue that Jesus was married, probably to Mary Magdalene, in order to preserve a political dynasty and to continue a bloodline.

    Conservative biblical scholars think the entire question is silly, since the notion simply isn't in the Bible. "Mary Magdalene was one of several women who contributed to Jesus' ministry and supported it," says Darrell Bock, New Testament professor at Dallas Theological Seminary.
  • And that's it.

    Even liberal biblical scholars don't really think Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a sexual relationship-though they don't entirely dismiss it, either. Marcus Borg, a professor of religion and culture at Oregon State University, for instance, had this to say about the possibility of Jesus and Mary Magdalene as sex partners: "It wouldn't bother me if he had a non-married sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene. In some way I wish he was married because it would shake up our ideas about Jesus and sexuality."

    According to the New Testament: The Gospels say Mary Magdalene was a follower of Jesus and that, according to Luke 8, she supported him out of her own means, meaning that she was probably wealthy. She was the first, or among the first, to discover the empty tomb. (Mark 16:9 says, "Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons.") After the Resurrection, Jesus commissioned her to go to the other apostles with the news. Thus, she has been known traditionally as the "apostle to the apostles."

    But since the earliest decades after Jesus' death, a parallel lore flourished, particularly in southern France, where in 1208 the people were condemed to death by Pope Innocent III for believing that Mary Magdalene was the "grail mother." In the parallel story, Jesus married Mary Magdalene, and she was pregnant with his child when he was crucified at Qumran, not Golgotha as it is usually thought. Mary delivered a child, and then she and the baby were spirited to France, where she died. This secret teaching-partially described in "The DaVinci Code"--is said to have been preserved by the Knights Templar, a monastic military order formed at the end of the First Crusade.