Outside France, historians and theologians for many years have debated if Jesus was married-to Mary Magdalene or to someone else. In 1970, for instance, a Presbyterian minister and scholar named William E. Phipps wrote a controversial book called Was Jesus Married? His conclusion is "yes," because the vast majority of Jewish males of Jesus' era married.

In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a rash of Jesus books and movies about Jesus, including Jesus Christ, Superstar, which made the assumption that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a sexual relationship. More famously, Martin Scorsese's 1988 movie The Last Temptation of Christ includes a sex scene between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

But serious inquiry into Jesus' marital state-and more specifically into his relationship with Mary Magdalene-got a huge boost from the discovery of what is called the Berlin Codex. Discovered in Egypt in 1896, it wasn't translated until the 1950s, along with the Nag Hammadi Codex, discovered in 1945, around the same time the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. These texts have become increasingly important to biblical scholarship, and they illuminate a different kind of Jesus from the one depicted in the Bible--a wisdom teacher and spiritual seeker. That kind of Jesus is appealing to Westerners inclined to combine elements of Eastern religions with Christianity--and so, what are called the Gnostic texts have also become hugely popular.

The two Codex discoveries included The Gospel of Mary, the Sophia of Jesus Christ, and the Gospel of Philip, among others. For a long time, they were considered unimportant. But in the last decade, biblical scholars have begun looking at these texts more closely. The Gospel of Mary, for instance, dates to about 125 C.E., according to King, which places it among the oldest texts of the early Christian church. By way of comparison, the Gospel of John was written in the 90s C.E.

Particularly in the Gospel of Mary, Mary Magdalene is depicted as having special knowledge of Jesus: "Peter said to Mary, 'Sister, we know that the Saviour loved you more than the rest of women." In the Gospel of Philip, she is described this way: "There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion." Some scholars point to these passages as possible proof of the Jesus and Mary Magdalene relationship.

A slightly more common view among liberal scholars is that whether or not Jesus and Mary Magdalene were intimate, she was as important as Peter. In fact, they say, Mary Magdalene was an apostle, but her story was suppressed by early church fathers who excised the Gospel of Mary from the Bible in the 5th century.

And that is the idea that "The DaVinci Code" may popularize.

"They didn't attack Mary Magdalene because she was Mrs. Jesus," says liberal scholar John Dominic Crossan. "They attacked her because she was a major leader, that she was up there with Peter and the rest and they fought like hell to put her back down in her place."

Crossan does not believe Jesus was married. In fact, he considers the entire question an insult to Mary Magdalene, because it implies that she is important only through marriage. "To say Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene is a putdown, unless you say she was clearly as important as Peter and that's the reason she's married to Jesus."

Crossan believes, instead, that Jesus wasn't married to anyone-because he was too poor to afford a wife and children.

In any case, many scholars agree that in the 4th Century, around the time Constantine converted to Christianity, church patriarchs began trying to suppress women's leadership roles in the Christian movement. At the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E., convened by Constantine, Jesus' divinity was debated and voted on. Later, as the church evolved, the 27 books of the New Testament were canonized-and the Gospel of Mary and the others were thrown out.

Liberal scholars say that, among the reasons these other books didn't make it into what is called the "biblical canon" are that they include clear evidence of Mary Magdalene's importance in Jesus' ministry, and that they portray Jesus less as the Son of God and more as a great teacher preaching about an interior spiritual path.