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BREAKING THE DA VINCI CODEANSWERS TO THE QUESTIONS EVERYONE'S ASKING
By DARRELL L. BOCK
Nelson BooksCopyright © 2007 Darrell L. Bock
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCode 1
WHO WAS MARY MAGDALENE?
We start with the key woman in our study, Mary of Magdala. In The Da Vinci Code, she is the wife of Jesus and the mother of His children, and that is a secret the church wanted to cover up to protect the divinity of Jesus. In the novel, she also is directly associated with the Holy Grail. The association with the Grail comes through the idea of Holy Blood and its bloodline (p. 250), the Sangreal. A word play on the term Sang Real gets us to a connection to the Holy Grail. The hypothesis is that the story of the Holy Grail really points to the holy bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene coming into France. This idea is expressed explicitly in Holy Blood, Holy Grail as a hypothesis (pp. 313-15). In fact, the direct connection of Mary to the Holy Grail is a late, fresh twentieth-century addition to the legend of the Holy Grail. In addition, the word play it is based upon comes from the medieval period and is not a part of the original meaning of the term.
In The Da Vinci Code, Mary is said to be in Leonardo da Vinci's painting The Last Supper. The evidence is the V shape to the left side of Jesus as one looks at the painting (p. 244). It is the symbol of the feminine, and a feminine-looking figure on the left side of the V is Mary of Magdala (p. 238 of the novel discusses this V; see the painting on our cover). Leonardo knew of the genealogical secret and put a clue of it in this painting. It is from this detail that the novel gets its title, The Da Vinci Code. All of these ideas surface in the middle portion of the book (pp. 242-45). So Mary is a logical person with whom to begin our study. Who was she? What was her relationship to Jesus?
Mary Magdalene has always possessed a certain mystique. In the 1960s she was often a key figure in musicals about Jesus. Interest in her has not waned and reflects a curiosity that has belonged to her almost from the beginning. Part of the reason for such interest is that there are actually so little data about her. One element of a story like Mary's is that when there is very little information, there is a desire to round out the picture. Proving or disproving what is speculated about her is hard to do. We will proceed one step at a time. We consider now only Mary Magdalene's familial relationship to Jesus, the key element in the novel's claims. In a later chapter we will return to Mary and explore the symbol that Mary has become for our culture.
Mary in the New Testament
Mary is one of seven people with this name in the New Testament, and most of them are distinguished by additional descriptions: (1) Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:30-31); (2) Mary of Bethany (John 11:1); (3) Mary, the mother of James who was not the Lord's brother (Matt. 27:56); (4) Mary, the wife of Clopas (John 19:25); (5) Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12); (6) one otherwise unidentified Mary (Rom. 16:6); and (7) Mary Magdalene, distinguished by a reference to her home, Magdala (Luke 8:2). These descriptions help us to sort out the individuals on the list. There is no hesitation to mention one's familial status as a way of doing this. Often a connection to a male is the distinguishing feature, as with Jesus' mother, the mother of James, John Mark's mother, and especially the wife of Clopas. Such a connection reflected the patriarchal first-century culture; that is, it was culturally centered on the male. This frequent naming of females with a male connection will be a significant point when we consider whether Jesus was married.
The name Mary is actually a modern form of the Jewish name Miriam. It was an extremely popular ancient name for women, which may add to the confusion among individuals. Mary Magdalene was not connected to any male, though she could have been if there had been such a connection to highlight. Rather, Magdala, where she lived, identified her. So Mary Magdalene was Mary from Magdala. Magdala is probably modern-day Migdal, located near the Sea of Galilee in Israel. Jesus' main ministry took place in the Sea of Galilee area.
Mary Magdalene in the New Testament
The biblical passages that discuss Mary from Magdala come in four groups.
First, she was a disciple who was the beneficiary of an exorcism by Jesus and was part of an entourage of women who supported and traveled with Jesus and His disciples (Luke 8:1-3). Having several women travelers was not as unusual as having Mary Magdalene travel with the group of disciples on her own would have been.
Second, she was present at the cross, a witness who no doubt was sad about Jesus' fate (Matt. 27:55-56 with the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee; Mark 15:40-41; John 19:25). In each note about her presence at the cross she was not alone, but was part of a larger group of women. Matthew described the women as those who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him. Mark identified the women as people who followed Jesus in Galilee and ministered to Him. John's description was similar. Mary was not singled out, but was part of a group of women, and many of the women at the cross were connected to known males. Had there been such a connection between Mary and Jesus, there was plenty of opportunity to make the point about Mary Magdalene in these earliest texts.
Third, some texts placed her at the cross either as or after Jesus was laid to rest (Matt. 27:61 with the "other" Mary; Mark 15:40 with Mary, the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome, along with many other women). In other words, the named women were prominent among the women noted. Once again, Mary was not singled out on her own.
Fourth, all of the remaining biblical texts about Mary Magdalene depict her as a witness to Jesus' resurrection. According to Matthew 28:1, she returned with the "other" Mary to anoint the body, which they still expected to be there on the third day after the Crucifixion. Mark 16:1 is similar to the list involving Mary, the mother of James, and Salome. In English translations that refer to Mark 16:9, she is mentioned as one to whom Jesus appeared and as a beneficiary of an exorcism, combining what the Resurrection accounts and Luke 8 tell us elsewhere. (There is scholarly discussion about whether Mark 16:9-20 was an original part of Mark, but that issue need not detain us; nothing here is added to what the undisputed texts tell us.) Luke 24:10 names Mary as a member of the entourage-Joanna (noted in Luke 8:2-3) and the mother of James and an unspecified number of "other" women-that announced Jesus' resurrection to the apostles and others. No one believed their report at the time. The biblical accounts are amazingly honest in admitting that the disciples did not anticipate Jesus' resurrection.
By far the most dramatic account is Jesus' appearance to Mary in John 20:11-18; this is the only place in the New Testament where Jesus and Mary Magdalene were alone together. She was clinging to Him so that Jesus told her to let go. Such behavior was unusual in the Jewish culture and would be frowned upon in normal circumstances because public displays of affection between nonrelated persons generally were not culturally affirmed, except in the case of a greeting like a holy kiss (Rom. 16:16). The emotion of the moment caused Mary to grab Jesus out of surprise and joy. There was nothing sexual about what happened, as some have suggested. She simply reacted spontaneously, welcoming His surprising, new existence with an embrace. The reaction is understandable when one appreciates that she thought Jesus was dead and gone and that she had already said her last good-byes to the teacher who had turned her life around.
She left the scene, a witness to Jesus' resurrection (John 20:18). She carried out the announcement of resurrection that the risen Jesus told her to proclaim. She was an apostle, not in the technical sense of the Twelve whom Jesus appointed to lead the disciples but in its more common usage as a "sent, commissioned messenger." We shall return to this apostolic role in a later chapter. It is the most important point about Mary that the Gospels tell us.
This is the entire inventory of New Testament references about Mary Magdalene: eleven passages total (twelve counting Mark 16:9). She was a disciple and traveling supporter of Jesus among a group of other women. She was never related to Him in any other sense. Although other women in the group were connected to males as relatives, Mary was not. She was a witness to the Cross, the burial, and the Resurrection. That was it.
Mary Magdalene in Key Texts Outside the Bible
The Church Fathers
Early church references to Mary Magdalene, except in Gnostic and related materials, which we shall consider separately later, fall into this same pattern. She was a faithful disciple, a follower of Jesus who witnessed Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection.
There is an interesting text by Hippolytus, a third-century church father. (A church father refers to a major church leader during the earliest centuries of the church.) The case begins by noting that there is a reference among early Christians to Mary as an "apostle to the apostles" (Ann Graham Brock, Mary Magdalene, The First Apostle, p. 1). Some also claim the term refers to the acceptance of Mary's high rank in the church (Brock, p. 161, n. 2), but a closer look at this text shows it does not make a point of rank, nor does the title in the singular appear here. In fact, the singular expression appears to surface in an unclear way in the later Middle Ages around the tenth century. The point about rank is a deduction from the fact that Mary was among the first to see Jesus. The comment by Hippolytus appears in his commentary on the Old Testament book of the Song of Songs 24-26 (also known as the Song of Solomon). It reads, "Lest the female apostles doubt the angels, Christ himself came to them so that the women would be apostles of Christ and by their obedience rectify the sin of ancient Eve ... Christ showed himself to the (male) apostles and said to them: ... 'It is I who appeared to these women and I who wanted to send them to you as apostles.'"
This alludes to the commissioned witness role of all the women who experienced the empty tomb, although the Hippolytus passage has Mary and Martha especially in mind. This text, appearing in a passage expounding Song of Solomon, gives us another detail. The women who witnessed the risen Jesus are associated with the idea that the church as a whole is the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-33). (The Song of Solomon was often read in the early church as being about the spiritual wedding of Jesus Christ to His church.) These women represent the church as a whole, but they do so as a group in the remarks of Hippolytus. So Hippolytus told us only that women like Mary Magdalene functioned as approved witnesses of Jesus' resurrection. We shall return in Code 6 to this text.
In the other materials from the Fathers, there is nothing particularly outstanding about Mary. Such texts describe her in terms that parallel what the biblical Gospels tell us.
A Key Gnostic Text on Jesus and Mary Kissing
Another class of texts comes from Gnostic Christian sources that emphasize the direct teaching of mysteries. We will discuss the Gnostics in more detail in Codes 4 and 5, but a famous passage involves a text that has Jesus kissing Mary (Gospel of Philip 63:32-64:10). This text was composed in the second half of the third century, a full two hundred years after the time of Jesus. This text describes Mary as a "companion" of Jesus. Of all the passages that could suggest Jesus was married, this is the best potential case.
However, the key part of the text is broken at 63:33-36 and reads, "And the companion of the [...] Mary Magdalene. [... loved] her more than [all] the disciples [and used to] kiss her [often] on her [...]." The brackets indicate broken locations in the manuscript where there is no reading because the manuscript is damaged. Talk about a mystery to solve!
Working with broken ancient texts takes skill. Sometimes there is genuine debate about what the full original text said. In some cases where words are supplied in the brackets, we can logically suggest the reading because of the context and the size of the break. Specialists surmise what specific word goes in the blank by the number of letters missing and then translate the result. For example in the sentence, "My wife sent me to the stor[...] get some eggs," one could reasonably suggest the full sentence was, "My wife sent me to the store to get some eggs." In cases where good multiple options exist, one cannot be sure what the complete text said.
In this text involving Mary, some contend that it could affirm that she was kissed on her cheek or forehead since either term fits in the break. Others prefer the reading of a kiss on the mouth because of a parallel in the Gospel of Philip 58:34-59:4, which reads, "For it is by a kiss that the perfect conceive and give birth. For this reason we all kiss one another. We receive conception from the grace which is in one another." This reading of Philip 63:33-36 is discussed in Harvard Professor Karen King's The Gospel of Mary of Magdala, where she prefers the option of a kiss on the mouth because of the parallel to Philip 58-59 (p. 204, n. 50). Her discussion also develops that although there is an explicit reference to a kiss on the mouth in Philip 63, the reference from Philip 58-59 is to the kiss of fellowship between believers, where nothing sexual is intended. It refers to "the intimate reception of spiritual teaching" (p. 146). We would note that the locale of the kiss ultimately referred to in Philip 58-59 is not clear.
King does not put the two observations about these two passages together, but I will. If the kiss of Philip 63 is similar to the kiss of Philip 58-59, then the reference likely is to a kiss of fellowship. If so, the kiss may be one for the cheek and not the mouth. King does suggest (correctly in my view) that the imagery is about Mary being associated with Wisdom and that this spiritual connection stands behind the reference (p. 145). She probably does this because these kinds of texts often carry a symbolic or spiritual sense over a more literal one, as scholars often note. Even if the reference is to a kiss on the mouth, the basis for the text pointing to something primarily sexual does not exist. The reference merely pictures a tender, spiritual relationship.
The other key term in Philip 63:34 is a Greek loan word found in this Coptic language text. (A loan word is simply a word borrowed from another language.) So the key term here is a Greek term. It transliterates as koinonos and is translated "companion." The term can mean "wife" or simply "sister" in a spiritual sense. But this term is not the typical or common term for "wife," which in Greek would be some form of gyne.
King asks a series of questions about this Philip 63 text: "Is Mary Magdalene identified with Wisdom here? Is that why the Savior loved her more than the other disciples? Does kissing mean that Mary and the Savior had a sexual relationship or was it a spiritual one?" (p. 145). King suggests that Mary is seen as Wisdom in the text, making her mother of the angels, spiritual sister to the Savior, and His female counterpart. Nothing about this points to a real marriage.
The passage is full of spiritual imagery to let us know this is what the passage is saying. The reference in the passage is more likely to a spiritual relationship, given the variety of relationships that Mary has in this gospel. When one considers how frequently these kinds of texts use spiritual imagery by comparing the birth of wisdom to natural birth, the image of male-female counterparts is a part of the metaphor rather than a historical point.
So uncertainty applies to the text from Philip 63. We do not know the exact relationship or to whom Mary Magdalene was being related at the start of this passage, although it is likely she is said to be Jesus' companion. We also do not know where she was kissed, although it might have been on the mouth. If a kiss on the mouth is described, something unusual is indicated. The kiss does point to a level of intimacy between Jesus and Mary, but it probably represents a spiritual closeness as spiritual counterparts in the birth of creation that is associated with wisdom. It is far less likely that something sexual is in view or that their marital status is being addressed.
Excerpted from BREAKING THE DA VINCI CODE by DARRELL L. BOCK Copyright © 2007 by Darrell L. Bock. Excerpted by permission.
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