In the Boston Globe (December 4, 2014) columnist Alex Beam sort of reviews my new book The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary the Magdalene that I wrote with New Testament scholar Barrie Wilson. It’s not actually a review. It’s more a series of insults that end up with the statement: “Let’s let Jesus be Jesus, and proceed about our business.” Speaking of “business”, what Beam is upset about is the “Jesus-Mary Magdalene Wedding-Industrial Complex”. In other words, all those involved in digging up the Jesus of history are in it for the money. In contrast, I guess, the various Christian churches are not in it for the money. They are just interested in poverty and the truth.
Beam is not alone in being upset. Our book has caused a worldwide theological firestorm, including demonstrations in India. As expected, the naysayers slammed the book even before reading it, but this time their reactions – like Beam’s – are more over the top than usual. I was even the butt of one of Bill O’Reilly’s attacks and have challenged him to an on-air debate. Frankly, he doesn’t have the knowledge or the guts to accept.
I think the reason for all this negativity is that the proof for the historical marriage between Jesus of Nazareth and the woman known as Mary the Magdalene has become overwhelming.
Barrie Wilson and I base our findings on a 1500-year-old manuscript written in Syriac (Christian Aramaic) and housed in the rare manuscript section of the British Library in London. But the fact is that besides this latest revelation, everything – everything – points to a marriage, and nothing – nothing – argues for Jesus’ celibacy. The only thing that argues for Jesus’ celibacy is 2000 years of theological bullying. This may come as a shock to most people, but the fact is that none of the four Gospels say that Jesus was celibate. The Gospels call Jesus “Rabbi” (Matthew 26:49, Mark 10:51, John 20:16). Rabbis, then as now, are married. If Jesus wasn’t married, someone would have noticed.
The greatest promoter of celibacy for Christians was Paul. Why was he so worked up about celibacy? On every matter of Jewish law – and Paul was a Jew originally called Saul – Paul was lax. He threw out Kosher laws, ignored Sabbath observance and prayed that the hands of ritual circumcisers shake so that they cut off their own penises when they perform circumcision (Galatians 5:12). Only when it came to sex Paul was more severe than Moses and Jesus put together. Why? The answer may lie in Paul’s background.
As everyone knows, Paul is called “Paul of Tarsus” because he came from Tarsus, an area of modern-day Turkey. What people generally don’t know is that in Tarsus of Paul’s day they worshipped a god named Attis. Perhaps not coincidentally, Attis was a dying and resurrecting god. He was called “the Good Shepard”, and his earliest depictions show him with a sheep across his shoulders. These are all images that were later borrowed by Paul’s version of Christianity. Put simply, Paul’s Jesus looks a lot like Attis.
Attis had a great love in his life, Cybele. On their wedding night, Attis decided to make the supreme sacrifice and offer his testicles on the altar of his love. He surprised his virgin bride by castrating himself. This idea was a big hit in the Tarsus of Paul’s day. Attis’ priests, the Galli, would imitate their god by driving themselves into a holy frenzy, emasculating themselves and offering their testicles as holy sacrifices. Not surprisingly, this once-popular religion died out. For his part, Paul didn’t promote literal castration – although some early Pauline Christians e.g., Church Father Origen, did castrate themselves. In the spirit of Attis, Paul advocated abstinence and celibacy, even in marriage (e.g., “it is good for a man not to touch a woman”, 1 Corinthians 7:1). When arguing for celibacy, you would think that Paul would invoke Jesus as an example – but he doesn’t. Never once does Paul argue that Christians should be celibate, because Jesus was celibate. Not once! Put differently, the entire New Testament is silent on Jesus’ marital status, which argues in favor of a married Jesus because, after all, the norm was to marry.
If one looks at the Gospels without Attis-colored Pauline glasses, there are many, many hints that Jesus was married. Specifically, after the Crucifixion, the Gospels agree that it was Mary the Magdalene who went early Sunday morning to wash and anoint Jesus’ crucified body, and to prepare it for burial (Mark 16:1). People have a quaint idea that ancient Jews in Jerusalem went around “anointing” each other. They didn’t. What the Gospels are telling us is that Mary the Magdalene went to Jesus’ tomb to wash and prepare his body for burial. That’s the Gospels, not me. Then and now, no woman would touch the naked body of a dead Rabbi, unless she was family. According to the Gospels, Jesus was whipped, beat and crucified. No woman would wash the blood and sweat off his private parts unless she was his wife.
Besides the canonical Gospels, there are the so-called “Gnostic” Gospels. The Gnostics – or “wisdom seekers” – were an early branch of Christianity, whose origins we don’t know. What we do know is that they represent the losers in the Christian orthodoxy game. Pauline Christians won, the Gnostics lost. But the Gnostic Gospels have as much claim to legitimacy as the canonical Gospels. Until recently, we had almost no Gnostic Gospels to refer to. Why? Because after the 4th century, the Church burnt their Gospels and the people who believed in them.
In 1947, in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, the Gnostics got their revenge. At that time, several of their Gospels were found hidden in jars. One is called The Gospel of Philip, the other is called The Gospel of Thomas. These Gospels match another find: in 1896, in Akhmim in upper Egypt, a Gnostic gospel called The Gospel of Mary was also discovered. The Gnostic Gospels all tell the same story – Jesus was married. More than this, for them his marriage and sexual activity was more important than his “passion” in Jerusalem. Simply put, they were more interested in his passion in bed than in his passion on the cross.
As for Mary the Magdalene, with respect to Jesus, the Gnostic Gospel of Philip calls her by the Greek terms koinonos and hotre. These terms have traditionally been translated as “companion”. What they really signify is a “sexual partner”. They explicitly refer to heterosexual intercourse. So why didn’t this tradition of a married Jesus survive? The answer is simple: as stated above, the Orthodox Christians tortured and killed those Christians who had a different view of Jesus. For example, in the early 13th century, the Cathars of southern France believed in a married Jesus. They argued that they were preserving a more authentic version of Jesus than the Catholic Church. The Church disagreed with them and, at the end of the day, the Catholic Church won the argument. How? By burning all Cathar books and murdering a million Cathars. Not surprisingly, we don’t have a lot of Cathar Gospels to reference when arguing for a married Jesus.
So even before the discovery and translation of our Lost Gospel, a careful reading of the canonical Gospels leads one to conclude that Jesus was married. More than this, a married Jesus conforms to the Jesus of the Gnostic Gospels.
But what about the archaeology?
Every few years, something emerges from the archaeological community which bolsters the idea of a married Jesus. And every time something important is discovered, an unholy alliance of Pauline Christians and frustrated archaeologists forms in an attempt to debunk the find. According to these people, by definition, absolutely no archaeology that may be Jesus-related can possibly be authentic. Some examples:
In 1980, in Talpiot, just outside of Jerusalem, archaeologists discovered a 2000-year-old burial tomb. In the tomb there were ten ossuaries i.e., limestone coffins. Six of them were inscribed. One of them had the Hebrew/Aramaic name “Jesus son of Joseph” scratched on its side, another “Maria”, yet another – “Yose” (Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55)– a nickname referred to in the Gospels as belonging to one of Jesus’ brothers. A fourth ossuary was inscribed with the name “Matthew” and a fifth – the only one in Greek – with the name “Mariamene”, a Greek version of “Mary” associated in all of Greek literature with one woman only – Mary the Magdalene. Even more disturbing for Pauline Christians, a sixth inscribed ossuary – apparently of a child – had the name “Judah son of Jesus” carved on it.
So what happened with this paradigm-shifting discovery? Nothing! Between 1980 and 1996 no archaeologists even reported the find. It took my 2007 documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus and my co-authored book, The Jesus Family Tomb to propel the find onto the headlines. And what was the world’s reaction? Again, nothing. In the spirit of The Life of Brian, according to the scholarly consensus, the tomb must have belonged to another Jesus and two other Marys. After all, if you believe that Jesus is God, God doesn’t have a coffin, certainly not a wife and not a child that could’ve resulted from their sexual union. Like Attis, Jesus couldn’t have had sex.
Recently, Prof. Karen King of Harvard Divinity School brought to light a Coptic papyrus where Jesus explicitly refers to his “taaimi”, which can only be translated from the Coptic as “wife”. How was this revelation met? With derision and accusations. Prof. King was accused of being a naïve woman who fell for a fraudulent document. Despite dozens of tests and at least half a dozen world experts that attest to the authenticity of the find, the so-called “Jesus Wife Papyrus” has been tarred with controversy e.g., The Atlantic, and dismissed as a fraud.
The point of all this is that if you refuse to look at the evidence, you’ll never see any evidence. But if you open your eyes, everything – archaeology, papyrology, social anthropology and the Gnostic and even canonical Gospels – points in one direction: a married Jesus.
This brings us to our “Lost Gospel”. It appears to be a 6th century Syriac (Christian Aramaic) text that is a translation of an earlier Greek text (4th or 3rd century) that Prof. Barrie Wilson and I believe preserves a 1st century tradition. The text, in the rare manuscript section of the British Library for the past 160 years, is ostensibly about the biblical Joseph, of multi-colored coat fame, and his obscure wife Aseneth. But in the Syriac community from which this Gospel emerged, “Joseph” was a stand-in for Jesus, and Aseneth, “had many children by the Crucified” (Hymn 21 of Ephrem the Syrian). Clearly, we are dealing with a very thinly encoded text, preserving a Gospel that would otherwise have been destined for the bonfire.
In our text, Joseph – a.k.a Jesus – is identified with the sign of the cross traced in blood. Some have argued that this manuscript does not refer to Jesus. If so, why the sign of the cross? Why the blood, and why is he explicitly called the “Son of God”? As for Aseneth, our manuscript depicts her as living in a “tower”. This links her directly to Mary Magdalene. The Hebrew for “tower” is “Migdal”, hence Mary the Magdalene. It’s not her last name, folks. It’s a title. It means “Mary the Tower Lady”.
In our lost gospel, she is depicted as a Galilean Phoenician priestess that abandons idolatry after meeting and falling in love with Jesus. They marry, but she’s not simply “Mrs. Jesus”. She is a partner in redemption referred to as the “Daughter of God” and “The Bride of God”. Our lost gospel states that Jesus and Mary had two children and it witnesses to the idea that, for their earliest followers, Jesus and his wife Mary were co-deities embroiled in the politics of their times. It even calls the wife, “The Mother of Virgins”. Meaning, the original “Virgin Mary” was the wife, not the mother. If that’s not enough, the text refers to The Tower Lady – not to Paul – as the founder of the Church of the Gentiles i.e., the first Apostle to the Uncircumcised. Finally, it states that the “Bridal Chamber”, not the cross, was the most important ritual of early Christianity.
For their part, Pauline Christians can continue to have faith in a celibate savior who is divorced from his family, his people and his times. But for the rest of us, non-Christians and Christians alike, the lost gospel represents the resurrected testimony of a community once thought dead – the earliest Gnostics. These people seem to have preserved a narrative closer to the Jesus and Mary the Magdalene of history. It’s time that we reacquaint ourselves with their Jesus and their Mary, a Galilean Rabbi and his gentile Phoenician wife.
For me, the most important revelation has to do with a foiled plot on Jesus and Mary the Magdalene’s lives, about 13 years before the crucifixion. If our historical sleuthing is correct, this text is a Gospel before the Gospels and it returns Jesus to the historical context from which Paul removed him. At long last, we can liberate the historical Jesus from the theological one. After 2,000 years of theological coercion, it’s time that we “let Jesus be Jesus.”
A shorter version of this article appears on Huffington Post where it has already garnered 33k Likes: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/simcha-jacobovici/jesus-marriage-to-mary-th_b_6225826.html?1417017543
The companion documentary “Bride of God” is part of a four-part series called “Biblical Conspiracies” which will air on Discovery Science US on December 14 and 21, Discovery Worldwide in January and on Vision Television in Canada in February.