Dan Brown's Assertions about a Marriage

between Jesus and Mary Magdalene

by Gary C. Burger, MDiv

Introduction

In The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown makes 5 (by my count) assertions about a supposed marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Essentially, he asserts that their marriage is supported by historical documents in the possession of a secret society, and that the Roman Catholic Church doesn't want the public to ever read them. He thinks that it would undermine the belief that Jesus is divine. Some people say, "Well, its only a novel, so why do you bother to criticize these ideas?" It is true that it is only a novel, but because of his statements at the beginning of the book and on his website FAQ page, that the description of these documents is "accurate" and "exist," we have to assume he really believes in them and the conspiracy theory to cover them up. In addition, many people who are not knowledgeable about the subject are entertaining the idea he is right and thereby getting a false view of history. Most importantly, what a person believes about Jesus ought to be based on truth not falsehood. I will show that what Brown believes about Jesus is based on false information.

In this article I address each of his 5 assertions, quoting the actual dialogs in his book and providing the page number where it is found. I also include the chapter number in case the text appears on different page numbers in future editions. Second, I give brief answers to each assertion to show how it is wrong. I know that many people are only seeking a brief answer and will be satisfied. For those desiring more explanation I provide links to other resources that give more detailed background information to support my answers. Email me at GaryBurger@NewMediaMinistries.org if you need further guidance in doing your own research.

Assertion 1: The marriage of Jesus and Mary is confirmed by historical documents.

Teabing: "As I said earlier, the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is part of the historical record." (Chapter 58, p. 245)

Brief answer

Real historians, both liberal and conservative, disagree with this statement. There is absolutely, I repeat, absolutely no historical record or even slightest valid inference of a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The source of this idea is a group of legends the origin of which no one really knows.However, Dan Brown's immediate source is Holy Blood, Holy Grail.1 Brown's idea of historical record is a passage from the Gnostic Gospel of Philip, which he misinterprets. I will address this in Assertion 3.

Assertion 2: Jesus was Jewish so he had to be married.

Teabing: "Moreover, Jesus as a married man makes infinitely more sense than our standard biblical view of Jesus as a bachelor." .... "Because Jesus was a Jew, "Langdon said, ... and the social decorum during that time virtually forbid a Jewish man to be unmarried. According to Jewish custom, celibacy was condemned, and the obligation for a Jewish father was to find a suitable wife for his son. If Jesus were not married, at least one of the Bible's gospels would have mentioned it and offered some explanation for His unnatural state of bachelorhood." (Chapter 58, p. 245)

Brief answer

There are several insurmountable problems with this assertion. First, Jesus being a bachelor actually makes infinitely more sense than being married. The New Testament Gospels portray him as being singularly focused on His mission to offer His Kingdom to Israel and then to die as a result of being rejected. He travelled and worked constantly, not exactly a lifestyle conducive to marriage and family. Second, even if Jewish custom condemned celibacy, so what? Since when did Jesus ever do something to avoid social condemnation? He broke all kinds of cultural taboos like healing on the Sabbath, hanging out with "sinners," touching lepers and forgiving sins (which only God can do). His autonomy from cultural baggage is one of the things people most admire about Him! Third, and another thing we admire about Him, is His non-worldly perspective on power. He denounced using the usual worldly strategies for attaining and perpetuating political power (e.g. Matthew 20:20-28), which would surely include nepotism. Since he was planning to die and wasn't interested in his followers becoming a state power, what would be the point of getting married and fathering children? He had no need for a Queen Mary Magdalene and Princess Sophia. That is not how He viewed Kingdom leadership. It would run directly counter to all He taught about what the Kingdom of God is like. It would not be an ordinary Kingdom following ordinary protocols.

The authors of the New Testament Gospels bend over backwards to portray Jesus' qualifications for being Israel's Messiah/King. The authority with which He taught, His miracles over nature and illness, His exorcisms, His fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and His resurrection all are put forth as proof of His qualifications. If they were so concerned with making sure their readers knew Jesus' qualifications for leadership and believed marriage was also a qualification, then why wouldn't they mention it, at least in an implied way? If marriage was a typical qualification, which it might have been, then celibacy was certainly excusable in light of these other greater qualifications.

While most Jewish men were married, celibacy was excused for reasons of piety as well. We know of a Jewish sect of Jesus' time, the Essenes, who practiced celebacy. This first century group was in existence during the time of Christ. Some of the Essenes chose celebacy because they saw themselves as holy warriors analogous to those in the time of Moses and Joshua. They, too, had a singular focus. They did not want to be distracted by the needs and responsibilities of a family.2

The Apostle Paul, a very Jewish Jewish man (Philippians 3:4-6), like Jesus, chose celibacy in order to be able to minister to more people without the distractions of family life (1 Corinthians 7:7). At the same time he mentioned that other apostles and even Jesus' brothers married, citing marriage as a right. In other words, a Jewish man could get married or remain celebate. It was up to him.

So when did the idea of sex and marriage become "evil" in the eyes of some Christians? The first time seems to be in the century after the Apostles died. Groups of "Christians" like the Gnostics promoted celebacy because they believed the flesh, and therefore sex, were inherently evil. They believed celibacy was necessary to attain the ultimate spirituality. This is one reason these groups did not last long! Their view of the flesh as evil was not an Old Testament or New Testament view. It was a pagan view, imported from some of the Greek philosophers. Unfortunately, there have been well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning Christians throughout Church history who adopted this view, but please keep in mind it is contrary to what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that God created us male and female and with the ability to enjoy sex-under one restriction-as man and wife. Sex outside of monogamous heterosexual marriage is what is evil. (Don't shoot me, the messenger, that's what the Bible teaches.) For more on this please read my article God's Purposes for Marriage and Sex.

This "brief answer" has turned out to be not-so-brief, so I want to refer you to Darrell L. Bock's excellent article on Beliefnet which cites still more reasons why we can assume Jesus did not marry.3

The point in all this is that both Jews and Christians did not see celibacy as a disqualifier for spiritual leadership. It was actually seen as useful in special circumstances.

Assertion 3: The Gospel of Philip says they were married.

Teabing: "These are photocopies of the Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea scrolls, which I mentioned earlier," Teabing said. "The earliest Christian records. Troublingly, they do not match up with the gospels in the Bible." Flipping toward the middle of the book, Teabing pointed to a passage. "The Gospel of Philip is always a good place to start." Sophie read the passage: And the companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene. Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval. They said to him, "Why do you love her more than all of us?" The words surprised Sophie, and yet they hardly seemed conclusive. "It says nothing of marriage." Au contraire." Teabing smiled, pointing to the first line. "As any Aramaic scholar will tell you, the word companion, in those days, literally meant spouse. Langdon concurred with a nod. Sophie read the first line again. And the companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene. Teabing flipped through the book and pointed out several other passages that, to Sophie's surprise, clearly suggested Magdalene and Jesus had a romantic relationship ... Sir Leigh Teabing was still talking. "I shan't bore you with the countless references to Jesus and Magdalene's union. That has been explored ad nauseum by modern historians. (Chapter 58, p. 245 - 246)

Brief answer

As it turns out the Gospel of Philip is actually not really "a good place to start," as scholars agree it was probably written anywhere from 250 - 300 A.D.4 This is vitally important to a correct interpretation of history. If I wrote an allegorical book composed of fictitious and highly symbolic conversations between George Washington and John Adams that were meant to communicate my speculative views on politics, would you trust it to tell you the truth about Washington and Adams? And if you were an author of a history book on the American Revolution and cited my work as actual historical statements, you would be a laughing stock.

But wait! There's more. As I show in the article Assertions about the Bible, the Nag Hammadi texts and Dead Sea Scrolls were not the earliest Christian records. The books of the New Testament were written in the first century, only decades after Jesus' death and resurrection by and in the presence of eyewitnesses and friends of Jesus. The Dead Sea Scrolls were written and compiled around the same time but were entirely Jewish, not even mentioning Jesus or Christianity, so they don't count. The Nag Hammadi texts were written in the second and third centuries. Their authors did not intend to say anything about the actual life of Christ on earth. The Gnostics thought that was completely irrelevant to their theologies. Rather, they use fictitious, allegorical dialogs between Jesus and His disciples (and others like Mary Magdalene) to convey unorthodox gnostic ideas. They are highly speculative works of fiction not non-fiction.

The Gospel of Philip is one such Gnostic text, dating to no earlier than the second half of the third century (250 - 300 A.D.). Here is a link to the full text of the Gospel of Philip.5 The Gnostic Gospels are open to public study and a lot of scholars study them.

There are at least six problems with Brown's use and interpretation of this passage. First, it is not close enough to Jesus' life to be deemed reliable. It was written at least 230 years after Jesus died, so even if it were intended to be a non-fictional account of an actual conversation, it would not be a reliable one.

Second, the only text we have is in Coptic, not in Aramaic. If it existed before that in another language it would have been in Greek, like other Gnostic Gospels, not Aramaic. Therefore, what Brown thinks it might have said in Aramaic is irrelevant.

The third problem is there is no Aramaic or Hebrew word for 'companion' that normally means spouse.6 Brown or someone he foolishly relied on had the wrong language in mind. To be fair, the Gospel is in Coptic, and the word translated "companion" can mean "spouse" or "wife" in that language.7 However, this is not what the author of Gospel of Philip had in mind anyway.

The fourth problem involves the highly esoteric and symbolic nature of the language used. We must remember that the author did not intend for readers to assume this was a narrative conversation that actually took place. Gnostic authors took pride in keeping their ideas from being understood by the unspiritual masses by using esoteric language. In other words, like any good guru/charlatan they reserved the sole authority over what their writings meant at a particular reading.

The fifth and related problem is the author or authors of Gospel of Philip never intended it to "match up with the gospels in the Bible." They intended their view to be an alternative view. They would take offense with any attempt to reconcile it with the New Testament Gospels! Montague James writes of them,

"there is no question of any one's having excluded them from the New Testament; they have done that for themselves."8

The sixth problem is with Brown's interpretation of the phrase "Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on her mouth." The problem is that the only ancient manuscript scholars have to work with has a lot of holes in it from deterioration. One of these holes happens to be after the word "her." The Coptic text actually reads "kiss her often on her (...)." The word that is missing could be "forehead," "cheek," or "hand." Early Christians used kisses on those body parts as greetings just as various cultures do today.

The seventh and biggest problem is the Gnostics would have gagged at the thought of Jesus and Mary Magdalene kissing in a romantic way, being married, having sex, and having children. They believed that Jesus was only divine and not human, and according to their Greek dualistic philosophy, God would never touch flesh, which they deemed was evil. The author would have cried, "Foul! You can't interpret my words to mean Jesus and Mary Magdalene got married!" To even begin to speculate what this conversation in the Gospel of Philip means one has to become acquainted with the mythological ideas of the gnostics. That is beyond the scope of this article and even scholars who specialize in gnosticism differ in their opinions about what it means. That attests to how well the Gnostic writers hid their meaning. While we may not know exactly what it does mean we may be certain of what it does not mean. Therefore, it can't mean what Dan Brown says it means.9

Assertion 4: Mary Magdalene had royal blood

The Briton smiled. "My dear child, it was not Mary Magdalene's royal blood that concerned the Church so much as it was her consorting with Christ, who also had royal blood. As you know, the Book of Matthew tells us that Jesus was of the House of David. A descendant of King Solomon-King of the Jews. By marrying into the powerful House of Benjamin, Jesus fused two royal bloodlines, creating a potent political union with the potential of making a legitimate claim to the throne and restoring the line of kings as it was under Solomon." (Chapter 58, p. 249)

Brief answer

There is absolutely no evidence in any first or second century literature, Gnostic, Orthodox or other, that Mary Magdalene was a descendant of Benjamin. He or someone he copied made this up. Even if she were, it would make no difference, because Jesus' plan for Kingdom or Church leadership did not depend on any political union between royalty. As I noted above, he would have condemned any worldly strategy to perpetuate His power in this way.

Assertion 5: A child would prove Jesus was not divine.

Teabing: A child of Jesus would undermine the critical notion of Christ's divinity and therefore the Christian Church, which declared itself the sole vessel through which humanity could access the divine and gain entrance to the kingdom of heaven." (Chapter 60, p. 254)

Brief answer

Even if Jesus and Mary Magdalene had married and had children it would not undermine Christ's divinity. Jesus was both human and divine at the same time. This was understood from the very beginning as Larry Hurtado proves in his book Lord Jesus Christ.10 As a human He ate food, drank water, went to the bathroom, got blisters, and he bled and felt pain when He was crucified. He did all of this while also having a divine nature. He certainly could have had sex, as well. Fathering a child would only serve to prove He had a fully human body and nature. It would only undermine the Gnostic belief that Jesus didn't have a human body but just appeared to have one. Finally, the Church of the first few centuries did not see itself as an institution that had the power to control access to the kingdom of heaven. They believed only Jesus Christ had that authority (John 14:6). The Roman Catholic Church, at a later time, adopted the view of it having that kind of authority, and certainly was wrong to claim that. They, not the Apostles, took Christianity in the wrong direction, that is, away from Christ's teachings.

Summary and Conclusion

In summary, there is no historical evidence that Jesus and Mary Magdalene ever got married. The only evidence Brown cites is a Gnostic Gospel written 200 hundred or more years after Jesus and Mary Magdalene died. The authors of these Gnostic Gospels never intended to write actual biographical information about them. They used fictious, allegorical conversations as literary devices to communicate mystical ideas. Because of their philosophical point of view they would have been repulsed by the idea of anyone interpreting their words as refering to marriage. Brown does not succeed in proving that Jesus married and fathered a child through Mary Magdalene, nor does he prove that Jesus was not divine.


References

1 Baigent, Michael, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. Holy Blood, Holy Grail. (New York: Dell Publishing, 1983).

2 Harrison, R.K. "Essenes." Volume Two D-G. Gen. ed. Merrill C. Tenney. Vol. 2 of The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. (Grand Rapids: Regency Reference Library-Zondervan, 1976), 5 vols.

3 "Was Jesus married?" http://beliefnet.com/story/135/story_13520_1.html

4 Isenberg, Wesley W. "The Gospel of Philip." The Nag Hammadi Library in English. 3rd ed. Robinson, James M., Gen. ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco-HarperCollins Publishers, 1988), 139.

5 "Gospel of Philip". http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/gop.html.

6 Blomberg, Craig. book review of The Da Vinci Code. Denver Journal: An Online Review of Current Biblical and Theological Studies. http://www.denverseminary.edu/dj/articles2004/0200/0202.php

7 Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen. "The Holy Spirit is a Double Name." Ed. Karen L. King. In Images of the Feminine in Gnosticism. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), 215.

8 James, Montague. The Apocalyptic New Testament. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955), xif.

9 See Buckley and response by Kurt Rudolph, pp. 232.

10 Hurtado, Larry. Lord Jesus Christ. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003).


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