from Chapter 8
The Controversy Regarding Mary Magdalene: Questions and Answers
In none of the gospels is there any mention of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. What is the origin of this image?
Certain Church Fathers, as well as certain gnostics, were--like Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code--endowed with a novelist’s imagination. It is a great pity that some of them used their imagination to degrade this beautiful image of the feminine, thereby degrading women in general. This has resulted in a Christianity without real women; there are only virgins, mothers, or whores. And because it is women who create men, the logical consequence is that there are no real men either; there are only boys, good fathers, and sexually obsessed males. The restitution of the true character of Miriam of Magdala as a companion of Yeshua of Nazareth can help men and women today realize their potential of Ianthropos, their full humanity, which is both flesh and spirit, both human and divine.
Can we really imagine a sexual relationship between Miriam and Yeshua?
Some have imagined it and have created novels or films about it. Personally, I do not “imagine” anything. I do not indulge in such fantasies, any more than I fantasize about the intimate life of my parents, or of my friends . . . all the more reason not to fantasize about the details of the intimacy between Yeshua and Miriam!
Instead, I study all the gospel texts and see that they are consistent with the doctrine of the Incarnation, which tells us that the Logos manifested not only spiritually, or through the Word, but “in the flesh,” as is said in the prologue to the Gospel of John.
But The Da Vinci Code and other texts often cite the Gospel of Philip, which says: “The Teacher loved her [Miriam] more than all the disciples. / He often kissed her on the mouth.”
I have interpreted this sentence in the Jewish religious context of the time, and its various echoes in Hebrew scripture, especially the Song of Songs. To kiss (nashakh in Hebrew) means to “breathe together,” to share the same breath, or spirit (ruach). In spite of the profound intimacy that this implies, it does not, in itself, imply a sexual relationship.
On the other hand, logion 32 of the Gospel of Philip would seem to be more explicit about this question:
There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother; the sister of his mother; and Miriam of Magdala, known as his companion [koinonos]; for him, Miriam is a sister, a mother, and a wife [koinonos]. The term koinonos, in both Greek and Coptic, refers to coupling and could be translated as “fianc饬” “companion,” or “spouse.” In this text, Miriam appears as she who shares a “couple” relationship with the Teacher. But the text further states that she is also like a sister and a mother to Yeshua. Hence we cannot accept the limited image of Miriam as “Mrs. Jesus.” She was far more than a wife for him, at least in the way we conventionally understand that term.
In accordance with the doctrine of the Incarnation, the Gospel of Philip reminds us that love has incarnated in a human relationship that cannot have been merely sexual, for it was infused with agape (love that is pure and free), charis (love that is celebration and praise), eunoia (love that is compassion and service), storg輯em> (tenderness), and finally philia, love that includes respect for our respect for each other in all dimensions of being.
This is indeed an “imagining” worth pursuing: an effort to envision the qualities of love that united Yeshua and Miriam. It could help us to imagine other kinds of relationships between men and women today--relationships that are less shallow, that witness the presence of God in our fleeting and impermanent human forms.
Yeshua loved John or Miriam not more than he loved Peter or Judas, but differently. He loved them all with a universal and unconditional love, but he also loved each of them in a unique and particular fashion. Human love can still function while being subsumed in a divine love that includes all beings, even our enemies. It was this love that he proposed to all who would walk with him. Human love consists of preferences, affinities, particular resonances, and intimacies that are not possible with all. When Miriam realized this divine Love, she was no longer a woman who could be possessed, either by man or by demon. She became the faithful, blessedly happy friend of the one who had delivered her. Henceforth she could not be “had,” not even by death itself, for her lover remained faithful to the great life that spoke through him. This new desire of hers was one that he would never betray.
This is how it is with those who give themselves to love. How can they think of anything better, how can they have any concern other than loving even more, giving themselves with no expectation of return?
When you make the two into One,
when you make the inner like the outer and
the high like the low; when you
make male and female into single One,
so that the male is not male and the female is not female;
when you have eyes in your eyes, a hand in your hand,
a foot in your foot, and an icon in your icon,
then you will enter into the Kingdom.