A Dan Brown Good Friday from the BBC

What a difference a decade makes. In 2002 the BBC broadcast a documentary on the Virgin Mary characterizing her “as a poor and downtrodden girl, who might have conceived Jesus as a result of being raped.” This Life of Brian view of the birth of Jesus prompted outrage -– letters, editorials, statements from church leaders leaders condemning the broadcast.

A documentary broadcast on Good Friday by the BBC entitled “The Mystery of Mary Magdalene” that suggests Mary Magdalene and Jesus were sexual partners has provoked a complaint from a retired bishop but little else. The Telegraph reports:

The Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the former bishop of Rochester, said the programme, presented by Melvyn Bragg would be “hugely offensive” to devout Christians because it amounted to the “sexualisation of Christ”. He said it was all the more upsetting because it is being screened at midday on Good Friday – the moment the Bible says Jesus was put on the cross.

The article notes:

Lord Bragg, who describes himself as “no longer a believer”, argues that Mary’s close relationship with Jesus was effectively airbrushed out of the accepted Biblical account by “misogynist” Romans. He points to a series of ancient writings known as the Gnostic Gospels which were not included in the agreed list of books which became the New Testament. They include references to Mary being “kissed on the mouth” by Jesus, being his favourite and even, as one passage suggests, his wife.

Writing in the Telegraph last week, Bragg argued Mary Magdalene:

was acknowledged by other disciples as his favourite and there is one taunting scrap of record which may well lead to the conclusion that she was his wife.

Which leads Bragg to the conclusion:

What then? What then for the celibacy which has led the organised Church into so many abuses and crimes and distorted lives?

Pretty clear were Bragg is going with all this. Bishop Nazir-Ali, the Telegraph reported, accused the BBC  of being deliberately provocative and noted that they would not treat Islam in the same way.

Why is the BBC doing this on Good Friday and why is it doing it in such a provocative way. … There will be huge offence, there must be some way of putting the other point of view across.

Maybe it is true that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus and emigrated to the South of France where her offspring founded the Merovingian Dynasty. Perhaps the Priory of Zion, Illuminati, Rosicrucians, Knights Templar and Freemasons really do rule the world? Or maybe this is a ploy to hype ratings for a film that would otherwise disappear into the limbo of the History Channel — immediately after Ancient Aliens. As an aside, it would be interesting to see a documentary on Gnosticism that discusses and explores the tenets of this faith and its influences on modern thinking.

Bishop Nazir-Ali’s complaints are on point. The BBC would no more broadcast a show that questions the historical basis of Islam at the start of Ramadan than it would surrendered its license fees. These sorts of stories are not confined to the BBC. Easter and Christmas bring all sorts of silly stories to the pages of American newspapers and magazines. But it comes amidst a change in British religious attitudes toward religion. The former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has denounced the Conservative government of Prime Minister David Cameron for deliberately alienating British Christians by its strident secularism and support for gay marriage. David Cameron is either a very poor politician, or he believes the Conservative Party will suffer no electoral consequences for dumping it traditional electoral base.

It very well may be that after 30 years of anti-Christian bias from the BCC there is not much the Corporation can do anymore to shock television viewers. I know I’m tired of these silly stories and wonder if you are too?

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  • http://derekjohnsonmuses.com Derek Johnson

    Sad but not surprising. When have there not been scoffers?

  • Cathy G

    How is this any different than a broadcast regarding “Ancient Aliens” which suggests that we’re a science project of some intergalactic fratboys? Is it merely an issue of timing?

    I don’t think that a faith that refuses questions regarding historical facts is much of a faith at all.

    • northcoast

      Regarding this and other comments you made on this thread:

      What historical facts might you have in mind? I would have to let others defend the Bible vs. the non-canonical books, but aren’t those texts the source of Lord Bragg’s documentary? It is not like there are a lot of historical records from the first century.

      I have been unable to access the two and a half hour BBC program, but Lord Bragg’s point of view has been the subject of more than one recent telegraph.co.uk article.

      The celibacy thing is kind important. If Jesus were married with a family, then there would be a problem with abandonment, and what about the linage? If not married, . . .

      Why are you surprised that Martha’s posts reflect Catholic theology?

      • Cathy G

        I’m not surprised that Martha’s posts reflect a particular viewpoint on Catholic theology, I just don’t see how that theology is challenged by the BBC piece, and I think that quoting things it didn’t say amounts to a very weak argument.
        I also don’t think we can accurately say that an allegedly married Christ abandoned his family to fulfill a divine destiny any more than we can say that the Virgin Mary would be accurately described as cuckolding Joseph via her method of conceiving Christ.

        • northcoast

          The problem for me would be that seemingly the non-canonical texts are given credibility equal to that of the various sources for the Bible. I suppose the parenting controversy must just be conjecture.

  • helen

    But when has there been so little protest?

    You could argue that anti-Christian are only entertaining themselves. With Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday church services, I had no time to read trash, and the radio is only my alarm clock. TV? Surely you jest!

    • Cathy G

      Not only that, but there is the little idea that nothing put forth on the BBC can dilute or detract from Christ’s basic teachings. In fact, it didn’t even attempt to.

      I find the wording used by geoconger interesting: if the BBC piece asserts that Mary Magdalene was Christ’s wife, how does that get reduced to mere “sexual partner” in the former Bishop’s and geoconger’s minds? Anyone who’s married with kids knows that ‘sexual partner’ is just one component of married life, and that it’s tough for busy spouses to find time to pitch the woo, as it were.

      • Martha

        Cathy G, the “married to Mary Magdalene” theory has in recent times run into competition from the “bonked all the ladies that followed him” theory (yes, really, I’ve read a minister of one liberal Protestant denomination half-joking about this in reply to a query about sex and Christianity and was it really a sin if a Christian guy had sex before/outside marriage – the reasoning went Jesus was a guy, guys have needs, there were all these hot chicks following him around, what do you think he did?”, the “disciple Jesus loved was his gay lover” theory, the “naked young man in the garden was his gay lover” theory (these latter two depend on the fact that there is no named wife in orthodox Christianity, so they jump from that to he had to be gay) and others. Remember Nico Kazantzakis’ novel “The Last Temptation of Christ” where he has Jesus living an ordinary life married to both Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, (like the patriarchs) as the last temptation of the Devil?

        These stories are not about Jesus or marriage, they are about our attitudes and our continuing struggle to wriggle out of having to face up to the idea that some of the things we like might be sins. Note how Lord Bragg is talking about the “organised Church” and celibacy – this is not the Church of England, the state church established by law of his own country he’s talking about, or even the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches – he has one target in mind and I’ll give you three guesses as to which it is :-)

        • Cathy G

          Is Christ’s celibacy central to His teachings? Or is it central to what some people of faith would like their followers to do? I’m having a hard time reconciling anything Christ Himself said that would rule out His having a wife.

          Martha, I also notice that you stray from what the BBC allegedly said into what various OTHER people may have said about Christ being the Tom Jones of Judea. “Wife” doesn’t automatically = sex outside marriage, promiscuity, gay lovers, or anything else. What does your repetition of these claims have to do with the likelihood / possibility of Christ being married? They all seem conflated both by geoconger and you in an attempt to denigrate all the ideas equally, I get that, but why bother?

          • Martha

            Because, Cathy, generally those who float the idea of Christ having been married are not content to leave it there; they then tie it into the “sacred feminine”, or why can’t divorced people be re-married in church, or “You mean ol’ church, you’re so obsessed with sex, why can’t you realise that people are naturally loving and stop making rules about sin and about fornication and about adultery and all that kind of thing”.

            I have yet – it may be out there, but I’ve not seen it – to see a piece proposing that Christ was married and therefore we as Christians should take seriously His prohibition on divorce; that the end of marriage is fruitfulness not sterility and thus artificial contraception and abortion are unacceptable; and that for Christians we live chastely within marriage or as celibates but may not enjoy the marital relationship outside of marriage.

        • Will

          And I suppose then when we read that Jesus “loved” the rich young ruler, that means that He wanted to ____ him?

          • Cathy G

            Not replying to Will, because that’s just too easy. But Martha, you seem to be making a case for Roman Catholic theology. That’s getting a bit far afield here. Did anything in the BBC piece suggest that they were not content to leave it at a possible marriage? Christ Himself was silent on the subject of his own private life, but we are called to believe that he was both human and divine. We humans sometimes do marry. Asking questions about whether Christ was married to a female disciple is not the same thing as criticizing Roman Catholic doctrines about sex.

            Unless you want it to be, of course. But I don’t see the link between the BBC piece and everyone getting all bothered and hot over whether Jesus was hot and bothered.

  • gerg

    This is a much bigger problem than realized. Let’s say about half the kids are taught the truth about religion. It used to be that the other half were taught nothing. But now, they are taught the most amazing lies. So when the untaught kids have to make a moral, or political decision, their heads have been filled with complete nonsense. As a result, the public debate is crippled – we have one side with the truth, and another with nonsense. So we go round and round about nonsensical things, rather than go forward to an accurate resolutoin of the problem.
    I remember hearing a neighbor’s kid say, when the subject of Mary Magdalene came up: ” Everyone knows that it is an established fact” that she was Jesus wife.
    We live in the age of stupidity. Stupidity is broadcast as “revealed truth” to the masses 24 x 7. Colleges teach stupidity. We are in a lot of trouble and we have no idea.

    • Jerry

      I agree but would change one sentence to “We live in an age of willful stupidity”. Or to express that in a Biblical way: Jeremiah 5:21 ‘Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not’.

  • Martha

    It’s Easter – of course it’s time for this kind of story.

    “(O)ne taunting scrap of record which may well lead to the conclusion that she was his wife”

    Hmmm – would that be the (in)famous “Jesus’ Wife” papyrus which seems to have disappeared back into the obscurity from whence it sprung, seeing as how there seems to be reasonably good evidence it’s a bodged-up fake for the precise goal of separating the rich amateur antiquarian from their money?

    Dan Brown has a new novel out – he’s going to use Dante and the “Divine Comedy” in his latest production, a fact guaranteed to elevate my blood pressure and give me a headache.

  • http://www.thecatholicbeat.com Gail Finke

    Outrage fatigue? Before I came back to the Church, I didn’t think much of things like this — mildly funny, titillating, or interesting, but certainly nothing to be worked up about. You have to think something is sacred to care if it is debased. When I came back to the Church and realized that certain things really are sacred and holy, the sheer amount of attacks against them quickly became exhausting. It is exhausting to be outraged by all that is out to outrage, and it costs very little emotion on the part of the people committing the outrage (as they don’t believe it) so it just keeps coming. It’s hard to care what the BBC says, or what CBS says, or what TIME magazine says… it’s such drivel when it comes to religion. And it’s such juvenile poking at an “enemy” to appear brave and daring when, as said above, they don’t do pieces like that on the extremely dubious origins of Islam. When the BBC does a documentary claiming that Muhammed never had a vision and all that stuff was written down long after his death anyway, I might pay attention. And they will do that, too, if Islam ever stops being a threat.

  • FW Ken

    I miss the Dallas Morning News religion section. They could always be counted on at Easter to haul out Bp. Spong and/or the Jesus Seminar. Too bad they weren’t around when Dan Brown came along.

    And where is Laurie Goodstein these days? Who can forget her Easter series desperately trying to link Pope Benedict to American sex scandals. Maybe she’s in Argentina looking for dirt on Francis.

    I understand “The Testament of Mary” opened on Broadway just in time for the holiday. Here’s a critical review (google for the drooling).


    Now, as to the Telegraph, article, is outrage really an appropriate term for the Anglican bishop’s objection? And are Bragg’s claims (which are not questions at all) anything but a transparent opportunity to slander the Church, particular her discipline of celibacy?

    But we should be grateful there is a new gospel of the scene, or even a scrap of one.

  • FW Ken

    Is NOT a new gospel…

  • geoconger

    I’m afraid we are getting close to the loon line in the comments — that is the point where the crazies have taken over the dialogue. I regret to say that no matter how strongly someone wants something to be true — the strength of feeling does not give it legitimacy. Here is a link to a story on whether Jesus was married. Go there to argue why you think you are right on this issue.

  • susan

    Who watches the BBC?

  • MJBubba

    Gerg is right. This is important because the anti-Christian garbage from the BBC leads to a British population who don’t know what the Bible says or what Christians teach and who are clueless about the Biblical themes that are pervasive in their own literature.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Even though from a theological perspective as a Mormon I have no probelm with Mary Magdalen having been married to Jesus (Mormon theology is silent on Jesus’ marriage, but some Mormons, including some apostles early in the Church, have clearly favored the idea he was married) I have to say I am convinced that “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” is a modern forgery. Thus, Bragg’s apparent acceptance of it, and the passing over that, caught my eye.

    I have read enough on that issue to be convinced that King was chosen because she would be duped, and she was duped. If the report on the ink comes back that it is possibly ancient, I will be suspicious that King is resisting carbon dating the ink because she knows the whole thing will be proved a forgery. For me, the smoking gun is that a cut fragment of a book delivers a coherent message.

    So that Bragg will cite a forgery in support of his work leads me to think he is not a good scholar at all.

  • Julia

    This kind of thing gets a rise out of lots of people – gloaters and outraged defenders. It works to sell papers and get clicks, but has the side effect of misinforming people about what Christianity teaches. I have heard the most incredible things these days from unchurched people.