The teacher loved her more than all the disciples;
He often kissed her on the mouth…
~Gospel of Philip
The passage above is from one of the many Gnostic gospels. While most of us are familiar with the four gospels found in the Bible, in the early years of Christianity there were dozens of gospels that made the rounds, each written to declare their own perspective of Jesus’ life and teachings.
As James P. Carse points out in The Gospel of the Beloved Disciple, while the original Christian churches were guided by a rich tapestry of gospels, this all abruptly changed in the year 325. “Constantine, emperor of Rome, called a conference…to settle the disputes dividing Christendom and threatening the stability of the empire. Four gospels–Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—were designated canonical. All others were excluded.”
As I pointed out in a previous post, there was a determined effort by the early Roman church to destroy every last copy of the banned gospels in order to get all Christians literally on the same page. But in spite of the best efforts of the book burners, many of these texts survive today. A treasure trove of them were discovered in 1945 in Nag Hammadi, Egypt.
Among the most interesting passages found in these gospels are those that deal with Mary Magdalene. As author Thomas Moore states in Writing in the Sand while Mary was at one time confused with a prostitute by the same name in the bible (it seems intentionally by some haters in the church), she is now recognized by many as a saint, “perhaps the beloved disciple to whom the Gospels never refer by name, and a figure of great importance in the earliest leadership of Jesus’ followers”.
Levi said to the other disciples: “Surely the Lord knew her very well. That is why he loved her more than us.” ~Gospel of Mary
There is no doubt that Mary Magdalene was tight with Jesus, several of the Gnostic gospels reveal her to be one of his most trusted disciples. In both the gospels of Mark and John, she is one of the few to watch his execution. She is also the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus, the only one to stick around his burial site after all the other disciples had left, obviously grieving over the loss of someone whose life was so intertwined with her own.
Over the years, the legend of Mary Magdalene has grown and there have been books written that make the case that she and Jesus were even husband and wife. Several, including Holy Blood Holy Grail, lay out evidence that after the death of Jesus, a pregnant Mary traveled to France, gave birth and began a long line of Jesus’ descendants.
But to me what is most intriguing is not what happened after the death of Jesus, but the relationship Jesus and Mary Magdalene had in life. As Moore points out:
“What is shocking about the new view of Mary Magdalene and Jesus, of course, is the implication that Jesus was not celibate. People who see Jesus in an entirely spiritual light may have trouble considering the possibility that he was a sexual being as well. Yet…if you’re going to acknowledge Jesus’ humanity, you have to include his sexuality.”
This sexuality, or a least sensuality is on full display in a bible passage cited by Moore from the gospel of Luke. Here, Jesus reprimands his host for mistreating a female guest in the house, who the host believes to be unworthy of Jesus’ time:
Do you see this woman? When I came into your house, you didn’t offer me water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You didn’t kiss me, but the woman hasn’t stopped kissing my feet since I arrived. You didn’t offer me oil for my head, but she has poured oil on my feet. ~Luke 7:43-46
Drying the feet of Jesus with her hair, kissing his feet and then pouring oil on them? It all sounds pretty sensual. And to me, regardless if he had a romantic relationship with Mary Magdalene or not, it presents a Jesus that is easier to relate to, a Jesus that knows first-hand not just the foibles of our flesh and blood experience, but also its pleasures.
I’ll again turn to Thomas Moore for some closing thoughts:
How you imagine Jesus’ sexuality may depend on how you feel about sex. If you think it’s contemptible or at least a low part of human nature, you may not want a sexual picture of Jesus. If you see the beauty and full significance of sexuality, you may understand how important it is to allow Jesus his sexuality. Anything less acknowledges his incarnation except for sexuality—and that makes no sense.