The marriage of Jesus

© 2005 Dr. Barbara Thiering (April, 2005)

In a setting where celibacy is prized and marriage considered a less holy human state, it has been traditionally taught that Jesus, as a divine man, was above human weakness and could not have been married. That belief is central to Catholicism, and has been preserved even in Protestantism.

Jesus was a descendant of the line of David, through his father Joseph, as we have been seeing. Being a pre-nuptial son of Joseph, a stricter view treated him as illegitimate, while a more liberal hellenised view accepted him as the legitimate heir. It was personally necessary to him, and necessary for his party, that he should continue his dynastic line, which aimed at political power. He did so by following the Essene rules for sex more strictly than his parents had, having a long betrothal period, a first ceremony beginning a trial marriage of up to three years, then a second ceremony when his wife was three months pregnant.

His wife was Mary Magdalene. When Luke 8:2 says that seven demons had gone out of her, it simply means that when she married Jesus, she ceased being under the authority of Judas Iscariot, the militant successor of Judas the Galilean. He was the Chief Levite in charge of the Virgins, that is nuns. She had been taught the zealot doctrine, that she must be a freedom fighter, heroically resisting the Roman occupation. Judas Iscariot was called "Demon 7" because all militants were called "demons" and "demoniacs". It was Judas Iscariot who objected to her alliance with Jesus in John 12:4-5. When Demon 7 "went out of her", it means that he lost his authority over her and her order of nuns, because Jesus convinced her to change her political opinions to be pro-Roman, like his.

Mary was also called Mary of Bethany, appearing in the story of John 12:1-8 and its parallel in Mark 14:3-9. This episode took place just before the crucifixion. A similar story is found in Luke 7:37-50, placed early in Jesus' ministry. The woman poured precious ointment over Jesus, his feet or his head. The word for the ointment is in Greek nardos, "nard". In 'John 12:3' "the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment". This is a direct allusion to the sexual rite described in the Song of Solomon 1:12: "When the king was on his couch, my nard gave forth its fragrance." The Song of Solomon is the wedding liturgy of the David kings, a grand oriental ceremony conducted over many days, with the beautiful poetic passages to be read at each stage. Its ceremony was used in the wedding of Jesus, the descendant of the David kings.

One such episode is placed early in Jesus' ministry, while another is placed just near the crucifixion. Biblical critics have understandably treated these as duplicate narratives, from the model found in the Old Testament, where different versions of the same episode are collected together for the sake of completeness. But that was before the new information was known, showing the origins of the Church in a celibate institution which followed the Essene rules of marriage. Early in Jesus' ministry, he and Mary Magdalene underwent the first ceremony beginning the trial marriage, recorded in Luke 7:36-50. At the season of the crucifixion Mary was three months pregnant, and the final, binding marriage was performed.

One of the reasons for accepting that Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus is in the Gospel of Philip, a treatise in the Nag Hammadi codices found in Upper Egypt in 1945. It is a book that can be shown to come from the 1st century - the opinion that it is from later centuries disregards some of its own evidence. It contains the passages: "There were three who always walked with the lord: Mary his mother and her sister and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion.... And the companion of the [Saviour was ] Mary Magdalene. [He loved] her more than [all] the disciples [and used to] kiss her [often] on her [mouth]. The rest of [the disciples] said to him, 'Why do you love her more than all of us?' "

The reason why all three women who were associated with Jesus were called Mary is not due to coincidence, but to the fact that it was a title. In Hebrew, the name is Miriam. The prophetess Miriam was the sister of Moses (Exodus 15:20-21). In his account of the Therapeutae, ascetics who were related to the Essenes, Philo of Alexandria records that these Egyptian ascetics held regular meetings at which they enacted a liturgical drama of the Exodus, with music and choric dancing. They had two choirs, one of men and one of women, for these communities admitted women, allowing them to perform a kind of ministry. The choir of men was led by a man acting the part of Moses, while the choir of women was led by a "Miriam". A woman of sufficient merit was given this title. She was usually the woman who was chosen to become the wife of a king or a priest according to the dynastic rule. The mother of Jesus had this title during her marriage and retained it in her widowhood, and the wife of Jesus held the title.

A Gospel of Mary is published with the gnostic Nag Hammadi literature. It presents Mary Magdalene as an iconic figure because of her relationship with Jesus. It quotes Peter saying to Mary, "Sister, we know that the Saviour loved you more than the rest of women. Tell us the words of the Saviour which you remember." Mary then gives enigmatic teaching which she says was revealed to her by Jesus in a vision. Her role was that of a female in a setting of mystery, parallel to the setting in which the divinised Jesus was visualised by the gnostics.

In the more down-to-earth account given through the pesher of Acts, it is shown that three children were born to Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The dates of their conception and birth are shown by the chronological information given in the concealed chronology. One clue is that when the text says "the Word of God increased", in Acts 6:7 and Acts 12:24, the pesher meaning is that a son was born, continuing the dynasty of Jesus, the Word of God. The title Word of God is used as code for Jesus in 2 Timothy 2:9. The Essene rule, as may be discovered from the chronology, was that when a daughter was born the couple waited three years before coming together again for sex, and when a son was born they waited six years, having returned in the meantime to their preferred celibate state. The theory was that a daughter was not what they wanted, and they had to try again sooner. At the time of their binding wedding in March 33 AD , Mary was three months pregnant. She gave birth to a daughter in September 33 AD. The fact that it was a daughter is only shown by the omission of an expression corresponding to "the Word of God increased". Only those familiar with the marriage rule would recognise the meaning. Later in Acts, at a date when the daughter would have been 18 years old, a woman named Damaris is introduced (Acts 17:34). Damaris is the Greek form of Tamar, the name of the virgin daughter of King David in 2 Samuel 13:1.

A son was conceived in September 36 AD and born in June 37 AD (Acts 6:7). He was the crown prince of the David line through Jesus. In Colossians 4:11 Paul sends greetings from Jesus Justus. "Justus" was a title of the David successor, used by James the Just, the brother of Jesus, who was the heir until Jesus' son was born. This young man, aged 24 at the time Paul wrote, bore his father's name and the crown prince's title. He had a younger brother, whose name is not given, conceived in June 43 AD and born in March 44 AD.

In Acts 16:14 it is recorded that Jesus "opened the heart" of a woman named Lydia, a "seller of purple", a worshipper of God, from the city of Thyatira. In the book of Revelation Thyatira is named as a centre for an order of women, some of whom called themselves prophetesses and engaged in immorality. Other women in Thyatira did not follow their practices and were approved (Revelation 2:20-25). In the account of the women with Jesus, one of them was Helena, the mistress of Simon Magus, whose history is given in the apocryphal Clementine literature (See "The Clementine Books" in Section 4 on this site). Women following her were the "Jezebels", the model for the woman on the scarlet beast, clothed in scarlet and purple, of Revelation 17:3-4).

Mary Magdalene had at first been a zealot, committed to militant hostility against Rome, until Jesus persuaded her to turn to his peaceful methods. But as events developed under the emperor Caligula (37-41 AD), militarism surfaced again, seen as a heroic necessity in the face of Roman tyranny. Mary reverted to zealotry, in the company of her friends Helena and Simon Magus. In AD 44, after the birth of her third child, the schism took place between the Christians with Jesus and the zealots with Simon Magus. Mary left the marriage, believing that Jesus had departed from true religious ideals.

In AD 50 Jesus' Christian party had moved to Europe, expelled from the homeland. In Philippi in Macedonia Jesus was married again, to Lydia, who shared his political and religious views. When Paul set down the Christian practice on divorce, in 1 Corinthians 7:11-16, he permitted divorce if a partner is an unbeliever, not a Christian. "If the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so...for God has called us to peace."

All this new information about Mary Magdalene has fuelled a cult that has now become something of a frenzy world wide. For some, it means that Jesus had descendants, and there is much invention of fraudulent genealogies to "prove" this. For some feminists, Mary Magdalene has become their cult figure. Wrongly regarded as a prostitute because of a surface reading of the narrative - with much help from "Jesus Christ Superstar" - she can be seen as the symbol of the social injustices done to women. When a series of fraudulent books on the Holy Grail tied her up with a tradition concerning the family of Jesus in the south of France (actually a genuine tradition), a profitable tourist industry began, which is still flourishing. The bestseller The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown, Bantam Press, 2003 very cleverly mines this industry. A forthcoming book by Robert Price, The Da Vinci Fraud, Prometheus Books, August 2005 exposes the many falsifications of the industry. (See also the answer to question about Mary Magdalene in France.)

It would be a pity indeed if these human facts about Jesus were so sensationalised that they inhibited a balanced consideration of his part in the much broader history, that of the foundations of western civilisation.