I believe Mary Magdalene seems exotic and mysterious only because of sexism. There were, likely, lots of women around Jesus, lots of female followers of Christ. But records were routinely kept only of the men. Mary Magdalene is unique among Christ’s disciples, first and foremost, in that she was a woman, reportedly the leader of a group of women followers of Christ, and in early Christian writings is referred to as, “the apostle to the apostles.”
One might presume her to have been tall.
In Hebrew, the word Magdala means “tower” or “fortress.”
In Aramaic, “elevated, great, magnificent.” They may have meant
that she was from Magdala, a town thought to have been on the
western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Whatever the reason, the writers of the
Gospels, writing several decades after Jesus’ death and
resurrection, chose to distinguish a woman considered one of
Jesus’ most prominent disciples by referring to her as “Magdala”
[Luke 8:2]. This was not her last name or her father's name.
Maggie had an otherwise common name, one shared by several other
key characters in the Gospel story. Mary Magdalene is unique
among Christ’s disciples, first and foremost, in that she was a
woman, a woman of great strength and courage as she remained at
Calvary, at Jesus’ side, even after the disciples fled and hid.
She is reportedly the first to have seen the resurrected Christ
[Mark 16:9, John 20]. She was also reportedly the leader of a group
of women followers of Christ, and in early Christian writings is
referred to as, “the apostle to the apostles,” part of a support
system of female believers who saw to the Disciples’ needs. Mary
Magdalene is considered a Saint by the Roman Catholic church.
The films The Last Temptation of Christ and The Da Vinci Code both speculate that Jesus and Maggie, whom some biblical scholars speculate may have been the unidentified “Disciple Whom Jesus Loved” referred to in the Gospel of John, may have, in fact, been intimately involved or married. The apocryphal Gospel of Philip depicts Maggie as Jesus' koinonos, a Greek term indicating a “close friend” or “companion.” Mary Magdalene is mentioned as one of three Marys “who always walked with the Lord” and as His companion [Philip 59.6-11]. The work also says that the Lord loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often [63.34-36]. The closeness described in these writings depicts Mary Magdalene, representing the Gnostics, as understanding Jesus and His teaching while the other disciples, representing the Church. did not. Jeffrey Kripal, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Rice University wrote, “the historical sources are simply too contradictory and simultaneously too silent” to make absolute declarations regarding Jesus' sexuality. On the other hand, author John Dickson argues that it was common in early Christianity to kiss a fellow believer by way of greeting [1 Pet. 5:14], and, as such, kissing would have no romantic connotations. [Wikipedia]
I’m going to presume our investment in Jesus’ singleness is not about His being single so much as about His being celibate. In our tradition, it is our way to persecute those who fail to practice celibacy while ignoring Christ's teaching on divorce. We routinely embrace remarried couples (of which Jesus did speak) and pastors while shunning same-sex persons (of whom Jesus did not speak), presumably on the basis of an assumed lack of celibacy. At the same time, we turn a blind eye and deaf ear to unmarried persons we know, for a fact, are carrying on sexually. I have never once heard the issue of Jesus' sexuality discussed or preached in a black church, yet our entire phony system of judgment and condemnation is opined upon not what Jesus said or even what He did but what He did not, apparently, do: get married or have sex. We conclude that as our biblical model while only selectively honoring it as it suits our purpose.
is fair and reasonable to presume Jesus taught celibacy by
example. Celibacy among single persons was also the order of the
day (though there were various rules in play for married men
which allowed both polygamy and concubines). Personally, I’d
like to believe any statement Jesus intended to make was made
and recorded in the Bible. I also believe the specifics of
singleness and celibacy were not spelled out as clearly as they
should because the authors were writing within a presumptive
context, presuming, I’d imagine, that everyone knows sex before
marriage was forbidden and could, in fact, get you killed.
Thus, there is no direct or even indirect mention of Jesus’ celibacy, not even by Jesus Himself. We are left without specific rail guards on this issue outside of Paul’s teaching and our inaccurate application of our modern-era definition of the word “fornication” (as applying globally to any and all sex between unmarried persons) to archaic Greek texts (in which the archaic meaning refers to specific sexual conduct). More on that here.
I also presume, if Jesus was not, in fact, celibate, somebody would have written about it. If unmarried sex was okay and normal, there’d be some biblical model for that. What we see instead in the bible is a celibate Christ and examples of unmarried persons having sex that are deemed sinful and deviant on their face (such as Lot and his daughters).
It's likely that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were intimate but not sexual.
This is, I believe, a biblical model of intimacy. For many of us, intimacy is a real challenge. Dr. Kal Heller, a licensed psychologist whose specialties are child and family services, says, “Intimacy is very risky because it requires making such a serious commitment to the relationship that each person will experience a sense of dependency on the other. To admit to needing someone else is to risk loss and deep hurt. This is difficult for all of us. Dependency is a negative concept in our society. Men, especially, are taught to strive for independence.” [Lifeccript.Com, see sidebar following page]
There can be no doubt that Maggie depended on Jesus. But, did
Jesus depend on Maggie? Christ clearly desires an intimate
relationship with us, but many of us remain stand-offish,
speaking to Jesus, relying on Him, only in dire circumstances.
The intimacy Jesus and Maggie shared would, for most of us, present a sensual temptation, hence the title The Last
Temptation of Christ. Intimate relationships with those of the
opposite gender can crop up even among so-called platonic
friends. It’s a simple chemical
reaction. But, if Jesus was sensually tempted by Mary Magdalene,
that was not written about, either. Both the book and the film
of The Last Temptation… depict Christ as being tempted by Maggie’s
sensuality, including a controversial “alternate reality” or
dream sequence in which Christ fantasizes about having sex with
her, which led to many fundamentalist Christian protests,
including one in which a Paris theater was burned to the ground.
What was recorded in the bible was Maggie washing Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume before drying them with her hair. I personally have never had a woman dry my feet with her hair, but I’m going to presume that, unless you’re gay or made of stone, that would be a turn-on. The imagery, used on our cover and home page, is unsettling to some Church Folk, who deem it “inappropriate.” And, I’d have to imagine some of Jesus’ own disciples and certainly some of the women who are rarely mentioned but who were certainly there presumed this act to be inappropriate as well. Had some woman come into some church mother's home and started washing your pastor's feet with her hair, there'd be scandal. There'd be an instant assumption the pastor and this woman were involved sexually. It's how we're wired. But nobody chastised Maggie for the inappropriate touching. This seemed odd to me. Was it because no one assumed anything was going on between Jesus and Maggie or was it because everyone was, as we can often be, so polarized by hero worship of their leader that they were hesitant to question Him about even clearly inappropriate behavior? Even when we see sin, or temptation to sin, right before our eyes, we do and say nothing. He's the pastor. We presume he knows better than we do. We give him the benefit of the doubt. And, like lemmings, we dismiss sin even when it's going on before our very eyes. Only Judas complained, not about the sexual connotation of the act but about her wasting perfume they could have sold and the money given to the poor (Luke 7, John 12. An embezzler, Judas was actually lamenting money he himself could have made off of Maggie's perfume). CONTINUED