Weird History
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Here's All The Physical Evidence Of Mary Magdalene That We've Got So Far

Updated September 21, 2018 57.4k views12 items

Jesus Christ is famous for never having married, but he had some close lady pals, including alleged repentant sinner Mary Magdalene. Dan Brown's novel-turned-blockbuster film The Da Vinci Code brought the idea of Mary Magdalene marrying Jesus and having a secret love child to the masses.

But this popular notion isn't really based in real scholarship... or is it, especially in an era of people looking for archaeological evidence of biblical stories? Was Mary Magdalene a real person? Historically, who was Mary Magdalene, and what evidence is there for her existence? Although there is no physical archaeological evidence that either Jesus or Mary Magdalene existed - it's all literary - most scholars believe that these two really did exist. What's up for debate, then? The exact nature, actions, and sayings of the people depicted in the Gospels and other early religious documents vary, depending on the text.

What is this ancient proof of Mary Magdalene? Mary Magdalene appears in a few of the canonical Gospels - the four big ones, of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - where she is one of Jesus's most important followers. She witnesses the Crucifixion and receives divine direction to spread the Good News. In later legends, she is said to have kissed Jesus and traveled to France or Turkey to spread Jesus's message, and some sources even claim her skeleton still survives in a church in southern France or in Israel. Tracking down her whereabouts is almost as exciting as a Dan Brown novel.

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  • People "Found" Jesus And Mary Magdalene's Family Sepulcher But It Was Debunked

     

    In 1980, archaeologists came across an ancient tomb in a region of Jerusalem called Talpiot. The resulting sepulcher, aptly dubbed the "Talpiot Tomb," contained multiple ossuaries - essentially boxes of bones - of the deceased. The ossuaries in the Talpiot Tomb have some notable names inscribed on them: "Yeshua bar Yosef" (AKA Jesus, son of Joseph) and "Mariamne e Mara" (Mary, AKA the master). There are a few other familiar monikers in the sepulcher, like another Mary, Judas, son of Jesus, and Joseph, and early Christian symbology appears carved in the tomb's stone.

    Although these names are very biblical - some posit that these figures must be our Gospel faves, especially since a "James, brother of Jesus" ossuary has also been found - it seems unlikely that these bones belong to the Jesus and Mary Magdalene we know so well. The ossuary evidence is pretty much all based on these people's first names, and scholars debate that "Yeshua" actually reads as such.

    There are other names mentioned in the tombs, like Matthew, that don't fit into the narrative of Jesus's family. Not to mention that Jesus, Joseph, and Mary were some of the most popular names in Judea at this point, so the tripartite grouping might not have been uncommon.

    The Christian imagery - Jonah emerging from the fish's belly - doesn't look much like Jonah and the fish, as it turns out. And finally, the Greek inscription next to it - which supposedly reads, "Divine Jehovah lift up! Lift up!" - doesn't actually say that. Instead, it appears that the box reads, "Here are bones. I touch them not. Agabus," with Agabus being the name of the deceased.

  • Photo: Lawrence OP / flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    The Apocryphal 'Gospel Of Mary' Says St. Peter Got Jealous Of Her

    There were lots more gospels and accounts of Jesus's life than just the four big ones floating around in the ancient world. Dubbed "apocryphal gospels," these texts "are written either in imitation of the genre 'gospel' as applied to the New Testament canon or in telling of events and sayings in the life of Jesus and his immediate circle of family and disciples." Meaning, therefore, that the traditions are perhaps just as valid, but they didn't make the final cut for some reason.

    One such was the so-called Gospel of Mary, in which Mary Magdalene gets top billing, literally and figuratively. She takes on the Jesus-y preachy role in his absence, and the apostle Peter even gets jealous of how much Jesus loved Mary during his lifetime, admitting Christ told her things he didn't tell the other apostles. Peter tells her, "Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than other women. Tell us the words of the Savior which you have in mind since you know them; and we do not, nor have we heard of them."

    Peter grumbles to the other disciples, saying: "Did he then speak secretly with a woman in preference to us, and not openly? Are we to turn back and all listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?" Mary gets sad and asks Peter if he thinks she's making all this up; Levi then tells her Peter just has a quick temper and adds: "But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you to reject her?"

  • Photo: Lawrence OP / flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    'The Gospel of Philip' Calls Her Jesus's Companion, Not His Wife

    Here's another apocryphal gospel, this one called the Gospel of Philip. This text states: 

    "There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary."

    Mary Magdalene receives the title of "koinonos," or "companion" in Greek. There isn't a romantic connotation here.

    The other big piece of evidence from Philip? Jesus is said to have kissed Mary Magdalene on the mouth. This seems damning, but earlier in the Gospel of Philip, the narrator discusses how a kiss is not a romantic gesture, but one of brotherhood and religious grace:

    "It is from being promised to the heavenly place that man receives nourishment. [...] him from the mouth. And had the word gone out from that place, it would be nourished from the mouth and it would become perfect. For it is by a kiss that the perfect conceive and give birth. For this reason we also kiss one another. We receive conception from the grace which is in one another."

    So everyone is kissing everyone at this time, a sign of religious companionship and bonds rather than romantic affection.

  • The So-Called 'Gospel of Jesus's Wife' Turned Out To Be A Forgery

     

    Several years ago, Harvard professor Karen King of Harvard Divinity School made a startling proclamation: She deciphered an ancient scrap of papyrus that she was calling "the Gospel of Jesus's Wife." In it, Jesus specifically mentions his wife - although not her identity - which seemingly changes the biblical game.

    But in 2016, an in-depth article in The Atlantic exposed the irregular chain of ownership of the papyrus. It eventually came out that the papyrus was a very clever forgery and King had been fooled. King herself has admitted that her career-making discovery has actually been anything but, meaning that this so-called evidence never existed in the ancient world and was a much more modern invention.