Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Mary, Mary: Quite Contrary (DaVinvi Decoded Part 3)

So, I am on an airplane bound from Charlotte to Tampa for the West Africa Missions Summit. You should know that I am not an “airplane evangelist.” I wish I was! Usually I pray for two empty seats on my row, so I can get some reading done en route to my destination. I am an introvert, and I am not a good “small talker.” But, I couldn’t help thinking that I was in the midst of a divine appointment when my fellow passenger in the next seat asked, “What kind of work do you do?” I said, “Actually, I am a Southern Baptist Pastor,” to which the next words out of his mouth were, “So, what do you think about this DaVinci Code?” For the next 45 minutes or so, I shared with him some of the information that you have heard me share in these sessions. I pointed him here to this blog, and if he is reading this, “Hi! Glad you are checking it out!”

The Bible says that we are to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us. In these days, people reading this book are wondering how we can continue to hold onto Christ and the Bible in light of all the so-called evidence that Dan Brown and others have produced. But our premise has been that it is the Bible which bears the authenticity that is validated by historical evidence, and that these other claims are built on shaky foundations.

The last time we discussed DVC, we asked the question, “Was Jesus Married with Children?” That is a fundamental premise of the DVC, and we thoroughly discussed it in that study. So I would advise getting a printed copy of those notes if you missed that discussion. Of course, the idea is that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. We debunked that in our last discussion. So we are left with this dangling question, who then is Mary Magdalene? And that is the question we will answer this evening.

To begin with we need to discover who Mary Magdalene is in the minds of Dan Brown and those who influenced him. Over a period of about 25 pages (236-261) Dan Brown presents a synopsis of this view of Mary Magdalene. His assertions are as follows:

1. Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus, and they had at least one child, maybe more.

2. Mary Magdalene was the first and greatest apostle

3. She was of royal bloodline through the tribe of Benjamin (Saul’s lineage)

4. Mary Magdalene is the Holy Grail, the vessel that contained Jesus’ blood. It is a reference to her being the mother of His children.

5. After the crucifixion, she fled to France because she was persecuted by the male leaders of the church

6. The Catholic church launched a smear campaign against her, slandered her, and labeled her a prostitute in order to erase evidence of her true identity.

7. The person to Jesus’ right in DaVinci’s Last Supper.

We could spend more time describing the details of these claims, but they really don’t demand our attention here. What we do want to do is find out where Dan Brown and others who hold his views get their information.

The Da Vinci Code makes reference to the writings that have come to be known as “The Gnostic Gospels,” or the “Nag Hammadi Library.” I discussed these briefly in the last session, but for now let’s briefly review.

The Gnostics were a broadly diverse group of mystic, Greek-thinking religionists who became influential in the second-century, even among Christians. The word gnosis means knowledge. The Gnostics thought that they had gained a special level of enlightenment toward spiritual truths. They devalued the material world and emphasized the invisible, ethereal spirit world.

In the mid-1940s, near the city of Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt, a collection of 52 writings was found in a jar. These texts date back to the 4th Century, but are copies of texts believed by most historians to have originated in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries.

You may recall from our last discussion that we mentioned this passage from the Gospel of Philip. On page 246 of DVC, the historical expert Leigh Teabing refers to this text.

“And the companion of the Savior is Mary Magdalene. Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her on her mouth. The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval. They said to him, ‘Why do you love her more than all of us?’”

The real Nag Hammadi text of the Gospel of Philip is torn and tattered. There are holes in the text at some crucial points, so really, all we know it says is this:

And the companion of the […] Mary Magdalene. [… ] her more than […] the disciples […] kiss her […] on her […].

So, by cleverly filling in the blanks, we come up with an ancient textual reference to Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s marriage. And this is the most concrete evidence that Dan Brown’s theory has to support it. It is a writing of questionable origin and uncertain content.

Now, as we move on in weeks to come, we are going to realize that there is an abundance of historical evidence to affirm the NT as an accurate and authentic historical record. So, why don’t we look there for information about Mary Magdalene.

We find 7 Marys in the NT

-The Virgin Mother of Jesus (Luke 1:30-31)

-Mary of Bethany (John 11:1); she was the sister of Martha and Lazarus. This is the Mary who annointed Jesus’ feet with precious oil in John 12. She is referred to by her home town, indicating that she probably was not married, and had no children.

-The mother of James the younger, Joses, and Salome. (Matt 27:56) She was likely a follower of Jesus from Galilee who moved with him during his ministry. She was a witness at the cross, and part of the group of women who found the empty tomb.

-The wife of Clopas (John 19:25). She also was a witness of the crucifixion, and could possibly be the same Mary who was mother to James the younger, Joses, and Salome.

-The mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12). Her house was the meeting place for the persecuted church. This is where Peter came when he was miraculously released from jail.

Mary of Rome (Romans 16:6). This Mary is unknown apart from this reference to her in Paul’s greetings.

-Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2). We know more about her than any of the others, aside from the mother of Jesus. However, we still know very little about her. Like Mary of Bethany, she was probably not married, hence the reference to her place of birth, Magdala. Magdalene is not her last name. It is used as Jesus is referred to as The Nazarene, being from Nazareth. It is this Mary who is the subject of our focus.

The town of Magdala is probably the town that has been identified today as Migdal. More recent translations refer to it as Magadan. It was situated on the west coast of the Sea of Galilee, just north of Tiberias. It was the center of a prosperous fishing operation. There are also indicators that there was a textile industry in the town. The red line that you see on this map is an international highway that connected the town to other important towns, and as you can see it was at a junction of two important highways.

Luke 8:1-3

She had been possessed by demons, but Jesus had cast the demons out.

She had become a follower of Jesus, supporting Him and traveling with Him, the disciples, and other women.

Matthew 27:55-56; Mark 15:40-41; John 19:25

She was present at the cross with other women.

Matthew 27:59-61

She was present, with at least one other woman, at the tomb of Jesus when He was buried.

Matthew 28; Mark 16:1-9; Luke 24:10; John 20:11-18

She was a witness to the resurrection.

The John 20 passage is the only place in the NT where Jesus is alone with Mary Magdalene. In this passage (v11-18), she is clinging to Him, which would have been unusual in that culture. Men and women did not usually exchange affection this openly. This has led some to believe that there was more to their relationship. However, I think if we honestly process the emotions of that scene, we understand that her reaction was understandable as a spontaneous response to Jesus’ resurrection.

We have already spoken of the gnostic text of Philip. However there is an interesting reference to Mary Magdalene in a 3rd Century writing by Hippolytus. Here he refers to her as “apostle to the apostles.” The word apostle means one who is sent with a message or for a purpose. And Mary was sent by Jesus with a message and for a purpose. She carried the the message of the resurrection to the apostles. But this in no way is a reference to her as the chief of the apostles or even as one bearing the actual apostolic office. Certainly in Acts 1, when they set out to replace Judas, she was not numbered among them. Paul makes no mention of her and she doesn’t receive one line in the book of Acts.

There is no text anywhere that makes mention of Mary Magdalene as the wife of Jesus.

How many of you have heard that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, and that she had anointed Jesus’ feet at some point? Sure, we’ve all heard that. But guess what: You didn’t read it in the Bible.

Nowhere in Scripture is Mary referred to as a prostitute. The first mention of her as a prostitute came from a sermon delivered by Pope Gregory the Great in 591 AD. Most likely what occurred was that he got his passages mixed up and combined material from Luke 7, Luke 8, and John 12.

Luke 7:36-50 – A sinful woman anointed Jesus at Simon the leper’s house. By the way, she is not called a prostitute either, but her reputation for sinfulness is apparently well known.

John 12:1-8 – Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus at her home

Luke 8:1-3 – We are introduced to the reformed demoniac, Mary Magdalene as is she is a new character with whom we would be unfamiliar to this point.

Now some Catholic writers have defended Pope Gregory here. They have to because the Catholic doctrine of Papal Infallibility. Whatever the Pope says is as true as the Bible, so he can’t make a mistake. They say that he didn’t confuse these texts but rather thought the seven demons were the seven deadly sins, and that a woman of such ill repute would have likely been a prostitute. I say, he probably just messed up. Hey we all do it, even the Pope. Besides this, Pope Gregory was not speaking “ex cathedra” in this sermon, so there is no need, even for Catholics, to defend his comments as infallible. In 1969 the Vatican rightly corrected this old story about Mary saying that there was no reason to believe she was a harlot.

Now, if the early church launched a smear campaign against Mary Magdalene, they did a poor job of it. If the Bible has been tinkered with as much as Brown says it has, you would think that they would have inserted something about Mary and prostitution in there somewhere, but they didn’t. There was no smear campaign. And there was no need for one. Mary Magdalene was not married to Jesus so there was no need to conceal her true identity. And if they were going to smear her, making her a reformed prostitute was hardly the way to do it. Jesus was loved and adored by sinful people because He offered them hope, forgiveness, and the love they longed for, and the power to change. It would not distance Mary from Jesus, it would only explain her love for Him.

DVC ends with Langdon, the main character, hearing a woman’s voice, and we can only surmise that it is supposed to be the voice of Magdalene.

This is how the book ends, page 454: “With a sudden upwelling of reverence, Robert Langdon fell to his knees. For a moment, he thought he heard a woman’s voice … the wisdom of the ages … whispering up from the chasms of the earth.”

That’s it. It’s over. I wonder, what did she say to him? Now, we know that we cannot really hear her voice today, but I wonder, if we could, what would she say to us? Perhaps the reason Brown doesn’t mention what Langdon heard her say is that if she could speak, she would be screaming that The DaVinci Code is full of lies. She would be begging us to turn to the Bible. Based on everything we know from the NT, I believe she would tell us two things specifically.

1. Jesus is Alive. She would tell us that she had been to the empty tomb and met the risen Jesus, and He commissioned her to tell the news that He is Risen! And she would beckon us to join her in clinging to Him in the loving adoration of worship.

2. She would tell us that this living Jesus, who delivered her from the stronghold of 7 demons, can deliver you from whatever you are facing as well. Whatever sins or struggles are in your past, or have you bound in the present, Jesus Christ can set you free if you give your life to Him.

Of all the messages one can decipher in DVC, those are nowhere to be found. To find these, we have to turn to a greater bestseller, God’s word, the Bible, and find Mary Magdalene as the Lord would have us know her – a follower of His, a witness for Him, and one who loved Him deeply because of the life-changing touch He had placed on her life.

1 comment:

Russ Reaves said...

Someone made the comment that in this study on Mary Magdalene, I was using the Bible to defend the Bible, and this should not be done.

I agree to a certain extent. However, my purpose here was not to defend the Bible, but to demonstrate the difference between the teachings of the Bible and the teachings of the Code. If you read all of these DaVinci postings, you will see that I am building a case. In session 1, I sought to demonstrate that the DaVinci Code lacks historical veracity. Now I am taking a few major issues and describing where the DaVinci Code differs from the Bible. And in the final installment (forthcoming) I will demonstrate how we received the canon and why the New Testament should be considered historically reliable. So, please stay tuned. Someone complained that the initial installment was 13 pages printed. If I tried to put the whole case up at once, it would be unmanageable. If you desire to dialogue about what you read here, post a comment or send an email.