Was Mary Magdalene the wife and beloved of Jesus? What became of her after the crucifixion of Christ? Why was her story suppressed by the Church Fathers and why must we now retrieve it?
Margaret Starbird, the widely acclaimed Christian theologian and author of several books that seek to restore Mary Magdalene to a position of honor denied her for 2,000 years by the entrenched hierarchy of the patriarchal system, is returning to Minnesota in November for a lecture and book-signing. Her first two books are cited as catalysts for the best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code, and her latest, Mary Magdalene: Bride in Exile, explores the facts about Mary Magdalene in greater depth.
She will present "Mary Magdalene: The Greatest Story Never Told," from 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 8, at Good Samaritan United Methodist Church, 5730 Grove St., in Edina. The fee is $25. The event is sponsored by The Center for Wholeness at (952) 922-1793, [visit www.centerforwholeness.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Starbird shared her thoughts on the truth about Mary Magdalene in a recent interview from her home in Washington.
What is the most convincing evidence that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene?
Margaret Starbird: The similarities between liturgical rites and mythologies of ancient god/goddess couples (Ishtar/Tammuz; Isis/Osiris; Venus/Adonis and others) with the Passion narratives of the Gospels are compelling. The liturgical sequence includes nuptial rites, followed by the sacrifice of the Bridegroom/King" – his torture, execution and entombment. After three days, his wife and her companions come to the tomb to mourn the death of the god/king and are overjoyed to discover him resurrected in the garden. Converts to Christianity would have immediately recognized the archetypal Bride and Bridegroom in the Gospels based on their own popular mythologies celebrating the regeneration of the life force at the spring equinox.
Many scripture scholars have recognized Jesus as the Sacred King. How can they fail to recognize the Bride?
You have stated that an important reason that Jesus came to us was to embrace the feminine in all levels. What leads you to believe this?
Starbird: Numerous stories in the Gospels indicate that Jesus honored women in a way radically different from the way they were customarily treated in their culture. He spoke with women, told parables about their experiences and appreciated their gifts. He even allowed them to touch him in public, violating strict taboos of his time and milieu. Predictably, women were his most ardent disciples, faithful to him even when his male apostles fled the scene of his crucifixion.
I think Jesus consciously embodied the "mythology" of the Sacred Bridegroom and that his "Beloved Complement" was embodied in Mary Magdalene as Bride. There are many hints in the Gospels that their relationship was rooted in the Song of Songs.
Has this mission of Jesus been ignored? Are there signs that this message is now being heard?
Starbird: In Christianity, Mary Magdalene represents the people, the Church or "faith community" as Bride in her relationship to the Christ/Bridegroom. While later generations of Christian theologians insisted on the purely spiritual nature of Jesus’ message (and his relationship with Mary Magdalene), the Gospel makes it clear that Jesus was also interested in the physical well-being of the people. He eats and drinks with his friends, he heals the infirm, feeds the hungry and encourages his followers to do the same, stressing the "kinship" and "table fellowship" of the entire family of God.
The fundamental tenets of the Gospel include a radical sense of justice and equality. Christians who respond to the needs of the poor, the infirm, the deprived and the abused are embracing the teachings of Jesus: "For I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you provided a drink." Jesus clearly hears the cry of the poor, "the voice of the bride." In imitation of Christ, we also hear that call. As we move away from a "power" orientation and embrace "relationship"/kinship, we, too, move to embrace the "Feminine."
You have discovered a meaning for "Magdalene" of which many people may not be aware. Please elaborate.
Starbird: "Magdalene" means "great," or "magnificent." I believe this title was derived from a prophetic passage in Micah 4:8-11 found in the Hebrew Bible. The prophet is speaking to the "Magdal-eder" – the "tower of the flock" – and calls her "Daughter of Sion."
"Why are you crying," he asks. "Have you no king? Has your counselor perished?"
He then goes on to prophesy the exile of this "Magdal-eder"/Daughter of Sion.
"For now you must go out and dwell in the fields…nations shall defile you." This passage prophesies the exact fate of Mary Magdalene, including the exact question Jesus asks when she encounters him in the garden on Easter morning: "Why are you crying?"
The prophecy applies not only to the Diaspora of the Jewish nation, but also to the exile of the "Bride" of the messianic King.
Why is Mary Magdalene dismissed as a mere prostitute by Christians?
Starbird: Early Christian believers began almost immediately to identify Mary Magdalene with the woman who anointed Jesus in all four Gospel narratives, but over the years, the interpretation of the "repentant sinner" from Luke 7:37-50 predominated, even though John’s Gospel clearly corrects Luke’s version, actually identifying the previously unnamed woman as Mary, the sister of Lazarus. Luke’s Gospel attributed "possession by seven demons" to Mary Magdalene, casting a further slur on her reputation.
Apparently there was a movement afoot, reflected in Luke’s Gospel, but not in the other three Gospels, to defame Mary Magdalene and undermine her authority and position of honor in the early church, a movement that became more powerful after the repression of the Gnostic sects in the late fourth century and eventually prevailed in Western (Roman) Christianity.
The slander of the "fallen woman," has cloaked the true identity of Mary Magdalene for all these centuries.
You speak of the anointing of Jesus by a woman as a consistent fact in the four Gospels in the New Testament. What do you believe happened that day in Bethany and why was it worth mentioning by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?
Starbird: Only four or five stories are mentioned in all four Gospels. One of these rare and important stories tells of a woman who anoints Jesus at a banquet. I believe that Mary, the sister of Lazarus, poured ointment on Jesus in a spontaneous outpouring of love and devotion, an action in keeping with ancient marriage practices of the messianic Kings of Israel.
As "Daughter of Sion," Mary represented the land and the people of Israel. Her anointing proclaimed the kingship of Jesus as the "Messiah," a word that means "the anointed king." The earliest accounts say she anointed his head, and that Jesus accepted and defended her, declaring, "she has anointed me in advance for my burial." Jesus appears to have fully understood and accepted his role as the "Sacred King" sacrificed for the people, as in the ancient mythologies.
In your opinion, what has been the result of what you call "the systematic denial and denigration of the Sacred Feminine" over the past 2,000 years on human civilization? Your research is from a Catholic or Christian perspective, but isn’t the sacred feminine embedded within those of different religious beliefs around the world? Perhaps the Sacred Feminine has been shared with the world through different outlets than Christianity?
Starbird: Christianity worships an exclusively masculine Divinity, and images "God" as a bearded patriarch and "Jesus" as God’s only Son. We have enthroned this Father and Son in the throne room in heaven, with predictable repercussions in our culture, which rewards masculine ways of thinking (logic, reason), cultivates masculine preferences and often prefers male children to female. The issue is not which religions image goddesses, but rather, how has the exclusively masculine orientation of Christianity, the "ascendancy of the Son," affected the planet and its peoples.
Other religions may honor goddesses in their homelands, but they have not had the global impact of 400-500 years of colonial imperialism by Christian nations of Europe and the U.S.A.
To the extent that societies across the globe become "solar" oriented, failing to appreciate the gifts and attributes of the "feminine" as partner, they have contributed to male dominance. In reclaiming Mary Magdalene’s true importance in Christianity, we can help to restore balance in the world.
How would we be different now as a society had Mary Magdalene been recognized for who she was from the start?
Starbird: The "mandala" of Mary Magdalene and Jesus as the Christ-Couple would have allowed us to image "the Divine" as a Sacred Partnership, as in the early days of the Christian community when women shared responsibility as leaders, teachers and prophetesses. The voices of women would have been honored rather than marginalized for two millennia.
Only in the last 100 years, and only in the Western nations, have women been given a political voice and role, and only in the last 50 have they been welcomed into some of the leadership roles of Christian churches.
Imaging Christ and Mary as "Beloveds" would have ensured the honoring of the "voice of the Bride" – and of generations of her daughters.
Based on your research and acceptance of Mary Magdelene’s vital role in Jesus’ life, how has that changed or affected your practice of Catholicism or Christianity on a day-to-day basis?
Starbird: In my book, The Feminine Face of Christianity, I discuss "feminine" spirituality, including the "Way" of relating to the Divine, the practice of the "presence" or "immanence" of the Divine in the daily routines of our lives. In the early 1970s, a "Charismatic" movement swept the Roman Catholic and other mainstream churches, awakening an awareness that the Holy Spirit was with us – every minute of every day, as the intimate "traveling companion" of our faith journey. We understood that "God" was totally involved in our lives, in every decision we made, every thought, every action. We began to sense that we were "vessels" – or as St. Paul states in 1 Corinthians, "temples" of the Spirit of God.
I am part of a charismatic prayer community called "Emmanuel" that began in 1973, and I have never departed from the "Way" we learned together, the Way taught in the early Christian communities.
Have you been considered a heretic? How have you coped with such a judgment by others whom you respect?
Starbird: Of course, there are some people guarding the "walls" of orthodoxy who consider me a heretic. The definition of a heretic is anyone whose beliefs are at variance with the Magdersterium in the Vatican. So there are a lot of heretics out there.
My work is based entirely in the canonical Judeo-Christian Scriptures. My Roman Catholic Pastor has read my books and given me his blessing, and Episcopal Archbishop John Shelby Spong has endorsed two of my books and personally supports several of my most important assertions about Mary Magdalene, including her marriage to Jesus. I receive invitations to speak at many Christian churches, and the number is growing.
Many Christians are truly amazed when they realize the mountain of evidence in their own tradition that supports the "Sacred Union" of Jesus and Mary. Ultimately, I have to be true to the vision and message I’ve received.
What effect has Dan Brown’s work with The Da Vinci Code, and the work you and others have done on the subject of the Sacred Feminine had on the general public, in your opinion?
Starbird: I think this developing awareness of the "Sacred Partnership" is waking people up to the need for balancing masculine and feminine energies. The old preference for male children is fading, and "patriarchal" attitudes demanding obedience to absolute authority are dissolving.
But with the return of the Feminine, it is important to retain the balance. Embracing the "Goddess" without her Masculine complement is just as dangerous as the old primacy of the Ascendant Masculine/Son/God.
At least we are now discussing these issues, realizing the dangers inherent in imaging the Divine as exclusively masculine, encouraging people to work toward integration and balance, to honor feminine ways of knowing and being. Our filmmakers have picked up on the theme, along with musicians, artists and writers – pouring it out into the mainstream. It’s about balancing the head and the heart, the right- and left-handed ways of relating to reality.
What message will you want to leave with those who come to hear you speak in Minnesota?
Starbird: I don’t tell people what to believe. I share with them the conclusions I have drawn from my years of "quest" for the meaning of the "Grail" and return of the "Feminine" incarnate in Mary Magdalene. I share a vision of the Sacred Marriage that has the power to heal the wounds of the human family.
For more information on Margaret Starbird, visit her website.