see footnote (1)
Isn’t it strange how the world works? While researching part 1, arguing that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus, I came across and quoted this from Laurence Gardner’s book: “spikenard was also used as an unguent in funerary rites. It was customary for a grieving widow to place a broken vial of the ointment in her late husband’s tomb”. His source was Margaret Starbird’s The Woman With the Alabaster Jar (2). In the past, to my surprise and shock, I have occasionally seen other writers quoted in support of an author’s thesis, but when I check the original in context, I have discovered that they were actually saying the opposite. I therefore decided to seek out her book, just to make sure that Gardner was not misrepresenting her. On this occasion, everything was in order, and I discovered that she had added an extra detail, as noted in footnote (7) of part 1, that the container taken to Jesus’s tomb “was often a dowry item” (p40).
What a great find this book turned out to be! As she explains in the preface, a friend invited her to read Holy Blood, Holy Grail (3). She says that she was appalled, that it “had to be wrong”, and “seemed to border on blasphemy” — she had been brought up a Catholic. She then “set out to research the heresy, assuming that I would soon be able to refute its tenets”. The whole process took her seven years. However, “the more deeply involved I became with the material, the more obvious it became that there was real substance in the theories set forth in Holy Blood, Holy Grail. And gradually I found myself won over to the central tenets of the Grail heresy, the very theory I had set out to discredit”. She says that she cannot prove it, but that there is much powerful circumstantial evidence.
She therefore agrees with the conclusion of my hypothetical argument in part 1, that “Jesus married her! Jesus had sex with her! Jesus had a child with her!”, despite the scorn of professional biblical scholar Bart Ehrman for such suggestions. He would probably label her as an ‘independent’ researcher, along with Baigent/Leigh/Lincoln (BLL) and Gardner, a convenient way of dismissing their findings. She says that she was a “student at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1988 and 1989”, that her “special interest and expertise (was) religion, medieval civilization, art, literature, and symbolism”, and that she “had taught Bible study and religious education for years”. So I’ll leave the reader to judge whether that was enough to qualify her for the task.
I won’t go into detail about her book, but recommend it to anyone interested in these issues. I’ll just single out her research on one important question. ‘Independent’ researchers, the type that Bart Ehrman doesn’t like, have come to the conclusion that Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene are the same person. So far in my articles, that would include BLL, and Laurence Gardner — see especially The Adoptionist Problem, footnotes (11) and (12) — where the latter also mentions two church sources who agree. Ehrman, however, won’t have any of this, and insists that they are different people. He says: “Mary Magdalene is not the same person as Mary of Bethany. The name Magdalene indicates the town she comes from… known as Magdala. The other Mary, however came from and lived in Bethany… They can’t be the same person because the one identifying mark for both of them is given precisely to differentiate them” (4).
I’ll make one small point before outlining Starbird’s argument. If what Ehrman says is true, why is she not referred to as Mary of Magdala, if this is the normal way of indicating someone’s place of origin, as is the case with Mary of Bethany? Nowhere in the four gospels is she referred to as Mary of Magdala, always Mary Magdalene. There is only one reference to her before the crucifixion, when Luke (8.2) has the opportunity to say the former, but instead says “Mary, called Magdalene” (NRSV version). Does Magdalene not seem, therefore, more like a description or epithet? That is the conclusion that Starbird arrives at. She refers to Micah 4.8: “As for you, O [Magdal-eder], watchtower of the flock, O stronghold of the Daughter of Zion! The former dominion will be restored to you; kingship will come to the Daughter of Jerusalem” (5). She says that “in Hebrew, the epithet Magdala literally means ‘tower’ or ‘elevated, great, magnificent’. This meaning has particular relevance if the Mary so named was in fact the wife of the Messiah. It would have been the Hebrew equivalent of calling her ‘Mary the Great’ ”. She therefore thinks that this is the true meaning of Magdalene, “the promise of the restoration of Sion following her exile” (6).
It is possible that the gospel authors, writing long after the events, using their oral and written sources, may have misunderstood the name Mary Magdalene, and merely assumed that it meant she came from Magdala. As stated above, however, nowhere do they say this, so perhaps it is just readers, and later scholars, who have made that mistake. If we follow the logic from my previous articles, Starbird’s explanation is far more convincing. It would also make it more possible to understand and integrate the use of two different names for her, thus something like Mary, the Messianic Queen from Bethany.
In support of Starbird’s argument, note that Béranger Saunière, the priest who apparently made an extraordinary discovery of heretical documents at Rennes-le-Château, following which he became very rich (7), used some of the money to build a (watch)tower in the garden dedicated to her.
(1) This article will only make sense to readers familiar with part 1; it is really a further appendix to it. Both are part of a longer series, available on Medium, for full details of which, see my website.
(2) Bear & Company, 1993.
(3) by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln (BLL), referred to in previous articles in this series, originally 1982, also Arrow, 1996
(4) Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene, OUP, 2006, p189
(5) She uses the Saint Joseph New Catholic Edition, 1963
(6) as (2), pp50–51
(7) This is the starting point for BLL’s quest in Holy Blood, Holy Grail.