Friday 13 May 2016

Was Jesus married?

NOTE ADDED: some months after writing this post, after further reflection and study of the Fourth Gospel, I decided that the description of the marriage of Jesus and Mary was actually the wedding at Cana, therefore not the episode described below.


For a Mormon-believer the surprising thing would be if Jesus was not married; since marriage is regarded as necessary for the highest divine exaltation. Also, it provides a solid reason why Christ had to be incarnated in order to become our Saviour, despite that he was already divine before incarnation: perhaps Christ needed to be reincarnated in order that he might marry and achieve the final degree of exaltation such that he could Father premortal spirit children?

The main apparent obstacle is that the Bible seems not to mention Jesus getting married - but maybe it does, and quite explicitly. It depends on our understanding of the key section of the key gospel of the whole Bible; namely the events surrounding the raising of Lazarus in John's Gospel - that point of inflexion of the narrative in which events move towards Jesus's crucifixion, implying that Christ's ministry was now complete. What went before (including the delay of thirty years before the start of Jesus's ministry) may be seen as awaiting this moment.

I am going to state why there is good reason to assume that Jesus married Mary Magdalene. I do not think this is any kind of stretch of logic assuming three things: 1. It is plausible Jesus was married. 2. Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene are the same person - Bethany having changed her name after the anointing of Christ. 3. The anointing of Jesus by Mary with spikenard, the wiping of it with her hair, would have been clearly understood by John and his contemporary readers as describing the known ritual of a divine, royal marriage.

The second and third assumptions seem quite reasonable - even though they are not entailed by what we happen to know (from secular histories) of the evidence.

If John's gospel is read in the light of these three assumptions, then the idea of a marriage fits without strain, and explains the subsequent events at the cross (the presence of Mary Magdalene) and the events at the tomb of Jesus after the resurrection.

I append the relevant text. Whether this is found compelling by the skeptic is doubtful; but if we choose to assume that Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment is describing a wedding ceremony, the interpretation enables a naturalness, clarity and simplicity to the narrative - which is otherwise extremely puzzling; given its prominence, detail and placement.


John 11: 11 Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) 3 Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. 4 When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. 5 Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.

John 12: 18 Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: 19 and many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother... 28 And when [Martha]had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. 29 As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him. 30 Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. 31 The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there. 32 Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled...

John 12: 12 Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. 2 There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. 3 Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. 4 Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, 5 Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? 6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. 7 Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this.

John 19: 25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! 27 Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.

John 20: 20 The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. 2 Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. 10 Then the disciples went away again unto their own home. 11 But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, 12 and seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. 13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. 14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. 16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. 17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. 18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.


David Balfour said...

To be honest I have just assumed that she was his wife and that for various reasons this had just been air-brushed from history for expediency. A brief internet search following reading your post has turned this up! What do you think?! A fake?

I find digging into archaology interesting but now prefer prayer and intuition to support discernment otherwise one ends up in the trap of having to 'prove' everything which frankly stopped me from believing in the Gospels at all when i was an atheist.

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - I have no opinion on the subject.

For me, the double description of Mary anointing with a named substance, and then wiping Jesus's feet with her hair, cries out for explanation; it certainly seems like a very specific ritual - and the fact that it is not explained suggests to me that it would have been understood by John and his readers. (Perhaps significantly, it was *not* understood by Judas.) Of course the word Christ means anointed, and this seems like the actual anointing event - and this seems to invite explanation as to why this formal recognition/ instantiation of Christ's divinity was performed by this particular woman. As I said - if (acknowledging that it is a big IF for most Christians) the three assumptions are accepted, then 'it all makes sense'!

Andrew said...

You make a good point that every mentioned incident in the Bible tends to reflect multiple and deep significances and meanings, and trying to glance quickly over any particular point or giving it a surface explanation does not seem to do things justice at all!

(I've noticed this in my study Bible that managed to often break down a significant event into a dry, boring, explanation that seems to miss-the-point. At least the Church Fathers were often far more imaginative in these things, seeing the grand web/matrix of interlocking and overlapping meanings).

Meditating on these things is very helpful to unlock some of the overlapping and hidden revelations - as you say it is more by imagination in this than anything.

Anonymous said...

Granting for the sake of argument that under your three assumptions, your conclusion makes sense, is there any reason to think that anointing and wiping with hair comprise a marriage ritual?

From a little cursory research, it appears that the Jewish wedding ritual of the time involved the ritual cleansing of the bride -- but not the groom. This may be reflected in Eph. 5:25-27: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, **having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word**, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.”

In other words, the mention of the ritual cleansing of the Church -- his bride -- by baptism could be a reference to the ritual cleansing of the bride in a Jewish wedding. If the anointing and "cleansing" of Jesus by Mary's tears are to indicate a wedding ritual, where is the ritual cleansing of the bride?

Of all the descriptions of the wedding ritual of the time that I have found, I have not found any mention of anointing the groom. It's not impossible that this was some kind of a "divine" ritual, unknown to the Jewish culture of the time. But if that's the case then I don't know why we should assume that John and the disciples understood its meaning, and that John expected his readers to understand it. The general pattern is that they would fail to understand Jesus' meaning, until he explained it to them using illustrations of things they were familiar with.

In any case, the meaning that Jesus places on her action is that of anointing him for his burial: "For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial." (Mt. 26:12.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@Agellius - I don't know of any evidence, but it seems plausibly the kind of thing that might be a marriage ritual - but not necessarily Jewish as such. There were various estoteric sects, and it is not unlikely that we don't know what they did - for instance Mithraism is almost wholly mysterious, despite large numbers of international adherents and abundant archaeological remains. A more local 'mystery religion' could leave behind even less evidence of its rites.

However, it may yet be that somewhere, sometime, some evidence *could* emerge of this ritual being a type of marriage. Such things have happened.

On the other side, if it was not a ritual, this was a pretty extraordinary and apparently intimate thing to do to Jesus as a spontaneous act.

Somewhat aside, if indeed the events at Bethany did constitute Christ's anointing as Messiah, there must have been some reason why this anointing was performed by a woman, and specifcially Mary. After all, the person who has authority to anoint a divine king is not a random individual.

As I read these passages, John communicates a powerful sense of rightness, destiny, a sense of awe. The events were surely meant to be, and have meaning.