"Mary Magdalene: The Beloved"
by Margaret Starbird © 1999
Who was Mary Magdalene? What do we really know of her?
The canonical Gospels of the New Testament suggest and the Nag Hammadi
"Gospel of Philip" affirms that she was the companion, even the consort,
of Jesus. Can we find further proof that she was the beloved counterpart
Legends abound about this "other Mary" who is mentioned so often in the
Gospels: she was healed of seven demons by Jesus, stood at the foot of
his cross.then accompanied other mourners to his tomb and was first to
return to find him resurrected on Easter. She was the most prominent
woman in the Gospels, mentioned first in seven of the eight lists of
women who walked with Jesus. She tried to embrace her "Rabboni" in the
garden on Easter, and ran to tell the others that he had risen from the
grave. She was the first bearer of the Good News, the first
"Apostle." And yet, with no scriptural justification whatever, later
traditions called her "prostitute."
Who was this woman? What became of her? What can we know of her?
First of all, let me state my skepticism that any conclusive or
indisputable evidence exists which we could call FACT regarding the
whereabouts of Mary Magdalene after the resurrection. Logically, she
must have disappeared from the community of Christians in Jerusalem,
because the author of Acts does not mention her, and neither does
Saint Paul, in all likelihood because they did not know where she was. I
believe that the family and friends of Jesus did not fully trust
Saul/Paul who had been an early persecutor of their community and that
they were very quiet about the whereabouts of Mary Magdalene
(justifiably so, since other family members of Jesus were later
liquidated during prosecutions of Christians).
One strong legend mentioned in the late sixth century by Gregory of
Tours, the chronicler for the Frankish kings, repeats a very old
tradition that Mary Magdalene died in Ephesus, where she had lived with
Jesus' mother and John the Evangelist, the reputed author of the fourth
Gospel. This tradition is refuted by a document in Latin by an anonymous
author of the fifth or sixth century, who refers to an earlier
document in his introduction and then states that Magdalene traveled to
Aix-en-Provence in the company of Saint Maximin.1 The Roman Catholic
Church has always preferred the Ephesus tradition; it put the Magdalene
far away from the virulent rumors of the bloodline of Jesus and the
"Holy Grail" ("sang raal") that flourished in France and Western Europe.
The Roman Catholic Church has very recently attempted to adopt the view
of the Eastern Orthodox that Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany (the
sister of Lazarus) were two separate women, although Pope St. Gregory I
"the Great" stated in a sermon delivered in 591 in Rome that Mary
Magdalene was the same as the sinner in Luke's Gospel who anointed
Jesus' feet and also was to be identified with Mary, the sister of
Lazarus, who is also said to have anointed Jesus with nard (John 11:2
and 12:3).2 So from the end of the sixth century in the Western
church, tradition held that those two Maries were the same woman. I
believe the people knew this from the dawn of Christainity and that Pope
Gregory I was probably merely articulating what he already knew to be
the treasured faith of Christians.
My own story of Mary Magdalene and little Sarah, published as a prologue
in "The Woman with the Alabaster Jar," is fiction. I deliberately wrote
fiction because I have no hard evidence about the existence of "Sarah"
--only a strong intuition that a child of Jesus survived. I told a story
of Mary Magdalene fleeing to Egypt after the Crucifixion because the
strong "Gnostic" tradition of Magdalene as "the Beloved" comes from
there, found hidden in the codices of the Nag Hammadi library. Even if
she didn't herself go to Egypt, her "myth" was there.
And when I discovered that medieval legend insists that there was a
"dark child" on the boat, a child who is called "Sarah, the Egyptian,"
I speculated that she might be the daughter of Magdalene for several
reasons deeply rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures. She might be
symbolically "dark" for reasons associated with the "hidden" bloodline
of the princes of Judah, whose appearance, described as "brighter than
snow and whiter than milk," is now "blacker than soot, they are
unrecognized on the streets" (Lamentations 4). "Sarah" means "princess"
A second prophetic Scripture dear to the hearts of the people of
Israel would likewise be fulfilled in her: "Out of Egypt I called my
child" (Hosea 11:1). Perhaps the child Sarah was called "the Egyptian"
by virtue of the fact that she was actually born in Egypt. But in
stating this, I realize that I could be talking about people who "coined
the myth" rather than any physical reality of an actual "flesh and
blood" child of the union of Magdalene and Christ.
Written traces of the "Grail heresy" of the bloodline of Jesus in Europe
cannot be found until the Middle Ages,3 but folk tales of the little
lost princess are much older. Is this "folk memory" the custodian of a
suppressed and hidden truth? Or was it only a "myth," a story too
dangerous to be told? Among others, Emma Jung, the wife of the famed
psychologist Carl Jung, and their friend Marie-Louise von Franz, believe
that the oral tradition of the "sangraal" ("blood royal" in Old French)
circulated in Europe throughout the Dark Ages.
The Gnostic "Gospel of Philip" mentions Mary Magdalene as the "consort"
of Jesus, one of the women who was his constant companion, his
"koinonos."4 This is significant because Roman Catholic tradition
declares that the Apostle named Philip evangelized Gaul. Perhaps here
again we are looking at "myth" rather than hard empirical evidence. I
venture to suggest that the Apostle Philip probably never even set foot
in Gaul, but rather, it was this "Valentinian" treatise, the Gnostic
"Gospel of Philip," with its pointed references to the intimate union of
Christ and Magdalene, that was honored in Gaul. The intimate
relationship of Christ and Mary Magdalene was so highly honored that a
cult of Mary Magdalene grew up across the Mediterranean from where the
Gospel of Phillip had originated--among the Gnostics in Alexandria. Was
this because the people of Gaul already knew the story of the archetypal
Bride and Bridegroom--the "Beloveds"--of the Christian story?
Over and over I have asked myself why the idea of Mary Magdalene as the
intimate companion of Jesus kept resurfacing throughout the centuries.
Why would this belief never really go away? Was it only because people
are romantic and wanted to link the enigmatic Great Mary with the
Savior? Or was there something or more substance that kept the "myth" of
"Sacred Union" alive?
The "Gnostic" Christianity that grew up in Egypt was far more
egalitarian and liberal than that of Saint Paul and his "orthodox"
friends. Could that be because Mary Magdalene once resided there among
them? Or was it merely her MYTH that had lived there?
No. The evidence that Mary Magdalene and Jesus together provided the
model for the "hieros gamos" (Sacred Marriage)in Christianity is found
in the Gospels themselves. The numbers coded by gematria in her name
indicate that Mary Magdalene was the "Goddess" among early
Christians.5 They understood the "numbers theology" of the
Hellenistic world, numbers coded in the New Testament that were based on
the ancient canon of sacred geometry derived by the Pythagoreans
The Greek epithet "h Magdalhnh" bears the number 153, a profoundly
important value used among mathematicians to designate the Vesica
Piscis--the ()-shape identified with the "sacred Feminine' in the
ancient world.6 This symbol, the "vulva," has obvious attributes of
feminine regeneration and the "doorway" or "portal" of life--the "sacred
cauldron of creativity." It was a very ancient ancient, even archetypal
symbol for the Goddess. It was called the "holy of holies" and the
"inner sanctum." Almonds were sacred to Venus. The symbol abounds in
cave art of ancient peoples discovered in shrines where the fertility of
the earth and the female was honored. It was no accident that
the epithet of Mary Magdalene bore the number that to the educated of
the time identified her as the "Goddess in the Gospels."
And yet, the orthodox patriarchs often chastised the Gnostics for their
numerical analysis of certain Scripture passages. What exactly were they
trying to suppress?
Because she is not mentioned in the book of Acts or Paul's epistles, I
think it likely that the "lost years" of Magdalene between A.D.30-42
were spent in Alexandria, a cosmopolitan city with a large Jewish
population. This theory fits the "myths." I also think it possible that
at some point she might have returned to Jerusalem, to her brother and
sister, and then, witnessing the persecutions of Christians by Saul
(Paul), the family might have decided to emigrate to Gaul.
Legends of Provence declare they arrived in "a boat with no oars" at a
place named Rha on the coast of Gaul that was, of all things! sacred to
the Goddess--the town now called Saintes Maries de la Mer. Like the
Gospels themselves, these legends are inconsistent; they are not
concerned with FACTS but with STORIES! It is these stories that have
circulated in Europe for centuries and refuse to be extinguished,
surfacing every now and then to see if the world is ready to receive
them. In a way, they remind me of the dove that Noah kept sending out to
see if it could find a place to land, a place that might be habitable
after the ravages of the flood.
In light of recent official disavowals of the legends of Saint Sarah by
the Roman Catholic hierarchy, I was fascinated to learn that the Vatican
sent a Apostolic Nuncio to concelebrate Mass with six bishops and
numerous priests at the Basilica of Marie Madeleine in St. Maximin in
1980, to commemorate the 700-year jubilee of the finding of her grave in
Provence. What did these prelates know about Mary Magdalene's presence
in Provence? And how long have they known it? And why do they now desire
so desperately to discount the legends attached to it? Can they not
see that the "dove"--the ancient emblem of the "sacred feminine"--has
I look forward to the day when we all celebrate together the "second
coming" of Christ --this time he comes as the very human, loving husband
and father that his beloved Mary knew him to be. Perhaps at last we
picture them reunited, healing at last the wounded, seared, and scorched
earth--the legacy of patriarchy. Perhaps we can picture them--the New
Adam and the New Eve--holding hands in the garden restored.
Ave Millennium "MM" - "2000"
1. Edith Filliette. Saint Mary Magdalene: Her Life and Times (Newton
Lower Falls, MA: Society of Mary Magdalene, 1983) 137-139.
2. Susan Haskins. Mary Magdalene, Myth and Metaphor (New York: Harcourt
Brace & Company, 1993) 96 quotes homily XXXIII of Pope Saint Gregory I.
3. See Margaret Starbird, "The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary
Magdalene and the Holy Grail" (Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Company, 1993) for
detailed discussion of the medieval heresy of the "sangraal," the royal
bloodline of Davidic kings and the art, artifact and folktale where the
dangerous knowledge of this heresy was hidden.
4. James Robinson, ed. "The Gospel of Philip" in "The Nag Hammadi
Library: In English" (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981) 135-136.
Haskins, op. cit. 40, says that the word "koinonos" is correctly
translated as "partner" or "consort," a woman with whom a man has had
sexual intercourse. It is this word that describes the relationship of
Mary Magdalene and Christ in the Gospel of Philip.(Perhaps we also
need to reevaluate the legends surrounding "St. Valentine"!)
5. See Margaret Starbird, "The Goddess in the Gospels: Reclaiming the
Sacred Feminine" (Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Company, 1993) 140-141, 159-160,
for discussion of the value 153, the sacred number of "the Magdalene"
encoded by gematria in the Gospels. This number occurs also in the the
Gospel of John, chapter 21.
6. See John Michell, "The Dimensions of Paradise: The Proportions and
Symbolic Nmbers of Ancient Cosmology" (San Francisco: Harper & Row,
1990) 71-73, 79, and David Fideler,"Jesus Christ, Sun of God: Ancient
Cosmology and Early Christian Symbolism" (Wheaton, IL:Quest Books, 1993)
211, 307, for detailed explanation of the generative properties of the
() in the ancient canon of sacred number. Also see Jonathan Hale, "The
Old Way of Seeing" (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994) 76-85 for an
eloquent discussion of the symbolism of the Vesica Piscis and its