Hanukkah Yes, but what About Kislev 24?

Tomorrow night, Sunday, December 6th, begins the festival of Dedication, more popularly known as Hanukkah–the festival of Lights. This special Jewish festival that non-Jews often mistakenly think of as the “Jewish Christmas,” has its origins in the revolt of the Maccabees against the infamous Greco-Syrian ruler Antiochus IV (aka Epiphanes) in 167 BCE.

You can find the colorful and bloody story in 1 Maccabees 1-4, a book included in Catholic Bibles but referred to by Protestants as part of the “Apocrypha.” If you don’t have a copy around it is readily available on-line at apocrypha.org and is well worth reading. The festival itself, which lasts eight days, is a celebration of the “cleansing” and rededication of the Jewish Temple in 165 BCE when the forces lead by the family of Judas Maccabee (“the Hammer”) recaptured Jerusalem and removed the pagan altar and other “abominations” that Antiochus had instituted in an effort to stamp out worship of the Jewish God Yehovah (see 1 Macc. 4:59).

In the time of Jesus we are told in the Gospel of John that Jesus went up to the Temple during this festival the last winter of his life (John 10:22). The date for this “Dedication” was Kislev 25 or the 25th day of the 9th month on the Jewish lunar calendar.

People often ask, having heard of the Jewish festivals such as Passover, Rosh HaShanah, and Yom Kippur–is Hanukkah ever mentioned in the Hebrew Bible–in other words is it a “Biblical” festival. These answer is yes and no, depending on how one looks at Kislev 24–the day before Hanukkah. Let me explain.

What is altogether fascinating is a much earlier and little known biblical reference to a different but very related date–Kislev 24 on the Jewish calendar–which begins this evening, Saturday, December 5th, at sundown. This, of course, is one day before the Hanukkah celebration, but the reference can be precisely dated to 520 BCE–over 350 years before the Maccabean victory. I refer here to the book of the Prophet Haggai.

Haggai comes to us from the 2nd year of the Persian King Darius, late summer, August, 520 BCE. It is one of the most precisely dated books in the Hebrew Bible, much like its sister Zechariah, and its twin Malachi. The three go together, like peas in the pod, both coming from that crucial time of the “restoration” of Judah to the Land following the Babylonian captivity. Collectively they are our last words of the Prophets in the Hebrew Bible–and thus for Jews and others who consider the Tanakh Scripture–the last inspired words of Yehovah. Indeed, it is possible that Haggai is the unnamed author of the book called Malachi, which means in Hebrew “My Messenger,” since in Haggai 1:12, the Prophet is identified as the “messenger of Yehovah.”

Both Haggai and Zechariah address their contemporary situation, as one would expect, and are concerned that the Temple be rebuilt and the city-state of Judea be restored to limited sovereignty after the Babylonian destruction in 586 BCE.  However, if read carefully, both clearly understand that this restoration of Judah is only a preliminary, even symbolic step, to a coming great restoration of Judah and all Israel–including the so-called “Lost Tribes.”

Even though there is a Priest (Joshua), and a Governor (Zerubbabel) of the Davidic line, there is no anointing of the BRANCH figure of whom both Isaiah and Jeremiah had spoken. One way of putting this is to say that Haggai and Zechariah are working in the tall shadow of Jeremiah (see especially chapters 30-31), and they know, from his clear and powerful prophecies, that the final days have not come with this tiny little beachhead return of a portion of Judah to the land. But they do believe that this return of Judah is a “sign” of things to come, and a guarantee that the Plan of Yehovah, to fill the earth with justice and righteousness, through Abraham’s seed, is not to fall to the ground.

And that leads us to the curious and fascinating references to the 24th day of the 9th month–or Kislev 24 as that month came to be called.

The book of Haggai is sequential; it takes you through the last months of the year 520 BCE. It begins with the Rosh Chodesh of the 6th month (August), takes you through the 21st day of the 7th month (2:1), which is the last day of Sukkoth (October), and then into December–with the 24th day of the 9th month. Haggai’s third and fourth messages come on this very day. It is a short book, and if you skim it through you will see the building sequence.

The precise date Kislev 24 is mentioned four times in the second chapter, verses 10, 15, 18 and 20. Twice it is emphasized that “from this day forward I will bless you,” and twice Haggai gets a special Word from Yehovah, on this very day. You have to read the whole chapter to get the context, but the message is basically that Yehovah will “shake the heavens and the earth and all nations” overthrowing their power, after which He will anoint the chosen one of the line of David (symbolized in that day by Zerubbabel), and essentially make Jerusalem the new world capital. This entire prophetic agenda to which Haggai alludes is laid out in great detail in the pre-Exilic Prophets, see particularly Isaiah 2:1-4; Jeremiah 3:14-18; 23:5-8; Micah 5:2-5).

This message is addressed to the two “Messiahs,” the Priest and the “King” or Governor, Joshua and Zerubbabel, respectively (2:4-5). They become “signifiers” of things to come. They are not the final anointed ones, and Zechariah picks this up in his visions, especially chapters 4 and 6. These symbolic figures, as well as the promised presence of the Holy Spirit (see 2:5 and Zech 4:6), are the guarantee that Yehovah will bring about these promises.

Notice, Zechariah begins getting his visions and messages in the 8th month of that same year (Zech 1:1), or mid-November. He has EIGHT night visions, they are all quite difficult to follow, but prophetically important in forecasting the redemptive future. There is much more detail in Zechariah, but the two, Haggai and Zechariah, should be read in tandem, as one explains the other.

Note carefully,  Kislev 24 is not specifically mentioned in Zechariah, but it is alluded to in chapter 4:8-10. It is the famous “day of small things,” that one might be led to “despise,” because after all, this tiny little remnant of Judah, beginning to lay the foundation of a nondescript temple, under the mighty thumb of the Persian empire, was hardly even worthy of the name of a city-state, much less a world kingdom, and yet had hopes and dreams and promises of world dominion–and the rulership of its promised “Messiahs.” These were the expectations that fueled the apocalyptic hopes of both the Dead Sea community and the followers of Jesus and John the Baptist, see my previous blog post, “Waiting for Two Messiahs,” here.

Chapters 7-14 of Zechariah, which the author receives two years later, are quite different. They are straightforward and fairly plain, laying out, likely in some sequential order, both the preliminary events, and the detailed climax, of the “time of the end.”

So, what about Kislev 24?

In the time of Haggai and Zechariah, it was the day marked for the promise that the redemption would ultimately come about, “not by power, nor by might, but by the Spirit of Yehovah”–but in its time (Zech 4:6). But in the time of the Maccabees, when Syrian ruler Antiochus IV unleashed his great persecution against the Jews of Judea/Palestine, it was on Kislev 24 that the enemy was defeated and the Temple freed from its desecration. That is why the festival of Chanukah is celebrated beginning at sundown, at the end of Kislev 24. In other words, it is not so much Hanukkah that is important, as its marker date: Kislev 24. I seriously doubt that either the author of 1 Maccabees or the Maccabees themselves were attempting to correlate their victory over Antiochus by some obscure date in the Prophet Haggai. There is no indication that such is the case and nothing is said in the texts of the Maccabees about Kislev 24. But in looking back on things it does in fact turn out that the victory began, “from this day forward,” on Kislev 24.

Fast forward to Sunday, December 9, 1917. General Allenby, leading the British forces (remember Lawrence of Arabia), liberated Jerusalem for the first time in centuries from Turkish/Muslim rule. By the morning of December 9th Turkish forces had fled the city and the governor Izzat Pasha fled in a horse drawn carriage borrowed from the American Colony hotel–leaving behind a note of surrender. The date on the Jewish calendar–you guessed it: Kislev 24. That evening the Jewish soldiers in the British army celebrated Hanukkah and went to the Western Wall in openness and freedom. Allenby’s triumphal entry, captured in the photo above, was two days later, on December 11th. Prior to that date, and during the many centuries of Ottoman/Turkish rule, the Jews were only allowed to approach their “Wailing Wall” on Fridays before the Sabbath, even though they were the majority of the city of Jerusalem. It is doubtful that Allenby was aware, during the heat of the battle, of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah but we can be certain that he knew nothing of Kislev 24–this obscure date in the book of Haggai.

What to make of these strange patterns of events around Kislev 24, a date specified by Haggai in 520 BCE, I leave to my readers, but as preparations for Hanukkah begin tomorrow, take a look at Haggai 2:10-21 as a fascinating precursor to events in the 2nd Temple period and in our own times.

Did Joseph Build the Great Pyramid at Gizeh?

Dr. Ben Carson has made lots of controversial headlines this week with his assertion, that turns out to be quite common in certain Adventist/Fundamentalist Christian circles, that the biblical Joseph in fact built the Great Pyramid of Cheops–the one that appears on the back of our U.S. dollar bill as the “Great Seal” of our nation.

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Although this assertion comes as a shock to the press and is repudiated by all Egyptologists, it has some broader background that is worth exploring–see Ana Marie Cox’s very intelligent post in the Daily Beast here. I remember hearing this theory here and there in Christian evangelical circles growing up in the 1960s as a teenager.  The assertion that Joseph was the engineering genius (with God’s help of course!) behind the mysterious construction of the oldest pyramids–and that they were used for grain storage, is still floating around after 50 years, see the purported evidence here. The late Dr. Herman Hoeh, self-educated “historian” and biblical scholar, wrote an article in the Plain Truth magazine in 1964 titled “Who Built the Great Pyramid?” that is available on-line here. He asserts that not only Joseph was involved, but the biblical figure of “Job” was in fact Cheops, the non-Egyptian king who ruled Egypt in the 18th century BCE. If you read through Dr. Hoeh’s article you can see how naive readers would be taken in by his presumed knowledge of history while all mainstream historians and archaeologists, lacking biblical faith, are thus deluded and can’t see the truth.

This is the “closed” scientific world that Dr. Carson and millions of fundamentalist Christians live in and within that bubble everything makes sense. I would so so far as to guess that Dr. Carson seems himself as a kind of “new Joseph,” who, “with God on his side,” has risen from rags to the highest office in the land in order to save a people from destruction. That is why he repeatedly says if God wills that he become the President then it will happen–not by power, nor by might, but by God’s Spirit.

Kheops-PyramidWhat the mainstream “progressive secularist” media, as Carson labels it, fails to realize is that such ideas are quite common among mainstream Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christian circles–connected to theories about how biblical archaeology confirms the Bible’s historical reliability. Dr. Carson’s assertion at the 1998 Andrews University graduation ceremony speaks for itself and is totally within the parameters of the commonly held views of history, archaeology, and biblical “literalism.” Listen to Dr. Carson’s address here–only snippets have been picked up by the press but the entire “sermon” sheds more light on Dr. Carson and his candidacy than anything I have seen about the current controversy.

Understanding Bible Fundamentalisms

An oldie but goodie from the ever-insightful R. Joseph Hoffmann.

Fundamentalism

I’ve been puzzling about this recently: whether there is anything that Christian and Muslim fundamentalists have in common. I’ll leave the Jews and the Sikhs and Hindus to one side for a minute. Just because I want to.

 

First of all, you have to have a book to be a fundamentalist. It’s no good trying to say you take your religion seriously if you don’t have a page to point at or a verse to recite.

 

Theoretically, various gurus can exert the same sort of control that a book can exert over the mind of a true believer. But usually gurus begin by pointing at books as well.

 

That’s what both Jim Jones of People’s Temple, Inc., and David Koresh of Branch Davidian fame did. They were just the messengers, albeit the ones you had to sleep with to get the keys to the kingdom.

Read the entire here.

Fabulous TV Segment on our Mt Zion Excavation in Jerusalem!

Here is a fabulous TV segment on our Mount Zion excavation offering a wonderful overview of our team and accomplishments with interviews and plans for the future! Please watch, share, and spread it for us–and join us in 2016 if you can (bookmark digmountzion.uncc.edu for updates and forthcoming details). Thanks to Stephen Ward and his team for this fine production.

 

 

 

Biblical Name Eshbaal Found Outside of the Bible

Courtesy of “Bible History Daily” from the Biblical Archaeology Society
Link: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/daily-life-and-practice/biblical-name-eshbaal-found-outside-of-the-bible/

Khirbet Qeiyafa excavators publish new Iron Age inscription
Robin Ngo   •  06/05/2015

qeiyafa-eshbaal

Ner was the father of Kish, Kish the father of Saul, and Saul the father of Jonathan, Malki-Shua, Abinadab and Esh-Baal.

—1 Chronicles 8:33 The Biblical name Eshbaal has been found for the first time in an ancient inscription. Incised before firing on a 3,000-year-old pithos (large ceramic storage jar), the inscription was discovered at the site of Khirbet Qeiyafa in Israel. Researchers Yosef Garfinkel, Mitka R. Golub, Haggai Misgav and Saar Ganor have published their study of this inscription in a forthcoming issue of the journal Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (BASOR).

The Eshbaal inscription reads “[ ] | ʾšbʿl | ˹bn˺ | bdʿ” (“ʾIšbaʿal son of Bedaʿ”) and was written from right to left in the Canaanite alphabetic script. The name ʾšbʿl, commonly translated as ʾIšbaʿal (or Esh-Baʿal—“man of Baʿal”), is known from the Bible. Eshbaal was the second king of Israel, King Saul’s son and a rival of King David (1 Chronicles 8:33; in 2 Samuel 2–4, this king is called Ish-Bosheth). The name Bedaʿ, however, is unique.

qeiyafa-mapRadiometric dating of the layer from which the Eshbaal inscription was unearthed dates the layer to c. 1020–980 B.C.E. The clarity and precision with which the inscription was written suggest, according to the researchers, that the inscription was the work of a skilled hand—perhaps a trained scribe.

“This new inscription marks a transitional stage between the writing system used for 800 years and the official, standardized Phoenician script used by kingdoms and states in Canaan by at least the 10th century B.C.E.,” the researchers wrote in their BASOR article.

The free eBook Life in the Ancient Worldguides you through craft centers in ancient Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and ancient practices—from dining to makeup—throughout the Mediterranean world.

 

The Eshbaal inscription, along with five other inscriptions—two of which are also from Qeiyafa, offers evidence that the Canaanite script was used in the late 11th–10th centuries B.C.E. Included in this important corpus is the five-line Qeiyafa Ostracon, a prize find unearthed during the 2008 season at Khirbet Qeiyafa and possibly the oldest Hebrew inscription ever discovered.*

qeiyafa-ostracon

Excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, led by Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, were conducted from 2007 to 2013. Located about 18.5 miles southwest of Jerusalem, Khirbet Qeiyafa was occupied during several periods: Late Chalcolithic, Middle Bronze, Iron, Persian-Hellenistic and Byzantine. Qeiyafa’s main phase of occupation was during the Iron Age, when there was a heavily fortified city boasting a casemate wall, two gates and monumental buildings.In a Biblical Archaeology Review article, Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel and Martin Klingbeil explain the importance of the Iron Age city at Qeiyafa:

The seven seasons of excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa […] uncovered for the first time in the archaeology of the Holy Land a fortified city in Judah from the time of King David. The date of this site (1020–980 B.C.E.) is confirmed by olive pits sent to Oxford University for radiocarbon dating.

[…]

Khirbet Qeiyafa redefined the debate over the early kingdom of Judah. It is clear now that David’s kingdom extended beyond Jerusalem, that fortified cities existed in strategic geopolitical locations and that there was an extensive civil administration capable of building cities.

Read the BASOR article on the new Eshbaal inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa.

Jerusalem and the Holy Land in 19th Century Photos and Engravings

I am absolutely fascinated with old photos, engravings, and maps of Jerusalem and the Holy Land–especially from the 19th century. I have written previously of the massive 13 x 17 foot Stephan Illes model of Jerusalem from 1873 here. When you visit Jerusalem you don’t want to miss this, it is part of the Tower of David museum–but now in the basement and overlooked by most tourists. There is a growing archive of photos, maps, and engravings, now being posted online from the Ottoman Imperial Library, linked here. I just downloaded a few dozen of Jerusalem. You will need to scroll down to find the relevant albums and you can download in various resolutions. Here are a few of my favorites so far.

Panorama from the EastJerusalem from the SouthTomb of David Mt ZionEastern Gate and Muslim GravesPanorama from EastWestern Prayer Wall

Weekend Seminar: How An Ancient Apocalyptic Vision of the Future Took Over the World

I will be leading a seminar this weekend at the 72nd annual United Israel Conference here in Charlotte, NC at the lovely Doubletree Hotel in Southpark. Registration is open to anyone interested. My topic deals with “Apocalypticism, from the Dead Sea Scrolls to Isis,” and here is an outline of what I will cover:

Tabor Apocalyptic Lecture

 

Details on the conference at: http://unitedisrael.org/uiwu-e…/uiwu-2015-annual-conference/

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Masada Saga Hits Prime-time Television

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Don’t miss the “Masada” special to air this Friday night on the Smithsonian Channel, March 27 at 9pm (ET), see details here. The program will be repeated Saturday March 28th at 12am and 6pm. This program was done in conjunction with the upcoming CBS Special “The Dovekeepers,” based on Alice Hoffman‘s best-selling novel by that name that airs March 31 and April 1, 9pm (ET). I highly recommend both programs. I participated in the Masada program and I think it is quite well done. It had the advantage of drawing upon some of the footage from “The Dovekeepers” rather than rely upon less professionally produced “reenactments” that are the standard fare of most TV “Bible” shows. Among other things you get to see me rappell down the steep southern side of the fortress. You can watch some previews of the Dovekeepers on the link above. On the whole, given its genre as a dramatic prime-time TV drama, I think it is quite well done with meticulous care for historical detail.

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Southern Cliffs of Masada with Caves Visible

Here are two links to posts (with further links) on Masada dealing with the controversial skeletal remains discovered in Cave 2000/2001 of the 25 or 26 individuals, C-14 dated to the time of the siege, on the southern cliff of the fortress–pictured above.

Masada Mysteries: What Do We Know About the Bones?

Whose Bones? Getting the Facts Straight at Masada

Killing Heretics: Now and Then

Islamic violence must be called Islamic. To say that Islam owns it, produced it, and has to solve it is not saying that all Muslims agree with the tactics of ISIL, contract killers in Paris, or child killers in Pakistan.

 

The-Sabbath-Breaker-Stoned-by-James-Tissot-1900-Jewish-Museum-New-York

The notion of killing “unbelievers” or heretics, whether in the past, the present, or even in the future, is historically part and parcel of the three Abrahamic Faiths. Worshipping gods other than Yahweh brings a death penalty in the Torah (Deuteronomy 13:10-12). Paul declares a fatwah-like “death decree” (“destruction of the flesh”) on the man living with his father’s wife at Corinth (1 Corinthians 5:5).  Christ returns, according to Paul, to burn those who “know not God and obey not the Gospel” (presumably everyone but the Christians) with flaming fire and eternal punishment (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10). Christian history, unfortunately, is–among many other things–a long tale of torture, murder, and “holy wars,” as as the late great Karlheinz Deschner so meticulously documented in his monumental 10 volume work, Die Kriminalgeschichte des Christentums. The Qu’ran commands the killing of all unbelievers, including those “People of the book” (Jews and Christians), who do not submit to Muslim Shari’a and take the status of Zimmis–forbidding all public practice of faith (just read through Surahs 8-9).

isis-iraq-war-crimes.si

In the aftermath of the murders in Paris this week we are assured “these are acts of terrorism and are not part of the Islamic religion.” We are told constantly, “this is not Islam,” these are just thugs wanting power. That is like saying the Roman Catholic Inquisitioners who killed “heretics” or the Reformers who slaughtered Catholics were not “really Christian.” From a moral point of view, perhaps not, but in terms of religious identity such disavowals are nonsense. Let’s call extreme views of ALL traditions “bad” forms of the religion, fine, but to deny that such violence and evil is perpetrated by “devoted” religious fanatics who take their faith seriously misses the power that such evil forces draw upon. They have convinced themselves they are doing God’s work and God is on their side–a sad and ubiquitous aspect of the violent history of ALL religious traditions.The issues are much more complex and I recommend these successive blog posts of Joseph Hoffmann as providing some clear thinking on what we are facing in our times when it comes to the new waves of Islamic violence:

Sex, Salvation, and Violence in Islam

Religion begins in violence. Its archetypes and myths are saturated in blood–the predations of Ishtar, the cannibalism of the Greek Titans, the binding of Isaac, the crucifixion of Jesus. Its holy books are full of violence.

Islam is no exception. It is the rule. It’s important to say however that no religion but Islam seems suicidally bent on making violence a permanent part of its contemporary world-view and operations manual. There seems to be no doubt that, at least as represented by its most visible adepts, Islam is the religion which brings us into closest contact with the religion of our vicious tribal past. Religions may begin in violence. But they usually do not survive through violence.

Owning Isis: Collective Responsibility and Personal Guilt

Islam, as I’ve argued here before, was never able to produce a coherent theological or “orthodox” tradition apart from its simple belief in the arkān al-Islām –the pillars of Islam. It did try, and once upon a time, in the storied Golden Age of Islam prior to the thirteenth century there were philosophers who offered a ray of light. Later on however that light was snuffed out by the likes of the imam Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī who taught (contra the much more learned Ibn Rushd) that philosophy and Islam had nothing to do with one another, and to the extent they did, the philosophers were heretics. The rigidity of that teaching deprived Islam of a Renaissance, a Reformation and an Enlightenment. Worse, it created a disconnect between Islam and modernity that still plagues a religion that–in some of its most visible manifestations–belongs to another time and place.

Charlie and Ahmed

It is not some sort of intrinsic desire to kill that makes them violent. It is a sort of pornographic idealism, supported by the worst possible reading of an ancient book, interpreted by the worst possible religious experts—many of them in their twenties and lacking any sort of educational qualifications to teach or preach fiqh.

We do Islam no favour by not asking it to take its share of the blame. We do it a distinct disservice by spreading the veil of the sacred, the untouchable, around it-closeting it off from critique, satire and serious discussion through the imposition of blasphemy and anti-defamation laws.

 

 

A Married Jesus: Why I Changed My Mind (Part 4)

In early Christian tradition outside the New Testament Mary Magdalene’s profile is elaborated considerably, she is prominent among the followers of Jesus, she speaks boldly and is often in open conflict with the male disciples, she is an intimate companion of Jesus and he praises her for her superior spiritual understanding and defends her against the criticism of the other apostles who are jealous of her role and standing.

N.B. To better explore the texts quoted in this post, examining their relevance, history, and wider context, see my post on Marvin Meyer’s book, The Gospels of Mary: The Secret Tradition of Mary Magdalene the Companion of Jesus,” and particularly the movingly challenging conclusion by Esther A. de Boer, “‘Should We All Turn and Listen to Her?’ Mary Magdalene in the Spotlight.” I also highly recommend the recent article by Birger Pearson, one of the world’s experts on these “gnostic” materials, addressing the question “Was Mary Magdalene the Wife of Jesus?” which I posted with some comments here.

Mary Magdalene as the Apostle of the Apostles

            We have seen how Mary Magdalene, and in some case her female entourage, are portrayed as “first witness” to Jesus’ empty tomb and given the commission to tell the male disciples he is risen in our New Testament gospels. In Mark the women flee from the tomb and say nothing to anyone (Mark 16:9). In Luke they report to the Eleven remaining apostles but their testimony is considered an “idle tale” (Luke 24:11). In Matthew, as the women flee the tomb they meet Jesus, grab hold of his feet, and worship him, and he directs them to tell the male apostles he will meet them in Galilee (Matthew 28:9-10). Finally in John, Mary goes alone to the tomb and has her personal encounter and exchange with Jesus, thus becoming the singular first witness to Jesus raised from the dead and ascending to heaven (John 20:11-18).

Outside the New Testament there are a dozen or so ancient texts, most of them discovered in the last hundred years, that present an alternative “lost” portrait of Mary Magdalene and her role as Jesus’ female apostle extraordinaire—quite literally the apostle of the apostles and the successor to Jesus. Five of them were discovered in Egypt in 1945, buried in a jar in a field outside a village called Nag Hammadi.  These texts are:  The Gospel of ThomasThe Dialogue of the SaviorThe First Apocalypse of JamesThe Gospel of Philip, and The Sophia of Jesus Christ. The others, including Pistis SophiaThe Gospel of Mary, and the Acts of Philip, have turned up in various places, whether on the antiquities market, an archaeological dig, or lost or forgotten in ancient libraries. In these texts Mary Magdalene is Jesus’ intimate confidant and companion, one who possesses unparalleled spiritual insights that she received directly from him. She is praised, but also at times opposed—especially by Peter, leader of the male apostles, who is threatened by her position and status based on her special relationship with Jesus. These texts originate outside the mainstream, that is, the male dominated form of orthodox Christianity that began to take hold and triumph down to the time of Constantine, the first Christian emperor (c. 325 CE). The canonical New Testament, with its twenty-seven approved documents were increasingly seen to be the only authorized texts, inspired by God, while these other sacred texts were marginalized, declared heretical, and eventually lost and forgotten. They are witness to the diverse mix of “Christianities” that were developing in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE before a more singular orthodoxy, backed by Christian councils and creeds, took center stage.

Professor Schaberg has constructed a working profile of Mary Magdalene from these texts, isolating the major elements. She is prominent among the followers of Jesus, she speaks boldly and is often in open conflict with the male disciples, she is an intimate companion of Jesus and he praises her for her superior spiritual understanding and defends her.[i]

Each of these texts contains an assortment of these elements but one in particular, The Gospel of Mary, has them all. This is an extraordinary text. Before there were only gospels of men but now we have a gospel of a woman—not just any woman—Mary Magdalene. A fragmentary copy of The Gospel of Mary was purchased in Cairo in 1896. It is written in Coptic but was likely translated from a Greek original. It dates to the early 2nd century.[ii] In this text Mary Magdalene is a beloved disciple of Jesus, taking center stage in leading the apostles and encouraging them. Peter is jealous of her, but admits her status as one closer to Jesus than anyone else, and more important, one who received revelations that the male disciples were not privy to:

Peter said to Mary: “Sister we know the savior loved you more than any other woman. Tell us the words of the savior that you remember, which you know but we do not, because we have not heard them.” Mary answered and said, “What is hidden from you I shall reveal to you” (Gospel of Mary 10).[iii]

As she begins to recount her visionary message both Peter and his brother Andrew express doubts about her veracity and question her authority. Peter objects:

Did he really speak with a woman in private without our knowledge? Should we all turn and listen to her? Did he prefer her to us? (Gospel of Mary 18).

Levi, who is better known as Matthew in the New Testament, defends her and rebukes Peter:

If the savior made her worthy, who are you to reject her? Surely the savior knows her well. That is why he has loved her more than us (Gospel of Mary 18).

The message Mary reveals, in this and many of these other texts, has been characterized as Gnostic, but most scholars consider the term to be less than helpful in characterizing the Christian groups reflected in these texts with their alternative versions of Christianity. It tends to lump them together as a monolithic whole.[iv] In my analysis I am not so much interested in the content as the framework of the profile of Mary Magdalene and her prominent status alongside Jesus.

The Gospel of Philip is a beautifully written “gnostic” sermon by the followers of the brilliant 2nd century early Christian mystic and teacher, Valentinus. Some have even suggested he is the author of the text. It only refers to Mary Magdalene twice, but both passages are noteworthy:

Three women walked with the master: Mary his mother, [his] sister, and Mary Magdalene, who is called his companion. For “Mary” is the name of his sister, his mother, and his companion (Gospel of Philip 59:6-10).

The companion of the [savior] is Mary Magdalene. The [savior loved] her more than [all] the disciples, [and he] kissed her often on her [mouth]. The other [disciples] said to him, Why do you love her more than all of us? (Gospel of Philip 63:32-64, 9).

The word translated “companion” means his partner or consort. There is a worm hole in the papyrus right at the point where it says Jesus used to kiss Mary often on the …? Most scholars have restored this to “mouth.”  Whether this relationship between the two involved sexual intimacy or not, scholars have debated, but given what we know of Valentinian ideas it most likely did. It was considered a “sacred union,” but it was nonetheless carried out through the vehicle of the body.[v]

Pistis Sophia contains a series of questions asked of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene has the most prominent role among the disciples. She asks thirty-nine of the forty-six questions and offers elegant teachings about the nature of life in the world.  Jesus extravagantly praises her:

Blessed Mary, you whom I shall complete with all the mysteries on high, speak openly, for you are one whose heart is set on heaven’s kingdom more than all your brothers (Pistis Sophis 18).

Peter complains about her, telling Jesus “we cannot endure this woman,” but Jesus praises her pure spiritual insights and declares her the most blessed of all women.

Scholars who work on these texts generally do not take the prominent and privileged portrait of Mary Magdalene reflected therein unmediated history. Clearly the accounts themselves have been embellished and elaborated for theological reasons. However, it is generally agreed that since she becomes the vehicle for these alternative forms of emerging Christianity her special role in the life of the historical Jesus, more muted in our New Testament gospels, was not a fictional creation lacking any basis whatsoever. Many of them come from the 2nd century CE and are accordingly not so far removed from the earlier Christian oral tradition.

Mary Magdalene and the Talpiot Tombs

 We live in an age of the rediscovery of long lost texts and ancient manuscripts that are adding immensely to our understanding of early Christianity. Along with the exposure of the archaeology of ancient Jerusalem, we truly stand on new ground as we seek to evaluate the evidence found in the Talpiot tombs, especially with regard to Mariamene Mara and her role in Jesus’ life and family.

Given the collective evidence, and particularly the unique tradition that the gospel of John adds to the core story of Mary Magdalene from Mark and Matthew, it seems entirely plausible that the enigmatic figure of Mary Magdalene as first witness to Jesus’ resurrection can be seen alongside that of “Mary of Bethany,” and the unnamed woman who anoints Jesus’ head as well as his feet and dries them with her hair. These are acts of intimacy, as is the preparation of his body for burial, seem most appropriate for a wife. The fact that her first impulse on seeing Jesus resurrected was to touch him, further suggest the intimate relationship between them.  Taken together, these texts along with the later 2nd century “gnostic” ones, provide us with a broader context in which the evidence form the Talpiot tombs can be read in a new light. Jesus may very well have been married and had a son named Judah, and to reject this tomb as that of Jesus of Nazareth on the grounds that he could not have been, is based on traditional bias and misguided criteria.

The position of Mary of Bethany in the gospel of John also offers a new interpretive possibility for the names in the Talpiot tomb. If the traditions about her and about Mary Magdalene are confused, as they seem to be in the New Testament gospels, then Mary Magdalene might well have had a sister named Martha. Some scholars have read the Mariamene Mara ossuary inscription as Mariam and Mara—referring to two women named Mary and Martha. I am convinced otherwise, namely that Mara is more likely a title of honor for Mariamene, but having these two sisters, “Mary and Martha,” buried together in a single ossuary, one the mother of Jesus’ son, the other her unmarried sister, would also fit closely with the thesis that the Talpiot Jesus tomb is the family tomb of Jesus.


[i] Schaberg, Mary Magdalene Understood, pp. 71-97.

[ii] Karen L. King, The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle (Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge Press, 2003) is the most thorough study of this text with a full introduction and translation. Since the discovery of the Coptic manuscript two additional fragments in Greek have turned up. King includes them as well in her analysis.

[iii] Translations of these Mary Magdalene related texts that of Marvin Meyer, The Gospels of Mary: The Secret Tradition of Mary Magdalene the Companion of Jesus (New York: Harper SanFrancisco, 2004).

[iv] See Schaberg’s observations in Mary Magdalene Understood, pp. 68-71.

[v] See April D. DeConick, The Great Mystery of Marriage: Sex and Conception in Ancient Valentinian Traditions,” Vigiliae Christianae 57 (2003): 307-342.