I’m sick of hearing about the “Me Too” movement.  Not because I don’t agree with it.  Not because I don’t sympathize.  I’m disgusted by all the recent revelations.  Disgusted with the way so many women have been treated.  Disgusted with how pervasive it is—it seems like every woman has been affected.

No, I’m sick of hearing about the “Me Too” movement because it’s 2018—this kind of thing shouldn’t be happening any more!

The Harvey Weinsteins of the world should be a relic of the past. 

The DaVinci Code claimed that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.  I know, I know, the book is only fiction.  But many people have accepted the “facts” it presented as true.  And, with some variation, the idea Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene has also been floated by many others, including some scholars. 

It makes for a nice story—having been forgiven her “many sins”, the former prostitute finds true love with Jesus. 

But it’s totally false. 

And it betrays a deep-seated sexism.  Let me show how.

In a very strange saying from Matthew 19:12, Jesus says that some people are eunuchs from birth; some are made eunuchs by others; and some choose to become eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom.  To be a eunuch is to have been castrated.

Using the unusual, shocking, and violent metaphor of castration, Jesus is defending the choice to remain celibate for the sake of the Kingdom of God. 

In Jesus’ day, men were expected to get married and procreate, usually by eighteen or nineteen years old.  Torah, i.e. God, demanded it.  Not to do so made you suspect.  Some rabbis even went so far as to say that a man who remains celibate is equivalent to someone who diminishes the image of God, sheds blood, or even commits murder! 

Being roughly thirty years old, Jesus contemporaries would have found it deeply disturbing and problematic if he were never married, especially since he claimed to be sent by God. 

Jesus never would have made the highly offensive statement he does in Matthew 19:12 unless he needed to defend his own celibacy.  Moreover, no gospel writer would ever record such a highly embarrassing saying unless Jesus’ celibacy was an undeniable part of the historical record.  Why bring up such a provocative idea, one that would damage Jesus’ reputation, if it weren’t true, if Jesus wasn’t celibate?  (For more on this and for other historical evidence Jesus was a celibate—for example, the gospels never mention a wife despite mentioning practically every other relation of his: mother, father, brothers, sisters, etc.—see John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, New York, NY: Doubleday, 1991, pp. 332-345)  

In other words, Jesus was never married to Mary Magdalene—or anyone else!

Mary Magdalene was never a prostitute either.  The idea she was probably originated very early on, but it was given official sanction in a Sixth-Century homily by Pope Gregory the Great.  Throughout the centuries, people have had no problem believing she was. 

But one quick look at Luke 8:1-3 dispels this belief.  Mary is introduced at this point in Luke’s narrative as one of Jesus’ female disciples from whom seven demons had been cast out.  (It can’t be emphasized enough how unique and scandalous it was for Jesus to have women disciples, treating them as full equals.)  In other words, she was possessed and Jesus performed an exorcism for her. 

He didn’t forgive her; he healed her. 

There is absolutely no hint of her being a notorious sinner or a prostitute.  

So where did this idea come from?  It comes from the story that immediately precedes these verses.  There, a woman who is NOT Mary has her “many sins” forgiven by Jesus.  But even in this story, the nature of her many sins is never mentioned.  The text never says this unidentified sinful woman was a prostitute or even that her sins were of a sexual nature, like adultery or fornication. 

Because she is a woman, WE presume they are.

Why do we presume this?  Why do we presume that a woman who sins must be sinning in a sexual way?  Must be a fornicator, adulterous, or prostitute?  Why do we so easily imagine that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute?

Indeed, why do so many presume that Mary Magdalene’s prominence in the gospels—she is one of the most important figures, male or female—has to be the result of her being married to Jesus?  That it must derive from or depend on her relationship with a man?  That she couldn’t simply be important in her own right, because of who she is or what she does?   

All these presumptions are completely sexist, betraying how we tend to see women.

In fact, the reason for Mary’s prominence in the gospels has nothing to do with her checkered past or marriage to Jesus.  Rather, it has everything to do with her role in the events surrounding the Resurrection. 

She is consistently listed as one of the several women who first find Jesus’ tomb empty. 

More importantly, she is the first person He appears to after rising from the dead.

The fact she is so prominent in these accounts is astounding, because it was a terrible liability for the early church.

If you think we have problems with sexist attitudes, the sexism of Jesus’ day will be utterly revolting.  Women were treated like possessions, having no rights, dignity, or identity apart from the male figures in their lives.  That’s why they weren’t allowed to speak to men in public.   That’s why widows without male heirs were so vulnerable.  Without a man, not only would they be destitute, they would have no legal protection.

One of the major drivers for this low estimation of women was the overriding belief that women were weak-minded.  In fact, they were understood to be too fickle and too emotional to be trusted as objective observers—how could they be expected to keep the facts straight?  A woman’s testimony was utterly useless, not even accepted in legal proceedings. 

As the Jewish historian Josephus writes “From women let no evidence be accepted, because of the levity and temerity of their sex.” (Antiquities 4.219, my italics) 

That’s why it’s absurd to have women as the first witnesses to the Resurrection, to the empty tomb and appearances.  Their critical role in the story only serves to undermine it.  Jesus’ male disciples totally got that.  Until they saw it for themselves, the women’s tale was utter nonsense, the irrational delusions of emotionally-wrought women who can’t keep it together in their grief. 

That’s also why Mary and the other women are conspicuously absent in much of the early church’s preaching.  The creedal formula Paul passes along in I Corinthians 15:3-7 is one of, if not the, earliest traditions reflecting the way the early church proclaimed the resurrection. 

And yet, this tradition completely omits the women.  Their presence in the story is considered such a liability that it is left out of the basic creedal formula and never mentioned by Paul or any other New Testament writer outside the gospel narratives. 

In fact, Mary and the other women gave the church’s opponents plenty of ammunition to mock the Resurrection.  It was one of their major arguments, as evidenced by one of the church’s most vocal critics, Celsus.  He seizes on this, mercilessly ridiculing the testimony to the empty tomb as coming from “a half-frantic woman.” (Found in Origen’s Contra Celsum 2:59.)

If the early church was free to say that some fine, upstanding men were the first witnesses to the Resurrection, they certainly would have. 

But the Gospel writers had no choice.  Despite the terrible liability it presented, everyone familiar with the story knew that Mary Magdalene and a few other women were first to find the tomb empty and—at least in the case of Mary Magdalene—first to see Jesus appear.

By the way, I don’t think it’s by accident that Jesus appeared to a woman first.  If—as I believe the evidence shows—he really rose, it would be fully consistent with the provocative way he treated women—with radical equality.  As God Incarnate, might not he have chosen to appear to Mary first as a powerful sign, an enduring challenge to our sexist attitudes and behaviors?

Mary Magdalene’s presence in the story is one of the surest indications of its historical reliability. 

No one would have ever claimed women were the first witnesses to these events—unless they actually were! 

Unless they actually found Jesus’ tomb empty. 

Unless they actually saw him appear to them.

But what did they actually see?  How do we know it really was Jesus, and not the grief-filled delusions of some “half-frantic” women, followed shortly after by some “half-frantic” men? 

More on the often over-looked evidence in future blogs.

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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