Where Truth and Fiction Collide: Jesus and the Magdala
As an historian, I pride myself on knowing the past and obtaining the information I need to sort fact from fiction. As an international, award-winning author, I enjoy the freedom that fiction writing allows when creating a protagonist who will appeal to readers while allowing them an accurate and unique glimpse into that character’s life and culture. So, after twenty-five years of research into the life of Jesus and his times, how did I come to write a novel series specifically about the “missing years” of Christ? To me, the question of what happened to Jesus during those twenty-years that are missing from the four Gospel accounts contained in the New Testament were so compelling, so shadowed in mystery, the subject begged to be addressed—as did the nature of his relationship with the Magdala. The better question may be, “How could I not?!”
The Divine Order—A Man Becomes God
Doctrine … Dogma … Creeds … Religion – All these terms represent what we have been taught to believe. From the time we are indoctrinated into the religion of our parents, more often than not from the moment we are born, it is the leaders of our faith who dictate our standards of belief. We learn a basic creed. We are taught the lessons and rules applicable to our religion. We are introduced to a main deity that may or not rule over an extensive pantheon of gods & goddesses, all with various roles to play in the destiny of the physical realm – our realm. The Jewish Torah and the Christian Old Testament, both monotheistic religions, explain that God—who is referred to as El, Elohim, YHWH, along with other variants of the title depending on how He is perceived and His actions—is the Supreme Being. YHWH commands that He alone is to be worshiped and there should be no other gods put before Him.
Now that we understand a bit about God’s history, we can turn to Jesus. The place is Galilee and the time is 4 B.C. A young Jewish woman by the name of Mary bat Joachim (Mary sired by Joachim) delivers a baby whom she names Yeshua (Jesus’ name in his native Aramaic tongue). From this point onward, History is forever changed. This young man, born to a backwater village in Roman occupied Galilee, grows up to become one of the most influential and polarizing individuals of all time! Even in his own era, to the people who hear about Jesus, as well as the people who choose to follow this young Jewish rabbi and walk his path, Yeshua is an enigma. Some acknowledge him as a great and learned rabbi, a teacher or a master, while others regard him and his followers with disdain. Some Jews suspect him to be the messiah—sent to earth by YHWH to deliver the “Chosen People” from their Roman oppressors and restore to them their rightful homeland, the “Promised Land”, while others expect he is a blow-hard, a charlatan, or—quite possibly—insane. Some want Yeshua arrested and disposed of; crucified for blaspheming and claiming to be divine. Only a mere handful of individuals within his own personal entourage known as the “Apostles” actually believe he is the Divine Son of God.
For two-thousand years after his birth, Christians worship Jesus as “the only begotten Son of God, One in Being with the Father and the Holy Spirit”. He is one part of the Holy Trinity, and equal to All. To Christians, Jesus is a divine and perfect figure—born without the stigma of original sin, perfect in being, and unmarried; celibate for the entirety of his life. So, who was this God/Man who died to redeem the sins of mankind and ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father? How did he come to be the central figure of worship to this planet’s estimated 2.2 billion Christians (nearly a third of all 6.9 billion people on Earth according to a 2010 PEW research study)? What happened to Yeshua during those so-called “missing years” in his life—during his early teenage years and his twenties? And, what was the nature of his relationship with the young woman who would become his closest confidante, greatest disciple, and one true love—Mary Magdalene?
For a quarter-century, I’ve researched the lives of Jesus and Mary Magdalene—as well as the religious, political, and cultural climate of the Middle East during the 1st century C.E. My perception of Jesus, the Christ, and Mary, the Magdala, (called Mariamne, Mariam, Miriam in Aramaic, and, in my novel series, “Miriamne”), as well as my insight into their times, inspired me to write about them not in a religious context, but in the sphere of their everyday familial lives, putting the focus on Yeshua’s impending destiny and the impact of his earthly Mission on his beloved Miriamne, his family, and friends. “Miriamne the Magdala – The First Chapter in the Yeshua and Miri Novel Series”, which debuted in March, 2015, strives to reveal the story of Christ’s missing years along with the nature of his relationship with the Magdala.
The Missing Years—Where’s Jesus?!
What happened to Yeshua during that 20-year period familiarly called the “missing years” is one of History’s greatest mysteries. What we do know about Yeshua’s era is that any Jew growing up in Roman occupied Galilee would have had the ideals of freedom, liberty, and justice foremost on their mind. Both Yeshua and Miriamne would have grown up quite aware of the absolute tyranny of Roman rule. With the Pax Romana (the Roman Peace) of paramount importance to the Empire, anyone threatening to disrupt that peace would have been dealt with swiftly and ruthlessly. Prior generations of Jews—Yeshua and Miriamne’s parents and grandparents—would have been outraged by the ineptitude of the Jewish authorities to protect their own people from the horrors exacted by their foreign overlords. And with over 2,000 crucifixions having recently taken place in Galilee, a strong sense of national pride and cultural identity would have been instilled in each subsequent generation of God’s Chosen People. All awaited the arrival of the Messiah. He would exact justice and restore the Jewish homeland!
So, where was Yeshua during the “missing years”? The simple fact is the Synoptic Gospels—the four Gospels of the New Testament (Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John)—make no mention at all of Yeshua’s whereabouts until we read about his parents, Joseph and Mary, suddenly discovering their 12-year-old son missing from their homeward-bound caravan after a trip to Jerusalem. After a lengthy search, they locate Yeshua in the Holy Temple, conversing with the priests and scholars interested in his unorthodox points of view on various issues related to Jewish life. Afterward, we find no record of his whereabouts in the New Testament until he begins his public ministry in Galilee at approximately the age of 30. History is of no help in finding Yeshua/Jesus since there is no mention of him in any historical documents yet found. It’s nearly unbelievable to consider that his name is not recorded in any detailed writings of the time, such as Josephus’ “The History of the Jews”, nor is he listed in any form of census or religious records such as circumcision or bar mitzvah documentation. Records of these types of events simply weren’t kept. So, how did all the legends of Jesus’ teenage and early adult years get started? Where was Yeshua was during the missing years? Did he remain in Galilee helping his father run a business? Did he return to Egypt to further his education? Or, did he travel elsewhere … perhaps along the ancient trade routes to Briton, Gaul, Africa, or the Far East?
The Nag Hammadi Library—Surprising Tales of Christ’s Life
In 1945, an Egyptian peasant unearthed a large storage jar at the foot of a cliff abutting the Nile River near the city of Nag Hammadi. Inside the jar was a treasure trove of ancient manuscripts containing previously unknown scriptures—writings from the 4th century that had, up until then, been lost to time. These writings had been copied from an oral tradition that went all the way back to Jesus’ time and was passed down word-for-word from one generation to the next. The titles of some of these works shocked the world because they indicated that other followers of Jesus—besides Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John—had written their own gospels; vastly differing versions of his life and teachings. Among these works were manuscripts with titles such as “The Dialogue of the Savior”, “The Revelation of Peter”, “The Testimony of Truth”, and even “The Gospel of Judas”!
Many of these writings contained information that seemed outrageous, causing much controversy for the infant church, and resulting in arguments that led to schisms and dissidence within the Christian clerical ranks! The controversies raged until Emperor Constantine finally called a meeting of the bishops at Nicea.
The Council of Nicea—The Making of a Religion
Before we proceed further, let’s talk about why the manuscripts discovered at Nag Hammadi were not included in the canonical text of the New Testament along with the Synoptic Gospels—Mark, Matthew, Luke, & John. In 325 C. E., Emperor Constantine ordered the bishops of each region in the Holy Roman empire to attend a special council called to develop a universal creed that would unite the many factions of Christianity under one central “Mother Church”. That May, the First Council of Nicaea was held, and after much debate, the Nicean Creed was settled.
At this same meeting, which lasted about a month, the church patriarchs also discussed issues including the nature of Jesus Christ, the proper date on which to celebrate Easter, and which writings were to be included in the New Testament. When it came to the latter subject, the bishops deemed all other writings besides the synoptic gospels as heretical works, ordering that all other documents related to the nature of Christ to be destroyed. Codices, manuscripts, and texts from every monastery, church, and library were systematically retrieved and burned. They were thought to be forever lost to the annals of History.
Fortunately, certain members among the religious orders chose to hide their precious works rather than see them burned and reduced to ash. Due to the foresight of these individuals, the Nag Hammadi Library is one such collection that survived only because it was hidden away and forgotten. Just imagine how many writings were destroyed and what sort of information was lost! Unfortunately, we will never know what these marvelous works contained.
The Aquarian Gospel—The Travels of Yeshua
While the Nag Hammadi Library covers much about Yeshua’s life outside the four gospels accepted as doctrine by the church, there is a unique writing (allegedly from a monastery in Nepal) that summarizes his life from his bar mitzvah to his journey on along the merchant trade routes to the Far East to his return home in Galilee. Without entering into the numerous theories and controversies surrounding The Aquarian Gospel, I would like to make mention of this fairly recent writing about the life of Jesus which states that he spent a great many of his missing years, first as a student , then as an itinerant preacher among the lower castes of people in Persia, India, and the Far East. While this so-called “gospel” cannot be verified as fact, insomuch as none of the other gospels—including the Synoptic Gospels—can be taken as fact, it does provide a hypothetical basis for the development of Yeshua’s unique philosophy (blending Eastern philosophy with Judaism), his travels, and experiences during his missing years.
The Aquarian Gospel describes a young Jesus preaching in the Holy Temple at age 12, impressing the priests, sages, and scholars in attendance for a full 3 days before his parents finally came to claim him. One individual who was greatly impressed by the boy, a Prince Ravanna of Orissa (a region in east-central India which includes the ancient Temple at Jagannath) traveled to Nazareth where he spoke to Joseph and Mary and asked to be their son’s educational sponsor. Although Joseph and Mary were hesitant to allow Yeshua to leave with the prince, in the end they agree that at 13-years-of-age, their son is now a man in the eyes of the law and he must set about to do his heavenly Father’s business. Faithful to his word, Ravanna takes Yeshua under his wing, and as they travel the Silk Road toward the prince’s home, his young charge learns philosophy, science, mathematics, and theology from a great many of the great sages. During his travels, Yeshua also experiences several adventures and misadventures which, after a period of 19-years, eventually lead him back home to Galilee. As a stand-alone manuscript, the Aquarian Gospel can be discounted quite easily, although it does provide an alternate mythology to Yeshua’s story.
Christ and the Magdala—Jealousy Over Secret Teachings and Stolen Kisses
What makes the Nag Hammadi texts much more credible is that many of the separate gospels discovered contained tales of Jesus’ life which supported each other. Many of these writings not only filled in Jesus’ missing years, more than a few of them hinted at an intimate relationship between Yeshua and the Magdala, along with an indication that he shared “secret teachings” with her that were not passed on directly to his other disciples. The “Gospel of Thomas”—which I believe to be the oldest gospel based on research I have gathered, predates the gospel referred to by the biblical research community as the “Q” source and the “Gospel of Mark” which is believed by mainstream religious scholars to contain the original teachings of Jesus. The “Gospel of Mary Magdalene” has Yeshua sharing certain “secret teachings” exclusively with the Magdala, which she is then compelled by a jealous Simon Peter (who incites an argument accusing Mary of withholding information) to share with him and the other Apostles.
The most explosive gospel found at Nag Hammadi has instigated more debate in the community of biblical scholarship than any other—the “Gospel of Philip”. This gospel describes Yeshua as having a great affinity for the Magdala, suggesting that the couple had a highly personal and intimate relationship. The “Gospel of Philip” states quite clearly that Jesus “had a habit of kissing her often on the …” This final word—omitted by a frustratingly placed hole in the document—is a point of contention between those who suggest a more intimate relationship—perhaps even a marriage—could very likely have existed between Yeshua and the Magdala and those who insist that he remained celibate his entire life.
Making the case for a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene is a codex which only recently emerged in the public eyes. It is known to most of us as on the the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”. Just a few years ago, while I was writing the manuscript for “Miriamne the Magdala”, news came forward of a papyrus fragment of dubious origin that had been held in a secret vault for a quarter century before it was brought to the attention of Professor Karen L/ King, Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School. King, who dated the fragment to the second half of the second century CE, formally presented the item to the International Congress of Coptic Studies in Rome in 2012. Before we get into what the gospel says, we must consider how it came to be in the hands of Professor King.
The “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” is a papyrus fragment written in Coptic that includes the words, “Jesus said to them, ‘my wife…'”. Needless to say, the impact of these words caused quite a stir with New Testament scholars, the Vatican, and the entire Christian world when news of its existence was released. King willingly submitted the fragment for examination and awaited the results of testing. For the next few years, test results swayed back and forth between authenticity and forgery, and fierce debates rose up among religious scholars contesting everything from Jesus’ celibacy, to his sexuality, to his godliness.
One topic, however, that opened people’s minds the most as it was brought to the forefront, was the likelihood of a conjugal union between Jesus and the Magdala. On one side, the Church adamantly refused the idea of a physical coupling between Christ and the Magdalene. On the other side was the public—Christians and Catholics included, who had never before been more open to the idea of thinking as Jesus and Mary Magdalene as an actual couple … married or not. With books like “Holy Blood, Holy Grail”, “The DaVinci Code” , and King’s own book titled, “The Wife of Jesus”, the idea of a conjugal relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene to some seemed all but certain.
Eventually, the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” papyrus fragment was declared to be a forgery after much examination and study. As is most often the case when dealing with such a controversial issue, the results of this study have recently been questioned, and the fragment is currently undergoing further testing. Still, questions about Jesus’ celibacy remain and the idea of his having been married—and perhaps siring his own children—inspire open discussion and are no longer taboo.
Mr. & Mrs. Christ—Marriage Traditions in First-Century Jewish Life
Were Mary Magdalene and Jesus in an intimate relationship, perhaps even husband and wife? Jewish tradition at the time that Jesus and Mary lived dictated a girl could be betrothed once she began her menses and married shortly thereafter. As for Jesus, he might have been as young as 13 and as old as 20 before he entered into his first marital union. In any case, it certainly would have been against the norm for him not to have been married at least once by the time he was 30.
The simple fact is that, in Jesus’ time, celibacy was seen as an aberration and most Jewish men and women were, in fact, married. The likelihood that children would have been part of the marriage between Jesus and the Magdalene was also quite good, unless one of the spouses had a medical issue that prevented conception. Had this been the case, and they would have been unable to conceive a child due to a fertility issue with either Mary or Jesus, Jesus as a husband would have been within his legal rights to divorce his wife in order to find a mate who would be able to bear children in order to continue his legacy.
The synoptic gospels and the Gnostic texts—those manuscripts belonging to the Nag Hammadi Library and other non-canonical writings—describe a very close, personal relationship between Jesus and the Magdala. With the exception of Peter and a few other Apostles who were jealous of the attention Jesus showered upon her, the Magdala was held in very high esteem by the early Christian community. Her very title—”Magdala”—translates as Magdal eder which, in Hebrew, means “Tower of the Flock”. It is worth noting that the Canonical Gospels credit her, along with a few other women who traveled with Jesus’ personal entourage, as having funded his entire Mission.
In the end, Mary Magdalene is considered to be Jesus closest confidante … spending hours upon hours with him receiving “secret teachings” apart from even his closest apostles. The Magdala proved to be Christ’s greatest disciple, remaining at the foot of the cross until her beloved “Rabboni” (Personal Teacher/Master) surrendered his spirit. She remained with him, tending to his body, when all others fled in fear that the authorities would have them arrested and executed. She was the first to see the risen Christ in the garden outside the tomb on the third day after his death. She spent the remainder of her life living in solitude, in a secluded grotto in Gaul, ministering to the followers of “The Way” (Yeshua’s unique teachings). She sounds very much like the epitome of a dedicated spouse rather than a comrade on the same level as the other Apostles. In my professional opinion, the likelihood of a marriage between Yeshua and the Magdala was all but certain.
What happened during the missing years of Jesus and what was his relationship to Mary Magdalene? History may forever remain silent on the actual life of Yeshua. But, by examining the political, social, and religious climate of his time along with the evidence included in the Apocrypha—those texts that were banned by the church, we can now paint a picture of the life of Christ that separates the Divine Hero from Yeshua the man.
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Travel with me—historian and international, award-winning author, JB Richards—as I take you back to a time, when the relationship between the Magdala and the Christ was first forged … when the world was primed for a Deliverer – a Messiah … when a nation came together in the names of Justice and Independence to fight against a mighty empire … when eternal life became a reality through the teachings of the risen Christ! Fall in love with the boy destined to be “King of kings” and the girl who captured his heart forever in “Miriamne the Magdala”, the compelling and provocative introductory chapter to The Yeshua and Miri Novel Series—the greatest love story never told!
Read an excerpt of “Miriamne the Magdala”, sign-up for our monthly newsletter, and learn more about this groundbreaking novel series, including my upcoming novel, “Yeshua the Christ: The Silk Road”, at http://www.yeshuaandmirinovelseries.com/