An in-depth investigation of the facts and mythology surrounding the historical Mary Magdalene
• Reveals new details about the life of the beloved of Jesus
• Illustrated with rare and unusual imagery depicting Mary’s central role in Christianity
• Includes 60-minute CD of author discussing "The Greatest Story Never Told"
• By the author of the bestselling The Woman with the Alabaster Jar
The controversy surrounding Mary Magdalene and her relationship to Jesus has gained widespread international interest since the publication of Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, which specifically cites Margaret Starbird’s earlier works as a significant source. In Mary Magdalene, Bride in Exile Starbird examines the many faces of Mary Magdalene, from the historical woman who walked with Jesus in the villages of Judea to the mythic and symbolic Magdalene who is the archetype of the Sacred Feminine. Starbird reveals exciting new information about the woman who was the most intimate companion of Jesus and offers historical evidence that Mary was Jesus’ forgotten bride.
Expanding on the discussion of medieval art and lore introduced in her bestselling book The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, Starbird sifts through the layers of misidentification under which the story of the Lost Bride of Christ has been buried to reveal the slandered woman and the “exiled” feminine principle. She establishes the identity of the historical female disciple who was the favored first witness of the Resurrection and provides an interpretation of Mary’s true role based on prophecy from the Hebrew scriptures and the testimony of the canonical gospels of Christianity. Balancing scholarly research with theological reflection, she takes readers deeper into the story and mythology of how Magdalene as the Bride embodies the soul’s own journey in its eternal quest for reunion with the Divine.
from Chapter 2
Apostle to the Apostles
Equal to Peter
Contemporary scholars have reexamined the literary record and have noted significant points that establish the special character and legacy of Mary Magdalene, particularly regarding the issue of women’s power and leadership roles in the early Christian community. Women teachers and deaconesses must have been seen as threatening by various Church fathers who gradually succeeded in eroding the influence of women. But honest students of Christianity’s sacred texts are confronted with bluntly stated negative testimony regarding the character of Peter in contrast to that of Mary Magdalene. Although the gospel account states that Peter received the “keys of the kingdom” (Matthew 16:19), he often misunderstands the teachings and mission of Jesus, and is on one occasion admonished for not recognizing that Jesus faced imminent death.
In contrast, Mary apparently comprehends the teachings fully; she even accepts and prophetically proclaims the Messiah’s impending death by her act of anointing him: “She has anointed me in advance for my burial” (Mark 14:8; Matthew 26:12). And in John’s gospel, Jesus requests that Mary keep the remainder of the precious ointment she used to anoint him for the day of his burial, thus setting up the scene at the tomb where she goes alone to anoint his body and finds him resurrected.
After the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter denies his master three times before the cock crows (Matthew 26:74). The senior apostle, styled as the leader of the fledgling community, fails to show up for the procession of the cross through the streets of Jerusalem, and is again notably absent at the scene of the Crucifixion. By contrast, Mary Magdalene follows Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem (plate 3) and is present at Golgotha, surrounded by other devoted women, including the mother of Jesus and, by various accounts, Johanna and Mary/Salome. Peter and the ten other apostles--one would not expect Judas to be among them--are conspicuous by their absence in each gospel account of the Passion. While the chosen male apostles are in hiding, the female friends and kinswomen of Jesus, led by Mary Magdalene, faithfully support him with their presence throughout his agony, and they return to his tomb to minister to him even in death.
The Preeminent Disciple
All afternoon, Mary Magdalene kept a sorrowful vigil at the foot of the cross on the hill of Golgotha, supported by several other devoted followers of Jesus, including his mother and the beloved disciple (possibly Magdalene’s own brother, the youth Lazarus), but not Peter, not James, not Andrew or Levi nor any of the others who had been officially called by Jesus to discipleship. The gospels were not written until after the executions of both Peter and Paul in Rome, possibly associated with brutal persecutions of Christians by the Roman emperor Nero in the mid-60s. Only after the death of Paul do accounts of the earthly ministry of the historical Jesus appear in written form. One might wonder if the gospel narratives were written in part to reaffirm the special status enjoyed by women in the early Christian community, and especially to reassert the preeminence of Mary Magdalene among the Messiah’s followers, a position significantly absent in Paul’s epistles and Luke’s Acts of the Apostles.
Exegetes of the New Testament note with some surprise that Paul never mentions Jesus’ ministry, his teachings or travels, and has virtually nothing to say about his life on earth. Instead, Paul’s epistles discuss theological interpretations of the Crucifixion, resurrection, and imminent return of Jesus to establish his kingdom--an apocalyptic view obviously at variance with early statements attributed to Jesus about the nature of the reign of God that is already spread out around us, within us, or in our midst. An apparent disconnect exists between these expressed expectations of the kingdom. Because Paul had relentlessly persecuted Christians before his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, we might easily understand why Peter and the family of Jesus would distrust him. This may have been grounds, as well, for sheltering information concerning Mary Magdalene’s identity and whereabouts from him, protecting her from the self-proclaimed apostle who did not enjoy their full confidence.
For whatever reason, Paul never mentions Mary Magdalene/of Bethany in his epistles, though he does mention several other women who were active in ministry at the dawn of Church history. These prominent women in the early Church included the deaconess Phoebe, Prisca, and Junia; and in his Epistle to the Romans, Paul greets several other women by name--Mary, Persis, Tryphosa, and Tryphaena--and other sisters in their faith community (Romans 16:6, 12).
That these women receive mention at all establishes the surprising fact of their significance. Numerous archeological excavations of churches dating from the early Christian era include mosaics and frescos depicting women in ceremonial vestments indicating their official status within the faith community, leadership roles later denied them by the orthodox tradition of an exclusively male priesthood modeled on Jesus and the twelve male apostles. Apparently, women were highly respected teachers and ministers in their own right and they played an important role in the liturgical life of Christian communities from their inception. Only in later generations were they systematically eclipsed.
The egalitarian nature of the early assemblies of believers that sprang up around the example of Jesus were nothing less than revolutionary. Women followers of Jesus did more than serve the men by cooking meals and drawing water from the village well. They apparently taught, preached, and prophesied in those early decades of the Christian experience, presumably exercising these roles on the authority of Jesus, who called them friends and welcomed their contributions. One can almost see him encouraging women to express their ideas and feelings, quietly listening to their concerns, their hopes, their dreams, and their insights. And most favored of them all was the one called the Magdalene.