Was Jesus Married to Mary Magdalene? A Closer Look at the Historical Evidence

The Gospel of Philip – discovered in 1945.

Every now and then I get this question. I even think that this is one of the most common associations people have when they hear the name: Mary Magdalene. It is in fact the prime example of a modern myth that has nothing to do with real history. Obviously, as a historian, I think that Jesus wasn’t married. And it has nothing to do with my beliefs or my theological perspective. I couldn’t care less if Jesus actually had a wife. I don’t even think it would be a problem for a religion whose core is not the marriage of Jesus but his divine sonship and resurrection. Nevertheless, I do think that we have good historical reasons for thinking that Jesus wasn’t married.


A lot of people say that Jesus must have been married because the Jewish men in the 1st century were always married. I find that argument amusing, but completely wrong. To begin with, it would have been physically impossible for every Jewish man to be married. The reason for that is simple: Except in times of constant war, men outnumbered women because a lot of women died during childbirth. Consequently, in ancient times there were more men than women. Therefore, it was impossible for every man to be married. Furthermore, we know of Jewish men from the time of Jesus who were single and celibate including the group of Jewish men who were behind the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947. A group that is commonly called Essenes. They were in fact, celibate single men. The thing about them is that they had what scholars would call an apocalyptic view of the world. They believed that the world was controlled by the forces of evil, but God will soon intervene and bring in the good Kingdom of Earth. Precisely because they were trying to prepare for this apocalyptic end, they choose not to be married. For more than 100 years, scholars have recognized that Jesus also fits in this apocalyptic view of the world. Therefore, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he wasn’t married. In fact, we know of another apocalyptic Jew from the 1st century who wasn’t married – apostle Paul! Moreover, Jesus’ parents, his brothers, and sisters, and his disciples – all of them are mentioned in the New Testament Gospels. Why would this person (his wife) be left out if everybody else connected to Jesus was explicitly mentioned?


There is no doubt in my mind that Dan Brown’s novel Da Vinci Code helped in the popularization of the idea that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. It is still one of the most-read books in the history of humankind. Actually, I think that only Bible supersedes it. I don’t mind the Da Vinci Code as a book, as a novel – something you would read to entertain yourself. However, the book makes all these historical claims with the explicit note that those historical claims are right. But in fact, almost everything Dan Brown says about the history of Christianity is wrong. I tell my students if they wanted to know about the history of the Middle Ages the way to do that is not to watch the blockbuster The Kingdom of Heaven directed by Ridley Scott. And if you want to know about the history of early Christianity, the way to do it is not to read Da Vinci Code. What can we know about Mary Magdalene? Who was she? The problem is the fact that she is so important in today’s culture (especially in movies). She’s always depicted really close to Jesus. Consequently, a lot of people just assume that she had some sort of special relationship with him. Most of people don’t know that in the entire New Testament Mary Magdalene is named in relationship with Jesus during his public ministry one time (Lk 8,1-3)! We are told that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Suzanne, and a large group of other women financially supported Jesus and his disciples. That’s it! The idea that she was his closest disciple, lover, and the mother of his kids might be an interesting motive for a novel (although it’s a passe), but this kind of reasoning is without any support in the historical sources. Where Mary does show up is at the end of the New Testament Gospels. According to Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, there was a group of women who accompanied Jesus and his male disciples to Jerusalem in the last week of Jesus’ life. When Jesus was arrested, his male disciples ran away, but the women stayed there. They actually saw him get crucified and buried. According to the Gospels, Mary Magdalene and a group of women went to the tomb on the third day and found it empty. The women discovered the tomb. The men ran away!


In point of fact, no other Gospel at all indicates that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene! There is no mention of that in the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Ebionites, etc. Pick any Gospel from early Christian history, you won’t find any reference to Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene or anybody else for that matter. One of the Gospels that’s appealed to in the Da Vinci code as supportive of this is the Gospel of Philip. We’ve known about this document since 1945 when it was discovered in Egypt. It is a gnostic document written somewhere around the 3rd century – 250 years after Jesus’ death. Therefore, it was not written by the disciple of Jesus named Philip.

There is the passage in the Gospel of Philip that gets quoted a couple of times in the Da Vinci code where it says that Mary Magdalene was the companion of Jesus. According to Lee Teabing who is one of the characters in the Da Vinci Code, “as any Aramaic scholar will tell you, the Aramaic word for companion really means “spouse”. One problem with this claim is that the Gospel of Philip was not written in Aramaic. It is written in Coptic (Egyptian language). Moreover, this word for a companion in the Gospel of Philip is a Greek loan word κοινωνός which simply means companion. It doesn’t mean “spouse”. There’s another word for the spouse – γυνή. So, it’s an absolutely false claim. There’s another interesting passage in the Gospel of Philip, which is quoted in the Da Vinci code as well. It is a problematic passage and I think that Dan Brown didn’t know anything about it. The reason it’s problematic is that, like a lot of other ancient books that have been discovered, the Gospel of Philip is a manuscript that has holes in it because it’s worn out or because it has been eaten by worms in places. So, there are places where words are missing because there are holes in the manuscript. This affects one of the passages that gets quoted in the Da Vinci Code that pertains to Mary Magdalene and Jesus. In that passage it is stated:

  • Jesus loved Mary and he frequently used to kiss her on the ________ (hole in the manuscript).

Consequently, we don’t know where he was, according to this document, kissing her. Some editors restore the word “mouth”. Maybe that’s right, or maybe it’s cheek or maybe it was something else. We simply don’t know. However, the Gospel of Philip never indicated that they were married. There isn’t any early Christian document that asserts the marriage of Jesus and Mary. It’s a modern fiction embedded in the heads of novelists who at one point simply forget about the difference between fiction and reality.


There are several books dealing with the question of the historical accuracy of the Da Vinci Code. Some of it is even translated into the Croatian language. Here is my own recommendation:

  1. Amy Welborn, Dekodirani Da Vincijev kod : činjenice koje se kriju u pozadini romana Da Vincijev kod, Split, 2004.
  2. Bart Ehrman, Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code: A Historian Reveals What We Really Know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine, Oxford, 2006.
  3. Michael Hesemann, Legende, mitovi i laži, Zagreb, 2010.

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