The publication on Nov. 12, 2014 of the book I co-wrote with Prof. Barrie Wilson, The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus' Marriage to Mary the Magdalene, has caused a worldwide theological firestorm, including demonstrations in India. I was even the butt of one of Bill O'Reilly's attacks and have challenged him to an on-air debate. So far, he's demurred.
I think the reason for all this negativity is that the proof for the historical marriage between Jesus of Nazareth and the woman known as Mary the Magdalene has become overwhelming. Even before our findings, everything -- everything -- pointed to a marriage, and nothing -- nothing -- argued for Jesus' celibacy. The only thing that continues to argue for Jesus' celibacy is 2000 years of theological bullying. This may come as a shock to most people, but the fact is that none of the four Gospels say that Jesus was celibate. The Gospels call Jesus "Rabbi" (Matthew 26:49, Mark 10:51, John 20:16). Rabbis, then as now, are married. If Jesus wasn't married, someone would have noticed.
The greatest promoter of celibacy for Christians was Paul. On every other matter of Jewish law -- and Paul was a Jew called Saul at birth -- Paul was lax. He threw out Kosher laws, ignored Sabbath observance and prayed that the hands of ritual circumcisers shake so that they cut off their own penises when they perform circumcision (Galatians 5:12). Only when it came to sex Paul was more severe than Moses and Jesus put together. Why? The answer may lie in Paul's background.
As everyone knows, "Paul of Tarsus" came from Tarsus, an area of modern-day Turkey. What people don't know is that in the Tarsus of Paul's day they worshipped a god named Attis. Perhaps not coincidentally, Attis was a dying and resurrecting god. He was called "the Good Shepard", and his earliest depictions show him with a sheep across his shoulders. All these images were later incorporated into the iconography of Paul's version of Christianity. Put simply, Paul's Jesus looks a lot like Attis.
Attis had a great love in his life, Cybele. On their wedding night, Attis decided to make the supreme sacrifice and offer his testicles on the altar of his love. He surprised his virgin bride by castrating himself. This idea was a big hit in the Tarsus of Paul's day. Attis' priests, the Galli, would imitate their god by going into a frenzy, emasculating themselves and offering their testicles as holy sacrifices. Not surprisingly, this once-popular religion died out. For his part, Paul didn't promote literal castration -- although some early Pauline Christians, e.g. Church Father Origen, did castrate themselves. In the spirit of Attis, Paul advocated abstinence and celibacy, even in marriage (e.g. "It is good for a man not to touch a woman," 1 Corinthians 7:1). Had Jesus been celibate, Paul would certainly have invoked him as an example when arguing for celibacy. But he doesn't. Never once does Paul argue that Christians should be celibate, because Jesus was celibate. Not once!
If one looks at the Gospels without Attis-colored Pauline glasses, there are many, many hints that Jesus was married. Specifically, after the Crucifixion, the Gospels agree that it was Mary the Magdalene who went early Sunday morning to wash and anoint Jesus' crucified body (Mark 16:1). People have the quaint idea that ancient Jews in Jerusalem went around "anointing" each other. They didn't. What the Gospels are telling us is that Mary the Magdalene went to Jesus' tomb to prepare his body for burial. That's the Gospels, not me. Then and now, no woman would touch the naked body of a dead Rabbi, unless she was family. Jesus was whipped, beat and crucified. No woman would wash the blood and sweat off his private parts unless she was his wife.
Besides the canonical Gospels, there are the so-called "Gnostic" Gospels. The Gnostics -- or "wisdom seekers" -- were an early branch of Christianity, whose origins we don't know. What we do know is that they represent the losers in the Christian orthodoxy game. After the fourth century, the Church burnt Gnostic holy books and the people who believed in them. As a result, until recently, we had almost no Gnostic Gospels to refer to.
In 1947, in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, the Gnostics got their revenge. At that time, several of their Gospels were found hidden in jars. They all tell the same story -- Jesus was married. More than this, for his Gnostic followers, Jesus' marriage and sexual activity was more important than his death and resurrection. Simply put, they were more interested in his passion in bed than in his "Passion" on the cross.
What does archaeology have to say about a married Jesus?
In 1980, in Talpiot, just outside of Jerusalem, archaeologists discovered a 2000-year-old burial tomb. In the tomb there were ten ossuaries i.e., limestone coffins. Six of them were inscribed. One of them had the Hebrew/Aramaic name "Jesus son of Joseph" scratched on its side, another "Maria," yet another -- "Yose" -- a nickname referred to in the Gospels as belonging to one of Jesus' brothers (Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55). A fourth ossuary was inscribed with the name "Matthew" and a fifth -- the only one in Greek -- with the name "Mariamene," a Greek version of "Mary" associated in all of Greek literature with one woman only -- Mary the Magdalene. Even more disturbing for Pauline Christians, a sixth inscribed ossuary -- apparently of a child -- had the name "Judah, son of Jesus" carved on it.
So what happened with this paradigm-shifting discovery? Nothing! Between 1980 and 1996 no archaeologists even reported the find. It took my 2007 documentary, The Last Tomb of Jesus, and my co-authored book, The Jesus Family Tomb to propel the find onto the headlines. And what was the world's reaction? Again, nothing. In the spirit of The Life of Brian, according to the scholarly consensus, the tomb must have belonged to another Jesus and two other Marys. After all, if you believe that Jesus is an Attis-type god, he can't have a coffin, certainly not a wife and not a child that could've resulted from their sexual union.
This brings us to our "Lost Gospel". It appears to be a sixth-century Syriac (Christian Aramaic) text that is a translation of an earlier Greek text (fourth or second century) that Prof. Barrie Wilson and I believe preserves a first-century tradition. The text, in the rare manuscript section of the British Library for the past 160 years, is ostensibly about the biblical Joseph, of multi-colored coat fame, and his obscure wife Aseneth. But in the Syriac community from which this Gospel emerged, "Joseph" was a stand-in for Jesus, and Aseneth, "had many children by the Crucified" (Hymn 21 of Ephrem the Syrian). Clearly, we are dealing with a very thinly encoded text, concealing a Gospel that would otherwise have been destined for the bonfire.
In our manuscript, Joseph -- a.k.a Jesus -- is identified with the sign of the cross traced in blood. Some have argued that this manuscript does not refer to Jesus. If so, why the sign of the cross? Why the blood, and why is he explicitly called the "Son of God"? As for Aseneth, our manuscript depicts her as living in a "tower." The Hebrew for "tower" is "Migdal", hence Mary the Magdalene. It's not her last name, folks. It's a title. It means "Mary the Tower Lady."
In our Lost Gospel, she is depicted as a Galilean Phoenician priestess that abandons idolatry after meeting and falling in love with Jesus. They marry, but she's not simply "Mrs. Jesus." She is a partner in redemption referred to as the "Daughter of God" and "The Bride of God." Our Lost Gospel states that Jesus and Mary had two children and it witnesses to the idea that, for their earliest followers, Jesus and his wife Mary were co-deities embroiled in the politics of their times.
Pauline Christians can continue to have faith in a celibate savior who is divorced from his family, his people and his times. But for me, the most important revelation in this long ignored manuscript has to do with a foiled plot on Jesus and Mary the Magdalene's lives, about 13 years before the crucifixion. If our historical sleuthing is correct, this text is a Gospel before the Gospels and we can finally return Jesus to the historical context from which Paul removed him.
Simcha Jacobovici is a three-time Emmy-winning filmmaker and New York Times bestselling author. His book on the subject, "The Lost Gospel", is already on sale. The companion documentary "Bride of God" will air on Discovery Science, December 14 and 21.