Mary Magdalene Madness

Tegucigalpa, HONDURAS:  Two faithful women dress the image of Mary Magdalene 11 April, 2006 in the cathedral of Tegucigalpa,
Tegucigalpa, HONDURAS: Two faithful women dress the image of Mary Magdalene 11 April, 2006 in the cathedral of Tegucigalpa, as part of the preparations for the traditional Holy Week procession of the 'Lord of Humility'. AFP PHOTO Elmer MARTINEZ (Photo credit should read ELMER MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

When Goethe wrote, "The eternal feminine draws us upward," he couldn't have guessed that a cult of personality would come to employ that phrase in the exultation of Christianity's misunderstood mistress: Mary Magdalene. After generations of dualistic saint/sinner, Madonna/whore treatment, the woman known by some as the favorite apostle of Jesus emerges triumphant as academics and artists sing her praises -- some literally.

News from the Harvard Divinity school last year of a fourth-century Coptic gospel papyrus fragment with Jesus referencing his "wife" has reignited the flare of fervor for Mary Magdalene that Dan Brown set ablaze with "The Da Vinci Code." Metaphorical interpretations aside, the apparent confirmation of Jesus of N. and Mary of M. as the ultimate biblical power couple has spawned a movement.

Parisian pop artist The Lost Star, who devotes a cut from her latest album to the "Goddess of the Gospels" (song title), asserts that long before the Da Vinci Code craze and sensational text translation, "an arcane circle of people were already tuned in to the possibility and probability that Mary Magdalene played a much more important role in the saga of Christianity and the life of Jesus Christ than most people were led to believe."

As a part of that circle herself, the U.S.-born singer-songwriter was affirmed by the gospel quote, and her fan base has broadened since news of it came out. Furthermore, she credits Brown's novel with the "democratization of an unknown history that is richly appealing to today's woman and anyone seeking spirituality outside of traditionally held dogma."

Part of that dogma has been the presumption that Jesus was a lifetime celibate, a belief that has influenced the morality of the Western world. Collaborating with the lauded photographer-filmmaker Franck Glenisson, whose controversial body of work deals boldly with erotic themes, Lost Star-as-Gospel Goddess shatters the image of a chaste Jesus with a recently released music video.

But there's always a fact-finder to break up the party. In 2005 divinity scholar Gary C. Burger insisted, "There is absolutely, I repeat, absolutely no historical record or even slightest valid inference of a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene," in an article dedicated to debunking Da Vinci deceits (predating the discovery of "my wife" in the Egyptian papyrus text). While Burger acknowledged that Brown's book is a work of fiction, he stressed that the author presents as fact statements and scenarios his audience regards as historical record.

Contemporary mystic and Episcopal Ph.D.-priest Cynthia Bourgeault takes a more measured stance toward the physical union of the Lamb of God and the girl from the Galilee. Her book "The Meaning of Mary Magdalene" does not even attempt to settle the matter. She told The Huffington Post, "Christianity has dishonored human love. We tend immediately to think of intimate relationships as sexual and sexual as pornographic. So, we go for the gutter saying, 'Ha-ha Jesus had his little dalliance on the side,' putting a nasty take on it."

In Bourgeault's opinion, today's femme-fatale fever is not all honorific because many in modern culture "cannot fathom a relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus as a holy relationship," citing furious responses from parishioners reacting to the very thought of their marriage.

Yet Bourgeault said this notion is nothing new. In fact, the papyrus fragment is just another scrap of mounting and almost irrefutable evidence of the intimate and exclusive partnership of Jesus to the woman who was also his choice for bearing the lineage of the Church. Mary Magdalene had a spousal role as his spiritual equal and foremost protégée to whom he gave the apostolic charge.

Could it be the aura of taboo that is driving the madness -- both anger and adoration? "Modern history and modern Christianity have not caught up with sacred traditions in which sexuality is a source of nobility, enlightenment, and spiritual transformation for both participants," she said, remembering the teaching of Jesus that two shall become one flesh. "Our country is in the grip of a sin-drome."

The Lost Star would agree. "The goddess and feminine energy were crushed and disfigured by the patriarchal regime which has been in place for 2,000 years now," she said. "If you take away a woman's sexual identity you devalue her."

For more on Jesus and Mary Magdalene, read Bernard Starr's article for HuffPost.