Saint or Sinner?

"Margaret Starbird is a seeker after truth. She seeks to recover the long-suppressed, and not infrequently emotionally opposed, feminine side of the Christian story. Hers is an exciting narrative probing regions of thought long neglected. Magdalen, the Great Mary, emerges with new power"- John Shelby Spong, Former Episcopal Bishop of Newark, NJ.

The controversy surrounding Mary Magdalene's relationship to Jesus has gained widespread interest after publication of Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, which cites Roman Catholic scholar Margaret Starbird’s 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 to the mythic and symbolic Magdalene who is the archetype of the Sacred Feminine. Starbird offers evidence that Mary was Jesus’ forgotten bride by sifting 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. Starbird provides an interpretation of Mary’s true role based on the Hebrew scriptures and the testimony of the canonical gospels.

In her earlier book, The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, Starbird had used symbolism, history, medieval art, mythology, psychology, and the Bible to find suggestions of a 'marriage' between Jesus and Mary Magdalen. Her investigation of this suppressed history called for a restoration of the feminine principle to its place in the canon of Christianity. Starbird says that her theological beliefs were profoundly shaken when she first read Holy Blood, Holy Grail, a book that suggesested Jesus was married to Mary Magdalen and that their descendants carried on his holy bloodline in Western Europe. Shocked by such heresy, she set out to refute it, but instead found evidence that caused her to come to the conclusion that there is indeed a case to be made for the existence of the bride of Jesus--the enigmatic woman who anointed him with precious unguent from her "alabaster jar." Dan Brown wrote: "Margaret Starbird's work is of particular interest because it fuses the diverse fields of symbolism, mythology, art, heraldry, psychology, and gospel history. Her research opens doors for each of us to further explore the rich iconography of our own spiritual history."

In Magdalene's Lost Legacy, Starbird decodes the symbolic numbers embedded in the original Greek phrases of the New Testament--revealing the powerful presence of the feminine divine. The New Testament contains wide use of gematria, a literary device that allows the sums of certain phrases to produce sacred numbers. (Prose or poetry when combined with music produces 'song'; prose or poetry when combined with numbers produces 'gematria'.) Exploring the hidden meanings behind these numbers, Starbird reveals that the union between Jesus and his bride, Mary Magdalene, formed a sacred partnership that was the cornerstone of the earliest Christian community. Magdalene's Lost Legacy demonstrates how the crucial teaching of the sacred marriage that unites masculine and feminine principles is the partnership model for life on our planet and the ultimate blueprint for civilization.

Margaret Starbird holds a master's degree from the University of Maryland and has studied at the Christian Albrechts UniversitÃnt in Kiel, Germany, and at Vanderbilt Divinity School.

What is your understanding of Mary the Magdalene's role?

Posted March, 31, 2007


Megan Zamprelli said...

I like the Coming Soon section and not being very knowlegable in these issues it is very helpful for me in keeping up with the rest of you to get some reading done on the next topic!

I think I understand the gematria thing - I had never heard of it before. What I didn't understand is why there is no mention of this today? As I gather once Christian writings were translated from Greek or Hebrew into Latin and then English, French German etc the gematria part was all lost!


Brenda Moorhead said...

I thought mary magdalene was a prostitute? Starbird says there is no such reference in the bible and that she was in fact jesus's right hand woman (sorry about that bad pun). I can see from Starbird why women have had a second class role in the churches until recently. She seems to be the one that stood by jesus during the crucifixion while the other brave??? males deserted and denied him. She is the one that he appears to first and i hadn't realized that she is the only woman in the nt with a title! That was new to me too!

Pianoman said...

The RC church in the 1960s declared that MM was not a prostitute but that was about as far as it went in rehabilitating her image.

I don't know what the view of the protestant churches is about her?

It is a sad state when it takes a movie like The Da Vinci Code to bring up theological issues and get people talking about them.

Avid Reader said...

I am very familiar with all of Starbird’s books having developed an interest in this whole subject from reading DVC. Recently I have been reading Karen King’s book ‘The Gospel of Mary of Magdala’ and there are a couple of things that are quite striking.

First, Mary Magdalene is placed in what is basically being the left hand of Christianity with Jesus being the right hand.

Second, there is no reference to God in gender specific terms. God is always referred to as simply “The Good”.

Third, the concept of the “Son of Man” in the Gospel of Mary is the image of the divine that exists in every person and is to be developed; it is the good inner self. The Gospel of Mark understands “Son of Man” very differently as a messianic figure to come at the end of time – Jesus.

Four, the Gospel presents Mary as receiving teaching from Jesus that he did not give to the other disciples; Mary presented it to them after the death of Jesus and Peter seems to have created a big stir over this basically saying the Jesus wouldn’t have given any special teaching to a woman.

It seems that what became orthodox Christianity was determined to play down Mary’s importance and role as the companion of Jesus. John's Gospel according to King, works to subordinate Mary’s authority as a resurrection witness to that of the male disciples, and this is also seen in Luke who also tends to reduce the status of Mary Magdalene and women in general to subordinate roles, especially in comparison with the enhanced roles of Peter and the twelve. King points out that starting in the fourth century orthodox Christianity began to construct an alternative story of Mary Magdalene. The first move was to associate Mary Magdalene with the unnamed sinner who anointed Jesus’ feet in Luke. Further confusion resulted by conflating the account in John in which Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus and then identifying Mary of Magdala with Mary of Bethany. The final destruction of MM’s reputation was done by Pope Gregory who started off the false story that she was a whore. So orthodox Christianity took the early picture of MM as the first apostle and first teacher to that of a repentant prostitute.

Ever, DM

Helen Wright said...


What is DVC?


Avid Reader said...

Helen DVC is shorthand for “The Da Vinci Code” DM

Peter said...

It's my impression that protestanism did not push the prostitute picture. I may be wrong but I recall reading that Martin Luther suspected Jesus as a Jewish man would have been married and the most like person as his wife would have been Mary Magdalene. I don't think he ever pushed this line but if he held a view like this it would be very unlikely that he would have supported the position that she was a fallen woman.

Take care,

PRD said...


She was obviously very important. If you look at just the four canonical gospels she is the only one who is not mentioned as 'the mother of' or 'the sister of' someone else. Luke for example is very specific speaking of Mary who 'was called the Magdalene'.

Clearly she was an independent woman and she also appears to have had significant wealth.


Megan Zamprelli said...

Isn't Jesus the Adam figure of the New testament and if so would MM not be the parallel to Eve?

Since Eve was the one blamed for Adam's fall is it not logical to think that Pope Gregory would have automatically thought MM must be the Eve equivalent?


PRD said...

I mentioned this in a post on the Da Vinci thread that apparently there was no town of 'Maglala' in Judaea in the time of Jesus although there was a 'Magdolum' in Egypt. So if Mary was from a particular town she would have had to be Egyptian. On the other hand in Hebrew 'Magdala' means 'tower' or 'elevated, great'. So Mary the Magdalene would be a title meaning 'Mary The Great'.

The NT reference to Mary the Magdalene is a reference to Chapter 4 of Micah verse 8 where the word Magdal-eder refers to watchtower. The place name "magdal-eder' means 'tower of the flock' in the sense of a high place used by a shepherd as a vantage point from which to watch over his sheep. Therefore referring to Mary as 'Mary the Magdalene' shows that she was regarded as the one who watched over Jesus's followers. This would also support her important role as being the Apostle to the Apostles following her unique role in the events following the crucifixion.

I think Starbird believes that many of the rites practiced by other cults/religions at the time of Jesus were incorporated into Christianity. For example she points out that the Song of Songs is a redaction of liturgical poetry from the 'hieros gamos' or 'sacred marriage' rites of Isis and Osiris. In some places the texts are identical word for word.

Starbird points out, correctly I believe, that brothers of Jesus and the other apostles traveled around with their 'sister-wives'. What is a sister-wife? She points to the Song of Songs were the bridegroom calls his beloved, "my sister, my bride". In the Gospels Jesus is presented as a 'bridegroom' but where is the bride. Starbird claims that the anointing of Jesus is actually the 'hieros gamos'.


kathy ackerman said...

Mary of Magdala indeed was not a prostitute, but neither was she the "woman with the alabaster jar." Margaret needs to read the Scripture a little more closely and not conflate these women. The woman in the alabaster jar is never identified in Scripture, so we have no way of knowing if she was Mary of Magdala or not. But it's highly unlikely.

She may very well have been Jesus' wife, and the "beloved disciple" referenced in the crucifixion accounts. Again, we don't know that for sure.

As to the use of gematia, that is in the eye of the beholder. Ancient Greek is a language without punctuation or spacing, so any number of combinations are possible -- including gematia -- if one looks hard enough.

Helen Wright said...


Welcome to the discussion! You are obviously quite up to date on this stuff - I am plodding along!

The story of the anointing as I gather from Starbird is as follows:

The first gospel to be written was Mark and he says that a woman with an alabaster jar came to Jesus at a banquet and she had with her precious ointment and she broke the jar and poured it on his head. The apostles and those gathered were appalled and complained because of the value of the material. Jesus told them not to complain about her action as she had done him a favor and wherever this story is told it will be told in memory of her.

The next Gospel to be written was Matthew and he basically copied Mark exactly with the woman of the alabaster jar anointing Jesus.

Luke then changes the story radically. He moved it out of Bethany and put in far away in Galilee. He calls the woman a sinner. Mark and Matthew have nothing about her being a sinner. Instead of anointing Jesus on the head Luke changes the story as if it were a completely different incident. He adds the scene of the use of her hair to wash Jesus’ feet.

But it is not a different incident as John writes later in his Gospel. He takes elements of all of the previous versions and combines them and places the event back in Bethany. Bethany is the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives is the prophetic mountain on which the Lord is going to stand. John also brings the event back to Holy Week so he agrees with Mark and Matthew. The woman is not named in the Synoptic Gospels. John names the woman as Mary the sister of Lazarus and Martha. This is the Mary that used to sit at the feet of Jesus and drink up his words. In Luke’s gospel this woman is the sister of Martha and Lazarus in Bethany. She is the model for contemplative nuns and also for the role of the church to sit and listen to the Word of God.

What I gather is that Starbird goes on to make the case that the anointing was in fact an act of 'hieros gamos' or 'sacred marriage' and that the Mary of the incident was Mary the Magdalene.

I'm still puzzling through all of this but it has me looking up my biblical references! I presume Starbird's position is that Mary Magdalene is the sister of Martha and Lazarus.


Vinny Hall said...

As a scientist I am intrigued in the gematria material Starbird brings up. She explains why there were exactly 153 fishes supposedly in the net as described in John Chapter 21. The gematria for the Greek word ‘fishes’ is eight times 153 (1224) and the word used for ‘net’ also has the same gematria (1224). The phrase in Greek ‘multitude of fishes’ is 153 times 4 squared – 4 being associated with Earth and 444 with ‘flesh and blood’ denoting the human condition. Thus the ‘multitude of fishes’ refers symbolically to the harvest of all humanity.

Another one I found interesting was the word ‘dove’ (gematria 801). In Greek the value for alpha is 1 and the value of omega is 800. So the dove is the alpha and omega, an epithet of “Holy One”. As Starbird points out this makes the descent of the dove at Jesus’ baptism take on a deeper significance.

Fascinating stuff! Don’t know what it means in terms of its significance to modern theology but its something I hadn’t heard about before.

Sincerely, Vinny

Vinny Hall said...

I was doing some more reading into Starbird’s gematria material.

The four Gospels, the Letters of Paul, and Revelation are apparently all infused with gematria in their original Greek texts where the name, or title, or phrase conveys the ‘energy’ of the cosmic principles.

The number 153 was critically important to the Greeks because the square root of 3 is the basis of geometric figures. The Greeks had no way of writing the square root of 3 so they represented it as the fraction 265/153 which is correct to about 5 decimal places. They called this fraction the ‘153’ and this number was associated with the ‘sacred feminine’ in Greek culture.

The whole of John is a ‘sacred geometry’. So John chapter 21, where the six apostles and the beloved disciple catch 153 fishes, is a metaphor for the church where the apostles are the ‘fishers of men’.

Now here is where it gets really interesting. 153 is also the ‘vescia piscis’ or ‘bladder of the fish’. Starbird describes how the ‘vesica piscis’ shape was extremely important in ancient geometry, where it was recognized as the womb. It is a symbol shaped like an egg where the ratio of the height of the symbol to its width is the square root of 3 or the ‘153’ as the Greeks would have described it. The shape represented the vulva – the ‘doorway to life’ – and its other name was the ‘holy of holies’ and it was also associated with the ‘bridal chamber’.

In the Greek version of the NT all of the Marys are ‘holy’ because their gematria is made to come out as 152 (just one short of the ‘sacred feminine’ 153) but the gematria for Mary THE Magdalene is exactly 153! What the gematria is telling us is that the Christian scriptures were establishing all of the Marys as ‘holy’ but Mary the Magdalene was the ‘holy of holies’, the incarnation of the archetype of bride. This Mary was thus being designated by the earliest creators of the NT doctrines to be the cosmic counterpart of Jesus the Lord. The earliest Christians intended to designate the Magdalene as the Virgo counterpart of the Piscean Lord.

Thus the title ‘The Magdalene’ is not telling us that Mary was from a town of Magdala (which didn’t even exist in her time). It was chosen specifically to tell you from her title and from her gematria who specifically she was. She was the ‘magdaleder’ – the ‘tower of the flock’, the ‘153’, the bride!

Jesus is the bridegroom – Mary the Magdalene is the bride, the vessel of the fish.

This stuff is even more interesting that I could have believed.

Sincerely, Vinny