Before my Magdalene sisters get their undies twisted….hear me out!
Since gnostic scripture revealed that Jesus may have kissed Mary Magdalene on the mouth, and Andrew Lloyd Webber had Mary singing love songs to Jesus, thousands, if not millions, (me included) have pined after the Jesus/Mary Magdalene story as an example and model of the ideal relationship, what in my own writings I have called Beloved Partnership. While it’s appropriate to desire and stand up for a healthy, loving, mutually respectful and supportive relationship, I’m not sure (our current understanding of) Jesus and Mary Magdalene provide the best example. Here’s why:
Lack of Historical Evidence
First, we must acknowledge that we know ABSOLUTELY nothing about what did and did not truly happen between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. All we have are fragments of third century (CE) papyrus with words like koinonos (companion), and nashak (to share in the same spirit – often translated as kiss), showing Mary Magdalene in a pre-eminent role, and participating in the knowledge and wisdom that Jesus shared. Beyond this, we have nothing to definitively prove a romantic relationship or marriage between them.
The idea of Jesus and Mary Magdalene as intimate, loving, sexual, married partners (who may or may not have bore a child together) is strictly the creation of human imagination. Regardless of those who might argue otherwise, including the French legends, alleged oral and written traditions, so-called channeled histories, and my own writings, there is absolutely ZERO academic proof to support the theory of romantic love between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Lack of scholarly evidence does not mean they weren’t married; it just means we must be careful to what ideas we become attached. The idea of Jesus and Mary Magdalene as beloved partners is not a mountain I’m willing to die on.
Secondly, we need to take a good hard look at Jesus, himself.
Scriptural accounts of Jesus portray him in a way that screams UNAVAILABLE MAN! First off, he’s off gadding about between Jerusalem, Bethany, the wilderness, Samaria, Capernaum, and everywhere in between. He’s not in one place long enough to call any place home. The only home that is mentioned is Nazareth, or alternatively Capernaum. Scripture clearly places Mary in Bethany, which is only a brief and occasional stop over for Jesus. Where, when, and how is this marriage supposed to have taken place and with all his traipsing around, what kind of partner could Jesus have been to poor Mary? Not only is he portrayed as unavailable to Mary, but Jesus is also unavailable to his so-called apostles. If Jesus had been truly present to them, they wouldn’t have had to argue about which one Jesus loved more or who would sit beside him in his “kingdom.”
Not only is Jesus depicted in scripture as unavailable, any love Mary or the disciples would have had for him went unrequited. They appeared to love him – but did he love them in return? The terms Rabbi and Rabbouni that the disciples (including Mary) used in addressing Jesus do not imply intimacy. Instead, these terms depict the healthy detachment that must exist between teacher and student/counselor and client. Jesus did not go off into the wilderness or up the mountains to pray in the company of his disciples. He went alone. Further, as an embodiment and source of unconditional love, I’m not sure Jesus had time to love another in the romantic way that our 21st century minds would like to imagine. I am aware that there is the argument that if Jesus were indeed a Jewish Rabbi, he would have HAD to have been married. Perhaps so but would the marriage have been fulfilling for his wife based on what scripture tells us about his travels. Oh yeah…..and then he went and died on everyone, leaving everyone to pine away for the loss of their teacher, friend, and supposed beloved partner. As I said – UNREQUITED!
Disparity of Power
Scripture places Jesus in the role of the teacher of his disciples. He taught. They listened. He later sent them out to “proclaim the good news and heal the sick,” but he remained in the leadership position. It is implied that Jesus healed Mary Magdalene of “seven demons.” He raised Lazarus from the dead. He healed the sick. Every example places Jesus in the position of power, thereby creating a disparity of power between himself and his disciples, namely Mary Magdalene. Perhaps Mary achieved a power like Jesus’ that placed her on equal footing with him. Our 21st century imaginations would like to hope for that. The likelihood of a woman in first century Palestine achieving power equal to a man, however, is slim to none, as such, IF a romantic relationship did occur between Jesus and Mary, it would have been rooted in a disparity of power, ensuring co-dependency. Not exactly a model for Beloved Partnership.
Beloved Partnership, as I define it, is not based on co-dependency rooted in either unavailable or unrequited love created within a dynamic of power disparity. Instead, Beloved Partnership is only possible between two individuals of equal power who have achieved self-actualization in their own right, and through their own means. Abraham Maslow (Motivation and Personality, 1970, pp. 181- 202) speaks of this in describing what he calls the self-actualized couple:
- A partnership where there is a mutual giving and receiving of love, both parties are equally able and willing to engage in both giving and receiving.
- A healthy sexuality rooted in and reflective of love – more creative, ecstatic, orgasmic and fulfilling, yet also less about attachment. It is not a needy kind of intimacy, but instead is mutually fulfilling.
- Pooling of needs – your needs, wants, desires, become mine and visa versa – such that there becomes one hierarchy of needs with two people seeking after their fulfillment.
- Fun, merriment, joy, spontaneity, elation, feelings of well-being.
- Mutual honor and respect of the other’s individual gifts, talents, drive, passions, interests, temperament, etc.
- Mutual, authentic admiration, wonder and awe.
- Detachment and Individuality – able to be in relationship without compromising one’s own individuality.
Barbara Marx Hubbard sees the Beloved Partnership as what we are growing into as we evolve toward the next stage of human development as a co-creative society. In keeping with this vision, she calls the Beloved Partners the Co-Creative Couple (Conscious Evolution, 2015, pp. 238 – 239):
…the co-creative couple begins when both partners achieve within themselves at least the beginning of a balance between the masculine and feminine, the animus and the anima. It begins when the woman’s initiative and vocational need is received in love by the feminine receptivity of her partner. When she is loved for her more masculine side, she falls in love with the man’s feminine aspect, for what she needs is the nurturance of her own strength and creativity. She loves him for his receptivity. He no longer has to prove himself by control and domination. He can bring forth his own creativity without aggression. And she can express her strength without fear of losing him. Whole being joins with whole being…
As we move forward in our cultural redefining of relationship and intimate partnership, Beloved Partnership is what I envision as the goal toward which we could be striving. The other is not meant to complete us for in Beloved Partnership we are already complete within ourselves, as is the other. No more are we chasing after unavailable women or men or pining after unrequited love. Neither are we after the seat of power, or willing to give our power away for the sake of a love that is less than we deserve. Instead, we come together as co-equal partners, content in who we are, complete in our gifts and ready and willing to share that wholeness with another who is equally whole.
Based on historical evidence, Jesus and Mary Magdalene did not live out this model of relationship. To continue to uphold Jesus and Mary Magdalene as examples of this ideal does us a great disservice while keeping us stranded in the codependent models of love we’ve been conditioned to pursue and from which we are trying to unravel. It is for this reason that I am breaking up with the Jesus/Mary Magdalene “love” story. (There is nothing wrong with imagining Jesus and Mary as Beloved Partners, let’s just be sure what models of partnership we are using in constructing that dream. Also, I say this to myself as much as I’m saying to anyone else!)
Lauri Ann Lumby, MATP
is the author of Happily Ever After – the Transformational Journey from “You Complete Me” to “Beloved Partnership.” Available on Amazon HERE.
She has also counseled individuals who are searching for Beloved Partnership and couples who are moving from the Dark Night of the Relationship toward Beloved Partnership.