Two Books on the Life and Role of Mary Magdalene
PART 1: INTRODUCTION
I stumbled onto two more books about Mary Magdalene, by authors whom I had read before, Sylvia Browne and Margaret Starbird.
The titles and authors were
(1) The Two Marys: The Hidden History of the Mother and Wife of Jesus by Sylvia Browne (Penguin Group, 2007), essentially replaced during the review by Browne's The Mystical Life of Jesus, An Uncommon Perspective on the Life of Christ (Dutton, 2006); and
(2) Mary Magdalene, Bride in Exile by Margaret Starbird (Bear & Company, 2005).
Both were based on historical information, supplemented by an other-wordly informant in the one case (Browne) and by informed intuition in the other (Starbird). I am not a subscriber to the notion of the deceased being informants, and suspect that in both cases it was informed intuition at work, just that in one case it was personified and given a name!
There, you have one of my prejudices up front.
But I do not simply dismiss a work even though I do not believe in the supernatural origin of some of its components. I see these books as imparting insights of potential value. However, I find it somewhat amusing that given her spirit informant Francine’s eyewitness insights that Browne concludes that the earliest Christians were not dualistic, they believed in a good Creator God and not that creation was the work of a demiurge who is responsible for creation being filled with evil. Christ taught the Creator was good all-loving God who is trying to call us home, and all the evil in this earthly place is human-made. Ancient Gnostics, Browne rightly points out, believed this was an evil place and humans were spirits trapped into the evil by a crafty but bad god-being.
Likewise Arthur Guirdham has spirit guides, deceased Cathars, and he tells us the original Christians were dualistic. On pages 104-105 of Guirdham’s The Great Heresy, The History and Beliefs of the Cathars (The C.W. Daniel Co., 1977) he wrote:
It may be difficult and even shocking for some to accept that the Christianity of Christ’s own time, and of the two or three centuries following the crucifixion, was an episode in the history of Dualism.
The point is that making a claim to being informed by a disincarnate entity does not make one always correct or accurate. Clearly either Browne or Guirdham is missing the mark when it comes to dualism in the earliest years of the Christian movement. But that was an aside. Let’s get back to Browne and Starbird.
These books had several themes in common. What also interested me was their few points of divergence.
What they had in common was the assertion that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had a child, or children. In both cases the historical underpinnings were convincing, because I am perfectly willing to accede that it was more likely that Jesus was married than not. Biblical silence means nothing. There is never a statement saying he was not.
Where they diverged was regarding the mission of Jesus. In the one case he escaped death, barely, and with his family moved to what is now southern France. In the other case he died and his family moved to escape persecution and ended up in what is now southern France. Marseille is where they landed.
In both cases, his mission was not what normative Christianity teaches it to be. So what was his purported purpose in the case of his escape from death until he was into his mid-80s? To teach that the kingdom of God is within us already, it is ours to claim as we become aware of it. OK, he did teach that.
In the other, he did die on the cross. However, his death was not an act of Divine redemption but an unfortunate and perhaps unintended re-enactment of the very ancient rite of the sacrifice of the king. This auspiciously occurs after the celebration of an anointing rite denoting kingship, by an important and royal priestess. This is the ancient hieros gamos or divine marriage ceremony. Both the sacrifice of the king and the divine marriage ceremonies, a ritual death and a ritual marriage, were to bring renewal to lands, peoples, and nations. In the case of Jesus’ sacrifice it was followed by the nation’s destruction, but no one is claiming either of these ceremonies guaranteed results.
Which one is better grounded in history? The one in which Jesus dies, Starbird’s. That is my opinion. Both get my eyes rolling at times with claims that clung precariously to historical straws, but the one with Jesus surviving a faked crucifixion was much less credible, again in my opinion.
Both also impressed me, at times, with their depth of insight. The Browne book was very astute in calling itself a modern Gnostic vision of the life of Christ. That is exactly what it is, and it knew where it diverged from ancient Gnostic theology: in terms of dualism. Impressive.
The other, by Starbird, drew from many avenues of mythical and historical insights including the Gnostics, but also the pagan religions that were current in the Greek and Roman worlds.
To tell the truth, I learned little that I had not read before in Browne’s book except for the very human, eyewitness insights from her spirit informant Francine. Those insights often regarded rather superficial but nice to know things like the dress and appearance of these two Mary’s, the mother and the wife of Jesus. Francine also testified to how well they got along together and supported each other. They were both healers in their own right, and supporters of Jesus’ teaching and healing ministries. Mary Magdalene was the preeminent one where her teaching career was concerned. Fine. Francine also reported statements by persons close to Jesus and Jesus himself, which was interesting.
However, even with a few instances of important statements being conveyed by Francine, most of the new information added by her was disappointing in that most added nothing to the story-- according to me-- except human-interest angles that decorated the story. Seldom did the spirit informant add any spiritual insight of note, in my opinion. To be fair, Browne kept referring the discussion of the weightier things I was seeking to another of her books, The Mystical Life of Jesus, An Uncommon Perspective on the Life of Christ (Dutton, 2006). As soon as I obtained and began to read that slightly older book I came to realize that the Two Marys book was an expanded version of a chapter in this older book, and I switched my review to The Mystical Life of Jesus since it seemed, frankly, to have more substance in several areas of interest to me.
PART 2: THE BROWNE BOOK(S).
So, let’s get into some noteworthy details. Noteworthy? Yes, to me. And what I am looking for in particular is places where (1) Browne clarifies her views on the purpose of Christ’s mission, and (2) where she makes historical observations that can be compared with those made by Starbird in her Mary Magdalene, Bride in Exile.
At the very start, Browne says this book is an attempt to (pages xviii-xix):
. . . put forth the truth about him and his works for God so that people can better understand his teachings and from whence he came. To that end, this book contains verifiable truths and where verification is not possible, it contains logical and truthful information from my spirit guide, Francine. In the more than sixty years of knowing and working with her, I have never found her to be untruthful in any way, and she brings with her the wisdom and knowledge of the Other Side.
She continues to say that she is teaching the truth and “you can feel it tangibly within your soul if you open up to it.” If you instead accept the teachings of normative Christianity your soul will suffer spiritually and you will remain “a slave to the powers of deception.” That is pretty heavy stuff, and I am aware of the same type of message being taught by Mormons: they also recommend that you test their message within yourself and see if it is not so, accept this message and become free from those who live blindly in error. It works. The promise is ironclad, if you ask God for this inner verification, nothing doubting, it will come. Revelation will support your sincerest expectations.
In order to dissipate some of the fear of pending heresy Browne says on her page 2 that:
I have always and still do believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, and none of the information put forth in this book in my opinion threatens that.
Pages 5 and 6 make clear that Browne does not believe in a virgin birth, but instead “that Jesus was a normal Jewish child called by God.” On the next few pages she shows that the New Testament claims of a virgin birth are unreliable at best. Virgin births were the stuff of contemporary pagan religions, she shows on page 5.
Just in case there is still doubt, on page 9 Francine confirms that Joseph is the father of Jesus.
Browne spends a chapter on Jesus’ travels and studies of esoteric knowledge during his “lost years.” This reminds me of Madame Blavatsky’s and Annie Besants and Elizabeth Claire Prophet’s similar accounts, and I simply shrug my shoulders at this: Francine’s substantiation means nothing to me and nothing Jesus taught could not be found somewhere among the more thoughtful and esoterically minded Jews. The Essenes come to mind, for example, as teachers of similar ideas, and the much maligned Pharisees actually taught that the law existed for man, not man for the law. They were not all legalistic fanatics as they were painted to be in the New Testament.
It is in her chapter on Jesus’ selection of his disciples and leaders that Browne next makes statements that caught my eye (pages 62-63). On page 62 she reports that Francine says the Matthew and Luke stories about Jesus having conversations with the adversary (Satan) are not true, they were written later, at a time when early Christians began to believe in the existence of a devil. Francine reports that Mary and Jesus were inseparable in life, and that they both communicated with the Mother God, Sophia, and the Father God, respectively, thus representing:
. . . the true Mother and Father God. We all have within us the DNA of the divine Creators; but Mary and Jesus were examples of life as it should be lived, how marriage should be upheld and how love of humanity should be primary.
This discussion continues on page 63 by telling that the Knights Templar belief in this relationship between Mary and Jesus, and how this reflected the true nature of God, caused their mass murder many centuries later. At one point late in the book (page 237) she also appears to be throwing the Cathars into this mix of a “multitude of Christian secret societies” adopting this belief and facing annihilation as a consequence, although she does not name the Cathars in this book.
All of these items, the role of Jesus and Mary in representing the true nature of God, and the deaths of those who let it be known they believed this secret (secret only because it was dangerous), are remarkably similar to what Starbird says on these same topics in her book, as you will see later.
On page 69, Browne says forthrightly that:
. . . I have always believed that Jesus Christ was a direct report and messenger from God and love his teachings. But here is the kicker: I don’t necessarily ascribe to all of the teachings as put forth in the Bible, and I don’t believe he is the savior for all mankind and that he died for our sins.
This is an important enough declaration that she repeats it in slightly different words (pages 69-70):
I call myself Christian because I do believe in Christ’s teachings and I do believe in his divinity as a special entity from God. I don’t believe in the concept of a savior for mankind, simply because humankind is too diverse in their beliefs, but I do believe that God sends us divine messengers to help us who are as diverse as we are.
She then continues by saying that Buddha and Muhammed were also divine messengers.
There is no divine judgement and punishment for sins by God, karma takes care of the laws of cause and effect from life to life, Browne more than hints on page 71.
Pages 72 through 76 contain a discussion of the world’s religions, how all have some truth but none own all truth (even her own movement, the modern version of the ancient Gnostic Christian movement, does not make any such claim) and how that false claim leads to prejudice, persecution, war, and . . . missionary work to try to convince others of your rightness.
An important point on page 72, to me, is that Jesus, through Francine, tells Browne that Matthew 5:17 is wrong, Christ “had come to ‘change the law,’ not to fulfill it.” Why is that important to me? Because that statement in Matthew caused me consternation during my believing years. Is Browne’s claim to this special knowledge “true”? I don’t think so, but she came to the same conclusion I did many years ago regarding this Biblical statement: it is simply an overenthusiastic claim made for Jesus to impress potential Jewish converts.
Browne says God is our creator in several places, whatever that means. On page 75 she says this, which I find to be so (regardless of what “god” really means):
It doesn’t matter how you love God, for the love given to God will open the door to the constant love God gives you and resonate in your soul.
Browne has a whole chapter (number 4) on Jesus’ healings and miracles, with insights from Francine that temper some of the more exaggerated claims about casting out demons, for example. The bottom line is that he was an accomplished and sought-after healer.
Chapter 5 is the chapter about his marriage with Mary Magdalene that was reworked and expanded to become the later Two Marys book. It has some interesting claims and observations: like on pages 103 through 106 where she wades through the various Marys and charges of prostitution, being a great sinner, and having seven devils, with none of these charges being true: . . .“As I stated earlier, Jesus had known Mary since he was a child, loved her and eventually married her.” Browne says these charges of great sin and deviltry were designed to lower regard for Jesus’ consort and deny her a leadership position. That is what Starbird also says.
Browne separates Mary of Magdala from Mary of Bethany, which is the opposite of what Starbird claims in her book. There was no town of Magdala at that time says Starbird, Magdalene was an honorary title bestowed on Mary of Bethany as she rose to the stature of becoming a leader of the movement, first with Jesus and then without him.
Like Starbird, however, on page 107 Browne observes that Jesus married Mary at Cana, that she traveled with him as did other women, women also traveling with their husbands among his disciples. Browne observes, like Starbird, that . . . “Jesus in his public life was trying to show the equality of men and women.”
Pages 122-123 cover some of the material on why Mary was considered the “apostle to the apostles,” and cites the Gospel of Philip’s famed claim that Jesus often kissed Mary on the mouth. Browne suggests, as does Starbird, that this meant they were married or it would be scandalous.
Francine comes into the picture on pages 124-125 describing both Jesus and Mary as tall for their region and time. Starbird says the title Magdala meant tower, and could indicate tallness, but more than likely meant she was like a watchtower, watching over and teaching and defending the flock. On page 125 Francine reports that Jesus was not a vegetarian who ate fish, he also ate lamb. (Cathars were wrong then in seeing Jesus as their dietary exemplar, eating fish as his only meat?)
On page 127 Francine reports that Jesus once gave. . .“a beautiful sermon about marriage and children and the sanctity of the female, but it was not transcribed.” The patriarchal scribes just chose not to write this one down.
On page 128 Francine says the Gospel of Philip’s interpolated words about these kisses from Jesus to Mary were indeed “on the mouth” were correct. On page 129 she also says that the Matthew 16:18 statement about the church being built on the rock that is Peter is wrong, what Jesus actually said that he needed a rock for the foundation, and that would not be the non- courageous and non-charismatic Peter.
The Mormons have another unique interpretation of Matthew 16:18: the rock is revelation, not Peter, but since his name translates to rock, it was used in the sense of a parable to introduce the subject.
On page 130 Browne speaks of the split in the very early church caused by Paul, and how through Peter choosing Paul’s religion over James’ he became the symbolic leader for the Roman, Pauline, Christians. Exactly as I see it.
The next chapter (number 6) is on the passion of Christ, and in its first few pages (133-135) explains why this inconvenient prophet challenging the dominant religion had to removed, to die. On pages 135-136 the point is made that he failed the great messianic prophecy of freeing the Jews from external domination and oppression, instead he
. . . came to show them how to be free in their souls and how to correct and live their lives so they could truly live in the 'promised land' of the Kingdom of God (the Other Side).
But Christ did not bring world peace as he was supposed to according to prophecy (page 137).
I found it surprising and interesting that Browne suggested in that pages 135-136 sentence that Jesus promised the faithful freedom in a 'promised land' on the "Other Side." To cause people to look beyond this life for relief or reward is almost Catholic, or even Catharish.
On pages 137 and 138 Browne suggests that faith can become knowledge with spiritual enlightenment, something Mormons also claim.
Browne says 'prophecy' is unreliable on page 138 because “Prophecy is nothing more than an extension of belief and faith.” It is not an extension of knowledge. This is why there are always difficulties in interpreting prophecies, says Browne. Maybe so.
Then she goes on, on page 139, to lament the fact that prophecy was banned as the church developed, it interfered with central authority claims. This same claim is also a tenet of the Mormon faith, which believes in continuing revelation and prophecy (albeit also tightly controlled by the extant scriptures and official teachings, just as Browne suggests unsanctioned revelators were controlled and treated in Catholicism).
The remainder of this chapter brings Francine’s testimony regarding an intricate and risky conspiracy, lubricated by bribery, to allow Jesus to survive the cross, barely, and to disappear from the country. The next chapter (7) continues this saga saying Mary never left his side, the story of her meeting him in the garden when seeking his body was a fabrication (page 175). He did make some very discrete appearances to his disciples, in the flesh, as recorded in the gospels of Luke and John (pages 172-173).
Pages 180 through 186 suggest they traveled extensively, revisiting places where Jesus spent his ‘lost years,’ and eventually made it to what is now southern France where they had several more children. They were carefully hidden from discovery by locals who kept their identity secret from the Roman overlords, and who enjoyed the healings and teachings of both Jesus and Mary, especially Mary who was the more public figure of this family-in-exile.
On page 181 Browne claims that Jesus was the leader and messiah for the gnostics, who had heretofore existed leaderless:
Even though the Gnostics’ way of life and belief system dated back thousands of years, they had no leader until Jesus came. You can have a belief, but every religion seems to need a messiah or messenger who brings it forward to the public eye. So Christ was truly the chosen one from God who was a divinity in a human form.
The gnostic Cathars would make this very claim a millennium later: they claimed to be the TRUE Christians, in obvious contrast to Catholic Christians!
Speaking of Cathars, which Browne never does explicitly name in this book, it was the acceptance of Christ’s survival and gnostic teachings, non-dualistic gnostic teachings, apparently, that made southern France such a hotbed for heresy in later years, leading to the destruction of the Knights Templar who believed in and protected this secret alternative Christianity, and leading to the creation of the Holy Inquisition to assure the destruction of versions of Christianity that seemed to promote women into leadership roles. Brown covers this array of topics in her pages 188 through 192.
ASIDE: In the preceding paragraph I observed that in this book, Browne never mentions the Cathars by name.
Does this mean she simply is not aware of their story? No, Browne does tell the Cathar story, and does so quite well, in her book Secret Societies and How They Affect Our Lives Today (Hay House, 2007). On page 183 of that book she explains how gnosticism went underground because of continual persecution. On page 184, she explains that the Cathars were a true Gnostic Christian sect (like her own New Spirit movement is today).
Pages 184-188 tell their history, and pages 188-191 tell of their beliefs. Browne acknowledges they were dualists, and that this is why they rejected the Old Testament and its jealous and vengeful Creator-God.
Page 189 tells that they belived in reincarnation as her movement also teaches. In the case of the Cathars, however, it was seen as an undesirable outcome, ideally one would prepare for and receive the anointing that made them perfecti just before death and one would thus avoid additional lives here. To understand this attitude, one had to imagine onself as a feudal peasant, a slave, a non-person. OK, that makes it clear.
An enigmatic statement by Browne occurs on page 191 where she says the leaders, the perfected ones, or perfecti, were “freed from all moral prohibitions” . . . yet to those they met they seemed . . . “much more moral” . . . than the Catholic clergy. Their educating and helping the unfortunate, which goes against feudal precepts that all are in the stations appointed them by God, caused people to flock to them in droves, according to Browne.
She acknowledges their perfecti’s vegetarianism except for fish. Nothing produced from sexual procreation could be eaten by the perfect ones, not even eggs or milk. Fish were OK, as were vegetables, because there was no sexual procreation involved. Perhaps that was their belief, they were not steeped in the natural sciences that show fish and vegetables are also the products of sexual reproduction, but this is incredible to me. I think they were more sophisticated, that they were imitating what they thought Jesus' diet was from reading the New Testament, and made up the sexual procreation story to place Jesus' diet on a 'scientific' basis. What is the difference between that and what Browne said? Very little.
Pages 191-195 catalog their terrible demise. Browne’s exposition regarding the Cathars does not offend me at all, it is well done and follows what is historically known and written about them.
ASIDE WITHIN ASIDE: I could not help myself and thumbed through other parts of this book where I was happy to see her once again skewering Saint Paul’s fixation on the crucifixion and resurrection as being out of harmony with Christ’s real teachings. This occurs on that book’s page 181. In looking though other part of this interesting book on secret societies I was pleased to see the Rosicrucians and Freemasons described sympathetically and with a degree of admiration. However, I was puzzled as to why the Theosophical Society of Mme. H.P. Blavatsky was not mentioned in this book. To me her movement deserves special mention. The classical book on Esoteric Christinaity published by the Madras publishing arm of the Theosophical Society, and written by the brilliant Annie Besant, is a woman-authored forerunner of this book by Browne. I would like to compare Besant and Browne’s mystical Jesuses in another review. Someday: not now.
END OF ASIDE(S)
Back to the Mystical Life of Jesus, I skipped over a discussion Browne has on pages 186-188 on the nonexistence of sin (it is just “missing the mark,”says Browne, ideally its recognition would lead to one trying again in life). Here again is a parallel with a Mormon view of things: evil must exist in order for good to be a choice against which to test ourselves. That is what Browne also says.
Pages 201 through 214 give a devastating critique of the Book of Revelation with which I wholly agree. Browne’s final words on the subject are:
. . . we get back to this unknown John who has a dream, and because it fit into the fear theme of what the early Church and its popes put forth, they place it into the Bible; not realizing that someday the people would become more literate in the world and figure out that the Book of Revelation was a symbolic treatment of the politics of the day. Many educated people who read it come away with the very real thought that this author John was absolutely insane and surely needed help.
Of course I feel that way about Abraham too, in terms of his perceiving he had received a command from God to sacrifice his son. He and Sarah also sent a girl and her child into the desert to die, which would make them criminals in our own day and time. But "faith" justifies all? The Bible can be a dangerous book for the mentally fragile true believer.
Browne ends this chapter on “The True Apocalypse” on page 217 by saying there is no such thing as a hell where God would let . . . “His/Her creations be destroyed or suffer everlasting torment in the religiously inspired fantasy of hell.” This again is similar to the Mormon concept of hell being within us as we suffer remorse over our failures in life, but that our final eternal state will be wonderful no matter how much remorse we suffer through. Of course there are a number of degrees of glory in the Mormon hereafter, and although salvation is purchased by Christ (something Browne and I both disagree with), we merit the higher degrees by living high quality lives in terms of our belief, morality, passion and compassion. Browne takes a tiny, tiny step in this direction when she suggests that the Kingdom of God on the Other Side is attained by living life in accord with Jesus’ true teachings and example. Failure, of course, leads to rebirth in the Browne-ian gnostic view of life and reality.
In her final chapter, “The Mystical Traveler,” Browne recapitulates much of what has gone before, and speaks of the hypocrisy of teaching an all loving God whose wrath is to be feared because he shows no mercy to sinners who do not follow the outlined path to grace (page 224). On page 227 she does acknowledge a judgement:
I believe that the only judgment we go through is when we judge ourselves on the Other Side.
A very Mormon declaration.
Browne explains the title of her last chapter on pages 228-229. Jesus was “the first and foremost mystical traveler” . . . who are
. . . entities created by God with the perfection to bring about the word of our true all-loving Creator. They are usually assigned to a specific planet to help the creations on that planet evolve their souls. We can also ask to be mystical travelers, but will not attain (at least not in this life) the stature and divineness of Jesus until our souls reach a state of perfection that warrants that designation.
So now we know what Browne meant in her opening pages when she claimed to believe in Christ’s divinity.
Browne explains her “Gnostic Christian Church, Novus Spiritus (New Spirit)” on page 229 in this context of its purpose for being, it is an organization designed to aid the travelers through this world to evolve their souls .
In a sense what she says about her church parallels what the Cathars claimed about theirs: they are the true Christians, teaching the simple message of Jesus without the misrepresentations of normative, fearful, Christianity (my reading of what she says of course).
Christ’s message’s wrong interpretations have led to a religion that . . . “went out and killed millions with their wars, crusades, inquisitions, and persecutions”(page 229).
Twice more Browne reiterates that Christ did not come to die for our sins. On pages 230-232 she explains Christ’s very direct link to God. God is directly involved in helping him teach that life is an opportunity, one filled with trials, “to magnify our souls.”
Browne says straight out that “He didn’t come to die for our sins.” She lays this error at the feet of Paul, whose religious fabrication about a sacrificed God paying for our sins in his letters was then echoed in the Book of Revelation (by its insane author, one might add). A corollary to this Pauline doctrine was his insistence that Christ was God incarnated, he was the Creator come to redeem his own creation. If Christ was not God incarnate, then the sacrifice would be without merit.
Browne discusses this in the context of the fight over the ages, a fight which still continues, concerning whether Christ was literally God, or a special messenger for God, on several additional pages.
Again on page 239 Browne writes about Jesus not having come to die for our sins:
His divinity is real and his resurrection was real–it just happened at his real death, when he was eighty-six or so; just as all of us are resurrected at our deaths. Jesus didn’t have to die for our sins . . . he came to teach us and give us the knowledge of our all-loving Creator.
This is enigmatic. If all are resurrected at death, but many are reborn, what does resurrection mean? No doubt it means being restored to the spirit body of the Other Side where “everyone is happy” (page 240). Paul taught that resurrection meant attaining a spirit body after death loses us the material one in 1 Corinthians 15:44 (an interpretation hotly denied by most normative Christians, or modified by pronouncing that spiritual is not necessarily immaterial).
Later on page 239 Browne says Jesus . . . "brought a light of hope of the hereafter” and that this . . . “God-man . . . taught love and purpose in our life, and that we are just here to learn and then ascend back home to the Other Side from whence we came.”
Quite gnostic, and quite Mormon or even Catholic after the addition of some caveats. Speaking of some of those caveats it is interesting that the absoluteness of the doctrine of heaven for defined believers and everlasting torment in hell for all who failed to qualify as believers, many through no fault of their own, led to adding Purgatory and Limbo to the Catholic belief structure (pages 214-215) and led Mormons to perform baptisms and other rites for the dead, as described in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Browne’s version of Christianity needs no such caveats, God simply does not condemn those who fail to qualify as believers. There is more to quality life than simply beliving correctly.
At the very end of the book, the next-to-last page, 240, I was expecting some grand finale but was disappointed in the last item of reportage provided by the dead Francine. Some of her previously cited insights seemed to add materially to the discussion at hand, but here is a case where Francine reports on something stupendously important that fails to provide me any new insight.
She gives an account of a speech on the Other Side by Christ. In this speech, Christ laments the turns the Christian movement has taken toward governance through fear, turns which he fully foresaw of course. He laments the focus on his crucifixion, his martyrdom, with its linkage to a promise of salvation from sin and death. This allowed the teachings to be used to gain “political control” and resulted in “prejudice.” His followers failed to teach what he taught all through his life concerning an all-loving and forgiving God. They are looking for an exterior rapture but can only expect an inner enlightenment regarding Jesus’ real teachings and purpose.
This discussion on page 240 so closely reflects what Browne herself has been teaching throughout this book that it was anticlimactic to me. I was disappointed. Revelation, like prophecy, it seems, always feeds our own faith, beliefs, and expectations back to us.
But all in all this was a worthwhile read. Browne’s version of Christianity, true Christianity if you believe she represents the true teachings and intent of Christ, has the ability to make the world around its sincere adherents and practitioners a better place. In her Two Marys book she makes very clear that one does not have to believe her every teaching nor even agree with her interpretations of history, to be an accepted part of her New Spirit movement. She does the same in this book. She is consistent. Openness and consistency are admirable traits in a spiritual/religious leader, and very uncommon.
PART 3: THE STARBIRD BOOK
Now it is time to move on to the book by Margaret Starbird, Mary Magdalene, Bride in Exile (Bear & Company, 2005):
On her pages 12-13 Starbird begins a discussion of the written early Christian records, how none were written by eyewitnesses, etc, but they seem to be collections of stories and memories overlain with a purpose. Browne said the same thing in her book.
On page 16 the kingdom of God is described by Starbird as having special appeal to women because it was a kingdom already within us and
A kingdom where justice and loving concern for the well-being of one’s neighbor were the prevailing virtues–superseding strict adherence to legalistic dictates of a privileged priesthood– . . .
On this same page she makes the important point that the gospel writers were trying to make Jesus palatable to the Roman world which had just obliterated Israel. This included distancing Jesus from his Judaic roots, Starbird notes. In my opinion it also required the softening of the potentially liberating message to the female half of humanity, and explains the misogyne interpolations into Paul’s message later noted on page 33 by Starbird.
An interesting point is Starbird’s view of Paul, describing him on page 32 as a “self-proclaimed apostle” distrusted by the Jerusalem community of Jesus’ followers. She suggests that his description of Jesus and his mission was “obviously at variance” with Jesus’ teachings of a kingdom of God “that is already spread out around us, within us, or in our midst.” The distrust on the part of James and Peter may be why Paul never mentions Mary Magdalene and her role or whereabouts, he was not told about her in order to protect her from someone with a suspicious relationship with Rome.
A thing that has some importance to me personally is not at all discussed by Starbird but is illustrated in several Plates she included in her book. Plates 2, 19 and 20 show her with a skull, perhaps tying her to the place of the skull, Golgotha, where Jesus was killed? Or could it mean that in the eyes of the artist she plays a role in salvation from death? We don’t know, and Starbird gives no opinion. Plates 14 and 15 show her reading a book, and plate 20 shows her next to books. The picture at the start of my 2008 Yearbook (last year's yearbook) shows her both reading and with a skull:
On her pages 48-49 Starbird does a very nice job of pulling together several ancient traditions regarding the hieros gamos or sacred marriage rites, involving, bluntly, anointing and sex as holy acts symbolizing the goddess/priestess and god/king, and their connection with the anointing of Jesus by Mary Magdalene. On her page 49 Starbird surprises me by suggesting that the early Christian scholar Hippolytus of Rome was very much aware of these implications of the anointing by Mary:
In his commentary on the Song of Songs, Hippolytus reflects this obvious recognition of Mary of Bethany as the bride. Anyone at that time and place could have identified the woman who anointed the king and met him later, after a liturgical pause of several days, resurrected in the garden. After performing a ceremonial nuptial rite proclaiming his kingship, the royal bride enjoyed the prerogative to unite in the bridal chamber with her consort. The nuptial anointing ceremony itself bore obvious symbolic associations with anointing of the masculine by the feminine secretions during the joyful consummation of the marriage in the secluded bridal chamber.
Starbird then cites ancient stories that support her assertion that:
The Messiah was, by definition, the one who was united in marriage to the royal bride.
On page 40, Starbird had indicated that Hippolytus had written that Mary Magdalene was the sister of Martha and Lazarus of Bethany, and elsewhere (pages 62-63) she explains that there are very good reasons to believe that Magdalene was a title bestowed on her, denoting tallness or tower or watchtower on a fortress, perhaps, and was not a reference to a home town (a town called Magdala seemingly did not exist at that time, see her page 58).
Pages 50 and 51 have Starbird citing Paul for evidence that early Christian missionaries were sent out two by two, as we have always heard, but as married couples!
I did not realize until reading this book how important the Song of Songs was at this time, even the Essenes hid multiple copies prior to their destruction.
I looked for conclusionary statements by Starbird where I could, and found one on pages 68-69 where after explaining the parable of the king whose son’s wedding banquet was being spurned by the invited guests she observes:
Perhaps Jesus understood his own ministry and vision as a similar wedding feast–an egalitarian honoring of the feminine and the symbiosis of partnership–to which all were invited, but many refused to come. Perhaps the sacred union was the cornerstone the builders rejected. Many people rejected it in the first century. And many reject it still. Clearly the Roman-dominated world of the first century was not ready to embrace the gospel of gender equality and inclusiveness, but the seed of this radical doctrine was planted at the very heart of the story–the seed of the Kingdom of God, both within and around us, and in our midst.
She then asks what happened to this seed? We lost the bride. She is in exile. And she is being rescued (page 69).
Starbird, on her page 65, connects Mary Magdalene with “Sophia, the Goddess of Wisdom,” and she picks up this thread again starting on page 70 with an entire chapter on this association. A few of the more interesting points in this chapter, to me, are her reading of one of my favorites, The Gospel of Philip, combined with another favorite, The Pistis Sophia. (My all-time favorite, The Gospel of Thomas, is quoted several times by Starbird of course.)
On page 74 Starbird points out that a plain reading of The Gospel of Philip suggests Mary and Jesus are married, that she is the one receiving unspoken revelation from the risen Jesus, and that the famous kiss passage in this book reflects Song of Songs 1:1. In this discussion on her page 75 Starbird again makes a conclusionary statement:
One of my strongest convictions is that the sacred union celebrated in the Song of Songs was integral to understanding the first Christians, modeled by Jesus and Mare Magdalene and the foundation of their egalitarian worldview in which women shared fully with men in community life. The sacred union is not only spiritual and mystic relationship, but one that manifests at all levels of existence as well. The ultimate union of flesh and divinity occurs in the “temple of the Holy Spirit”–each human person.
I liked this statement in part because it also reflects what Rumi has said about love being on a continuum from human to divine. Same idea, to me.
On page 76 Starbird says that the Gospel of Philip reflects traditional Jewish regard for the "holiness of sex and procreation and the complementary essence of masculine and feminine." (But see page 73 for another view on Jewish tradition as rather misogyne at this time, maybe we are confusing the ideal and the practical, theory and practice are not always perfectly aligned in human societies). Among apocryphal texts of gnostics who typically denied the flesh and viewed the physical world as the corrupt creation of an inferior god they called the Demiurge, . . ."the Gospel of Philip, with its emphasis on the holiness of the marriage act, appears to be an anomaly."
This really calls into question Starbird’s discussion of the Catholic war against the Cathars (pages 107-108) who were said by a Catholic monk to have believed that “Saint Mary Magdalene was the concubine of Jesus Christ.” Starbird suggests it was this ‘secret’ that led to the destruction of the Cathars on page 108. I have a problem with this string of logic: it was no doubt part of what enraged Catholics against the Cathars, but it was not part of their belief system at all in my opinion. It was a spurious libel affixed to the Cathars by Catholics. After all, their ‘perfect ones’ were celibate and vegetarians except for fish, in sincere imitation of the Christ whose true followers they claimed to be! They tolerated procreation among their credentes, followers. Procreation was not a sin, but it was an unfortunate act of cooperation with the evil creator seeking to ensnare ever more spirits into bodies on this world.
As an aside: Martin Luther was cited on page 108 as saying Jesus was probably intimate with three women, and on page 150 he is described as rejecting clerical celibacy. Starbird does not mention this, but Luther actually allowed for polygamy in one limited instance based on his reading of the Bible as not prohibiting this marital arrangement. This could explain his tolerance for Jesus being intimate with multiple women. Perhaps they were wives or legal concubines.
I have notes on every page of the remainder of this chapter on “Sophia, Spouse of the Lord,” including paragraphs where Starbird suggests the changes made in the message of Christ into a male-dominated kingdom were deliberately and carefully done over a long period of time. There is only one note I want to share out of all these, and it is about a very troublesome passage in The Book of Thomas (on Starbird’s page 73):
In a notable passage found near the end of the gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Jesus states that he will make Mary an "anthropos." Sadly, the Greek word anthropos in this text has been widely misunderstood to mean “male,” though it might be more accurately translated as “perfected human being," in the sense of a complete or realized, fully human person. In this passage, Jesus promises not to make Mary masculine in gender, but rather to transform her into a perfected spiritual being whose gender is irrelevant. In this time and milieu –first-century Judaism where men and women worshiped in separate venues and men thanked God during morning devotions that they were not “born a woman”– the mere idea of a woman as a spiritual being equal to a man was a radical departure from convention, but it was one of the hallmarks of early Christianity.
I really welcomed this insight into the relevant passage in the Gospel of Thomas. But I have a problem with this reading. The actual passage as usually translated is:
114 Simon Peter said to Him, "Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of Life." Jesus said, "I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven."
So the preferred reading according to Starbird would be “I myself shall lead her in order to make her a perfected human being, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males”? Sorry but the problem is NOT solved. If Starbird is correct about the nature of Jesus’ mission and example, then these are words written by Gnostics for their own purposes. This simply means the Gnostics, with all of their genuine love for Mary and deep regard for the divinity of what occurs in the privacy of the bridal chamber, were just as patriarchal as contemporary Jews and Christians in the early second century.
I also cited the rather biting criticism on this same page of the misogyne tendencies in the Judaism of that time because just a few pages later (page 76), as already mentioned above, the same Judaism is praised for recognizing "the complementary essence of masculine and feminine." I suppose this is reconcilable in the sense that it is in the context of positive Jewish attitudes toward sex and procreation, they loved their women in bed, but not necessarily competing with them, working alongside them, or advising them in places to do with religion, business or learning. Basically, patriarchy trumped theory.
On page 81 Starbird cites two books by Freke and Gandy via a footnote. I reviewed one of these books on this site, and was not as convinced as perhaps I should have been, but Starbird covers the same territory in a more convincing way. The words that struck me on page 81 were these:
Gnostic Christians saw the Sophia myth as a metaphor for the soul in each person that, instead of being conscious of its divine origin and true nature centered in the spiritual core, the “bridal chamber” of its being, had somehow fallen away and mistakenly identified with its flesh and its senses.
She then continues to describe such a lost soul as wandering in the exile of excesses and finally coming home, like the prodigal son. The soul, always feminine, pleads for salvation and is rescued by
. . . her bridegroom/brother –the Christ– who is sent to rescue her and bring her back to her true self. They unite in the bridal chamber –re-creating the archetypal hieros gamos, or sacred union of Sophia/Logos. This is the story of every soul and its journey toward transformation and reunion –a theme that recurs in several gnostic texts, including the Pistis Sophia and the Hymn of the Pearl. It is metaphorically extended to Mary Magdalene as well.
So Mary is a metaphor for the soul as well as the church in her union with the bridegroom, and Jesus’ mission was to illustrate and re-emphasize this teaching. What is really interesting to me is that Cathars taught almost this in their explanation for salvation, it is a regaining of the recognition of who one really is at one's core, and Jesus’s life and teachings show the path to this recognition.
On pages 92 and 93 Starbird again mentions that Mary’s role, and her pregnancy, were kept hidden from Paul, and it was only after his death that the accounts including her story were written. This is part of a chapter on Mary’s pregnancy and exile to France (page 94), eventually.
She agrees with other authors that the great secret was this: Mary was carrying Jesus’ child. Apparently to allow for him not being criticized for being unmarried during his ministry, Starbird speculates on pages 95-96 about a potential marriage with children before Mary. The wife died, leaving Jesus to his ministry having fulfilled the law to beget heirs and not subject to criticism. Then came his introduction to and falling for Mary, and the sacred marriage rite was enacted. I see no reason for any of this, it could simply be that criticisms were not reported in the gospels, and it could also be that Jesus was a polygamist (see page 150 for a hint in this direction). In the nineteenth century, polygamous Mormon leaders declared Jesus a polygamist.
The various stories about Mary’s sojourn in France are recounted and placed into their mythical contexts in the remainder of the chapter called “The Fragile Boat,”which also establishes that the Grail legend is a legend of the bloodline of Christ, a great secret embedded into the artwork that is part of this book. On page 106 she mentions “the Christian Church of Amor,”the religion of love, and explains its belief, as expounded by Wolfram von Eschenbach in his Parzifal, as a stone (a pearl of great price, really) in exile. This “pearl of great price hidden in a field” she contrasts with the Roman Church’s belief that the stone is right there with them: Peter’s rock. No wonder Catholicism called adherents of the Religion of Love, at its extreme including those espousing the cosmology of the troubadours including a god called Love, as heretical.
In the next chapter, “Desert Exile,” Starbird reviews the myths of Orpheus and Eurydice, Sophia as consort of the Lord, Isis and Osiris, and various other contemporary goddess myths and shows their parallels with the Song of Songs and the Mary and Jesus story. This is a chapter wherein Starbird buries another of her conclusionary statements (page 114):
In my view the underlying mission of Jesus–as the incarnation of the sacred bridegroom–was to raise and embrace the feminine in his sacred union with Mary Magdalene, restoring at all levels the paradigm of equal partnership and the balance of masculine and feminine energies indigenous to the planet Earth, but so long denied in the experience of the human family.
In the chapter called “The Beloved Espoused,” Starbird runs through a series of descriptions of works of art (most reproduced in the book) that witness the leanings of the artists in the directions that Starbird is pointing her readers. On pages 132-133 she discusses the Pre-Raphaelites, whose painted and poetic works I have also been impressed with. On pages 145-146 she pulls in the work of Carl Jung where he suggests there is an archetypal need o have a female as well as a male aspect to deity, and suggests Mary Magdalene is the feminine God archetype whose being Christ’s consort fulfills this need. I have a popular page on this website that also makes this point.
On the next page, 147, Starbird talks of her personal motivation in taking on this work. While feeling saddened by learning of women leaving Christian religions to instead worship goddesses with strange names, she had a revelation:
One day in prayer in my own living room, I received the revelation that changed my life in an instant–that the preeminent woman in the Christian gospels was Mary Magdalene, bearer of the archetype of the goddesses of love, fertility, compassion, and wisdom. Somehow her story had been distorted and her exalted position denied. It was time to restore her to consciousness–not as a mere disciple or apostle of the historical rabbi Jesus, but as his beloved counterpart and complement—his wife.
Apparently what she is sharing in this and other books and media is the research she has done, and done well, to reconstruct a historical basis for her revelation. One of the areas of historical research she became involved in was gematria, the use of shapes and numbers by artists and writers to subtly point out connections between what may at first appear to be unrelated persons or concepts. In her description of how gematria also points to her conclusions she convinced me she was correct, there was a secret language, a symbolic language, built into writings and works of art that showed the perpetrators (writers and artists) were sharing secret knowledge among themselves, passing it on as it were. Let him hear who has ears to hear, or see who has eyes to see.
Does this depth of esoteric layerings make it all true? It makes it likely that the intelligentsia has known and kept this secret within their communities. Apparently they believed it and went to extraordinary lengths to hide it in plain sight. As Starbird asks on page 133 concerning certain Pre-Raphaelite artists, “Were these painters heretics or merely passionate devotees of the feminine as beloved?”
On page 145 Starbird gets personal with me, since I have a divided logic/intuition problem:
Seeking God within the covers of a book is futile. True wisdom is more than intellect, more than experience. It flows from the union and integration of both ways of knowing–logic and intuition.
She could have gone a whole lifetime without saying that.
Starbird’s last words in the book, on page 156, are wonderful and hopeful. She believes that making the correction in Christianity, having it acknowledge the need "to braid flesh and divinity, with God being both male and female," will heal the world and all that therein is. It reminds me of the way the sacred marriage rite concept was believed in ancient times as described by Starbird on page 106:
When the bride (the lost vessel) and the bridegroom are happily reunited in the hieros gamos union, the entire domain rejoices and the joy and blessing from the bridal chamber spread out into the crops and herds, making them fertile.
May it be so.
WILL THERE BE A PART 4 ADDING ANNIE BESANT's ESOTERIC CHRISTIANITY INTO THIS DISCUSSION?
Yes, but it is not tacked on here as a Part 4.
A new review has been posted regarding Esoteric Christianity that refers back to this review several times. Click here to go there.
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