Mary Magdalene's Role Missing, Speaker Says
By Elaine Jarvik
Deseret Morning News
"There are a lot of people who want to debunk me and send me home," Margaret Starbird announces, standing at the front of a small lecture hall at a downtown Salt Lake Hotel on Wednesday afternoon.
"Not here," calls out a woman from the second row.
"No, not here," Starbird answers. "That's what I like about Salt Lake City."
Her audience are attendees of the annual Sunstone Symposium, the annual meeting dedicated to "independent Mormon thought." This is the symposium's 30th anniversary and the second consecutive year that Starbird has been among the invited presenters. For the second time, Starbird addressed an idea she is convinced of but is also the source of recent worldwide controversy: Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and had a baby with her, that Mary Magdalene was Christ's disciple and that the Catholic Church has kept this information under wraps for centuries.
The claims have gained worldwide exposure in Dan Brown's mega-seller "The Da Vinci Code." Brown cites Starbird in his bibliography and mentions two of her books — "The Woman with the Alabaster Jar" and "The Goddess and the Gospels" — in the body of the novel. Brown's and Starbird's ideas are also part of a larger debate about the role of women in the early church.
Starbird's conclusions about Mary Magdalene are part of a journey, she says, that began with her own skepticism about these radical ideas. The journey began in 1983, when she was what she describes as a Roman Catholic mother of five who taught Sunday school and a scripture studies class for women. That's when a friend suggested she read a book called "Holy Blood, Holy Grail," a book that postulates Mary Magdalene's role as Christ's bride.
Starbird says the dust jacket was enough to make her shun the book for two years. When she finally read it she says she asked God to help her discern whether the ideas in it were true. If they weren't, she told God, "I'll just burn this book."
She was looking for a sign. So she opened her Bible — to the page that read "New Testament, Revised Version." Revised was the word that jumped out at her. But she wanted to make sure. "I don't understand, Lord," she said, asking for another sign. This time she opened her Bible to a passage that read "Restore my wife, whom I am espoused to."
"Maybe he's talking about your inner bride," a friend suggested. So the friend prayed, too, for a sign. And shortly thereafter, on her hands and knees in her bathroom trying to find a leak in her toilet, the friend saw the name of the toilet manufacturer: Church.
"We didn't know whether to laugh or cry," Starbird remembers. "It was like my words had taken flesh in her bathroom."
Convinced now that this was her life's mission, Starbird enrolled in the Vanderbilt University Divinity School, where she devoted herself to answering four questions: could Jesus have been so human as to be married; if so, when; "how did we lose (Mary Magdalene); and how do we get her back."
Starbird says her research unearthed "mountains of evidence for the sacred union." To those who call her work heresy, she says, "We're not changing the gospel. We're just throwing new light on it. . . . I teach what the church taught in the beginning and then forgot."
Now living in the Seattle area, Starbird devotes her time to traveling around the country spreading the word and to continuing her research. A new book, "Mary Magdalene: Bride in Exile" will be published in November.
The importance of uncovering Mary Magdalene's role as Christ's wife, Starbird says, is that both Christianity and Christians need the "sacred feminine" that Mary provides.
"What we lost when we lost Mary Magdalene," she told her Sunstone audience, "was ecstasy, passion, a relationship with the body and with one another. We are earthen vessels filled with God."
Acknowledging Christ's marriage and Mary Magdalene's role as both a wife and disciple is a way of acknowledging the need for the feminine in both men and women, and in the church itself. "The feminine is a way of knowing and being," whereas the masculine is about "going and doing," she says. "That's why the self is a marriage of both."
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