Christian theologian and author Margaret Starbird regarded it as blasphemy the first time she heard the assertion that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had a child together.
Six books later, it resonates through her work as she seeks to restore the feminine to a place of honor in Christianity.
"Mary Magdalene was an apostle to the apostle, which makes her about equal to Peter," she said. "But it doesn’t make the flowers grow. It is not about restoring the life force. I really think Christ came to embrace the feminine and restore ecstasy to the garden. It was actually about restoring the feminine to a place of honor."
Starbird will be the keynote speaker for the Signs of Destiny Conference Nov. 18-20 at Tempe Embassy Suites, delivering two lectures: "Mary Magdalene: The Greatest Story Never Told" and "The Sacred Reunion." (www. margaretstarbird.net)
She can offer a litany of negative quotes from historic Catholic icons about women:
• "Let us set our women on the road to goodness by teaching them to display submissiveness." — Clement of Alexandria
• "Do you know that each of you women is an Eve? You are the gate of hell, the temptress of the forbidden tree; you are the first deserter of Divine Law." — Third-century ecclesiastical writer Tertullian
• "If a female is conceived, this is due to a defect in the mother or to some external influence like that of a humid wind from the south." — St. Thomas Aquinas
• "A women should be covered with shame at the thought that she is woman." — St. John Chrysostom
A conflicted Catholic, Starbird, 63, said, "It doesn’t matter about the men in the big hats," referring to the church’s hierarchy. "What really matters is that the people on the street are getting it."
That’s been helped, in great part, by the best-selling novel "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown, which postulates marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and that Mary is the true Holy Grail and perpetuated Christ’s work and his bloodline. Story goes that Mary Magdalene and a daughter fled Jerusalem by boat to Gaul, or southern France, where Jesus’ lineage continued through the first line of French kings, the Merovingians. Thus, "alternative Christianity" survived through the centuries and was manifested in legends, art and artifacts in medieval Europe, she said.
"In first-century Judaism, it was a cultural imperative for everyone to be married," Starbird said. "The males, the boys, were supposed to be married before their 20th birthdays, and it was incumbent on their fathers to find their brides before their 20th birthday." Judaism didn’t even have a word for "bachelor" then, she said. Jesus would have had to be outside the mainstream not to be married, or was a widower, said Starbird, whose newest book is "Mary Magdalene, Bride in Exile," a culmination of 15 years of research.
A mother of five, with advanced degrees concentrated in comparative literature, medieval studies and German, Starbird says the Gospels themselves reveal a preponderance of evidence that Christ took Mary Magdalene as his bride.
According to the Bible, Mary of Magdala was a woman from whom Jesus expelled seven demons and who accompanied Jesus triumphantly to Jerusalem. She was at the cross and stayed until his body was taken down; was on hand for the burial; accompanied the women to the empty sepulchre; and was found weeping at the tomb when Jesus appeared but wasn’t recognized.
Long disputed is whether she was the prostitute, an unidentified woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive ointments from an alabaster jar and dried them with her hair (Luke 7:36-38).
"I think the repression of Mary Magdalene was the result of the fact they did not honor women in that culture and that it perpetuated itself after her voice and power were lost, as were those of her sisters in the next generation and other generations," Starbird said. "They just isolated the feminine."
On seven of eight lists by biblical scholars, Mary Magdalene is mentioned first among women who followed Jesus, she said.
Had Mary hung around Jerusalem long after the resurrection, "the Romans would have put her in danger if they would have known where she was," said Starbird, who lives in Tacoma, Wash. "Mary Magdalene appears prominently in the Gospels but never appears in the Book of Acts or in the Epistles of Paul, so we know she is gone by that time."
In the book "The Woman With the Alabaster Jar," she asserts the institutional church grew into a "hierarchical pyramidal power model where obedience was extolled as the highest virtue, in direct contradiction of the admonitions of Jesus to ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ "
"The church has gone on denigrating and devaluing the feminine, which is not just women, but it is the feminine ways of thinking and being," she said. "It’s mysticism, the tapping into the intuitive, even into the unconscious — all kinds of knowing God from within rather than having God transcended revealing stuff on a mountain and writing it in a book."
The church has called on adherents to memorize catechism and thereby feel "you have got it made, but that is really not the whole story," she said. "Bringing in the feminine would be a whole different journey for the church and for all of us."
Far from Mary Magdalene being the "repentant prostitute image foisted on her by church officials," Starbird asserts, she was "Jesus’ ignored and later exiled bride, exemplifying the soul’s journey in its eternal quest for sacred reunion with the divine."