In the latest edition of the Skeptical Inquirer journalist Massimo Polidoro explores some of the fringe speculation about Mary Magdalene that grew up in the wake the Da Vinci Code hysteria of the early 2000s, mostly by asking whether a Templar church painting of the Madonna’s soul rising to the heaven in the form of a baby is really Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ child (it’s not). In so doing, Polidoro interviews Mario Arturo Iannaccone, an Italian historian who wrote a book a decade ago about Mary Magdalene called (in Italian) Mary Magdalene and the Shadow Goddess: The Sacred Feminine, the Spirituality of the Goddess, and the Contemporary Imagination. Iannaccone has some interesting things to say about Mary Magdalene, and his book reinforces much of what I and other who have looked at fringe claims about her have concluded.
In his book, Iannaccone argues that the Mary Magdalene of fringe history—the hidden goddess, the wife of Christ, the Bloodline Mother, the vessel of the sacred feminine, the matriarchal queen, etc.—is entirely a modern invention. In reviewing literature about the Magdalene, he finds no trace of this modern Magdalene in any of the works written between the apocryphal Gospels and the Enlightenment. It is remarkable, he says, that if there were a conspiracy about a Bloodline and wife that it “has not affected the atheists or those highly critical of orthodox Christianity, like the humanist (Pietro) Pomponazzi, or the Swiss Anabaptists and the reformer (Lucillio) Vanini, who denied the divinity of Jesus, not to mention Giordano Bruno, who treats Jesus as a fraud but says nothing of the Magdalene.” In other words, the people we’d expect to have revealed or at least hinted at the conspiracy remain maddeningly silent where they should have been vocal.
The conclusion Iannaccone draws is that the Magdalene as fringe historians know her is a product of the rise of feminism and freethought in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and especially twentieth centuries. In his book, he said that no atheist, anti-Catholic, or feminist considered the Magdalene to be the bride of Christ before 1970. We know this is wrong because our dear friend Louis Martin, the Freemason, wrote his Gospels without God in France in 1886 and in that book declared Mary Magdalene to be the wife of Christ and the mother of Jesus’ son, Maximin. (This Louis Martin shouldn’t be confused, as I apparently confused him, with Leon Aubry, who wrote anti-Masonic and anti-Semitic books under the name Louis Martin and got himself sued as a result.)
In an interview with Polidoro, Iannaccone says that the bride of Christ myth emerged in nineteenth century France among freethinkers trying to get a rise out of the Church, which was then closely aligned with the French state.
It’s an idea born in the Parisian ‘counterculture’ at the end of the nineteenth century, developed by artists that were protestors and often involved in the occult, who wanted to shake up the conventions. […] For example, in 1888, an opera titled The Lover of Christ was performed in Paris. It was written by Darzens and the lover was, obviously, Mary Magdalene.
It seems Iannaccone hasn’t come across Louis Martin’s book, which is to my knowledge the oldest “wife of Christ” claim in existence. (The Cathars alleged her to be the concubine of an evil duplicate of Christ, but that wasn’t really the same thing.) It’s also odd that Iannaccone used word-for-word identical phrasing speaking with Polidoro as he did speaking with Diva e donna magazine in 2006, where he again cited Darzens as the source of the myth. The more I looked at what Polidoro described as a “personal interview,” the more I found that it was word-for-word identical to Italian-language interviews reprinted on Iannaccone’s own website. I have no idea how that occurred, but there would seem to be only two possibilities: Either the “personal interview” wasn’t with Polidori, or Iannaccone is extraordinarily consistent over a decade. Since Polidori’s account contains additional material not found in the newspaper interview from 2006, the latter must be the case… But to be word for word the same seven years apart! My word!
I guessed that “Darzens” refers to Rodolphe Darzens (1865-1938), the French poet, though he’d have been pretty young at the time. I had to look up the Anthologie des poètes français du XIXème siècle to discover that he is indeed the correct author. Published in Paris in late 1888, his one-act verse play L’Amante du Christ had been performed a few weeks earlier at the Théâtre Libre, on October 19. However, it was not, as Iannaccone implies, an explicit acknowledgement of the marriage of Christ, or even an opera. Instead, it was one of many pieces of its era that highlighted the erotic in the scene where the Magdalene washes Jesus’ feet. While there is the implication of love, there is neither marriage, nor sex, nor children described.
In fact, the American reviewer for the New York Herald most enjoyed the fact that Jesus appeared as a blond, Aryan stud! “The play is one of the most daring pieces of realism ever put on the French stage. The Saviour appears in flesh and blood, with long flaxen locks flowing over his shoulders and white raiment.” But the love of Christ and the Magdalene was the main focus: “Christ and the Magdalene are represented as loving each other, in an ultra Parisian way and with all the realism which Zola, for instance, might throw into such a situation.” I have no idea if Darzens was aware of the Gospels without God controversy, though the timing would have been about right.
All in all, I had really hoped that one of the world’s leading experts on Mary Magdalene in modern culture would have had more enlightening information. I guess it may well be the case that Martin’s Gospels without God is so obscure—only a few hundred copies were printed—that the modern version of the Magdalene-Jesus marriage myth arose independently. It feels to me like it shouldn’t be the case, and that some of the earlier Holy Bloodline speculators must have come across references to the Gospels without God controversy, if only in secondary sources (just like I did), but I have no way of proving it.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter, The Skeptical Xenoarchaeologist, for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.