Can We Connect the “Mariamene” Ossuary with Mary Magdalene or the sisters of Bethany?
Updated April 9, 2012
There is an ossuary (click here) in the Talpiot Tomb that bears a greek inscription that has received a variety of
translations. For example, one set of translators see something like ”Mariamene, also known as the Master”, while
others see two distinct names such as “Mariamne and Martha”.
The differences in these translations are critical. The translation controversy will be covered in more detail in the
“Misunderstood Names” lines of argument section. For this section we will accept that one of the two translations
offered above are correct.
In the case of the first translation – “Mariamene, also know as the Master”, some commentators see a connection
between this name and the Mary Magdalene of the New Testament. This has been taken further to suggest that Mary
Magdalene was married to Jesus and is the likely mother of the “Judah son of Jesus” whose ossuary is found in the
In the case of the second translation – Mariamne and Martha, some commentators see a connection between these two
names and the sisters of Bethany named in the New Testament. This lends credence to the idea that Jesus may have
had some kind of familial association with the family of these sisters and that in fact Mariamne (i.e. Mary) was the wife of
Jesus and may also have been known as Mary Magdalene.
Determining the historical identity of the person in the “Mariamene” ossuary is of critical importance. Most
commentators would agree that if this ossuary could be associated with either Mary Magdalene or the sisters of
Bethany, then it would be a virtual certainty that the Talpiot Tomb should be identified the family tomb of the biblical
Should the name Mariamene be associated with Mary Magdalene?
Mariamene, the Master would be an especially appropriate name for Mary Magdalene, given the prominent role she
played in the early Jesus movement. Furthermore, we have some references outside the New Testament that use
exactly this name when referring to Mary Magdalene.
Since Mariamene is a very rare name, then we must assume this is the Mary Magdalene of the New Testament. This
interpretation is reinforced by DNA evidence which shows that Jesus and this person are not maternally related. In fact,
some have extended this by saying if this is the Mary Magdalene of the New Testament and given Jewish anointment
practices, then this must be the wife of Jesus and potentially the mother of Judah.
However, the critics emphasize that nowhere in the New Testament or any other contemporaneous source is Mary
Magdalene referred to as Mariamene. The few references cited by proponents are too late in history and are of
suspect relevance. Furthermore, the assertion that Mary Magdalene was an early leader in the Jesus movement is
overstated. They also state that the logic applied to the DNA evidence is faulty and that there is no evidence that this is
the wife of Jesus. After all, she is never referred to as the wife of Jesus in the New Testament.
Should the names Mariamne and Martha be associated with the sisters of Bethany?
The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus had a close association with the family of the sisters Mary (i.e. Mariamne)
and Martha (i.e. Mara) of Bethany. In fact, the New Testament describes an “anointing” event in Bethany between Mary
and Jesus that many see as only possible between a man and his wife. Therefore we should not surprised if Jesus and
Mariamne are married and that she might be buried with her sister in the Talpiot Tomb. Some commentators have
drawn a connection between Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany because in appears both women had a relationship
with Jesus that would only be appropriate for a wife.
Any connection between the ossuary from the Talpiot Tomb and the sisters of Bethany is speculative. This connection
is based entirely on conjecture. There was ample opportunity for the New Testament to report that Mary of Bethany
was the wife of Jesus, but it offers no such fact. The New Testament uses two different names to identify Mary
Magdalene and Mary of Bethany because they were two distinct people.
Is there evidence from European history that demonstrates that Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus and therefore a
candidate to buried in his family tomb?
There is extensive evidence from the south of France that clearly shows that large numbers of people over several
centuries held the belief Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus and that she traveled to southern France following the
crucifixion, where she raised a child of Jesus. If Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus then we should expect to find
her bones in a family tomb of the biblical Jesus.
It is true that there is a persistent belief that took hold in the south of France that Mary Magdalene was the wife of
Jesus. However, these beliefs are based on unsupported myths. In any event, these myths generally assert that Mary
Magdalene died while in southern France, therefore here bones could not be in Jerusalem.
This short introduction can not do justice to the vast body of literature that bears on this question. The identity of the
person(s) in the “Mariamene” ossuary is wrapped so deeply in controversy that it may be impossible to unravel. This is
doubly true of the potential connection between Mary Magdalene and the south of France.
One possible path to untangling this question may be through additional DNA evidence. If one day it could be shown
that the person interred in the Judah son of Jesus was maternally related to the person in the Mariamene ossuary then
it would go a long way to connecting the person in the Mariamene ossuary to Jesus through marriage.
At this point all we can say, is that the Mariamene ossuary is possibly that of Mary Magdalene or Mary of Bethany, but
we can not be sure.
See in particular bibliographic references 3,9,18,21,23, 42,43,44.
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