Legend. The idea that Mary Magdalene bore Jesus's child, a folk legend for centuries, was given a boost in the 1960s by Frenchman Pierre Plantard, who forged documents purporting to show that that this child was the ancestor of the French Merovingian kings. Plantard later recanted under oath. The 1982 book Holy Blood, Holy Grail popularized Plantard's theories and added that Mary's womb was the Grail. Author Dan Brown lifted much of his conspiracy material from this book, but Ehrman slams it. "Of the hundreds of professional New Testament scholars whom I personally know...there is not a single one, to my knowledge, who finds the claims of the book to be historically credible," he writes.
As for da Vinci slipping Mary into The Last Supper, most art historians agree that the Renaissance master simply painted a feminine John to distinguish him as the youngest disciple. "Leonardo's preliminary sketches very clearly identify the figure as John," argues Diane Apostolos-Cappandona, a cultural historian at Georgetown University. What about Teabing's assertion that the apostle has breasts? "Just the way the garment folds," she says.
To many scholars, focusing on a Mary-Jesus marriage, however titillating, is a wasted opportunity. "There's a genuine religious impulse to understand a feminine figure like Mary Magdalene and how she understood Jesus's mind," says Chilton, "but there's no need to sexualize her.... To see her simply as a potential vessel for his seed is missing the point." The bottom line, says Apostolos-Cappandona, "is she's an independent woman. She's not the daughter of anyone, the wife of anyone, the sister of anyone, and that's enough. Sometimes, I just want to stand up and scream, 'Why do we have to make her Jesus's wife?'"