One of the claims made on the website about the bone boxes found at Talpiot in 1980 is that one of the ossuaries is inscribed with the name of "“Mariamene e Mara”. From this, it is concluded that this particular ossuary was the ossuary of Mary Magdalene. Why? According to the Jesus Family Tomb website:
From the Acts of Philip, a fourth century work ostensibly written about Mary Magdalene’s brother, Phillip, and recently recovered from a monastery at Mt. Athos in Greece, Professor François Bovon (Harvard University) has determined that Magdalene’s name was "Mariamne."
So, the reason that this is supposed to be Mary Magdalene's ossuary is because of the use of the name "Mariamene" which is close to the name of "Mariamne" from the Acts of Philip. Is this a particularly strong claim?
First, I should point out that the claim on the website is overstated. Dr. Bovon hasn't "determined" that the woman named "Mariamne" is Mary Magdalene. The word "determined" connotes that it is the final word on the matter. In fact, the first definition for "determine" is "to settle or decide (a dispute, question, etc.) by an authoritative or conclusive decision." But, as other sources seem to show, Dr. Bovon isn't making a claim of final determination. Rather, he simply "believes" it to be Mary Magdalene (of course, it is an informed belief, but it remains his belief and I have found nowhere that other scholars are largely in agreement with that belief). Certainly, it is an overstatement to claim (as the Jesus Tomb website does here) that "Mary Magdalene is often identified by the name 'Mariamne.'" (emphasis added)
Second, the Acts of Philip is hardly a contemporaneous work with the Gospels or the Epistles. It is apparently the work of an heretical community that lived in the Fourth Century -- at least two hundred fifty years after the events of the New Testament. It includes tales of talking leopards (v. 96: ". . . lo, a great leopard came out of a wood on the hill, and ran and cast himself at their feet and spoke with human voice: I worship you, servants of the divine greatness and apostles of the only-begotten Son of God; command me to speak perfectly"), a talking baby goat (v. 97: ". . . after I had wounded it, it took a human voice and wept like a little child, saying to me: O leopard, put off thy fierce heart and the beast like part of thy nature, and put on mildness . . . "), and a fierce black dragon (v. 102: "They journeyed five days, and one morning after the midnight prayers a sudden wind arose, great and dark (misty), and out of it ran a great smoky (misty) dragon, with a black back, and a belly like coals of brass in sparkles of fire, and a body over 100 cubits long, and a multitude of snakes and their young followed it"). But this is the type of literature that comes from heretical groups, and the group that produced this document was of that type. According to Harvard Magazine:
Among the revelations turned up in this unexpurgated Acts of Philip, especially in the story of a visit to Hell, are glimpses of a heretical community whose members may have written or transmitted the text. Devoted to ascetic practices, the group flourished in Asia Minor during the fourth century A.D. Members were to eat no meat, drink no wine, shun wealth, and abstain from sexual intercourse. Both sexes wore men's clothing made only from plant fibers. Even the sacrament of the Eucharist was modified, with water replacing wine. Sect members believed that this level of purity not only guaranteed salvation after death, but allowed them to "talk with God" in this life.
Within the community, women as well as men served at all levels. One list mentions "presbytides" (female elders, or priestesses) alongside "presbyters" (male elders, or priests). Deaconesses are paired with deacons, as are virgins with eunuchs. (It is unknown whether the latter rank required surgery or merely celibacy.)
Such groups did not escape the notice of the official church. The council of Gangra (circa A.D. 343) declared such ascetic excesses to be anathema, and another fourth-century council, at Laodicea, "forbade the appointment of presbytides," says Bovon.
Now, certainly, Dr. Bovon is a well-respected researcher, and it certainly is possible that the Mariamne of the Acts of Philip is Mary Magdalene of the New Testament. As the Harvard Magazine article notes, "the name 'Mariamne' is a variant of 'Mary,' and when the third-century Christian writer Origen mentions the Magdalene, he uses the quite similar name 'Mariamme.'" But notice that Origen, who lived and wrote one hundred years closer to the events, uses the name "Mariamme" when the name used on the ossuary is "Mariamene". Is that close enough to conclude they are talking about the same woman?
What can we learn about woman named "Mariamne" from the Acts of Philip? Well, to start with, this woman was the "sister of Philip." Now, it could be that that language is used in the same way that Christians (and the Bible sometimes) use the terms "brother" and "sister" when referencing any other Christian. But the context seems to suggest that the reason she is called sister of Philip is to single out who she is. Here is the text of verse 94 of the Acts of Philip where the "sister" term is referenced:
94 It came to pass when the Saviour divided the apostles and each went forth according to his lot, that it fell to Philip to go to the country of the Greeks: and he thought it hard, and wept. And Mariamne his sister (it was she that made ready the bread and salt at the breaking of bread, but Martha was she that ministered to the multitudes and laboured much) seeing it, went to Jesus and said: Lord, seest thou not how my brother is vexed?
Now, if the term is being used generally, why doesn't it say later, "but Martha his sister was she that ministered . . ."? It seems apparent to me that the use of the term here is to show that Mariamne is really the actual flesh and blood sister of Philip. Now, this would be new information from the New Testment that doesn't seem to reference Mary Magdalene as being the sister of the Apostle Philip.
What else does the Acts of Philip tell us about this Mariamne? The Encyclopedia Magdalena gives this nice little summary of the activities of Mariamne in the Acts of Philip,
- she prepared bread and salt for the "breaking of bread"
- Jesus called her "chosen among women"
- she should not wear her summer dress (also translated as "women's aspect")
- she assisted with healings
- she baptized converts
- she assisted in the slaying of a dragon
- when threatened, she turned into a glass box or a cloud of fire
- she is prophesied to die in the Jordan river
Okay, so she prepared bread and salt and Jesus called her "chosen among women". Those might be consistent with Mary Magdalene even though nothing in the Bible says either of those things about her. But, of course, if one is going to accept that "sister" could have the Christian meaning where every believing woman is a "sister" to every Christian, then the phrase "chosen among women" could simply be a reference to the fact that she is a believer (e.g., Mark 13:20) which would not single her out for any special status whatsoever. Moreover, I don't have a problem with her participating in healings or baptizing converts -- those also seem to be consistent with what any believer was capable of doing during the early years of teh church. But slaying a dragon and turning into glass boxes or clouds of fire? Doesn't that effect the credibility of this book?
What I am driving at is this: the Acts of Philip is a late, exaggerated account of the life of Philip, the Apostle, that were drawn up by a heretical community who wrote about a woman named Mariamne who may or may not be Mary Magdalene. This is a highly tenuous strand to base a claim that a box carved with a similar (not identical) name of "Mariamene" is Mary Magdalene of the New Testament.