The passing of Mary
When did the body of Mary die and her spirit Jesus pass into the light? In the gospels the ministry of Jesus starts when he is thirty and lasts only a few years. But Irenaeus records that the ministry of Jesus lasted as long as twenty years – between the ages of thirty and fifty. It is doubtful if he would have given this information unless he had good reason to believe it was true. It is in glaring contradiction to the gospel account of a short ministry leading to the crucifixion. However there is also a suggestion in the Gospel of John that there was a tradition that Jesus was close to fifty by the end of his ministry:
The Jews, said to him, `You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham?' (John 8)
These accounts can be reconciled once we realise that the ages refer to Mary and that the crucifixion took place at the start of the ministry and not the end. The gospels understand correctly that both the start of the ministry and crucifixion took place under Pontius Pilate (AD 26-36) and that ‘Jesus’ was around thirty at both these events. Not understanding they are the same event they are forced to compact the ministry of Jesus into a very short span of time. That collector of facts, Irenaeus, has another source of information about the length of the ministry which he gives correctly thus contradicting the gospels.
If the ages apply to Mary then she was born 4BC-6AD, had her resurrection experience marking the start of her ministry in 26-36AD and died twenty years later 46-56AD. Most likely she died in the fourteen years between Paul’s first and second visits to Jerusalem. She would then be already dead when Paul was writing his epistles.
The death of Mary is the same as the ascension of Jesus. The elaborate description of the apostles watching Jesus fly into the air given in the Acts is fiction. The gospel of Mark puts it simply:
So then after the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. (Mark 16)
There is no information about the place, time and manner of this event. The forty days between the resurrection and the ascension is symbolic only. Luke does tell us that the ascension took place ‘in the vicinity of Bethany’. Thus the same name Bethany, meaning “House of affliction” is given as for the resurrection of Lazarus and the descent of the Holy Spirit into Jesus. Since Bethany signifies the place of the dead this shows that Luke preserves the recollection that the ascension of Jesus was via a death. In this case the death is not the symbolic death of Jesus but the actual bodily death of Mary.
The death of Mary/Cephas must have been a cataclysmic event for the early Christian church. Is there no trace of it at all? In one place only is there a hint. At the end of John it is recorded about the disciple whom Jesus loved that it was said among the brethren that he should not die. The Gospel of John tries to explain that this was what not what Jesus actually said. Why is John so keen to make this point? By the time that John was written this disciple must have been dead (even though John purports to have been written by the disciple!) and that this had caused confusion among the Christian church because many expected him not to die until Jesus came in glory. The disciple whom Jesus loved is another identity of Mary. As the embodiment of Jesus it is easy to see why many believed that Mary would not die until Jesus came in his spiritual body in glory and why the death of Mary would cause such consternation.