MARY MAGDALENE: HER LIFE, SIGNIFICANCE AND RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS

MARY MAGDALENE

20120507-Mary Magdalene Correggio_056.jpg
Mary Magdalene by Correggio
Mary Magdalene stands out as the one individual who loved Jesus deeply while he was alive, stood with him to the end and was embarrassed to express her love for him. She became one of Jesus's most devout followers after hearing him speak. She traveled with Jesus as one of his followers and was present at the two most important moments in the story of Jesus: the crucifixion and the resurrection. Some think Mary Magdalene may have been a close adviser of Jesus with perhaps the same status as an apostle. The word maudlin is derived from her reputation as teary-eyed penitent. He name comes from the village of Magdala on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee.

James Carroll wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “The whole history of Western civilization is epitomized in the cult of Mary Magdalene. For many centuries the most obsessively revered of saints, this woman became the embodiment of Christian devotion, which was defined as repentance. Yet she was only elusively identified in Scripture,and has thus served as a scrim on to which a succession of fantasies has been projected. In one age after another her image was reinvented, from prostitute to sibyl to mystic to celibate nun to passive helpmeet to feminine icon to matriarch of divinity’s secret dynasty...Christians may worship the Blessed Virgin, but it is Magdalene with whom they identify.”

Ariel Sabar wrote in Smithsonian Magazine,“The New Testament often lists her first among the women who followed and “provided for” Jesus. When the other disciples flee Christ on the cross, Magdalene stays by his side. She is at his burial and, in the Gospel of John, is the first person Jesus appears to after rising from the tomb. Thus she is the first to proclaim the “good news” of his resurrection—a role that later earns her the title “apostle to the apostles.”“[Source: Ariel Sabar, Smithsonian Magazine, November 2012]

According to the BBC: Mary Magdalene's story is intimately linked with Jesus. She plays a starring role in one of the most powerful and important scenes in the Gospels. When Jesus is crucified by the Romans, Mary Magdalene was there supporting him in his final terrifying moments and mourning his death. She also discovers the empty tomb, and she's a witness to the resurrection. She was there at the beginning of a movement that was going to transform the West. [Source: July 20, 2011BBC |::|]

"After the Virgin Mary," Father Thomas Michelet, who helps oversee a Mary Magdalene cave in France, told National Geographic, "Mary Magdalene is the most important woman in the New Testament. And yet we speak of her very little. It's too bad, as many could be touched by this woman, who was a sinner and who was chosen by Christ as the first witness of his resurrection. He didn't choose an Apostle or the Virgin Mary. He chose Mary Magdalene. Why? Perhaps because she was the first to ask forgiveness. It was not yet the hour of Peter," he said, referring to Peter's rise to fame as a miracle worker and the founder of the Catholic Church. "It was the hour of Mary Magdalene."

Book: Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor by Susan Haskins; Mary Magdalene : A Biography (2006) by Bruce Chilton, a professor of religion at Bard College; Mary Magdalene, the First Apostle: the Struggle for Authority by Ann Graham Brock (2003); the Mary Magdalene Tradition: Witness and Counter-Witness in Early Christian Communities by Holly E. Hearon (2003); The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene by Jane Schaberg, a professor at the University of Detroit Mercy.

Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity britannica.com//Christianity ; History of Christianity history-world.org/jesus_christ ; BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/christ.htm ; Christian Answers christiananswers.net ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org ; Early Christianity: Elaine Pagels website elaine-pagels.com ; Sacred Texts website sacred-texts.com ; Gnostic Society Library gnosis.org ; PBS Frontline From Jesus to Christ, The First Christians pbs.org ; Guide to Early Church Documents iclnet.org; Early Christian Writing earlychristianwritings.com ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Early Christian Art oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/arth212/Early_Christian_art ; Early Christian Images jesuswalk.com/christian-symbols ; Early Christian and Byzantine Images belmont.edu/honors/byzart2001/byzindex ; Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ; Bible History Online bible-history.com ; Biblical Archaeology Society biblicalarchaeology.org ; Saints and Their Lives Today's Saints on the Calendar catholicsaints.info ; Saints' Books Library saintsbooks.net ; Saints and Their Legends: A Selection of Saints libmma.contentdm ; Saints engravings. Old Masters from the De Verda collection colecciondeverda.blogspot.com ; Lives of the Saints - Orthodox Church in America oca.org/saints/lives ; Lives of the Saints: Catholic.org catholicism.org Jesus and the Historical Jesus ; Britannica on Jesus britannica.com Jesus-Christ ; Historical Jesus Theories earlychristianwritings.com ; Wikipedia article on Historical Jesus Wikipedia ; Jesus Seminar Forum virtualreligion.net ; Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ bible.org ; Jesus Central jesuscentral.com ; Catholic Encyclopedia: Jesus Christ newadvent.org

Mary Magdalene, the Gospels and the Resurrection

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Mary Magdalene at the
Crucifixion by Signorelli-
In the New Testament Mary Magdalene is mentioned 14 times but is not a major figure. Her importance is based on the fact that when Jesus rose from the dead Mary Magdalene was the first person he appeared to and the fact he told her to tell the others which effectively made here “the apostle to the apostles.”

Luke and Mark described Mary Magdalene as the subject of one of Jesus’s exorcisms---seven devils are cast from her---and one of several women who followed him. She is also assumed to be unnamed “sinner” in Luke who bathes Jesus’s feet with her tears dries them with her hair and, kisses them and anoints them. “Her many sins have been forgiven, for she loved much,” Jesus says. In Matthew’s telling of the same story, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of the most expensive ointment, and poured it on his head as he sat at a table. When they saw this, the disciples were indignant, “Why this waste?” They said. “This could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Jesus noticed this. “Why are you upsetting this woman?” he said to them...”When she poured the ointment on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you solemnly, whoever in all this world this Good News is proclaimed what she has done will be told also, in remembrance of her.”

Mary Magdalene, according to Matthew, was the first to see that Jesus’s tomb was empty and the first to see his resurrected body. After Jesus died, she and other women refused to leave Jesus’s tomb and remained there long after the men had left. On the third after his death she returned to the tomb (either by herself or with some other women depending on the Gospel account) ready to embalm the body with spices.

According to Matthew 28: 1-6: "After the Sabbath, and towards dawn of the first day of the week, Mary of Magdalene and the other Mary went to visit the sepulcher. And suddenly there was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat on it...The angel said to the women, “There is no need for you to be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus...He is not here, for he has risen.”"

In John she encounters an empty tomb and then tells Peter and an unmamed disciple. Only the latter seem to comprehended the significance of the find and then they leave. According to John, while Mary Magdalene was weeping and looking for the body of Jesus in a garden near the tomb, Jesus said to her, “Why are you weeping?” She looked at him and mistook him for a gardener, and said, “Sir, if you have taken him away tell me where have put him.” Jesus then said, “Mary,” and suddenly she realized she was talking to the risen Lord. She tried to touch him but Jesus told her not to. He said he had not yet ascended to heaven and to tell the disciples that he was going to the Father.”

Even though Jesus said while he was alive that he would resurrected his disciples clearly did not believe him. In Luke and Mark, Magdalene and other women try to alert the men but “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”

Mary Magdalene as a Character


Mary Magdalene by Caravaggio

Andrew Todhunter wrote in National Geographic: “Mary Magdalene epitomizes the mystical saint, closely associated with grace and divine intercession. Other saints, including Thérèse of Lisieux and Teresa of Ávila, play a similar role among Catholics, but none has exerted a stronger pull on the imagination, or created more controversy, than Mary Magdalene. Once maligned as a reformed courtesan, venerated today by millions worldwide, she was a significant presence in Christ's inner circle. [Source: Andrew Todhunter, National Geographic, March 2012]

Elizabeth Clark of Duke University told PBS: “Mary Magdalene is certainly one of the characters who crops up a lot in the gospels and then is very much discussed in Christian literature the fourth and fifth century particularly. It's interesting to see what happens with her character. We know practically nothing about her, but quite early on she gets conflated with the sinful woman who is said to come in to a dinner party where Jesus is being entertained at the home of a Jewish leader and who washes Jesus' feet and dries the feet with her hair and she is called a sinner. Now it doesn't say what kind of sinner she is, but this story gets conflated with the Mary Magdalene story. [Source: Elizabeth Clark, John Carlisle Kilgo Professor of Religion and Director of the Graduate Program in Religion Duke University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

“Mary Magdalene's probably a good example of a character who appears a number of times in the biblical text itself who then gets raised up and developed and elaborated upon. This is probably fairly typical of what happens to a lot of characters. Their lives get embroidered upon in ways that we wouldn't really know from the biblical text itself. So Mary Magdalene is thought of as this sinner who repents. This gets elaborated into repentent prostitute particularly when Christianity takes a very ascetic turn in the fourth and fifth centuries; to repent from being a prostitute would certainly be a very wonderful thing for a woman to do if she were a Christian.... <>

Mary Magdalene in Non-Canonical Texts

Ariel Sabar wrote in Smithsonian Magazine,““The gospel of Philip, one of the Nag Hammadi texts, goes further, describing Magdalene as a “companion” of Jesus “whom the Savior loved more than all the other disciples and [whom] he kissed often on the mouth.” But whether these “kisses” were spiritual or symbolic or something more is left unstated. [Source: Ariel Sabar, Smithsonian Magazine, November 2012 ***]


Gospel of Philip

“The gospel of Mary, which surfaced in January 1896 on the Cairo antiquities market, casts Magdalene in a still more central role, as confidante and chief disciple. The text, King argues in her book The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle, is no less than a treatise on the qualifications for apostleship: What counted was not whether you were at the crucifixion or the resurrection, or whether you were a woman or a man. What counted was your firmness of character and how well you understood Jesus’ teachings. ***

“The efforts of historians to reclaim the voices in these lost gospels have given fits to conservative scholars and believers, who view them as a perversion of long-settled truth by identity politics. “Far from being the alternative voices of Jesus’ first followers, most of the lost gospels should rather be seen as the writings of much later dissidents who broke away from an already established orthodox church,” Philip Jenkins, a historian at Baylor University, writes in his book Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way. “Despite its dubious sources and controversial methods, the new Jesus scholarship... gained such a following because it told a lay audience what it wanted to hear.” ***

“Writing on Beliefnet.com in 2003, Kenneth L. Woodward, Newsweek’s longtime religion editor, argued that “Mary Magdalene has become a project for a certain kind of ideologically committed feminist scholarship.” He added that “a small group of well-educated women decided to devote their careers to the pieces of Gnostic literature discovered in the last century, a find that promised a new academic specialty within the somewhat overtrodden field of Biblical studies.”“ ***

Mary Magdalene, Another Apostle?

Professor Elaine H. Pagels told PBS: “The gospels of the New Testament tell stories about Mary Magdalene, and there she appears along with the women.... [In Luke], Mary was one whom Jesus had healed. But in other gospels, she appears quite differently. She appears in fact as one of the disciples, not only one of the disciples, but one of those chosen for special teaching, for deeper teaching and wisdom. In the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, she appears as the one disciple who has courage and comforts the others in despair. She appears as the one who speaks to the others to encourage them. So she seems to be one of the great disciples according to some of these other sources. [Source: Elaine H. Pagels, Harrington Spear Paine Foundation Professor of Religion Princeton University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

“Later tradition suggested she was a prostitute and that she was the one who wiped Jesus' feet with her hair. This is not said in the gospels. It has no foundation in history at all. I suspect that there were Christians who were trying to challenge her status among certain groups who saw her as a great one of the disciples. For example, even today on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, there's a Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene as a great saint. And others countered, I suggest, by saying, "Oh no, she was a prostitute." So there, in the person of Mary Magdalene, [we see how] groups fought about the status and role of women.” <>


Christ and Mary Magdalene by Rembrandt

Karen L. King of Harvard University told PBS: “The newly discovered Egyptian writings elaborate this portrait of Mary as a favored disciple. Her role as "apostle to the apostles" is frequently explored, especially in considering her faith in contrast to that of the male disciples who refuse to believe her testimony. She is most often portrayed in texts that claim to record dialogues of Jesus with his disciples, both before and after the resurrection. In the Dialogue of the Savior, for example, Mary is named along with Judas (Thomas) and Matthew in the course of an extended dialogue with Jesus. During the discussion, Mary addresses several questions to the Savior as a representative of the disciples as a group. She thus appears as a prominent member of the disciple group and is the only woman named. Moreover, in response to a particularly insightful question, the Lord says of her, "´You make clear the abundance of the revealer!'" (140.17-19). At another point, after Mary has spoken, the narrator states, "She uttered this as a woman who had understood completely"(139.11-13). These affirmations make it clear that Mary is to be counted among the disciples who fully comprehended the Lord's teaching (142.11-13). [Source:Karen L. King, Professor of New Testament Studies and the History of Ancient Christianity at Harvard University Divinity School, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

“In the Pistis Sophia, Mary again is preeminent among the disciples, especially in the first three of the four books. She asks more questions than all the rest of the disciples together, and the Savior acknowledges that: "Your heart is directed to the Kingdom of Heaven more than all your brothers" (26:17-20). Indeed, Mary steps in when the other disciples are despairing in order to intercede for them to the Savior (218:10-219:2). Her complete spiritual comprehension is repeatedly stressed. <>

“She is, however, most prominent in the early second century Gospel of Mary, which is ascribed pseudonymously to her. More than any other early Christian text, the Gospel of Mary presents an unflinchingly favorable portrait of Mary Magdalene as a woman leader among the disciples. The Lord himself says she is blessed for not wavering when he appears to her in a vision. When all the other disciples are weeping and frightened, she alone remains steadfast in her faith because she has grasped and appropriated the salvation offered in Jesus' teachings. Mary models the ideal disciple: she steps into the role of the Savior at his departure, comforts, and instructs the other disciples. Peter asks her to tell any words of the Savior which she might know but that the other disciples have not heard. His request acknowledges that Mary was preeminent among women in Jesus' esteem, and the question itself suggests that Jesus gave her private instruction. Mary agrees and gives an account of "secret" teaching she received from the Lord in a vision. The vision is given in the form of a dialogue between the Lord and Mary; it is an extensive account that takes up seven out of the eighteen pages of the work. At the conclusion of the work, Levi confirms that indeed the Saviour loved her more than the rest of the disciples (18.14-15). While her teachings do not go unchallenged, in the end the Gospel of Mary affirms both the truth of her teachings and her authority to teach the male disciples. She is portrayed as a prophetic visionary and as a leader among the disciples. <>

Mary Magdalene, a Prostitute?

Was Mary Magdalene really a prostitute, as the early Church claimed? She is often described as one although there is no mention that that was her trade in the Bible. All it says is that she was a person of means, and a follower of Jesus who was once possessed by seven demons that Jesus cast out. The prostitute label grew out of description of her in the Gospels as having "certain ways about her a little freer than modesty allows.”


In art, Mary Magdalene is often semi-naked, or an isolated hermit repenting for her sins in the wilderness: an outcast. Her primary link with Jesus is as the woman washing and anointing his feet. But we know her best as a prostitute. The whole story of Mary as a prostitute, who is fallen and redeemed, is a very powerful image of redemption a signal that no matter how low one has fallen, one can be redeemed. Powerful as this image may be, it is not the story of Mary Magdalene. [Source: July 20, 2011BBC |::|]

“Mary Magdalene is mentioned in each of the four gospels in the New Testament, but not once does it mention that she was a prostitute or a sinner. At some point Mary Magdalene became confused with two other women in the Bible: Mary, the sister of Martha, and the unnamed sinner from Luke's gospel (7:36-50) both of whom wash Jesus' feet with their hair. In the 6th Century, Pope Gregory the Great made this assumption official by declaring in a sermon that these three characters were actually the same person: Mary Magdalene, repentant saint. The Catholic Church did later declare that Mary Magdalene was not the penitent sinner, but this was not until 1969. After so long the reputation still lingers. |::|

“Mary Magdalene is considered a saint by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches with a feast day of 22nd July. The Eastern Orthodox churches also commemorate her on the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers which is the second Sunday after Pascha (Easter). She is also an important figure in the Bahá'í faith. |::|

Elizabeth Clark of Duke University told PBS: “ Mary Magdalene comes to be thought of as a repentant prostitute. Now why this would have great appeal for the early Christians I'm not entirely sure except that she is an example of somebody who is a very notable sinner and yet repentant and found great praise in the eyes of God. She's also represented as being a witness to the resurrection in the gospels, and this is an important point that here you can see the difference in Paul's letters. Paul does not have the women as witnesses to the resurrection whereas all the gospels have women as witnesses to the resurrection and Mary Magdalene very prominent among them. [Source: Elizabeth Clark, John Carlisle Kilgo Professor of Religion and Director of the Graduate Program in Religion Duke University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

Mary of Magdala’s Life


Mary Magdalene by Titian

According to the BBC: “Although we know something about Jewish society in ancient Palestine 2,000 years ago, we know very little about Mary herself. The Bible provides no personal details of her age, status or family. Her name, Mary Magdalene, gives us the first real clue about her. It suggests that she came from a town called Magdala. There is a place today called Magdala, 120 miles north of Jerusalem on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. We do know there was also an ancient place called Magdala from literature. The name occurs in the New Testament, and also in Jewish texts. Its full name is Magdala Tarichaea. Magdala seems to mean tower, and Tarichaea means salted fish. If the name of the town was Tower of Salted Fish, it's no surprise that its main business was fishing. As a woman living in Magdala, Mary may have worked in the fish markets. [Source: Susan Haskins and Belinda Sykes, July 20, 2011, BBC |::|]

“One Jewish text which mentions Magdala, called Lamentations Raba, says is that Magdala is judged by God and destroyed because of its fornication. It is possible that the description of Magdala as a place of fornication is the origin of the idea that arose in western Christianity that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. We know there were brothels elsewhere in the Mediterranean, and Galilee was probably no exception. It was part of the Roman Empire, which placed a heavy tax burden on families, and often women paid the heaviest price. |::|

“The Roman conquest, and then Roman imperial rule, would have made quite a dramatic impact on Galilee. Economically it would have brought the people greater and greater tax burdens, and that would have put pressure on families. When tax burdens were at their worst and a family could no longer pay off its debts, children were sometimes given up as slaves. Perhaps this was Mary Magdalene's fate. |::|

“With such a tough background, it's not hard to imagine that Mary might have been a prostitute, but this evidence is purely circumstantial. However, her name, Mary of Magdala, could suggest something else altogether: she was unmarried. A married woman would have carried her husband's name and Mary didn't. There is nothing in the limited amount of material we have about Mary in the Gospel traditions that suggests she is married, she's never described as being a widow and she not said to have any children. 2,000 years ago an unmarried woman was viewed with suspicion. Perhaps this isolated Mary, but it wouldn't fully account for her negative image. |::|

Mary Magdalene’s Exorcism

Could anything else in Mary's life have made her an outcast? The Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus cast seven demons out of Mary: “and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; . (Luke 8:2): [Source: Bible Gateway]

| According to the BBC: “Jesus was known as an exorcist. In all of the gospels, one of the principal things he is doing in his campaign for a renewal of Israel is exorcism. The exorcisms and healings probably go together with the teaching and preaching that the kingdom of God is at hand. At that time, people believed that the demons possessed people who had done something wrong, and deserved to be possessed, whereas good, virtuous people were protected from demon possession. [Source: Susan Haskins and Belinda Sykes, July 20, 2011, BBC |::|]

“Whatever the cause of her possession, Mary's exorcism is the catalyst which makes her sign up with the Jesus movement. The message that Jesus is said to have preached seems to have particular appeal for people who are in the margins of society. Luke chapter 8, tells us that Mary was one of Jesus' followers and travelled with him. |::|

Mary Magdalene and Jesus Lovers? Hints in the Apocryphal Texts


Mary Magdalene at the Feast of Simon the Pharisee by Rubens

According to the BBC: “One of the documents discovered at Nag Hammadi is the Gospel of Philip, in which Mary Magdalene is a key figure. It has been the cause of one of the most controversial claims ever made about her. During their long burial in the desert, some of the books were attacked by ants. In this Gospel, the ants made a hole in a very crucial place. The text says: “And the companion of the [...] Mary Magdalene. [...] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her [...]. The rest of the disciples [...]. They said to him "Why do you love her more than all of us?" The Savior answered and said to them, "Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness." [Source: Susan Haskins and Belinda Sykes, July 20, 2011, BBC |::|]

“The lacuna, or gap, which hides where Jesus kissed Mary has tantalised scholars for decades. Were Jesus and Mary lovers? Some scholars have interpreted the kiss in a more spiritual sense and see kissing as a symbol for an intimate reception of teaching of the word of God, of learning. The image of Jesus and Mary as engaged in mouth-to-mouth closeness suggests not necessarily sexuality, but the transmission of divine knowledge.

“Mary Magdalene appears in this text also not only as the disciple he loved most but also as a symbolic figure of heavenly wisdom. These stories of Mary - as Jesus' closest companion and a symbol of heavenly wisdom - are in sharp contrast with the Mary Magdalene of popular imagination. |::|

“"Apocryphal" took on very negative connotations, especially in comparison to the Bible. It often means that it's not to be read, not to be taken seriously, not to be considered, not true. The contents of these books are regarded by many people as legends. So can we believe the Gospel of Philip? Was Mary really Jesus' closest companion? Well, there is other evidence for this, and some of it is even in the Bible itself. |::|

Mary Magdalene and the Resurrection

According to the BBC: “The Bible says that Mary Magdalene was present at the two most important moments in the story of Jesus: the crucifixion and the resurrection. Mary Magdalene was a prominent figure at both these events. We're told that Mary Magdalene was one of the women who kept vigil at Jesus' tomb. It was customary at this time for Jewish women to prepare bodies for burial. Corpses were considered unclean, and so it was always a woman's task to handle them. [Source: Susan Haskins and Belinda Sykes, July 20, 2011, BBC |::|]


Resurrection of Christ and Women at the Tomb by Fra Angelico

Andrew Todhunter wrote in National Geographic: “The significance of this moment in the New Testament when she first witnessed the risen Christ has been debated for centuries. In the Gospel of John, three days after Christ's burial Mary Magdalene went first to the sepulchre, "while it was still dark," and found that the stone covering it had been moved. She ran to find the disciples, who returned with her and saw that the tomb was empty. "Then the disciples went away again to their own homes," reads the scripture. "But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping." She stayed, as she had remained at the foot of the cross. When she peered again into the sepulchre, she saw two angels where the body of Christ had rested. "Woman, why are you weeping?" they asked her. "Because they have taken away my Lord," she said, "and I do not know where they have laid him." And then, the Gospel says, the risen Christ appeared to her. [Source: Andrew Todhunter, National Geographic, March 2012]

According to the BBC: “When Mary goes to the tomb, Jesus' body is no longer there. The fullest account of Mary's role after discovering the empty tomb is in the Gospel of John. She is in a state of shock and runs to where the disciples are gathered to tell them the news. When she reports to the disciples she is not believed. Peter and another disciple return with her to the tomb, to see for themselves. |::|

“When they enter, Peter reacts to the sight of the discarded linen burial cloth with anger and dismay. But the other disciple understands what has happened and concludes that Jesus must have risen from the dead. The two of them leave without a backward glance at Mary. Then, something even more extraordinary happens. It is Mary Magdalene's biggest moment. Mary is alone when someone asks her why she's crying. She believes it's the gardener, and says, "they have taken my lord's body and I do not know where it is". The figure says her name. And then she sees Jesus. She is overwhelmed and says "Master!" and goes forward to reach out to him, but he stops her. He says "don't touch me". Instead, she must go to the others and tell them that he has risen from the dead. It's an awesome moment. Jesus stands before her, yet he's beyond her reach. |::|

“Mary Magdalene kneels before Jesus, who is standing in front of her wearing a shroud. She has her hand drawn back as if afraid to touch him and Jesus is holding a hand out to stop her coming any closer. We cannot say if Jesus really stood before her resurrected, or if Mary simply believed she had seen him. But either way, in this one moment, Mary's experience took the movement in an important new direction. A new concept developed, which had nothing to with what Jesus himself was preaching, and this is the concept that Jesus didn't die - or he did but he was raised from the dead. The movement is not a failure. It is in fact a great success. The person who declares this is Mary Magdalene. |::|

“Jesus' resurrection was the turning point for Christianity. This was when it changed from a small movement to a whole new religion. And Mary Magdalene was a key figure in this event. You might think, then, that at the very least Mary would be recognised as an apostle - one of the early missionaries who founded the religion - as she seems to meet all the criteria set out in the Bible. |::|

Mary Magdalene and Gnostic Gospels

20120507-Mary Magdalene Lanfranco_magdalene.jpg
Mary Magdalene Lanfranco
Some of claims made Mary Magdalene are based on ancient texts that were written around the time of Gospels. The Gnostic Gospel of Philip described Magdalen as “the one who called [Jesus] companion” and claimed that he “used to kiss her on her [mouth].”

A key passage from Gnostic Gospel of Mary depicts Jesus preaching to his disciples after the resurrection, and telling them there is no such thing as sin and they should follow no rules or authority and simple look into themselves. After delivering this he quickly departs, leaving the disciples confused and in fear. Mary Magdalene then turns them and says, “Do not weep or grieve or be in doubt.” She then describes a private vision she received from Jesus. On hearing this Peter says, “[Did] Jesus really speak with a woman without our knowledge?” The disciple Levis comes to her defense, saying, “Peter you have always been hot-tempered...If the Savior made her worthy, who are you to reject her? Surely, the Savior loves her very well. That is why he loved her more than us.”

The Gnostic Gospel of Mary was not written by Mary Magdalene . Rather it emerged from a community that recognized her importance. It had been lost and forgotten for centuries when an incomplete 5th century version of a 2nd century version was rediscovered in 1896 in Cairo. Later other fragments of text were found and the all the know pieces were put together and translated and analyzed in The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle by Karen L. King

Truer Portrait of Mary Magdalene in the Apocryphal Texts

Karen L. King of Harvard University told PBS: The most prominent woman “in the ancient church was Mary Magdalene. A series of spectacular 19th and 20th century discoveries of Christian texts in Egypt dating to the second and third century have yielded a treasury of new information. It was already known from the New Testament gospels that Mary was a Jewish woman who followed Jesus of Nazareth. Apparently of independent means, she accompanied Jesus during his ministry and supported him out of her own resources (Mark 15:40-41; Matthew 27:55-56; Luke 8:1-3; John 19:25). [Source:Karen L. King, Professor of New Testament Studies and the History of Ancient Christianity at Harvard University Divinity School, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

“Although other information about her is more fantastic, she is repeatedly portrayed as a visionary and leader of the early movement.( Mark 16:1-9; Matthew 28:1-10; Luke24:1-10; John 20:1, 11-18; Gospel of Peter ). In the Gospel of John, the risen Jesus gives her special teaching and commissions her as an apostle to the apostles to bring them the good news. She obeys and is thus the first to announce the resurrection and to play the role of an apostle, although the term is not specifically used of her. Later tradition, however, will herald her as "the apostle to the apostles." The strength of this literary tradition makes it possible to suggest that historically Mary was a prophetic visionary and leader within one sector of the early Christian movement after the death of Jesus. <>


Mary Magdalne by Vermeer

“In another text, the Sophia of Jesus Christ, Mary also plays a clear role among those whom Jesus teaches. She is one of the seven women and twelve men gathered to hear the Savior after the resurrection, but before his ascension. Of these only five are named and speak, including Mary. At the end of his discourse, he tells them, "I have given you authority over all things as children of light," and they go forth in joy to preach the gospel. Here again Mary is included among those special disciples to whom Jesus entrusted his most elevated teaching, and she takes a role in the preaching of the gospel. <>

“In the Gospel of Philip, Mary Magdalene is mentioned as one of three Marys "who always walked with the Lord" and as his companion (59.6-11). The work also says that Lord loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often (63.34-36). The importance of this portrayal is that yet again the work affirms the special relationship of Mary Magdalene to Jesus based on her spiritual perfection. <>

Gospel of Mary

According to the BBC: “The reason why she is not perhaps lies in another long lost apocryphal text. In a Cairo bazaar in 1896, a German scholar happened to come across a curious papyrus book. Bound in leather and written in Coptic, this was the Gospel of Mary. Like the books found at Nag Hammadi, the Gospel according to Mary Magdalene is also considered an apocryphal text. The story it contains begins some time after the resurrection. The disciples have just had a vision of Jesus. [Source: Susan Haskins and Belinda Sykes, July 20, 2011, BBC |::|]

“Jesus has encouraged his disciples to go out and preach his teachings to the world, but they are afraid to do so because he was killed for it, and they say "if they killed him, they are going to kill us too". It's Mary who steps forward and says: don't be worried, he promised he would be with us to protect us. It says she turns their hearts toward the good and they begin to discuss the words of the Saviour. |::|

“In texts like the Gospel of Philip, Mary was presented as a symbol of wisdom. However in the Gospel of Mary, she is the one in charge, telling the disciples about Jesus' teachings. Mary, depicted as an old woman with her hair wrapped in a scarf, is looking down at a skull with her hands clasped, seeming deep in prayer Magdalena in Meditation by Jan Lievens © |::|

“At this point Peter asks Mary to tell them some things that she might have heard, but which the other disciples haven't. She says "Yes, I will tell you what has been hidden from you". She talks about a vision she had of Jesus and a conversation that she had with him. As the Gospel tells it, Mary then relates the details of this conversation, which is to do with spiritual development and the soul's lifelong battle with evil. |::|


Gospel of Mary

“At this point controversy arises, and Andrew steps in and says "well, I don't know what the rest of you think, but these things seem very strange to me, and it seems that she's telling us teachings that are different from the Saviour." Peter then chimes in and he says, "Are we supposed to now all turn around and listen to her? Would Jesus have spoken privately with a woman rather than openly to us? Did he prefer her to us?" |::|

“Matthew defends Mary and quells Peter's attack on her. In the text, Peter's problem seems to be that Jesus selected Mary above the other disciples to interpret his teachings. Peter sees Mary as a rival for the leadership of the group itself. Peter need not have feared. Most people think of Peter as the rock upon which the church was established. He is the main or major disciple figure, and Mary Magdalene is a kind of side figure in the cast of characters. |::|

“One of the absolutely fascinating things about the Gospel of Mary is it really asks us to rethink that story about Christian history: did all the disciples get it? Did they really understand and preach the truth? Perhaps the Gospel of Mary was just too radical. It presents Mary as a teacher and spiritual guide to the other disciples. She's not just a disciple; she's the apostle to the apostles. |::|

Historical Evidence from the Time of Jesus in Mary Magdalene’s Hometown

Archaeologists began seriously for clues to Jesus and his time period in the Holy Land about 150 years ago. A synagogue dating to the time of Jesus and thought to be modeled after the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was recently unearthed in Magdala, the hometown of Mary Magdalene located on the Sea of Galilee. The Magdala Stone, which might have served as a ceremonial Torah stand found at the site is now kept in Israel’s national treasures storerooms. [Source: Kristin Romey, National Geographic, November 28, 2017 ^|^]

In the 1970s, Franciscan archaeologists began excavating part of Magdala around a closed-down lakeside resort called Hawaii Beach. Kristin Romey wrote in National Geographic: ““Enter Father Juan Solana, a papal appointee charged with overseeing a pilgrimage guesthouse in Jerusalem. In 2004 Solana “felt the leading of Christ” to build a pilgrims’ retreat in Galilee, so he set about raising millions of dollars and buying up parcels of waterfront land, including the failed resort. As construction was about to begin in 2009, archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority showed up to survey the site, as required by law. After a few weeks of probing the rocky soil, they were startled to discover the buried ruins of a synagogue from the time of Jesus—the first such structure unearthed in Galilee. ^|^

“The find was especially significant because it put to rest an argument made by skeptics that no synagogues existed in Galilee until decades after Jesus’ death. If those skeptics were right, their claim would shred the Gospels’ portrait of Jesus as a faithful synagogue-goer who often proclaimed his message and performed miracles in these Jewish meeting places. ^


|^ ancient synagogue in Magdala, Mary's hometown

“As archaeologists excavated the ruins, they uncovered walls lined with benches—indicating that this was a synagogue—and a mosaic floor. At the centre of the room they were astounded to find a stone about the size of a footlocker that showed the most sacred elements of the Temple in Jerusalem carved in relief. The discovery of the Magdala Stone, as the artefact has come to be called, struck a death blow to the once fashionable notion that Galileans were impious hillbillies detached from Israel’s religious centre. ^|^

“As archaeologists continued to dig, they discovered an entire town buried less than a foot below the surface. The ruins were so well preserved that some began calling Magdala the “Israeli Pompeii.” Archaeologist Dina Avshalom-Gorni walks me through the site, pointing out the remains of storerooms, ritual baths, and an industrial area where fish may have been processed and sold. “I can just imagine women buying fish in the market right there,” she says, nodding toward the foundations of stone stalls. And who knows? Maybe those women included the town’s famous native daughter, Mary of Magdala. ^|^

Father Solana told National Geographic: “We see the number of times that the Gospels mention Jesus in a Galilee synagogue.” Considering the fact that the synagogue was active during his ministry and just a brief sail from Capernaum, Solana concludes, “we have no reason to deny or doubt that Jesus was here.” ^|^

Jesus-Era Perfume Vials found in Mary Magdalene’s Home Town

In 2008. Franciscan archeologists working in Israel announced that they had found found vials of perfume that that may have been similar to that used by Mary Magdalene to wash Jesus' feet Reuters reported: “A team of Franciscan archaeologists digging in the biblical town of Magdala in what is now Israel say they have unearthed vials of perfume similar to those that may have been used by the woman said to have washed Jesus' feet. [Source: Reuters, November 12, 2008 /:\]

“The perfumed ointments were found intact at the bottom of a mud-filled swimming pool, alongside hair and make-up objects, the director of the dig conducted by the group Studium Biblicum Franciscanum told the Terrasanta.net religious website. "If chemical analyses confirm it, these could be perfumes and creams similar to those that Mary Magdalene or the sinner cited in the Gospel used to anoint Christ's feet," Father Stefano de Luca, the lead archaeologist, told the website. /:\

“Mary Magdalene is cited in the New Testament as a steadfast disciple of Christ from whom seven demons were cast out. She is often considered the sinner who anointed Jesus' feet. "The discovery of the ointments in Magdala at any rate is of great importance. Even if Mary Magdalene was not the woman who washed Christ's feet, we have in our hands 'cosmetic products' from Christ's time," De Luca said. /:\

“Magdala was the name of an ancient town near the shores of the Sea of Galilee in what is now northern Israel. A Palestinian Arab village stood near the site until the war at Israel's establishment in 1948, and an Israeli town called Migdal now occupies the area. "It's very likely that the woman who anointed Christ's feet used these ointments, or products that were similar in composition and quality," De Luca said. Studium Biblicum Franciscanum supports research in biblical studies but focuses on archaeological excavation of sites linked to the New Testament and early Christianity in the Middle East.” /:\

Mary Magdalene Cave in France


Mary Magdalene Cave in France

Andrew Todhunter wrote in National Geographic: “East of Aix-en-Provence, in the face of a broad, forested massif overlooking a high plain, lies the cave of Sainte-Baume. Here, according to Roman Catholic tradition, Mary Magdalene spent the last 30 years of her life. From the parking lot, a steep hike through the forest brings you to the cave and a small, adjoining monastery. On a clear June morning the cave's interior was noticeably colder than the air outside. In the candlelight a stone altar glowed in the center of the grotto, and statues of Mary Magdalene were visible in the cave's irregular corners. Two relics of the saint—a lock of hair and the presumed end of a tibia, dark with age, lay in a gilded reliquary. [Source: Andrew Todhunter, National Geographic, March 2012 |~|]

“ Although one tradition holds that she died in Ephesus, others maintain that she traveled from the Middle East to southern France. But establishing with scientific certainty that Mary Magdalene came to the hills of Provence, or that Thomas died in India, is likely to remain outside our grasp. Scientific analysis of relics is invariably inadequate, often confirming only that the bones are of the right gender and period. Advances in testing and archaeology, together with the discovery of yet unknown manuscripts, will continue to refine our historical knowledge of the saints. But much will remain inconclusive. How best, then, to understand these individuals if the reach of science is limited? As with most of the earliest Christians, we must rely largely on legend and historical accounts, acknowledging the power these mythic figures still exert today, some 2,000 years after their deaths. |~|

“I later spoke with Candida Moss, professor of New Testament and Christian origins at the University of Notre Dame. Moss has a particular interest in early martyrs; I asked if work had been done on the psychology of relics. "People have looked at relics as part of a grieving process," she said. "When my mother died, they offered each of us a piece of her hair to keep, and we all did. So I think anyone who has ever mourned would understand why you would fixate on things associated with someone you loved. Even more so in small Christian communities. The appeal was of a person in your midst, with whom you could have direct contact after his or her death." |~|

“In the cave of Sainte-Baume I sat in a rear pew during Mass, joined by a handful of pilgrims and a large group of cheerful French middle schoolers, arms crossed against the cold. Later, Fathers Thomas Michelet and François Le Hégaret led vespers. Sitting near me was Angela Rinaldi, a former pilgrim and a resident of the area since 2001. Rinaldi first came to the site with her companion at that time, a modern shaman drawn to Sainte-Baume not for its Catholic significance but for its reputation among shamans and New Age practitioners. Local tradition holds that the cave long ago served as a shrine for pagan fertility rites and endures as a pilgrimage site for those seeking feminine spirituality. The Catholic faith of Rinaldi's childhood eventually reasserted itself, and she began to help out at the small bookshop. |~|

“I asked how her perception of Mary had shifted while she'd been at Sainte-Baume. "In the beginning," she said, "I compared myself a lot to her … My life before was a constant seeking for something different, for something else. For a great love—not just love coming from another person but a love which can only come, I believe, from a spiritual dimension. There is some sort of force everywhere in this forest—not just in the cave. It has nothing to do with the representation of Mary Magdalene in the Gospel. It's an energy which makes you stand up afterward." She paused. "I don't know how to explain it," she said, laughing. "There is a silence in the cave which is full of life." |~|

“Such tenacity would have served her well if she did indeed spend three decades in the cold and damp of the Provence cave. "This is known as a place of penitence," Le Hégaret said. "In winter it's austere. Very few people come up to the cave. The road is frozen for weeks. There is a great simplicity here." He chuckled. "There is a proverb among the brothers of Provence: At Sainte-Baume either you go crazy, or you become a saint." With Christian Vacquié, the warden responsible for the ancient forest at Sainte-Baume, I visited a much smaller cave in the same massif that had contained the remains of Neanderthals from 150,000 years ago. This cave and others nearby have a distinctly female-reproductive organ shape, leading some to believe that they were fertility-cult sites in prehistoric times. One can imagine barren Neanderthals performing fertility rituals many tens of thousands of years before the arrival of Mary Magdalene.” |~|

Running the Mary Magdalene Cave in France


Mary Magdalene in The Cave

Andrew Todhunter wrote in National Geographic: “The cave has been cared for by the Dominican Order since 1295. Earlier in the day I visited with Michelet and Le Hégaret over lunch in the monastery's simple, beautifully antique dining room. Through its open leaded windows, from the monastery's great height upon the cliff face, the forest and the plain below could be seen for miles during breaks in the fog. [Source: Andrew Todhunter, National Geographic, March 2012 |~|]

“Protected by the state and cherished for its rich biological diversity, the forest itself has long been held sacred. "There was once a priest at the grotto," Vacquié told me with a grin, "who said that while he was Mary Magdalene's majordomo, I was her gardener." The forest and local caves are still believed to have a strong connection to fecundity, and women have come here for millennia to pray for children. To this day some women even rub their abdomens against the statues of Mary Magdalene as they pray. This physicality is not encouraged by the church, Le Hégaret told me, but it's difficult to prevent. On the walls of the cave are notes and plaques of gratitude in many languages. "Thank you Saint Mary Magdalene for healing my daughter," reads one in French dated October 1860. Another reads simply, "Merci pour Marion." |~|

“The Dominicans manage a hostel on the plain at the foot of the massif, the Hôtellerie de la Sainte-Baume, receiving pilgrims, students, scholars, and other travelers. There I spoke with Marie-Ollivier Guillou, a novitiate and former sailor who served four years as a priest on French submarines, including Le Terrible, before being transferred here two years ago. "For me," he said, "Mary Magdalene is the saint of love. She was a very courageous woman. She was one of the few who stayed at the Crucifixion. Most of the others ran for their lives, but Mary Magdalene stayed at the foot of the cross, ready to die for Christ. In this sense she is the model for the religious life." |~|

“Near the end of my time at Sainte-Baume I went back into the cave and climbed the short flight of steps to the rise of stone on which legend says Mary Magdalene slept; it's the only spot in the cave that remains dry. The last of the other visitors had left; fog rolled through the open doorway. Standing in the shadows, I reached through the grating and pressed my hand against the stone. The grotto was perfectly silent, save for the faintest occasional drip in the cistern, the same ancient spring that would have supplied the saint with fresh water. |~|

“When I had suggested to Thomas Michelet that Mary Magdalene may never have come to Provence, he replied in a matter-of-fact tone, "There was a priest who lived here at the cave for decades. He said that while it's impossible to know if Mary Magdalene truly came here in the first century, that certainty was of less importance. She's here now."” |~|

Mary Magdalene, the Da Vinci Code and the Catholic Church


The Catholic church has long portrayed Mary Magdalene as a prostitute who redeemed herself . Pope Gregory I (540-604) is credited with raising the status of Mary Magdalene. He became pope in a time when of the plague was ravaging Europe and emphasized penitential forms of worship, and linked Mary Magdalene to that, as a way of warding off disease. In 1969 the Vatican acknowledged that she was not a fallen woman and formally apologized for giving her a bad rap.

Among those that believed Jesus and Magdalen were married were Martin Luther and Brigham Young. The notion that she was pregnant when Jesus was crucified was very popular in France, where several kings promoted the notion that the child founded the Merovngian line of European royals.

The book and film The Da Vinci Code popularized the belief that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married and spurred an interest in all things related to Mary Magdalene and the various theories and conspiracies associated with her. The ones chosen by Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown included: 1) that Mary Magdalene is the Holy Grail; 2) that she not the disciple John is at Jesus’s right in the Da Vinci painting The Last Supper ; 3) the descendants of the child she had with Jesus founded France’s Merovingian dynasty; and 4) the aforementioned “truths” were deliberately suppressed by the Catholic Church. The book Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln was the source of many of these ideas.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons except Mary Magdalene Cave in France from Catholic Travel Guide

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com; “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” users.ox.ac.uk ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, ccel.org , Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org, Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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