Mary Magdalene: A Woman of Ill Repute?
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
In 591AD Pope Gregory 1, declared in a sermon, that Mary Magdalene was a sinful woman. Setting off a centuries-long belief that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. While this was dismissed by Pope Paul IV in 1969, it is still part of the myth that surrounds Mary Magdalene. A simple misguided and poorly researched statement by Gregory has clouded for modern Christians the real Mary Magdalene.
Discovering the real truth about Mary Magdalene is hard because there are few writings about her or from her. Much of what has been written is opinion and speculation. Sometimes wildly dramatic images, like the one from Gregory. Others have even speculated that perhaps she was Jesus’s wife! Well, none of these hold up when we carefully review the only document that contains references about her; the Holy Bible.
Perhaps the best description we get of her is in Luke 8:1-3, where is says; The Twelve were with him,2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
There are three critical statements made here about Mary. Note that the first woman mentioned is Mary Magdalene. This is very important and we should take note; that whenever, Mary is mentioned in the Gospels with other women, she is always listed first. Indicating special importance. And further note she is in all four Gospels. Even non-Biblical scholars will attest to her being a real historical figure, because of this.
The second and just as important thing to note is the statement that she supported Jesus and the twelve with her own money. Meaning she had some form of wealth to be able to provide this support. This statement alone should make us question her as being a prostitute.
The third statement is that Jesus had cured her evil spirits and diseases. This doesn’t mean she was a prostitute, as healing was a common occurrence by Jesus. Perhaps Mary had a physical ailment or a psychological impairment.
Another aspect about Mary we should all know and likely has caused a lot of confusion by later writers was that Mary was the most common name for women in Judea during the 1st century. In Hebrew or Aramaic, Mary means beloved or Wished for child. So when we read the gospels we have a lot of references to Mary, such as; The Virgin Mary, Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene. Over the centuries writers have frequently merged many of the Mary’s.
Another potential cause of this misinformation about Mary is a result of the town she was from. She was from Magdala, a town near Jerusalem, that was historically associated with ill-repute and sinful behavior. So it appears she is guilty by association.
As we continue to research in the Bible, Mary was an eyewitness to two critical events in Jesus’s life. She was at the resurrection, while none of the twelve male Apostles were there.
Mary was also part of the burial scene in the tomb and the first to visit the empty tomb in the Gospel of John.
So we can see that Mary Magdalene is a critically faithful disciple of Jesus. Perhaps we could even call her an Apostle! So while this assertion may seem radical; let me explain why.
After she visits the empty tomb and tells the others about the empty tomb, she goes back to the tomb. Sitting and weeping she is visited by two angels. They ask her why is she weeping? To which she replies, they have taken away my Lord. After saying this she lifts her head up and sees a man. It was Jesus, who she didn’t recognize. Then Jesus says; Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking? She still doesn’t recognize Jesus, until he says, Mary. Now she knows it is Jesus and says excitedly, Rabboni (Which means teacher)
She leaves and tells the others, I have seen the Lord. While at first, this might appear to be something we would all do. Her statement, I have seen the Lord, is usually associated with the Apostles. You might say, I thought there were only twelve Apostles. Perhaps, but this statement in the New Testament can also mean she is an Apostle.
Now my analysis may have stretched too far here by calling her an Apostle. But my point is; there is a more logical path to calling her an Apostle than calling her a prostitute.
And that is the point of the story about Mary Magdalene. Unfortunately many times we make observations about people that are based on our opinions, which turned out to be false. Even Pope’s! In this case, Mary, even today in some quarters is considered to be a prostitute, but she wasn’t when we look at the facts.
But it is also a story about reading the Bible. When we all enter the Bible, we sometimes enter the Bible with preconceived impressions that may or may not be right. I myself am guilty of this far too often. Instead, we should enter the Bible with the Holy Spirit as our guide. And empty ourselves to hear and read with the Holy Spirit. When we do this we make our visit to the Bible with God alone, and we hear and read what God has to say to us.
So I don’t mean to imply that Pope’s have interpreted the Bible incorrectly, but to point out, that even Pope’s can come to faulty conclusions. Our visits with the Bible are very personal and intimate explorations with God. And we should leave opinions and biases at home, even Pope’s!
Listen to the Full Podcast – Mary Magdalene: A Woman of Ill Repute?
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman
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