MARY MAGDALENE: PROSTITUTE?, DISCIPLE?, WIFE?
October 22, 2017
If you read Luke 7:36-50, and Luke 8:2, it is not difficult to get the idea that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. In Chapter 7, Luke describes a woman “sinner,” presumably a harlot, washing Jesus’s feet with oil and tears. In Chapter 8, he mentions her by name, telling us that Mary Magdalene is the woman “from whom seven demons had gone out.” Then, in Mark 16:9, you find the same description when he writes that Jesus first appeared to “Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.” Add to these mentions the fact that she wasn’t related to others: daughter, sister, wife. She was just Mary Magdalene or Mary of Magdala, a designation that would imply she was prominent in her town. Within the four canonical gospels, she is mentioned a dozen times. There, she is misidentified with almost every woman; the only exception being the mother of Jesus. Nothing there, however, suggests she was a prostitute, an adulteress, or even a promiscuous woman.
So, how did she become a prostitute several hundred years after her death? Easy! Put Luke and Mark together, add the fact that she wasn’t attached to other persons, and you get the script, written centuries later by Pope Gregory I. The maximum representative of the Catholic Church condemned her for lust and all the other capital sins, and pronounced her a repentant prostitute. From that moment on, “magdalenism” shows in art of all kinds. She has been pictured with her naked breasts, and clothed in bright colors, mostly red, symbolic of passion. To such a point, has her whoring reputation been established that even today, after being sanctified, Saint Mary Magdalene has become the patroness of “fallen women,” and Magdalene Asylums have been built to help women abandon prostitution. Finally, through the work of many scholars all over the world, her name and reputation are being rectified. In modern times, Mary’s case would be one of mistaken identity.
There is much scriptural and extra biblical evidence that would qualify her as a disciple. She was a Jewish woman who traveled with Jesus and his Apostles during the years of his ministry. She is believed to be one of several women, followers of Jesus, financial contributors to the Lord’s ministry. Additionally, the Bible tells us that she witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. In the Gospel of Mary, a gnostic text discovered in 1896, Mary is exalted over the male disciples of Jesus. In the Gospel of John, it is apparent that the woman described as the “beloved disciple” is Mary Magdalene. Furthermore, there is a tradition in the Eastern Orthodox Church that Mary Magdalene was so chaste a woman that the devil thought she was the one who would bring Christ into the world. This is why Satan sent seven demons to trouble her. These churches see Mary as a dedicated disciple. In other apocryphal texts, she is portrayed as the disciple whom Jesus loved more than the others. Other scholars present the idea of Mary Magdalene being John’s anonymous disciple. She is also described as a leader of the early Christian movement. In the Pistis Sophia, a Gnostic writing from the 2nd century, Jesus answers 64 questions from his disciples; 39 of those questions are presented by Mary Magdalene, corroborating her status as a prominent disciple. She is said to have such a deeper understanding of Jesus’ teachings that she is chosen to impart them to the other disciples.
Apart from the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene is the only woman honored by the Catholic Church by reciting the Gloria on her feast day. During the 12th and 13th century, the title Apostle to the Apostles by the Roman Catholic Church became of common usage. The basis for this designation is Jesus himself who says (Commentary by Hippolytus of Rome on the Song of Songs), “It is I who wanted to send these women to you as apostles.” To corroborate these assertions, Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter of 1988, recognizes the special role of Mary Magdalene in relation to her presence at the empty tomb, and announcing the truth of His resurrection to the other apostles. She and the other women, probably active disciples, demonstrated courage and valor during the passion. While the male apostles hid in the basements of Jerusalem, these valiant women, led by Mary Magdalene, were faithful to the Lord until His last moments. The historical validity of Mary Magdalene’s prominent role in the most important event in Christianity cannot be refuted. There is no question! She rightly deserves the title of Apostle to the Apostles.
It is different when you try to show that Jesus could have been married to Mary Magdalene. Many noted scholars of early Christianity say that the question most asked at their dissertations is whether Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married. The Bible does not give us indications about it. If you look carefully, you could find a few, but they are mostly circumstantial. All the evidence pointing in that direction comes from extra biblical sources. For example, in most accounts of the resurrection, undoubtedly the most important event of Christianity, Mary Magdalene is always portrayed as a prominent player. In the narrative of the crucifixion, the four canonical gospels describe her more in the role of a wife than a prostitute or disciple. In the Gospel of Mark (15:40, 15:47, 16:1, 16:9), Mary Magdalene’s name appears first every time she is mentioned, ahead of the mother of Jesus. This is almost for sure an indication of her importance among the followers of Jesus.
The Gnostic Gospel of Philip, though not included in the canon, give us historical evidence about the early Christians. It names Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ companion, not a disciple. It also describes the relation between her and Jesus as that of husband and wife. This early document describes tensions between Mary Magdalene and Peter caused by the affection shown by Jesus to her. Mary Magdalene is portrayed as the one who had a special relationship with the Lord, and by virtue of that relationship was given secret knowledge, denied to the other apostles. This is a time when people assumed that men were superior to women. Additionally, there is a Coptic papyrus fragment where Jesus says: “My wife, she will be able to be my disciple.” The gospel accounts regarding the empty tomb are different from each other as to the number of angels, visitors, their identities, and some other details. They are consistent in their agreement that Mary Magdalene was leading the women who discovered the unoccupied sepulcher. Furthermore, she was the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus, and the principal bearer of the good news. This is a role that can be better understood as that of a husband appearing to his wife before anybody else (John 20:1, and Mark 16:9). It makes you wonder, if you died and came back from the dead, who would be the first person you would appear to? The risen Savior decided to appear to her, which is not surprising if she was emotionally attached to Him.
Then, between 1212 and 1218, a Cistersian monk by the name of Peter of Vaux de Cernay, repeating information contained in Cathar texts, wrote that Jesus was evil, and Mary Magdalene was His concubine. Adding to the controversy, in 1449, Angers Cathedral received a gift from King René d’Anjou: the amphora from Cana in which Jesus performed the miracle of changing water to wine. Mary Magdalene was, presumably, the owner who brought it with her from Judea where her wedding took place. She gave the amphora to the nuns of Marseilles, who later sold it to the King. Not only that, Mary Magdalene is the most frequently found spectator at the Crucifixion, representing the main display of grief, that of a wife weeping for her husband.
Presented with so much evidence, why is she not remembered for her role as a wife, or disciple? It is just the opposite. Mary Magdalene’s reputation has been so tainted over the centuries that most people remember her, erroneously, as a prostitute. Now, modernity has taken over. Pope Gregory is not relevant to today’s Christians. The prostitute loads she was carrying have been thrown out. Her true persona, biblically speaking, is now showing with perfect clarity to take her rightful place as a prominent leader in the early Christian church. She is glowingly emerging as a devoted follower of the Lord, and as an independent leader in His church, well above her discrepancies with Peter.
Mary Magdalene: The Lord’s Wife, by Ignazio Giuseppe, is a recently published book where Alice Peterson, who says she was Mary Magdalene in a previous life, describes her role as wife and follower of Jesus.