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Who Was Mary Magdalene?
Even though her popularity suggests otherwise, she is only mentioned in 12 verses in the Bible. Many of us think we know who she is and what her role was, but how much of it is based on scripture and how much is based on the Gnostic texts? It may surprise you to learn that many of the church teachings about Mary Magdalene come from outside of the Bible and have made their way into church doctrine as if it appeared in the Bible.
The Exorcism of Mary Magdalene
Luke also mentions Mary Magdalene having seven devils cast out of her, and he also records her traveling with the disciples after the event involving the woman with the alabaster box, but before the storm on the sea.
“And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance.” – Luke 8:1-3
Many people associate Mary Magdalene with the woman that brought the alabaster box, but the woman is never named in scripture, and there are no grounds for associating her with Marry Magdalene than there are for associating her with Susanna. Matthew places her following Christ to the exorcisms performed in Galilee
“And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.” – Matthew 27:55-56
The exorcisms in Galilee occur in the early chapters of the book of Matthew.
“And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them. And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan.” – Matthew 4:23-25
Was Mary Magdalene A Prostitute?
Pop Christianity has turned Mary Magdalene into the world’s most famous prostitute, but is there any truth to that claim? The majority of what we believe about Mary Magdalene is based on hearsay and church mythology. Over time, Mary Magdalene became associated with the woman in the following story:
“And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.” – John 8:3-4
As we learned above, it was an exorcism for which Mary Magdalene was brought to Christ, and there is no mention of adultery or prostitution associated with her, nor his she named in the story of the woman caught in adultery. There is no evidence in the Bible that Mary Magdalene was the woman caught in adultery, and there is definitely no evidence in the Bible that she was ever a prostitute.
Was Mary Magdalene A Disciple?
This question is a difficult question to answer because the Bible does not specifically refer to her as a disciple, but the Bible also mentions that there are 70 other unnamed disciples outside of the 12 we tend to focus on (Luke 10:1). Based on the culture at the time, it is unlikely that she was one of the 70, but that still doesn’t disqualify her from performing in the office of disciple.
- She traveled with Christ and the disciples.
- She learned from Christ beside the disciples.
- She preached the resurrection of Christ before any of the disciples.
The Crucifixion and Burial of Christ
“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.” – John 19:25
The Resurrection of Christ
In the gospels, Mary Magdalene is a completely silent figure until the resurrection of Christ. It is during this scenario that she takes the prominent role of being the first to preach the resurrected Christ to the disciples.
“And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. And they remembered his words, And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.” – Luke 24:4-5, 10
According to Luke’s story, it was a group of at least three named women and multiple unnamed women that found the tomb, and then reported it to the disciples. It is important to note that Luke is a documentarian that learned about some of these events by talking to people. His version of the story seems to be a summary of events based on the stories he was told, but it is in the book of John that we find many more specific details about the events of that day.
“The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.” – John 20:1-2
According to John, it was Mary Magdalene specifically that found the empty tomb, and she was the one that ran back to tell the disciples. It’s at this point that John expands a great deal on the story found in Luke. After Peter and the other disciple witness the empty tomb, they leave without a clue as to what happened, but Mary Magdalene stayed behind at the tomb alone.
“Then the disciples went away again unto their own home. But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.” – John 20:10-12
Peter and the other disciple checked the tomb before leaving, and it was empty. The angels didn’t appear inside until after everyone was gone. To make things even stranger, Christ then appears to her before he appeared to anyone else.
“And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” – John 20:14-17
There are quite a few things going on in this scenario that we can infer from the text.
- Mary is more distraught than everyone else, which points to her either having difficulty dealing with death or having very deep feelings for Christ. These feelings could be love, friendship, or both. Nothing conclusive can be drawn from the text.
- Christ chose to wait until the other disciples were gone before appearing to Mary. The reason he did so is not given in the text.
- Mary most likely tried to hug him because he was standing front of her alive, when just moments before she was trying to figure out where his missing dead body had gone.
- Christ commissions Mary to go preach his resurrection to the disciples. The first time Mary brought the disciples news, they rant to see for themselves. This time around they all huddle together in a room to hide. This may point to them accepting her word at face value even though the word of a woman was considered less reliable than that of a man in those times.
The biggest question that comes from all of this is, why did Christ wait until the disciples were gone until revealing that he’d risen from the dead?
Were Jesus and Mary Magdalene Married?
This myth originated based on speculation of verses found in the Gnostic texts and was popularized by the movie The Da Vinci Code. While the Bible clearly establishes some kind of deep emotional connection between Christ and Mary Magdalene, it is not clear as to whether it was the love of a friend or something more. The same Gnostic texts that birthed this belief also put this belief to rest as false:
“As for the Wisdom who is called “the barren,” she is the mother of the angels. And the companion of the […] Mary Magdalene. […] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth. 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.” – The Gospel of Philip
In the time of Christ, marriage was not a secret. Divorces were sometimes conducted in secret, as Joseph wanted to do to Mary, but marriages were very public events. If Christ and Mary Magdalene were married, there wouldn’t have been any reason for the disciples to ask him why he kissed her.
Did Jesus and Mary Magdalene Have Children?
This is another myth that has been passed down by people that choose to believe movies and books outside of the Bible. There is no Biblical record of Christ and Mary Magdalene having children. If Christ was a father, the New Testament writers would’ve certainly recorded it in the text. It’s too large of a detail to just leave out on purpose.
Did Mary Magdalene Become A Man?
It sounds crazy, but for those that rely on the Gnostic text for spiritual doctrine, this idea is very real. According to the Gospel of Thomas, Christ was going to teach Mary Magdalene how to change genders.
“Simon Peter said to them: Let Mary go forth from among us, for women are not worthy of the life. Jesus said: Behold, I shall lead her, that I may make her male, in order that she also may become a living spirit like you males. For every woman who makes herself male shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” – The Gospel of Thomas
What Happened To Mary Magdalene?
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