Mary of Magdala, who was she? Whore? Wife of Jesus? Christian or Gnostic? Chief Apostle? Hater of Peter, the big fisherman?
Much has been written about Mary of Magdalene. Legends abound, cathedrals have been erected in her honour and, in many instances, she is revered and loved more than Jesus Christ himself. Why? Who was this enigmatic character and what part does her memory play in today’s world?
Pope Gregory, in a homily in 591AD, first made the assumption that before she became a follower of Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. There is no Biblical evidence to support this, but it was not an unfounded supposition in that Mark’s gospel states that seven demons were cast out of her. If her past life was one of vice and lust, the change brought about in her by her association with Jesus and his disciples was marked. Always a dedicated follower, she stood by at the cross when other disciples fled and, despite the obvious danger, was at the grave to carry out the anointing of the body of Christ on the third day. It was to Mary of Magdala that Christ first appeared after his resurrection.
There is considerable confusion, often generated by the Catholic Church, between Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany. It was Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus, described by Simon the Pharisee as a “sinner”, who broke the alabaster flask and poured the expensive perfume on the head and feet of Jesus. This is clearly shown in John’s Gospel(John 11:1,2). We also know from John’s gospel in particular, that Bethany was close to Jerusalem. The Pharisees who attended Simon’s meal, served by Martha, had made the journey from Jerusalem. They also came to share in Mary and Martha’s sorrow when Lazarus, their brother died, which is another proof that Mary of Bethany was no prostitute, or they would not have supported the grieving family.
Mary Magdalene appeared then to have become a Christ-follower, a Christian. In which case, what possessed her write a “gospel” that was blatantly Gnostic in character? Did Jesus love her more than the other disciples? And why did this image of Mary Magdalene only surface in the second and third centuries?
If you are interested in knowing more, read my next blog.
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