The relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene is one of the great mysteries of the Bible. Very little is known about what went on between these two, but people spend their lives trying to figure it out. What we do know is that Mary Magdalene left her home to follow Jesus and traveled with the other disciples – many of which were women. She was a courageous woman who chose not to flee from Jesus during the time of his crucifixion. She was the first person recorded to have met Jesus after he rose again.
In 1324, the Catholic Church established its first “Magdalene House” in Naples, Italy. This house was created to help rescue “fallen women.” This further continued the unflattering views of Mary Magdalene into secular culture. Why do people still attach negative connotations to Mary Magdalene if there is no proof for it in the Bible? Well, it seems positive views of her have only come about relatively recently. In 1969, the Catholic Church announced that Pope Gregory the Great’s view of Mary Magdalene was faulty and would no longer be a belief held by them. It only took over 1,300 years for them to correct this mistake. The public can’t seem to shake their view of Mary Magdalene as a repentant prostitute.
Was Mary Magdalene only one of Jesus’ followers? Could she have been his wife? Did they possibly have children? How did Mary Magdalene get her lousy reputation in the gospels? This article looks at all of these questions and more.
10Who Was Mary Magdalene?
Although many reading this article are sure to have at least some idea of who Jesus, the son of God in Christianity, is. Any non-believers may not know who Mary Magdalene of the Bible is. To begin, she is not to be confused with Mary, the mother of Jesus. These are two very different Marys.
Mary Magdalene is one of the most misunderstood characters in the Bible. She has often been identified as other Marys, which leaves many confused. She is often depicted in the Bible as a heinous sinner. Whether Mary Magdalene was a saint, or a prostitute, or both, is a highly debated subject. The different interpretations of who Mary Magdalene was has become a part of everyday culture. For example, discussions of Mary Magdalene have shown up in television shows such as “The Simpsons.”
Mary Magdalene is one of the most mentioned women in the New Testament, and her name is so rarely mentioned. Due to its patriarchal language, most women in the Bible are referred to as “women” and seldom spoken to using their actual names. Mary Magdalene manages to escape this fate at times, and even Jesus occasionally calls her by her name. She is sometimes referred to in the New Testament as “The Magdalene,” which is where she was born. Her importance to Jesus and the Christian faith at large is demonstrated by her name often coming first in every list she is in.
9Mary Was One of Jesus’ Disciples
It’s easy to confuse the word apostle with the disciple, and many do. In the Bible, Jesus chose twelve men to be His apostles. These men were to spread the word of Jesus after he rose from the dead. Besides these men, Jesus also had many other disciples, which can mean “followers” as well. Jesus’ disciples are known for having learned many lessons from him during his time on Earth. Mary Magdalene was one of these disciples, and she too ended up spreading his word after his death.
The other disciples are known for not having liked Mary Magdalene, but why is this? Although there are numerous different interpretations for why this could have been so, some believe that the other disciples were jealous of Mary and Jesus’ relationship. Conspiracists go as far as to say that the two may have even had a romantic relationship. During the early ages of Christianity, missionaries were typically in missionary couples, so this conspiracy theory about them having a love relationship may not be too far from the truth. Rabbi Dr. Joshua Garroway tells CNN that as a first-century Jewish man, it is very likely that Jesus would have been married during his lifetime. This idea leaves people wondering that if Jesus were married, did he have children? If so, that could mean that there are people today who may potentially be the descendants of Jesus.
Whether or not they were in a loving relationship, or only a relationship between teacher and student, as Jesus was in with his other disciples, it is clear that Mary Magdalene was dedicated to Jesus and all that he believed in.
8Pope Gregory the Great Referred to Mary Magdalene as a Sinner
How did Mary get her title of a prostitute if so little is known about her? The answer: The Roman Catholic Church. This view of Mary Magdalene seems to have originated during the middle ages with the Catholic church. In the sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great connected Mary Magdalene to the sinner who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair in the Gospel of Luke. This biblical passage reads:
“36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. 39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.
Except, this character was unnamed and referred to as a “sinner,” so there’s no proof that it was Mary Magdalene at all. Pope Gregory the Great used this illustration of Mary Magdalene to demonstrate that Jesus could forgive even the worst type of person.
7Mary Magdalene Was One of Jesus’ Most Faithful Followers
The people of the Orthodox Church of Saint Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem believe Mary Magdalene to have been a saint. At this church, and many other Orthodox Christian churches around the globe, they believe Mary Magdalene is a revered figure, which is nothing like the sexualized image she is often portrayed with. These believers understand Mary Magdalene to have been a faithful woman, who stood by Jesus’ side during the time of his crucifixion and resurrection.
The biblical account of Mary provides very few details about her life. People have often thought that her name, Mary Magdalene, simply meant Mary who came from a town named Magdala. The Bible tells us that Jesus would travel to the village of Magdala, so we can assume this is where the two of them first met. Conflicting interpretation of Mary Magdalene’s name is that the last name Magdalene comes from the word “Migdal,” which is the Aramaic word for tower. This interpretation sees her name as a demonstration of her personality and importance in Jesus’ movement.
She visited the empty tomb after Jesus’ death, and because of this, she was the first one to see him after he had resurrected. As proof of her faithfulness, she is said to have financially supported the ministry of Jesus. She is known in the Bible for having been wealthy, so this is how she was able to provide for Jesus and his followers with monetary means. Since she was so free to travel wherever she desired to, interpreters of the Bible assume she had no family obligations.
6Mary Magdalene Was Set Free From Seven Demons by Jesus
Luke 7-8 alludes to the idea that Mary Magdalene was a victim of demonic activity during her life. It is most likely because of this passage that people continue to think she was involved in some form of adultery or prostitution while she was alive – although many argue that there is no scriptural basis for proving this was ever true. Pope Leo proposed the idea that the reason Mary Magdalene was assumed to be the sinner found in Luke 7 is that Mary was said to have seven demons. So, the two sevens must have entailed the same person.
The only thing the Bible tells us about this subject is that Jesus healed Mary Magdalene. If it weren’t for him, she could have undergone mental illness, epilepsy, or other forms of sickness caused by these seven demons, according to Crosswalk.com.
Luke 8: 1-3 tells us “Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.”
Jesus was known for having healed many people during his time on earth, but his healing of Mary Magdalene is one of the few times the individual’s name is actually mentioned in scripture. This is likely to be a demonstration of their close, direct relationship with each other.
5Jesus and Mary Magdalene were Jewish
Although he is now known as the father of Christianity, Jesus was born and raised as Jewish. It is presumed that he did not mean to establish an entirely new religion, for he only meant to act as a Jewish teacher. This idea is further when you consider the fact that he never used the term “Christian.” Since he spent his entire life living as a Jew, his disciples were also Jewish. Christianity only began as a separate religion centuries after Jesus’ passing.
Mary Magdalene is known for being one of the Jewish women who traveled alongside Jesus. She was an Israelite. Since Christianity yet a legitimate religion during her lifetime, it is safe to say she considered herself a Jew for the entirety of her life.
Jesus is known in Judaism for having protected the Jews during the time of the Exodus. In the Book of Exodus, Israelites were forced to flee their homes to escape from the Pharaoh. The story in this book tells us that Jesus kept them safe in the wilderness during this time. Jesus played quite an active role in the Old Testament, and it is for this reason that Jews today understand Jesus as having been a false messiah since the Messianic Age has not occurred for them yet. The term “false” does not hold the negative connotation one may assume, because Jews still respect Jesus as a historical figure who helped their ancestors.
4Mary Magdalene Referred to Jesus as “Teacher” in Hebrew
In the Gospel of John, we are told the story of Mary Magdalene weeping when she cannot find Jesus’ body after his crucifixion. Where he had previously been laid, she now sees two angels.
John 20: “13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me [Latin: “Nolo me tangere”], because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”, and she told them that he had said these things to her.
This text shows that Jesus trusted Mary Magdalene to be one of the people to spread his teachings – and it is precisely that that she did. We can go as far as to say that from the teachings of Jesus, Mary Magdalene became a teacher herself since she went around teaching people what he had taught her.
3Mary Magdalene Appears in All Four Gospels
Mary Magdalene, as the title of this point states, showed up in all four gospels, namely those of Luke, Mark, Matthew, and John. Typically, she is depicted as a bad girl in all of these gospels. Passages from Luke’s gospel that speak of Mary Magdalene have already been shown in this article, so here are some examples of how she is spoken about in the other three gospels.
In Mark 16, we are told that Mary Magdalene was one of the women who first discovered that Jesus had resurrected. The passage goes:
“16: 1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.”
Matthew 28 tells this similar scene with Mary Magdalene by stating:
“28: 1 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.”
The version of this in the Gospel of John goes:
“20:1-18 1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
2Mary Magdalene is A Major Figure in Western Art
The mystery that has surrounded Mary Magdalene for so long has led her to become one of the most iconic figures in western art. Since it is impossible to know exactly what she looked like during the first century, every artist’s interpretation of Mary Magdalene varies a bit. During the Renaissance, many artists used the negative connotations attached to Mary Magdalene to inspire their artworks. This then continued the poor portrayal of Mary Magdalene in Western culture.
One of the most famous paintings of Mary Magdalene is by Georges de la Tour, which was done during the Baroque period. In this painting, we see Mary Magdalene staring at a smoking flame with a skull on her lap. The picture has all red undertones, a color that is typically related to sexuality.
Another iconic interpretation of Mary Magdalene is the painting “Mary Magdalene” by Frederick Sandys. Sandys painted her holding an ointment cup to demonstrate her as the unnamed “sinner” in Luke 7 who anoints Jesus’ feet. This painting is from 1860, which is during the time that the Catholic Church still associated her with this nameless character, so we can see how much the church influenced art during this era.
An excellent interpretation of John 20 is Antonio Allegri’s painting “Noli Me Tangere” from 1525. Here, we see Mary Magdalene kneeling before Jesus as he tells her not to touch him because he is about to ascend to Heaven. This painting is taken directly out of a biblical passage, so Allegri did not need to implement much of his own interpretation of Mary Magdalene – besides what she may have looked like.
1There Are Many Movies/Documentaries About the Two
“The Mary Magdalene Conspiracy (Secrets of the Cross Documentary)” is one of the most popular documentaries floating around the internet about Mary Magdalene. It was released by “Timeline – World History Documentaries” in 2009. This documentary aims to explore Mary Magdalene’s life, which was so rarely written about in the Bible. The director, John Fothergill, explores why the early Christians deemed her as a prostitute, and how this idea continued into Western art and literature. Fothergill looks to shine a light on one of the most mysterious women in history. He goes beyond the duality of seeing her as either bad or good and says she could have been had even more of an influence on the Christian church than most recognize. If this documentary sounds interesting to you, you can watch it on YouTube!
Another film about the lives of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is the 2018 movie “Mary Magdalene.” This film analyzes the apostles as they go out to spread the word of Jesus and the role Mary Magdalene played in this. “Twelve men heard and spread the message of Jesus. Only one woman understood it,” is the short summary given about the film.
Another great movie that illustrates what the Bible says about Jesus and Mary Magdalene, along with Jesus’ other disciples, is the 1973 film “Gospel Road: A Story of Jesus.” The film was produced by Johnny Cash, who used his own money to ensure that it was filmed in Israel. June Carter, Cash’s wife, plays Mary Magdalene in the film. As a demonstration of her importance, she is the only character that has lines during the scenes.
Since we cannot go back in time to the first century and see Mary Magdalene’s relationship with Jesus with our own eyes, it forever remains up to people’s interpretations. Many follow what the Bible says about the two, although very little, and use that to assume she was one of Jesus’ disciples. Others look at her name, Magdalene, and think this means she was a “tower” in Jesus’ life, saying she was of high importance. While some look at the historical evidence that leads to the idea that they could have very well been married with children. Can we ever know for sure? No. So, how you decide you want to interpret the mysterious relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene is all up to you.
Another thing up for interpretation is whether Mary Magdalene was the bad girl she was illustrated as in the gospels, or the saint many Orthodox Christian churches understand her to be. Could she have been a sinner and a saint at the same time? Maybe. Watching one or many of the numerous documentaries/films made about her can help your decision in this.
The study of Jesus and Mary Magdalene has been going on for 20 centuries now, so it’s safe to assume people won’t be stopping any time soon. Many scholars and religious interpreters continue to search for new information about the two – further studies are being done every year, all around the world. Who knows, maybe a wholly modern interpretation of who Mary Magdalene was to Jesus could come about in the upcoming century. Until then, may Mary Magdalene’s mystery live on!