Mary Magdalene Biography

Mary Magdalene Biography
Mary Magdalene is described, both in the canonical New Testament and in the New Testament apocrypha, as a devoted disciple of Jesus. She is considered by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican churches to be a saint, with a feast day of July 22. Her name means "Mary of Magdala", a town on the western shore of the Lake of Tiberias. The life of the historical Mary is a subject of ongoing debate.


Mary Magdalene in the New Testament

In Luke 8:3 Mary Magdalene is mentioned as one of the women who "ministered to him [Christ] of their substance". The book also tells the story of an exorcism on Mary that cast out seven demons. These women, who earlier "had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities," later accompanied Jesus on his last journey to Jerusalem (Matthew 27:55; Mark 15:41; Luke 23:55) and were witnesses to the Crucifixion. Mary remained there until the body was taken down and laid in a tomb prepared for Joseph of Arimathea. In the early dawn of the first day of the week Mary Magdalene, Salome and Mary the mother of James, (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Gospel of Peter 12), came to the sepulchre with sweet spices to anoint the body. They found the sepulchre empty but saw the "vision of angels" (Matthew 28:5). As the first witness to the Resurrection, Mary Magdalene went to tell Peter and John, (John 20:1, 2), (gaining her the epithet "apostle to the apostles") and again immediately returned to the sepulchre. She remained there weeping at the door of the tomb. According to the New Testament, the "risen Lord appeared to her, but at first she knew him not". When he said her name she was recalled to consciousness, and cried, Rabboni. She wanted to cling to him, but he forbade her: 17 "Jesus said to her, 'Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, "I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God."'"

This is the last entry in the canonical New Testament regarding Mary of Magdala, who now returned to Jerusalem.

Identification with other women of the New Testament

Tradition as early as the 3rd century identifies Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and the woman sinner, who anointed Jesus's feet. The latter person can be found in Luke 7:36-50:

"And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment."
Though the woman remains unnamed, she is identified with Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and the resurrected Lazarus (Luke 10:38-42 and John 1:10)., as John 11:1-2 says:

"Now there was a certain man sick, named Lazarus, of Bethania, of the town of Mary and Martha her sister. And Mary was she that anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair: whose brother Lazarus was sick.

The identification of Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany, also led to her being identified with "the woman who was a sinner". Church fathers of the 3rd and 4th centuries considered this sin as "being unchaste".

Catholics traditionally identify all three women, which is reflected in a sermon of Pope Gregory I (591 A.D): "She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary, we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark." Eastern Orthodox Christians distinguish between Mary Magdalene on the one hand and Mary of Bethany/"the woman who was a sinner" on the other hand. Protestants mostly reject all these identifications.

For some Christians, the idea developed by Church fathers, that Mary Magdalene is also the woman that Jesus had rescued from being stoned to death (as recounted in the Pericope Adulterae) still holds true. This is reflected in the Mel Gibson movie The Passion of the Christ as well as in Martin Scorsese's earlier film adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis's novel The Last Temptation of Christ. Scholars however believe that Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, and the woman Jesus rescued as well as the one who anointed him at Simon the Lepers house in the Gospel of Luke, are all different women.

Veneration of Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene Biography

The Eastern Orthodox Church maintains that the saint retired to Ephesus with the Blessed Virgin and there died, that her relics were transferred to Constantinople in 886 and are there preserved. Gregory of Tours (De miraculis, I, xxx) supports the tradition that she retired to Ephesus with no mention of any connection to Gaul.

How a cult of Mary Magdalene first arose in Provence is not clear. As a Roman Catholic saint, Mary Magdalene's relics were first venerated at the abbey of Vézelay in Burgundy. Jacobus de Voragine gives the official story of the translation of the relics of Mary Magdalene from her sepulchre in the oratory of Saint Maximin at Aix-en-Provence to the newly-founded abbey of Vézelay ("the Abbey of Vesoul" in William Caxton's translation), that was reputed to have been undertaken in 771 by the founder of the abbey, identified as Gerard, duke of Burgundy (Medieval Sourcebook).

The Saint Maximin of this legend is a figure who conflates the historical bishop Maximin with the "Maximin" accompanying Mary Magdalen, Martha and Lazarus to Provence.

A cult later than the Legenda Aurea drew pilgrims to the body of Mary Magdalene, officially discovered September 9 1279, at Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, Provence, where they attracted such throngs of pilgrims that the earlier shrine was rebuilt as the great Basilica from the mid thirteenth century, one of the finest Gothic churches in the south of France.

The competition between the Cluniac Benedictines of Vézelay and the Dominicans of Saint-Maxime occasioned a rash of miraculous literature supporting the one or the other site. Jacopo de Voragine, compiling his Legenda Aurea before the competition arose, characterized Mary Magdalen as the emblem of penitence, washing the feet of Jesus with her copious tears, protectress of pilgrims to Jerusalem, daily lifting by angels at the meal hour in her fasting retreat and many other miraculous happenings in the genre of Romance, ending with her death in the oratory of Saint Maximin, all disingenuously claimed to have been drawn from the histories of Hegesippus and of Josephus.

The French tradition of Saint Lazare of Bethany is that Mary Magdalene, her brother Lazarus, and Maximinus, one of the Seventy-Two Apostles and some companions, expelled by persecutions from the Holy Land, traversed the Mediterranean in a frail boat with neither rudder nor mast and landed at the place called Sainte Marie-de-Mer near Arles. Mary Magdalene came to Marseille and converted the whole of Provence. Magdalene is said to have retired to a cave on a hill by Marseille, La Sainte-Baume ("holy cave", baumo in Provencal), where she gave herself up to a life of penance for thirty years. When the time of her death arrived she was carried by angels to Aix and into the oratory of Saint Maximinus, where she received the viaticum; her body was then laid in an oratory constructed by St. Maximinus at Villa Lata, afterwards called St. Maximin.

There is no earlier mention of these episodes than the notice in 745, when the chronicler Sigebert, the relics were removed to Vézelay through fear of the Saracens. There is no record of their return and a casket of relics associated with Magdalene remains at Vezelay..

In 1279, when Charles II, King of Naples, erected a Dominican convent at La Sainte-Baume, the shrine was marvelously found intact, with an explanatory inscription stating why the relics had been hidden.

In 1600 the relics were placed in a sarcophagus commissioned by Pope Clement VIII, the head being placed in a separate reliquary. The relics and free-standing images were scattered and destroyed at the Revolution. In 1814 the church of La Sainte-Baume, also wrecked during the Revolution, was restored, and in 1822 the grotto was consecrated afresh. The head of the saint now lies there and has been the centre of many pilgrimages.

The Magdalene became a symbol of repentance for the vanities of the world, and Mary Magdalene was the patron of Magdalen College, Oxford and Magdalene College, Cambridge (both pronounced "maudlin", as in weepy penitents). Unfortunately her name was also used for the infamous Magdalen Asylums in Ireland where "fallen women" were mistreated and exploited.

Easter Egg tradition

For centuries, it has been the custom of many Christians to share dyed and painted eggs, particularly on Easter Sunday. The eggs represent new life, and Christ bursting forth from the tomb. Among Eastern Orthodox this sharing is accompanied by the proclamation "Christ is risen!".

One tradition concerning Mary Magdalene says that following Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, she used her position to gain an invitation to a banquet given by Emperor Tiberius Caesar. When she met him, she held a plain egg in her hand and exclaimed "Christ is risen!" Caesar laughed, and said that Christ rising from the dead was as likely as the egg in her hand turning red while she held it. Before he finished speaking, the egg in her hand turned a bright red, and she continued proclaiming the Gospel to the entire imperial house.

There is also a supposed tradition that the remnants of Christ's heart remain inside an egg-like vessel, and that this vessel is the basis for "the Sacred Heart" motif in Catholicism. In some legends the Sacred Heart exists as a guarded sacred object or a metaphysical essence, passed from hand to hand, with Mary Magdalene being listed among noteworthy caretakers.

A group of scholars have suggested that for one early group of Christians Mary Magdalene was a leader of the early Church and maybe even the unidentified Beloved Disciple, to whom the Fourth Gospel commonly called Gospel of John is ascribed. The most familiar of the scholars is Elaine Pagels.

Ramon K. Jusino offers an explanation of this unorthodox view, based on the textual researches of Raymond E. Brown, a biblical scholar, in "Mary Magdalene, author of the Fourth Gospel?", 1998, available on-line. Ann Graham Brock (see ref.) summarized this reading of the texts in 2003. She demonstrated that an early Christian writing portrays authority as being represented in Mary Magdalene or in the church community structure.

These scholars also observe that the Mary Magdalene figure is consistently elevated in writings from which formal leadership roles are absent, while the Paul figure is more involved in a tug-of-war between these two opposing systems of church government.

Scholars of the Mary Magdalene who appears in the Nag Hammadi Gnostic texts have identified her with the Magdalene, even though she is merely given the (Coptic) equivalent of "Mary". However, Stephen J. Shoemaker, thinks that this Mary is actually the Blessed Virgin Mary (Shoemaker 2001), that this fits in better with the notions that Mary was intimate with Jesus, was his greatest disciple, and was to be the center of Jesus' religion; Shoemaker has made a study of Marian liturgies and devotion in Early Christianity.

The Gospel of Mary

Further attestation of Mary of Magdala and her role among some early Christians is provided by the gnostic, apocryphal Gospel of Mary Magdalene. which survives in two 3rd century Greek fragments and a longer 5th century translation into Coptic. In the Gospel the testimony of a woman first needed to be defended. All of these manuscripts were first discovered and published between 1938 and 1983, but as early as the 3rd century there are Patristic references to the Gospel of Mary. These writings reveal the degree to which the gospel was despised and dismissed by the early church fathers. In the fragmentary text, the disciples ask questions of the risen Savior (a designation that dates the original no earlier than the 2nd century) and are answered.

Then they grieve, saying, "How shall we go to the Gentiles and preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of the Son of Man? If even he was not spared, how shall we be spared?" And Mary Magdalene bids them take heart: "Let us rather praise his greatness, for he prepared us and made us into men." She then delivers – at Peter's request – a vision of the Savior she has had, and reports her discourse with him, which shows Gnostic influences.

Her vision does not meet with universal approval:

"But Andrew answered and said to the brethren, 'Say what you think concerning what she said. For I do not believe that the Savior said this. For certainly these teachings are of other ideas."
"Peter also opposed her in regard to these matters and asked them about the Savior. "Did he then speak secretly with a woman, in preference to us, and not openly? Are we to turn back and all listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?"

Dr. Karen King, a professor of church history at Harvard Divinity School, has observed, "The confrontation of Mary with Peter, a scenario also found in The Gospel of Thomas, Pistis Sophia, and The Gospel of the Egyptians, reflects some of the tensions in second-century Christianity. Peter and Andrew represent orthodox positions that deny the validity of esoteric revelation and reject the authority of women to teach."

Assertions about Mary Magdalene

Some modern writers have come up with speculative claims that Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus. These writers cite non-canonical and Gnostic writings to support their argument. Sources like the Gospel of Philip do depict Mary Magdalene as being closer to Jesus than any other disciple. However, there is no ancient document which claims she was his wife and Gnosticism was generally non-supportive of s--uality. The closeness described in these writings depicts Mary Magdalene, representing the Gnostics, as understanding Jesus and his teaching while the other disciples, representing the Church, did not.

Mary Magdalene appears with more frequency than other women in the canonical Gospels and is shown as being a close follower of Jesus. Mary's presence at the Crucifixion and Jesus's tomb, while hardly conclusive, is at least consonant with the role of grieving wife and widow, although if that were the case Jesus might have been expected to make provision for her care as well as for his mother Mary. Given the lack of contemporary documentation, this scenario cannot be proven, and although some consider the idea desirable to believe, most scholars do not take it seriously. On the other hand, there is no direct evidence that Jesus was unmarried either.

An argument for support of the married status of Jesus is that bachelorhood was very rare for Jewish males of Jesus' time, being generally regarded as a transgression of the first mitzvah (divine commandment)— "Be fruitful and multiply". According to this reasoning, it would have been unthinkable for an adult, unmarried Jew to travel about teaching as a rabbi.

A counter-argument to this is that the Judaism of Jesus' time was very diverse and the role of the rabbi was not yet well defined. It was really not until after the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in A.D. 70 that Rabbinic Judaism became dominant and the role of the rabbi made uniform in Jewish communities. Before Jesus celibate teachers were known in the communities of the Essenes and John the Baptist also was celibate. Later, Paul of Tarsus was an example of an unmarried itinerant teacher among Christians. Jesus himself approved of voluntary celibacy for religious reasons and explicitly rejected a duty to marry: "There are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. He that can take, let him take it." (Matt. 19,12)

The idea that Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus was popularized by books like the pseudo-historical Holy Blood, Holy Grail (1982) and The Da Vinci Code (2003), a novel heavily influenced by the former book. These have found no acceptance from scholarly circles. Multiple books have been written debunking parts of The Da Vinci Code such as The Truth Behind the Da Vinci Code (2004) written by Richard Abanes and The Da Vinci Fraud by Robert M. Price (2005) of the Jesus Seminar.

The Australian scholar Barbara Thiering claims that a full account of the marriage and children of Jesus and Mary Magdalene can be derived from the New Testament by use of the pesher technique. However, both her method and her findings have found little support from mainstream scholars.

Metaphysical marriage

Writers employing metaphysical analogy and allegory assert that Christ was already married— to the Church. This image goes back to Old Testament depictions of the covenant between God and his people as a marriage, especially in the books Hosea, Ezekiel and the Song of Songs. Imagery of marriage also appears in the Gospels and is applied to Jesus in the Apocalypse of John in the New Testament. This was later expanded by the Church fathers. Some writers, following an early tradition that Jesus is in a mystical sense the second Adam that began with Paul and continued with Irenaeus and others, embody this sense with literal parallels: like the first Adam, his bride was taken from his side when he had fallen asleep (died on the cross). In medieval Christian anagogic exegesis, the blood and water which came from his side when he was pierced, was held to represent the bringing forth of the Church with its analogy in the water of baptism and the wine of the new covenant. Thus Christ can be said in an allegorical sense to already have a wife in the Church. By shifting from the metaphysical analogy to a literal marriage, it can then be considered impossible or intolerable to believe that he was literally married.

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