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Magdalene, Mary

Mary Magdalene

The woman known in Christian tradition as Mary Magdalene has been a controversial figure, interpreted by New Testament references as a repentant prostitute who found healing at the feet of Jesus, as a watcher at the Cross, as an attendant at Jesus' burial, and as the first person to hear the words of the newly risen Christ.

Abeloved figure to many Christians—she is a Catholic saint with a feast day of July 22—Mary Magdalene has suffered at the hands of some historians and been revered by others. While Roman Catholic tradition holds that Mary was a fallen woman who came to accept and revere Jesus and was present at his resurrection, more recent biblical revisionism has given Mary Magdalene a second look. Many historians since the early 20th century—operating in an increasingly more humane, feminist and liberal world view—have given Mary renewed stature by divesting her of the sins of other, minor characters who bear the same name. Interest in Mary Madgalene, the subject of several scholarly works of historical revisionism, became even more widespread with Dan Brown's bestselling murder mystery The Da Vinci Code, which popularized the theory she was the wife of Jesus.

The birth and home of the woman known as Mary Magdalene is, like much in the Bible, shrouded in mystery. Many believe her name identifies the place of her birth as Magdala near Tiberias, a village on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee in Jesus' day. Others believe it derives from a Talmudic expression meaning "curling women's hair," implying a woman of loose moral character.

The Biblical Record

New Testament references to a woman named Mary are few, although collectively they comprise the largest reference to a single female, if indeed there is only one Mary. However, scholars have divided these references into three groups: Mary the repentant sinner, Mary of Bethany, and Mary Magdalene.

In Luke 7:37 a woman appears at the home of Simon the Pharisee in Galilee where Jesus is dining; she washes his feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, and anoints them with oils she carries in an alabaster box. This unnamed woman is a sinner, a city-bred woman who is likely a prostitute. Jesus forgives her sins, telling her "Thy faith has saved thee; go in peace." In John 12:3 this woman is identified as Mary and the ointment described as "spikenard, very costly."

In the tenth chapter of the gospel of Luke, the writer identifies one of the women accompanying him in his journey with the twelve apostles, in 8:2 mentioning "Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils"—the reference to devils perhaps meaning that she was epileptic and seen as being possessed by evil spirits. Luke does not link this Mary with the woman of chapter 7, the sinner anointing the feet of Jesus. Mary Magdalene is also identified as one of three women present at Jesus' death (John 19:25) and entombment, in Mark 15:40: "who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him." Matthew 27:61 has her "sitting over against the sepulchre" after a large stone had been rolled against the opening to protect the body of Jesus.

She is also, according to Matthew 27:55–56 and 28:1, present at the first Sabbath following Jesus' death, when the sepulchre is discovered to be empty. John's gospel goes further into the events surrounding Jesus' resurrection, describing in chapter 20 the details of Mary Magdalene's discovery, in the dark of early morning, that Jesus' tomb has been opened, her efforts to inform the other disciples and her return to the tomb. While weeping alone at the tomb she encounters two angels. "And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him" (John 20: 13–14). She then encounters Jesus but does not at first recognize him. He tells her that he is to ascend to his father; she returns and tells the unbelieving disciples "that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her" (20:18). In the books of Luke and Mark, Mary Magdalene is joined by Mary the mother of Jesus and either Joanna or Salome in discovering the empty tomb.

In Luke 10:38 the writer describes Jesus' visit to the home of Martha, who "had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet and heard his word." Martha's home in "a certain village" is believed to be located in a town outside Galilee, possibly Bethany. Luke does not link this Mary with his other two references to women of that name, although in John's version of events, when this Mary anoints Jesus' feet, she does so in the home of Lazarus of Bethany (John 12:1–3). John is also very careful to point out that Bethany is "the town of Mary and her sister Martha, who were both sisters of Lazarus." ("It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment," according to John 11:1–2.) In Matthew 26:6–13 the event is also said to occur in Bethany—although in the home of "Simon the leper" not Simon the Pharisee of Galilee, as in Luke's first account; of the actions of the woman, who remains unnamed, Jesus remarks: "she hath wrought a good work upon me." (26:10). Mark's account of this incident, recounted in chapter 14 of his gospel, parallels that of Matthew in almost all areas.

Conflicting Views throughout History

The woman clearly identified in the New Testament as Mary Magdalene, a Jew and perhaps an epileptic, was a constant companion of Jesus during his ministry in Galilee and was one of his earliest followers. She was also likely affluent enough to be a self-supporting unmarried woman while aiding in the support of Jesus and his small ministry. Loyal to the last, Mary Magdalene witnessed the crucifixion and the interment of Jesus' body in the tomb; she was also the first recorded witness of the Resurrection. According to John, the resurrected Jesus singles Mary Magdalene out from all others, charging her alone to bring news of his transcendence over death to his disciples. The possible links to a sinful, wanton woman who finally repents to Jesus, as well as to several instances where women named Mary honored their spiritual leader by washing and anointing him, have created centuries of controversy. Rightly or wrongly, they have also done much to create the beloved figure of St. Mary Magdalene, passionate penitent.

Scholars have puzzled over the differences in the accounts of Luke, John, Mark, and Matthew for centuries. Explaining the ambiguities that arise regarding Mary, some have hypothesized that John, who recorded his recollections 85 years after Jesus' death, felt able to expose Mary of Bethany as the same repentant sinner who anointed Jesus' feet because her death had freed him from the need to protect her reputation. Luke's account, written much earlier, might have been written by a diplomatic man who desired no harm to a woman still living. Mark's account raises a possible link between Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene through his description of Jesus' gratitude for the woman's actions so close to his death: "she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached … this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her" (Mark 14: 8–9). Perhaps in further gratitude, this Mary was one of the few women who stood loyally by, witnessing the death, burial, and rebirth of Jesus, and identified at this point as Mary Magdalene.

The writings of Pope Gregory the Great, who rebuilt the Roman Catholic Church into a controlling force throughout medieval Europe, were the first to establish all biblical references to Mary as referring to a single woman named Mary: a reformed sinner who became the penitent prostitute of Christian tradition. However, many have taken issue with Gregory's position and have seen the conflated view of Mary a strong, resilient woman who achieves redemption by humbling herself before Jesus. Many recent scholars, in the wake of a developing feminist consciousness, have ascribed to Gregory a misogynist tendency they perceived in much Catholic doctrine. Jane Schaberg refers to this in her The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene as harlotization. In response to such critics, the Catholic Church in 1969 revised its teachings to separate Mary into three unique women.

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition biblical references identify the Mary of Roman tradition as three separate persons: the fallen woman who appears at Jesus' table in Luke 7:36–50; Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, who anoints Jesus in Luke 10:38–42 and John 11 and 12; and the woman clearly referred to in accounts of the death and resurrection as Mary Magdalene. In this interpretation Jesus was anointed with oil on two separate occasions, only once by a woman named Mary.

Protestant historians have put forth the notion of two distinct persons known as Mary, discounting the Roman Catholics' willingness to equate Mary of Bethany with the "sinner" referred to in Luke 7:37. Roman Catholic historians counter that Protestants are unappreciative of Mary's role in illustrating the importance of the forgiveness of sin.

Appearance in Other Texts

During the 19th and 20th century several ancient Christian texts were discovered hidden in Egypt and dating to the second and third centuries. These writings portray Mary Magdelene as not only a woman requested by Jesus to spread the good news of his resurrection to his twelve disciples; they reveal a loyal disciple who was a leader in the early church due to her actual witnessing of Jesus' rebirth.

The Sophia of Jesus Christ names Mary Magdelene as one of a small group of men and women entrusted by the risen Jesus with preaching the gospel. In the Gospel of Philip she is referred to as Jesus' companion and as one loved more than all other disciples. This work's reference to Jesus kissing Mary on the mouth—a reference that appears in other texts—supports the contention that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' lover as well as his most ardent follower. In the Dialogue of the Savior and the Pistis Sophia she is cited as an equal among the other disciples, all men.

In the Gnostic Gospel of Mary, which dates from A.D. 125, accepted by many as a record of her writings, Mary Magdalene is shown to be resolute in her belief in Jesus as the son of God. Following Jesus' death she takes on the role of spiritual guide, counseling others in Jesus' teachings and inspiring many to join her in the Christian faith. She also reveals her close relationship with the living Jesus and admits experiencing visions in which she receives the teachings of the risen Christ.

The Cult of Mary Magdalene

In the centuries following her death, legends surrounding Mary Magdalene evolved. Speculation has abounded about the relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus, some even saying that Mary was pregnant with Jesus' child at the time of his death. According to the writings of Gregory of Tours and Greek Orthodox Church tradition, the saint retired to Ephesus with John and died there, and her body (or relics) was moved in 886 to Constantinople. Other stories hold that she moved to Gaul after Jesus' crucifixion or to a desert to live out her life in isolation.

One French tradition, recounted in Jacobus de Voragine's The Golden Legend, and which first surfaced in the ninth century, holds that Mary Magdalene traveled with a small group that included Joseph of Arimethea and Lazarus and his sister Martha, sailing to France and spreading the Christian gospel throughout the area that is now Provence. Retiring to a small home on a hill at Sainte-Baume, she lived as a recluse for several decades until her death. According to this tradition, Mary's body was interred at Villa Lata (later St. Maximin), in Aix-de-Provence. In the 730s and 740s, according to historian Sigebert, fear of Saracen raids prompted the temporary transfer of Mary Magdalene's remains to Vézelay. Many centuries later, in 1279, a Dominican convent was built at Sainte-Baume on orders of King Charles II of Naples, and an ancient shrine was uncovered. In 1600 the remains discovered there were protected by a sarcophagus on order of Pope Clement VIII. Following the Napoleonic wars, the convent at Sainte-Baume was rebuilt and the ancient tomb reconsecrated. Although the site has been a traditional place of pilgrimage, the Roman Catholic Church does not support the contention that the remains at Sainte-Baume are those of Mary Magdalene.

As Lynn Picknett recounted in her book Mary Magdalene: Christianity's Hidden Goddess, belief in Mary Magdalene has been so strong that many have been martyred because of it. On St. Mary's feast day of July 22, 1206, for example, every man, woman, and child living in the small French town of Béziers was massacred by crusaders from Rome, because they were unwilling to relinquish their belief that Mary had once been the lover of Jesus.

St. Mary Magdalene has become an icon representing the penitent fallen woman. Paintings of her throughout the ages often depict her as a somewhat lusty woman with the red, unkempt hair that might befit a whore. She is depicted as bathing the feet of Jesus or standing face to face with the risen Christ near Jesus' open tomb. Mary Magdalene also appears in many artistic representations of Jesus' crucifixion and burial. The popular French name Madeleine is derived from the word Magdalene.

Books

Encyclopedia of Women and World Religion, edited by Serenity Young, Macmillan Reference, 1999.

Holy Bible, Authorized King James Version, William Collins & Son, 1839.

Picknett, Lynn, Mary Magdalene: Christianity's Hidden Goddess, Carroll & Graf, 2003.

Schaberg, Jane, The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament, Continuum, 2002.

Periodicals

Time, August 11, 2003. U.S. Catholic, April 2000.

Online

Catholic Encyclopedia,www.newadvent.org/ (January 26, 2004).

Mary Magalene,http://wwwmagdalene.org/ (January 26, 2004).

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Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene (măg´dələn; formerly, and still in Magdalen College, Oxford, and Magdalene College, Cambridge, môd´lən, hence maudlin, i.e., tearful) [traditionally Greek,=of Magdala], Christian saint, a woman widely venerated in Christendom. The name Madeleine is a French form of Magdalene. She appears in the New Testament as a woman whose evil spirits are cast out by Jesus, as a watcher at the Cross, as an attendant at Jesus' burial, and as one of those who found the tomb empty (Mat. 27.56,61; 28; Mark 15.47; 16; Luke 8.2; 24; John 19.25; 20). Long-standing tradition identifies her with the repentant prostitute who anointed Jesus' feet (Luke 7.36–50). Some also identify her with the sister of Martha (Luke 10.38). Because of the legend (held completely improbable by the Roman Catholic Church) that St. Mary Magdalene lived in penitence at Sainte-Baume, W Var dept., France, the grotto there became a place of pilgrimage. The principal aspect of her cult is as the penitent, hence the word Magdalen. In many of the Gnostic gospels (see Gnosticism), Mary Magdalene is favored by Jesus and is among the most prominent of his disciples. Artistic representations deal particularly with her repentance, with her bathing of the feet of Jesus, and with her meeting with Jesus after the resurrection. She appears in representations of Jesus' crucifixion and burial. Frequently she is shown with red hair. Feast: July 22.

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Mary Magdalen(e)

Mary Magdalen(e). A follower of Jesus out of whom he cast seven devils, who ministered to him in Galilee (Luke 8. 2). She remained close to the Cross (Mark 15. 40) with other women (when the male disciples had fled), and she was the first to meet the risen Christ, being charged to proclaim the resurrection to the eleven. For that reason, she was called (first by Hippolytus of Rome, early 3rd cent.) ‘the apostle to the apostles’. However, Gregory I merged Mary Magdalene with two other Marys, the sinner who anointed Jesus (Luke 7. 37) and Mary of Bethany who also anointed him (John 12. 3), thus producing the composite figure of the sexually aberrant penitent. From this, ‘Magdalens’ became a term for prostitutes who had turned to Christ, and for the Houses which took them in, sometimes as specific religious orders. There is, however, no ground for Gregory's identifications, and they have been abandoned even by the Roman Catholic Church where they had great emotional importance.

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Mary (persons in the Bible)

Mary, in the New Testament. 1Mary, the Virgin. 2Mary Magdalene. 3 Wife of Cleophas. 4 Mary of Bethany, sister of Lazarus and Martha. She sat at Jesus' feet while Martha served. She has come to symbolize the life of contemplative love of God. Some identify her with St. Mary Magdalen. 5 Roman lady saluted by Paul. 6 Mother of St. Mark. 7 Mother of Saint James the Less.

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Magdalene, Mary

Magdalene, Mary See Mary Magdalene

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Mary Magdalene

Mary MagdaleneAlun, Malin, Tallinn •Jacklin • franklin •chaplain, Chaplin •ratline •Carlin, marlin, marline, Stalin •Helen, Llewelyn •Mechlin •Emlyn, gremlin, Kremlin •Galen • capelin • kylin • Evelyn •Enniskillen, penicillin, villein •Hamelin • Marilyn • discipline •Colin, Dolin •goblin, hobgoblin •Loughlin •Joplin, poplin •compline • tarpaulin •Magdalen, maudlin •bowline, pangolin •Ventolin • moulin • Lublin • Brooklyn •masculine • insulin • globulin •mullein • Dublin • dunlin • muslin •kaolin • chamberlain • Michelin •madeleine • Mary Magdalene •Gwendolen • francolin • mescaline •formalin • lanolin •adrenalin, noradrenalin •crinoline • zeppelin • cipolin •Carolyn • Jocelyn • porcelain • Ritalin •Ottoline •javelin, ravelin •Rosalyn •merlin, purlin •Dunfermline • purslane

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