Women in the Text: Mary Magdalene

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Last Easter, my family discussed Mary Magdalene during dinner. We wondered anew why Jesus did not chose Peter or his best friend (the author of the fourth gospel…which some scholars believe to actually have been Mary Magdalene!) to announce the good news of his resurrection to? He appeared to Mary Magdalene. We marveled at his seeming impatience…not waiting until he “went to the Father” to reveal himself to her. We concluded the relationship between the two was something special. Not scandalous as recent fiction likes to surmise, but it had to be unique. We speculated at what the gospel writers did not include that would have given us a fuller picture of Jesus and Mary’s special friendship.

The Bible Account

Because there is dispute over what Mary is actually Magdalene in each of the gospel stories, all we know for sure is this:

  • Jesus cast seven demons out of her.
  • She was a faithful follower, like the Twelve.
  • She helped to fund Jesus’ mission.
  • When mentioned, she is always named first. This may indicate the level of importance in her position to Jesus.
  • She was the ONLY witness to all three of the momentous events of Christianity: Jesus’ death, burial and empty tomb.
  • Jesus chose her ALONE to be the first witness to His resurrected form.
  • Jesus first used familial terms to her. He calls his followers “brothers.” Because now they are!

From these direct references, we conclude that Mary is the apostle (sent one) to the Apostles. It is through her word, doubted though it was, the risen Lord is first proclaimed. Her relationship with Jesus must have been unique as He rushed to see her before any other.

The Apocrypha Account

I believe the apocrypha is fictional, yet I’ll include it here for curiosity’s sake.  Here’s what extra-biblical books say about Mary Magdalene.

  • Jesus forms questions for his disciples to answer. The majority of the dialogue is aimed at Mary Magdalene. (Pistis Sophia)
  • Jesus says to her,”Thou, whose heart is raised to the kingdom of heaven more than all thy brethren.” (Pistis Sophia)
  • Mary is called Jesus’ companion, his partner, his associate. (Gospel of Phillip)
  • Jesus was accused of loving Mary more than the Twelve. (Gospel of Phillip)
  • Mary gives her own account of her visitation by the resurrected Jesus. Her word is doubted by the Twelve, and she asks them, ” Do you think that I thought this up myself in my heart or that I am lying concerning the Savior?” (Gospel of Mary)
  • She is defended by Matthew who claims she knew Jesus very well, and was loved more than the others. (Gospel of Mary)
  • And there is a crazy reference to Jesus making her male so she could share in the Kingdom of Heaven with the others. (Gospel of Thomas)

The Traditions

The early church fathers (Hippolytus) believed that Magdalene was the first among the Apostles, a disciple and friend to Jesus. The Greek church believes she lived with Mary, Jesus’ mother, in Ephesus until she died. Rome believes she traveled to France with Lazarus as missionaries and died there, but most think this is unlikely.

The root of the tradition of dying Easter Eggs is attributed to Magdalene. The early Christians were in the habit of celebrating the resurrection by holding an egg aloft with the exclamation, “Christ is risen!” Tradition says that Magdalene was invited before the Emperor Tiberius. She brought with her an egg, and held it up and proclaimed to Caesar that “Christ is risen!” Caesar laughed and said there was a greater chance of the egg turning red than a man to come alive after dying. Her egg crimsoned for all to see and she continued to teach about her Lord to the entire assembly. Because of this she is often depicted holding an egg.

Her Reputation

Mary Magdalene has suffered a poor reputation in the last two thousand years. The Catholics have called her prostitute and sinner by claiming she is the unidentified woman caught in adultery and the “sinner” who anointed Jesus with perfume. There is no evidence that she is the same woman.

Recently, Dan Brown popularized her as the secret wife of Jesus in The DaVinci Code. Its a fun story, but has no historical basis.

A missionary

There is so little known for sure about Magdalene. But what IS known portrays an incredible picture of devotion to Christ. Mary Magdalene gave her days and money to Jesus’ service. She remains at the cross when his other friends abandon it. She watches and weeps faithfully at the place where his body is laid with little interruption. She is the first to believe in the risen Lord. And she is the first to bear witness to that fact. From the little we know, her faithfulness seems to surpass that of the Eleven, even Peter himself! Yet, it is after the ascension that the Eleven’s devotion blooms into zeal. Would we not expect the same or more from so precious a follower as Mary Magdalene?

2 thoughts on “Women in the Text: Mary Magdalene

  1. Good post…learned a lot of new stuff that may or may not be true about Mary…interesting, though. I like to imagine an easy friendship between Jesus and the women He was friends with. In the same way that women-with-women friendships are different, I can imagine that an earthly friendship of Mary with Jesus would contain elements of that as well.


  2. I finally watched the DaVinci Code some time back. I spent less that two dollars to rent the vhs from my local, now closed, video rental store.

    Wow. What a springboard to use to teach my children.

    When the church denies the feminine, it leaves a gapping hole that some feel compelled to fill.

    The DaVinci Code was one man’s attempt to fill that hole.

    I just laughed. It serves the Church right trying to bury the importance of women and their contributions and their very close relationships with Jesus when He walked the earth.

    NO Mary was not the bride of Christ. We, the church, are. She cannot take that place. But when men kick her out of her true place as disciple and intimate friend to Jesus AND when men decide the only value there is for the feminine is to be some man’s wife or mother, what other conclusions can they come to?

    May the church wise up and seek God’s heart concerning the value and place of women. Denying it only brings confusion and imbalance.


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