Mary Magdalene's profile has been raised considerably in the last few years with the release of the bestselling novel and movie
Following his death, the risen Jesus appeared to her in the garden (where his tomb was located) and gave her the first apostolic commission to “tell the others.” Mary Magdalene's story is recounted on Tuesday after Easter in the Roman Catholic tradition, while Peter's and John's sprint to the garden to see the empty tomb is recounted at Easter Sunday services (John 20:3–10).
The historical Mary of Magdala may have been a leader of the Jesus followers. They were not yet called Christians, and wouldn't be for many years following the death and resurrection of Jesus. The word Christian, meaning “followers of Christ,” was first used in Antioch (Acts 11:26). Those individuals making up Jesus' inner circle, including Mary Magdalene, were all Jews.
Mary Magdalene's name appears fourteen times in the New Testament, suggesting her important standing in the community; a woman was never mentioned in texts unless she had social prominence. The Resurrection story has always been at the heart of Christianity, and Mary Magdalene had a central role as eyewitness to the transcendent Jesus.
Where Was Mary Magdalene Born?
Apart from the biblical references to her, little else is known about the historical Mary Magdalene, including whether she had any family or her place of birth. Her name means “Mary of Magdala.” Magdala, an Aramaic place name in ancient Palestine, was located on the shore of Lake Gennesaret (the Romans called that body of water the Sea of Tiberias), between the cities of Capernaum and Tiberias, in an area Jesus is known to have traveled during his ministry (Matthew 15:39). The place is mentioned in the works of Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian who was respected by early church leaders for the historical accuracy of his writings.
How Did She Meet Jesus?
Mary of Magdala, also called Miriham, Miriam, Mariamme, and Miryam (meaning “bitter”), most likely met Jesus when he was preaching in or near her town of Magdala. The Gospel of Luke states that Jesus cast out evil spirits and infirmities afflicting some of the women, including Mary Magdalene. Seven devils went out of Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2, Mark 16:9), suggestive of a protracted or severe illness, since the ancients used the word “devil” as a euphemism for disease. She may have been suffering from a severe mental ailment, or even epilepsy.
Was She Ever a Prostitute?
The short answer is no. There has never been any biblical or historical evidence to support the idea that Mary Magdalene was ever a prostitute. In A.D. 591, a well-meaning Roman Catholic pope — Gregory the Great — drew upon Mary Magdalene, the sinful woman of Luke 8:37, and Mary of Bethany to create a composite image of a repentant fallen woman in order to show the forgiving nature of the church. Unfortunately, that image was associated with Mary Magdalene for centuries. In 1969, the Roman Catholic Church corrected the misconception, its Missal, and the Roman Calendar.
Did She Marry Jesus?
She may have been a wealthy widow, since her name is associated with a place instead of a patriarchal family, as was the custom. She was restored to health by Jesus and followed him. There is no evidence (historical, biblical, or otherwise) to support the theory that Mary Magdalene ever married Jesus, even though the author of the bestselling novel,
What Was Her True Relationship with Jesus?
The Gnostic Gospels, one of which is named after her, portray Mary Magdalene as an exceptional student, close friend, and confidante of Jesus. Certain scholars of biblical history have suggested that Mary Magdalene was a female leader who held the followers together after the death of Jesus through her faith, leadership, and insightful understandings of Christ's teachings, and who likely had her own following after the resurrection, just as the other apostles did.
Why Did She Remain at the Cross?
Mary Magdalene maintained a vigil with Jesus' mother, Mary, and other women during his time on the cross. She had to know that the Romans and Jewish priests were watching her and the others — Jesus' male disciples had already retreated into hiding. Why did Mary Magdalene stay? Perhaps she felt an invisible cord connecting her heart with the heart of Jesus. Whenever she had needed him, she knew that she could mentally tug on that cord. Now it was her time to give unconditionally, to show him support, love, gratitude, and appreciation for his gift to her life. And it must have touched the heart of Jesus to see the women who loved him standing vigil during his final hours on earth.
All four canonical gospels include references to the risen Jesus. Mark 16:9 states that “…he appeared first to Mary Magdalene….” The Gospel of Matthew notes that Mary Magdalene was with the other Mary (28:1). The Gospel of Luke mentions several women, including Mary Magdalene and Jesus' mother, who saw two men in shining garments who told them Jesus is risen (24:1–10). John 20:14–17 states that Mary Magdalene met the Savior alone in the garden.
Mary Magdalene Found the Tomb Empty
When the body was removed from the cross and taken to the tomb in the garden of Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene and the other women followers hastened there to prepare the body for burial. However, the arrival of the Jewish Sabbath at sundown on that Friday prevented the work of cleansing and anointing the body. She returned to the tomb on Sunday morning (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1), and finding it empty (Matthew 28:5), ran to tell Peter and John (John 20:1–2). Not believing her, they raced to the tomb to see for themselves.
Jesus Appeared to Her
The New Testament portrays Mary Magdalene as the pre-eminent witness to the Resurrection (John 20:15–18). Biblical scholars say the risen Jesus choosing to appear to Mary Magdalene and giving her the first commission suggests the historical truth of the Resurrection event. Why? Jewish law didn't accept testimony of women in first-century Palestine, and even Jesus' male disciples at first didn't believe her.
Some scholars assert that nonbiblical sources show that Mary Magdalene and other women of her time led fellowship and prayer sessions in house churches after the death of Jesus, but as the groups' numbers grew, larger accommodations were needed. Then, as the fledgling communities of Jesus followers moved into larger public buildings, the roles of women as spiritual leaders (and possibly priests and bishops) were diminished or eliminated. Finally, some sources speculate that the Beloved Disciple may have been Mary Magdalene, and that she either provided the eyewitness account or was the writer of the Gospel of John. The Apocryphal Gnostic Gospel of Philip notes that Jesus kissed her often, much to the consternation of the other male disciples; but there is a hole in the text where the word would appear telling the reader