Who was the real Mary Magdalene?

Who was the real Mary Magdalene? 

Today is her feast day, so here is a photo of a statue showing the risen Christ encountering Mary Magdalene in a garden near the tomb where he was buried. The statue is in the Angelicum Chapel in Rome, the church of San Sisto and San Domenica. 

Mary Magdalene has been the subject of so much speculation, denigration, imagination and admiration over the last 2000 years, it's hard to sort truth from fiction.

Here is who Mary Magdalene was not:

  • not one of the other Marys in the New Testament e.g. Mary mother of Jesus or Mary sister of Martha and Lazarus of Bethany
  • not a prostitute
  • almost certainly not the anonymous sinful woman who annointed Jesus' feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee
  • not Jesus' wife or mother of his child
  • not the woman in the musical 'Jesus Christ Superstar' or in the novel 'The Da Vinci Code'

Here is who Mary Magdalene was:

  • someone Jesus healed of 'seven demons' and who probably came from Magdala near Capernaum in the Galilee
  • a devout follower of Jesus
  • leader of a group of women who supported Jesus in his travelling ministry (Luke 8: 1 - 3)
  • According to John's gospel Mary Magdalene was the 1st of Jesus' followers to encounter the risen Jesus.
  • Mary Magdalene is listed first among the resurrection witnesses in Matthew 28:1, Mark 16: 1 - 11, Luke 24: 10, John 20: 11 - 18, 1 Corinthians 15: 5 -8.
  • she was the 'apostle to the apostles' as Jesus sent her to announce the resurrection to them (John 20: 17 - 18)

A role model for Christian evangelism

Whatever her leadership role in the early church may or may not have been, you could certainly call her a model disciple of Jesus and so an example to follow. I especially like the simple role model of evangelism. She met Jesus and told others what she had seen and heard. (John 20: 11 - 18)

If you want to know more about Mary Magdalene here's some links you may find helpful:

Mary Magdalene (1st Century A.D.) is an interesting short article with a useful annotated bibliography.

Mary Magdalene: Redeeming her gospel reputation is an excellent article by Carol Ann Morrow that looks at the facts and the fiction around Mary Magdalene. 

You can find Malcolm Guite's Sonnet for Mary Magdalene's feast day here.

Or you could try my previous posts about Mary Magdalene