Tuesday, July 28, 2015

7 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Mary Magdalene

Our church celebrated the Feast of Mary Magdalene on Sunday, and it was wonderful. I have always found Mary to be fascinating, an unmarried woman, singled out by name in all four Gospels. I am certainly not alone in my fascination - there is quite a mythology around Mary Magdalene.

Our rector's sermon about Mary Magdalene was excellent, and some of my material is derived from it.

Without further ado, here are some myths about Mary Magdalene!

1. Mary Magdalene is a prostitute. There is no evidence that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. (If you are Catholic, I understand that you evaluate certain evidence differently. I respectfully disagree with you on this point).

2. Mary Magdalene was Jesus' wife. There is no evidence that Jesus was married, or that He was married to Mary Magdalene in particular.

3. Mary Magdalene had a child with Jesus. Let me just say it: Dan Brown is intellectually dishonest. This myth has no support. 

I'd like to pause here and point out that these myths are very concerned with Mary Magdalene's sex life. It seems that we very much want to know who Mary Magdalene was having sex with. Is this because the idea of a celibate woman drives men mad with frustration - the ultimate forbidden fruit? Is it because a celibate single woman exercising power and agency is threatening to men?

4. Mary Magdalene was the sister of Lazarus. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived in Bethany, not Magdala.

5. Mary Magdalene was the woman who washed Jesus' feet with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair. It's likely that the woman who did this was named Mary. The evidence supports that. But given that Mary Magdalene in every other instance is introduced with her identifier, Magdalene, it is highly unlikely that she was the woman with the perfume.

6. Mary Magdalene had hair all over her body. Part of the myth of Mary is that she fled to Gaul to escape persecution and lived in a cave. While there, her clothing disintegrated, but her natural modesty caused her to sprout thick hair all over her body.

7. Mary Magdalene was not a disciple. We like to focus on the chosen Twelve, the men. But the Gospel accounts are extremely clear on two points: There were many disciples with Jesus who weren't part of the Twelve; some of those people were women. In Acts, we learn that not only were there many more than the Twelve, there were many who had been with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry and witnessed his resurrection: enough that the Twelve felt comfortable choosing a replacement for Judas.

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