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The Truth About Mary of Magdala

Mary Magdalene Was Not A Prostitute

One of the only facts we have about Mary Magdalene is that she was not a prostitute.

The universal association of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute or “sinful woman” was first promulgated by Pope Gregory I, in his sermon on the Gospel of Luke a year after he became Pope, during the Plague of Justinian in 591 a.d. [1]
Pope Gregory's recasting of Magdalene as a depraved woman with “all the vices” who "turned the mass of her crimes to virtues, in order to serve God entirely in penance" replaced her role as the first and original leader of the Apostles.[2]

After centuries of popularizing her defamation, in the April 1969 edition of the Roman Missal, published under Pope Paul VI, the Second Vatican Council removed the prostitute label from Mary Magdalene, recanting what Pope Gregory I had written, and stating that “the sinful woman”, was actually Mary of Bethany. However, as recently as 2012 the official Catholic worldwide Easter message referred to Mary Magdalen as “this fallen woman, her ‘desperate past’ indicated by her red garments, was the first to report to the Apostles of the risen Christ”. Therefore it is evident that the Church, as well as general and popular opinion still teaches, and holds the mistaken belief that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute.

The name of Mary Magdalene is still mostly used as a synonym for prostitute. For a recent example, in the third season of the popular British "Masterpice" drama Downton Abbey, the reformed prostitute character Ethel's employment as a cook is defended with the statement that "Jesus did manage to eat with Mary Magdalene".

Patriarchal religion's fear of sexuality is a historical fact that continues to this day in oppressive practices and attitudes towards women.

Today the name Mary Magdalene still mistakenly bears the association of a prostitute.

A Religious Leader

The fourth century Church re-framed the story of Jesus in the structures of male hierarchy, instituting celibacy and the prerequisite for virginity in female saints that challenged women as spiritual leaders. Add to this the early Catholic Church's conspicuously male-centric interpretations of the Bible that effectively effaced Mary Magdalene's central role from the story of the Christian Messiah as the first apostle and witness to the resurrection and you have quite a sound basis for claiming a conspiracy against women in the Church.
Around this time the Church also popularized the idea of the virgin birth, that contradicts the principle of God becoming human and is ancillary to the story of the birth of God as a mortal, and which effectivly took control of God out of the hands of non-Clergy and women.
Wether or not that was the intention, the edict that women saints must be virgins, was successful at thwarting women's leadership even up to the present time. According to Biblical scollar Susan Haskins “A paradoxical effect of the lauding of virginity was in fact the gradual erosion of feminine participation within the higher echelons of the Church from the fourth century.” [5]

Magdalene was named first in an entourage of respected women. When she witnessed Jesus returned back to life, her story - as unbelievable as it should have been (given that women were not legally credible witnesses at that time) is the basis for the resurrection story and therefore Christianity itself. It is not until very recent times that women have been in positions of religious authority, so it should be no surprise that Magdalene was discredited and subsequently deposed as the founder of the Christian church.

If Mary Magdalene had retained her rightful place in the church, the Papacy itself may have been open to women. It was Paul who demonstrated intolerance for a woman, when he was angered that Jesus liked Magdalene better than the other disciples.

The little we know about Mary Magdalene is that she was a benefactor to the disciples, who took care of twelve with her own resources.
The only vaguely scriptural basis for Magdalene as “sinful woman” is in a far fetched interpretation of her “seven demons” which Jesus cured her of as the seven deadly sins. To support this would be to propose that Christ "cured sins", and this would undermine Christian doctrine itself. An informed interpretation of the “seven demons” is more likely a reference to “the seven powers of wrath” associated with Magdalene in the apocryphal Gospel of Mary 8:18-19.

Prior to the pronouncements of Pope Gregory I, Magdalene was equal among the disciples and apostles as a follower of Jesus. Later, in the Middle Ages she was referred to as “apostle to the apostles”. The Nag Hammadi texts describe her as the closest to Jesus, receiving knowledge that no other disciple had. Peter saw Mary as a rival for leadership of the group itself. [3]
Hippolytus, a Christian leader in Rome around 200 AD, wrote that Jesus first appeared to the women at the tomb. He instructed them to go and tell his disciples that he was risen from the dead. Then he appeared to his male disciples and "upbraided them for not believing the women's report," referring to the women as apostles: "It is I who appeared to these women and I who wanted to send them to you as apostles." [4]

Before Pope Gregory I characterized Magdalene in the submissive role of a reformed prostitute she was a religious leader, the first with the role of an Apostle to announce the resurrection. (Mt. 28:7 Mk. 16:9-11 Lk. 24:10 Jn. 20:2)
As mentioned above, prior to that, Magdalene's place had been asserted as the singular person who stood beside Jesus and as his first witness to the resurrection. Her continuous presence beside Jesus gave her unique status. Because Jesus was radical in his equal treatment of the sexes, as his student, she no longer held a subordinate position as a woman. She referred to Jesus as her teacher and should be considered on the same level as any of Jesus' male deciples.

Not Married to Jesus

It is endemic of a history of men that attempts to fit Magdalene into an "acceptable" role, would result in seeing her as Jesus' wife, which, in the eyes of the past, as his property and in what was then a subservient place, but most scollars agree that such an important “detail” would not have been omitted.
Instead of seeing her as the spiritual leader of Christianity and the first witness to the resurrection. The recasting of Magdalene as Jesus wife is an affront to the egalitarian behaviour of Christ himself, for the purpose of fitting an extraordinary woman into a stereotipical woman's role, demoting her as the spiritual leader whom Christ chose for his message.

To infer that Magdalene was somehow Jesus' wife, even if the intention is to elevate her role with this relationship, rather diminishes her as his “first apostle”, she was not accountable to him, as a wife of the time, but chose to be with him on her own terms, a disciple in her own right as well as providing for the upkeep of Christ's retinue, deserving the same respect and stature as any other of the disciples. Jesus was radical in his time for his tolerance and disregard for who received his message based on the norms, prejudices and practices of Judaism, of his time and of the later male governed Church. Jesus was not guided by preferences that became the rules of the Church, for: virgin women, celibate man and hierarchies that exclude people based on one prejudice or another. He was drawn to Magdalene because of who she was, and not what she was.

Asbury Theological Seminary Bible scholar Ben Witherington III confirms the New Testament account of Mary Magdalene as historical: "There is absolutely no early historical evidence that Mary's relationship with Jesus was anything other than that of a disciple to her Master teacher." [6]

She went through pain that no one else but Jesus understood. She stood beside him while he was tortured, executed and entombed. When he was brought back to life, she was the key witness.

Why, in empathizing with what Jesus went through, is the person beside him either omitted or defamed as a prostitute?


  1. Susan Haskins, Mary Magdalen: The Essential History, page 96 (Pimlico, 2003). ISBN 1-84595-004-6
  2. Homily 33, Homiliarum in evangelia, Lib. II, Patrologia Latina, vol. 76 (Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1844-1864), cols. 1238-1246
  3. Darrell L. Bock, Breaking The Da Vinci Code: Answers to the Questions Everyone's Asking, page 143 (Nelson Books, 2004). ISBN 0-7852-6046-3
    Jane Schaberg, The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha and The Christian Testament, page 88 (New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group, Inc., 2002). ISBN 0-8264-1645-4
  4. Ehrman, Bart. Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend, page 253 (Oxford University Press, USA. 2006). ISBN 0-19-530013-0
  5. Susan Haskins, Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphore, Page 81 (Riverhead Books, 1993) ISBN 1-5732-509-6
  6. Witherington, Ben III. "Mary, Mary, Extraordinary,"

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