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Who is Mary Magdalene?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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Mary Magdalene, considered a saint by the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Churches, is a controversial figure in the New Testament. Mary Magdalene is only mentioned by name three times in the Gospels, but her identity has often been intertwined with other women associated with Jesus' ministry. Some modern scholars and fiction writers have even suggested that this woman was secretly married to Jesus, or at least pursued an intimate relationship with Him.

There are a number of misconceptions surrounding the historical Mary Magdalene, most concerning her character and occupation. According to one popular belief, Mary was a well-known local prostitute when she first encountered Jesus and His disciples. According to the Gospels, however, she only "ministered" to Jesus, a term implying a gesture of material or spiritual support. Jesus is said to have delivered seven demons out of this woman, which some have translated as a sign of sexual impropriety. This theory is not supported by the Gospels, since Jesus cast out demons from both men and women.

Mary Magdalene is also commonly confused with "Mary of Bethany", the sister of Martha and Lazarus. While both Marys continued to follow Jesus throughout His ministry, Mary of Bethany is thought to be the same penitent woman who anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair. Mary Magdalene, on the other hand, is thought by some to be the unnamed "sinner" Jesus defends from an unjust stoning for adultery. This event is described as occurring before Jesus encountered this woman and exorcised her demons, however. The connection between the 'sinner' and Mary Magdalene seems to have been made centuries after the fact.

Mary Magdalene is also mentioned as a witness to the Crucifixion of Christ, perhaps comforting another Mary, the mother of Jesus. Following the removal of Jesus' body from the cross, Mary Magdalene is believed to have assisted in the traditional preparations of a Jewish burial. She is also the first of His followers to encounter the resurrected form of Jesus Christ, although He admonishes her not to embrace Him. Mary is also credited with breaking the news of Jesus' resurrection to the other disciples.

In her later years, Mary is said to have retired to the city of Ephesus, along with the Blessed Virgin Mary. Other traditions suggest that she actually moved to France and spent her last days as a Christian missionary in the region. Her remains are said to be kept in two separate reliquaries, with her skull resting in a grotto in a small Catholic church at La Sainte-Baume, France.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to PublicPeople, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By scruf — On Nov 24, 2013

@Discographer: You are right, People will want to find any excuse to criticize. I mean even if they knew what Mary felt for Jesus, I don't see how it will help in worshiping God. Isn't it enough that they know Jesus was hungry, got tired, etc.?

By discographer — On Feb 24, 2011

Wasn't the Church responsible for rumors of Mary's indecency? The new testament does not say anything bad about Mary. I think that vagueness about the history of Mary Magdalene and the relationship between Mary and Jesus has allowed these subjects to become a commercial tool. There are countless books and films on whether Mary was Jesus' wife or what her life was like before they met.

I think if we get caught up in these controversies, we will be distanced from what the religious script is trying to teach. If the relationship between Jesus and Mary was important for Christian belief in God, I think the scriptures would let us know that. I really think it's inappropriate for Mary Magdalene's life to be used for purposes much distant from religion. She was after all, a companion and supporter of Jesus and she deserves more respect. But all I see in the media, books and documentaries is an attitude as though she was a mythological character that people can just come up with ideas about.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to PublicPeople, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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