Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Mary Magdalene 101

In scripture, she is called Maria the Magdalene or Mariam the Magdalene, but translations do not include the article "the" for reasons unknown.

Mary was the most popular woman’s name in the time of Jesus. There are seven women named Mary in the New Testament, and these have been confused and sometimes intentionally merged without justification.

1. Mary Magdalene*
2. Mary the mother of Jesus
3. Mary of Bethany who poured nard on Jesus’ feet in John 12
4. Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses in Mark 15
5. Mary the wife of Clopas in John 19
6. Mary the mother of John Mark in Acts 12
7. Mary of Rome in Romans 16

*Mary Magdalene’s name occurs 11 times in scripture: Matt. 27:56, 61; 28:1; Mk. 15:40, 47; 16:1; Lk. 8:2; 24:10; Jn. 19:25; 20:1, 18.

Magdalene is not Mary’s last name. Calling her Magdalene distinguished her from other Marys. There are two theories about her name.

1. The first theory is that Magdalene means she is from the village of Magdala. The King James Version (KJV) of the Bible translates Matthew 15:39, “And he sent away the multitude, and took ship, and came into the coasts of Magdala.” Today the ruins of a Hebrew village on the western shore are identified as Mary’s hometown or birthplace, Magdala. The Talmud refers to a Magdala Nunayya near Tiberias, and the ruins identified as Magdala today are three miles north of Tiberias. 

So, Mary is from Magdala, case closed? Hardly.

The town in Matthew 15:39 is not Magdala but Magadan in the most ancient copies of Matthew. The best theory is that early Byzantine pilgrims (4th and 5th centuries) passed Magadan and guessed the name to be a corruption of Magdala. So copyists began “correcting” Matthew 15:39 to read Magdala instead of Magadan. The Codex Ephraemi Syri Rescriptus (5th century) appears to have been the first to make this change. All major translations of the Bible into English in the 16th and 17th centuries read Magdala instead of Magadan, including the KJV. All modern, scholarly translations into English read Magadan.

Are the identified ruins in Galilee Magadan, Magdala, or neither? If Mary was from a village called Magdala, where is it?

2. Theory two is that Jesus could have nicknamed her Mary the Magdalene, just as he called Simon the Rock (Peter) and the Zebedee brothers the Sons of Thunder (Mark 3: 16-17). The name Magdala is a play on the Aramaic magdal, meaning "tower." (Maybe she was tall!)

Mary Magdalene is often confused with—and sometimes merged with—other women of scripture, most frequently with the following three. She is not . . .

1. the unnamed woman from Jerusalem caught in adultery (Jn. 8).
2. Mary of Bethany who poured nard on Jesus’s feet (Jn. 12).
3. the unnamed woman who washed Jesus’s feet with her tears (Lk. 7).

In one of the strangest and most unfortunate sermons in church history, Pope Gregory the Great (6th Century) blended all three of these with Mary Magdalene, making four clearly different women into one. He called her a prostitute, as well.

There are characterizations of Mary Magdalene that are not supported by scripture:

• She was a prostitute
• She was an adulteress
• She was married to Jesus
• She was the mother of Jesus’s children
• She was the lead apostle

No woman is identified as a prostitute in the New Testament. Jesus makes three generic mentions of prostitutes (Matt. 21: 31, 32; Lk. 15:30).

Mel Gibson, in his film The Passion of the Christ, blends Mary Magdalene with the unnamed woman caught in adultery in John 8—clearly a different woman since that woman was from Jerusalem.

Jesus having a wife and children is, of course, not in the Bible. Roman anti-Christian propaganda, Gnostic fragments, medieval fantasies, conspiracy theories, and modern fiction (like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code) have generated media attention and money. There is no known 1st century source that states Jesus was married with children.

So, all traditions, speculations, and errors aside, what exactly do the scriptures reveal about Mary?

1. She was called Magdalene (Matt. 27:56, 61; 28:1; Mk. 15:40, 47; 16:1; Lk. 8:2; 24:10; Jn. 19:25; 20:1, 18).

2. She had seven demons exorcised from her (Lk. 8:1-3).

3. She traveled freely following Jesus from town to town (Matt. 27:55-56; Mk. 15:40-41; Lk. 8:1-3).

4. She had money with which to help fund Jesus’s ministry (Matt. 27:55-56; Lk. 8:1-3).

5. She witnessed Jesus’s crucifixion and death (Matt. 27:55-56; Mk. 15:40; Jn. 19:25).

6. She followed and saw the tomb in which Jesus’s body was laid (Matt. 27:59-61; Mk 15:47).

7. She went on Sunday morning to the tomb (Matt. 28:1; Mk. 16:1; Jn. 20:1).

8. She ran to fetch Peter and John and came back to the tomb (Jn. 20:2-10).

9. She had a conversation at the tomb with an angel (Jn. 20:11-13).

10. She had a conversation with the risen Jesus outside the tomb (Jn. 20:14-17).

11. She told the other disciples she had seen the risen Jesus (Lk. 24:10; Jn. 20:18).

Of all the disciples, male or female, she alone in scripture was an eyewitness to Jesus’s death on a cross, to Jesus’s body being laid in a tomb, and to Jesus raised from the dead.