Level Set: What I think about Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary at the tomb

Detail of the Tereglio Cross showing the Marys at the tome. Italian Master of the Cross 434, c. 1240.

After a few false starts, I think that before I post anything of substance I need to take a little detour.

Over the years I have received email from quite a few people who are interested in Mary Magdalene for one reason or another. Most often it is someone who has found a new reason why she must have been married to Jesus and a) started a dynastic bloodline or b) represent the divine feminine, or some combination of the two. Occasionally it is from someone who believes they are the reincarnation of Mary Magdalene, or the receiver of her “message”  or a carrier of said dynastic bloodline. When I’m lucky, it’s someone who is doing fresh academic work that is somehow related to Mary Magdalene.

One thing that amuses me is that most people who write me assume that I must have the same perspective. That because I have written about [fill in the blank], I must support it. It gives me pause, so I thought I should state a bit less ambiguously where I stand. I’ve done this before but it bears repeating, especially after being absent for so long.

First, the purpose of this site has always been to present information about Mary Magdalene that crosses the boundaries of perspective and faith. I am deeply interested in Mary Magdalene as a cultural figure, first and foremost. How she has been viewed and written about and portrayed during the last 1900 years is intriguing to me, the most recent perspectives being only examples of many ideas that have floated to the top of public consciousness at any given time.

To be clear though, I do not personally believe that Mary Magdalene was literally married to Jesus, and that if she was, there is no compelling evidence of it. (Let’s talk about the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife another time.) That doesn’t mean it isn’t a fascinating idea or that I negatively judge people who find spiritual meaning in that view. It also doesn’t mean that I won’t consider serious arguments for it or than I’ll never change my mind. I can appreciate how and why it would be a very moving and liberating perspective for some. It’s just that personally, it isn’t what drives me.

I also cannot bring myself to believe that there was, or is, a vast male conspiracy to use Mary Magdalene as a contrivance to oppress women. While it is very likely that her reputation as a sinner has been convenient and useful to individuals and institutions at certain points, I don’t believe that her reputation as a sinner is the result of an organized smear campaign or intentional malignment. This puts me at odds, at times, with both bloodline and academic writers.

So… If I haven’t completely alienated you yet, you might be wondering at this point what DOES drive me, personally, to do so much thinking about Mary Magdalene. Other than my interest in her as a cultural figure, there is one other thing that my mind has been churning on for years: The confusion between the Marys–especially between Mary Magdalene and Mary of Nazareth (aka the Virgin Mary). This confusion has been around since the earliest days of Christianity, especially as it spread east. I think that there are good reasons for this that have very little to do with a rivalry between her and Peter for influence in the early church (though that might have come into the question later).

That’s it. Some people like thinking about the Synoptic Problem, I like working on the “Mary problem.” Put simply, I am interested in Mary Magdalene’s identity just as much as anyone, I just have some different ideas about what that might mean.

I don’t want to discourage anyone who might want to send their ideas–please do! As I sift through my email there are inevitably things that stand out as new and interesting or exciting, and I wouldn’t miss those for the world. Even if I don’t hold the same opinion, it makes me happy to talk to someone else for whom Mary Magdalene is an inspiration.

 

Lesa

About Lesa

When Lesa learned in 1997 that there was nothing in the Gospels that said Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, she hit the books and started Magdalene.org a year later. Since then she has had the good fortune to have written a book, been featured in Newsweek, spoken on NPR and appear in a documentary with some of her favorite MM authors.

2 thoughts on “Level Set: What I think about Mary Magdalene

  1. There’s a great discussion of the identity of Mary Magdalene in *The Easter Enigma * by John Wenham, pubished in the US and the UK in 1984.

  2. Perhaps others are way ahead of me on this, but I have noticed that John 20 is structured so that Mary Magdalene is cast in the role of the New Eve opposite the Risen Christ as the New Adam. They are mates like the first Adam and Eve, but in a spiritual rather than physical sense. From the Fourth Gospel’s point of view, Mary Magdalene is more than the apostle to the apostles; she becomes the mother of all Christians. In the Gospel of John it is Mary Magdalene who occupies this role rather than the mother of Jesus, who is rarely mentioned in that gospel and never by name. My analysis of Mary Magdalene as the New Eve can be found at raycrafton.com in the post “New Adam, New Eve.”

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