Mary, Mary quite contrary- Feast of St Mary of Magdala John 20:1-2, 11-18

‘Chauvinistic hermeneutics’, that’s what one theologian called the interpretation of the scriptures with regards to Mary of Magdala. The poor woman only stood by the cross of Jesus while He was crucified; unfortunately her name has been crucified by countless preachers as a prostitute or adulterer.

How did we get to this? The problem begins with a faulty reading of scripture coupled with ‘unadulterated’ chauvinism.  Luke 7:37 talks about a woman in the city who was a sinner, who washes the feet of Jesus with her tears and wipes them with her hair; there is no mention of her as a prostitute.

This narrative is followed immediately by another narrative which refers to Mary of Magdala from whom seven daemons had been cast out. That’s all it took, two texts, one following the next. The two texts were fused and just like that, Mary of Magdala was thrown into a brothel.

The view got Papal sanction when in 591 Pope Gregory XIV lumped in this unnamed sinner with another Mary—Mary of Bethany, Martha and Lazarus’ sister. Scripture scholarship had not progressed as much as it has today. Examine the evidence that the Pope had to guide him, and you can see clearly why this belief was falsely held.

Mary (Greek form of the name Miriam) came from Magdala which was located along the Sea of Galilee near Tiberias. The city was wealthy and known for its prosperous fisheries. It also had a reputation for prostitution. The Talmud, derived from the word Magdalene, the expression “curling women’s hair”, came to indicate the hair dress style of an “adulteress”. It was after the siege of Jerusalem that this city was destroyed by the Romans, both because it participated in the Jewish revolt and because it was known for its moral depravity.

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