Mary Magdalene Wasn’t a Prostitute; She was an Apostle

A TINTORETTO_-_Magdalena_penitente_(Musei_Capitolini) ANDY GILL PATHEOS

“The problem lies in the alternate image of Mary Magdalene as the fallen and redeemed woman, as the epitome of sensuality and spirituality—an image that has become ingrained in the imaginations of centuries of Christians and one that continues to be fostered through depictions in art, literature, and even movies[1].”

Smear campaigns, believe it or not, they’re a thing.

When I think of these types of campaigns I normally think of modern-day mischaracterizations of politicians or even hero’s such as MLK.

But, in my own opinion, the most pervasively unfortunate mischaracterization of any historical figure to date is, arguably, Mary Magdalene.

A.K.A. “The Penitent Prostitute” 

The fact of the matter is… Mary of Magdala wasn’t a prostitute; nor was she ever depicted as “sexually immoral.”

It began with Medieval Western Christianity conflating Mary Magdala with Mary of Bethany and the unnamed sinner of Luke 7:36–50 (anointing of Christ’s feet by a sinful woman that historians, Anette Merz et. al,  say to be a “prostitute” [2]). To be exact: many point their finger at “Pope Gregory the Great”; who gave a homily on Sept. 14, 1591, pronouncing that Mary Magdalene was “Luke’s unnamed sinner, and [that] Mary of Bethany were, indeed, the same person.”

In short: Nope; two completely different people.

Various biblical scholars and textual critics have unanimously debunked this myth. Some even go so far as misattributing

“…scripture scholars have debunked the myth that she and the infamous repentant sinner who wiped Jesus’ feet with her tears are one and the same woman, word is trickling down that Mary Magdalene’s penitent prostitute label was a misnomer [1].”

An Apostle to Apostles…

Labeling this a “misnomer” would be the understatement of the last two millennia; as centuries worth of art, literature, and films have been wrongfully portraying Mary of Magdala; it understandably has further undermined the overall credibility of the Church.

Attributing the assumption of sexual immorality to her being, this feeds into the [bullshit] notion that reduces women as temptresses and nothing but these over-sexualized objectifications… i.e. “less than…” Liberation theologians say it best:

“…reducing one of the most important leaders of the early church to a prostitute has exacted a price, especially for women, by feeding into the notion that women are either madonnas or whores.”

What all four canonical gospels agree on is that Mary of Magdala was the first witness to the Resurrection. While there’s no biblical evidence of Mary Magdalene being a prostitute there’s overwhelming evidence showing Mary Magdalene was a prominent and very key leader of the early Church…

“Characters get blended together and homogenized in ways that don’t preserve the integrity of the texts.”

– Sister Barbara Bowe, NT professor at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago

The first eye-witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ; the first bearer of the “good-news”; the very beginning of the early Church. And, not to mention, when all the other apostles fled (e.g. Judas’ betrayal; Peter’s denial, etc.) Mary Magdalene remained.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that all of this has to take into consideration, contextually speaking, the insurmountable amount of opposition, Mary of Magdala, had to face as a woman.

In other words, the strength, it must’ve taken, for her to remain loyal is something to be modeled after. It was most likely a strong example motivating the apostles to well, become apostles.

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[1] Scholar Mary Thompson, S.S.M.N., adjunct professor of religious studies at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York and author of Mary of Magdala: Apostle and Leader (Paulist, 1995).
[2] The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide; Gerz Theissen & Anette Merz, p222
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