Mary Magdalene

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute

Mary Magdalene is a religious figure in Christianity. She is often thought of as the second-most important woman in the New Testament after Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary Magdalene traveled with Jesus as one of his followers. She was present at Jesus’ two most important moments: the crucifixion and the resurrection. Within the four Gospels she is named at least 12 times, more than most of the apostles. The Gospel references describe her as courageous, brave enough to stand by Jesus in his hours of suffering, death and beyond

It is almost universally agreed today that characterizations of Mary Magdalene in Western Christianity as a repentant prostitute or loose woman are unfounded, arising from conflating or merging her identity with the unnamed sinner who anoints Jesus’ feet in Luke 7:36-50.

The figures of Mary Magdalene, the anointing sinner of Luke, and Mary of Bethany, who in John 11:1-2 also anoints Jesus’ feet, were long regarded as the same person. Though Mary Magdalene is named in each of the four gospels in the New Testament, none of the clear references to her indicate that she was a prostitute or notable for a sinful way of life, nor link her with Mary of Bethany. Modern scholarship has restored the understanding of Mary of Magdala as an important early Christian leader.

Mary Magdalene

Penitent Magdalene, Guido Reni, typically shown half-dressed The Walters Art Museum.
The notion of Mary Magdalene being a repentant sinner can be traced at least as far back as Ephraim the Syrian in the fourth century, and became the generally accepted view in Western Christianity because of its acceptance in an influential homily of Pope Gregory I (“Gregory the Great”) in about 591, in which he identified Magdalene not only with the anonymous sinner with the perfume in Luke’s gospel, but also with Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus; this interpretation is often called the “composite Magdalene” in modern scholarship. The seven devils removed from her by Jesus “morphed into the seven capital sins, and Mary Magdalene began to be condemned not only for lust but for pride and covetousness as well

The aspect of the repentant sinner became almost equally significant as the disciple in her persona as depicted in Western art and religious literature, fitting well with the great importance of penitence in medieval theology. In subsequent religious legend, Mary’s story became conflated with that of St Mary of Egypt, another repentant prostitute who then lived as a hermit. With that, Mary’s image was, according to Susan Haskins, author of Mary Magdalene: Myth and Metaphor, “finally settled…for nearly fourteen hundred years,” although in fact the most important late medieval popular accounts of her life describe her as a rich woman whose life of sexual freedom is purely for pleasure.

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