Mary Magdalene is a major figure in Christianity who is said to have witnessed Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. She is named at least 12 times within the four Gospels and was one of Jesus' most loyal followers who remained devoted to him till the very end and supported him in his final moments as he was being crucified. She was also the first to discover his empty tomb and witness the resurrection of Jesus—John 20 and Mark 16:9 specifically name her as the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection. For centuries Mary Magdalene has been portrayed by the Catholic Church as a repentant prostitute even though there is nothing in the canonical gospels to support these claims. The fourth-century orthodox theologian Augustine called her the "Apostle to the Apostles" and she is regarded as one of the most significant figures in Christianity as she was present from the "beginning of a movement that was going to transform the West". The Gospel of Luke states that Jesus cleansed her of seven demons though various interpretations of this statement are given by historians. Over the centuries her life has been the subject of much speculation and debate among scholars. While some considered her to be a prostitute, she is considered to be a saint by the Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches.
Childhood & Early Life
Even though Mary Magdalene is a prominent figure in Christianity, the Bible provides no details about her birth, parentage, or family status. However her name Mary Magdalene gives a clue that she came from a town called Magdala.
The name “Mary” was very common in New Testament times, and several women with the same name are mentioned in the canonical Gospels. Thus different interpretations of the biblical references to the name “Mary” has greatly affected the way the image of Mary Magdalene is perceived.
It is believed that she might have worked in the fish markets or as a hairdresser. It is also said that she was unmarried and never had any children. As an unmarried woman it is possible that she was viewed with suspicion and this might be the reason she was regarded as a prostitute or woman of loose character by some Christian scholars.
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As a Disciple of Jesus Christ
Mary Magdalene was one of the most loyal followers of Jesus Christ. At that time, it was believed that people who indulged in wrongdoings were possessed by demons while good, virtuous people were protected from demon possession.
Jesus was known to be an exorcist and the Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus cast seven demons out of Mary (Luke 8:2). A different interpretation of this detail is that he cured her of a physical disorder rather than the popular notion that he freed her of sins.
Mary became a very sincere disciple and was soon counted among Jesus’ most prominent followers. According to certain texts, Mary was the one among his disciples who understood whatever Jesus taught and asked him many informed questions while most of the other disciples were confused.
While there is no doubt that she was one of the most favored disciples of Jesus, the Gospel of Philip contains some text that is regarded as highly controversial. Mary Magdalene is mentioned often in the gospel, and there are paragraphs which describe Jesus kissing Mary on the lips. While some scholars interpret the kiss from a spiritual angle, the sexual dynamics between Mary and Jesus is often debated upon.
At the Crucifixion of Jesus
Jesus was arrested, tried, and sentenced by Pontius Pilate to be scourged, and finally crucified, most probably between the years 30 AD and 33 AD. He had been betrayed by some of his followers who had aided in his arrest. Mary, as one of his most beloved followers remained loyal to him till the very end.
Jesus' crucifixion is described in the four canonical gospels. Gospel of Matthew describes many women at the crucifixion, some of whom are named in the Gospels. Mary is specifically mentioned as being present during his crucifixion in at least three gospels. She is said to have witnessed the agonizing last moments of her master and to have supported him till the very end.
She was one of the women who kept vigil at Jesus’ tomb as was customary at that time. It was the task of Jewish women to prepare the body for burial.
Witness to Jesusï¿½
Mary Magdalene knew where Jesus was buried. According to Mark 15:4, she went with two other women on Easter morning to visit the tomb to anoint the corpse. However, when she reached the tomb, she discovered that it was empty!
Astonished that someone had moved the body of her beloved master, she ran to call the other disciples. She returned with Peter, and he, though dismayed at the sight, left Mary without a word. Distressed, she started crying when a voice asked her the reason for her anguish.
Initially she thought that it was the gardener who was talking to her, but when the figure called out her name, she realized that it was Jesus himself who had risen from the dead. Overwhelmed, she reached out to touch him, but Jesus forbade her to do so. According to the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and John, Mary Magdalene was first witness to the resurrection.
Relationship with Jesus
Mary Magdalene’s relationship with Jesus is a matter of considerable debate and discussion. She is mentioned as one of three Marys "who always walked with the Lord" and as his companion (Philip 59.6-11). The Lord is said to have loved her more than all other disciples and kissed her often.
However several authors are of the opinion that these details cannot be taken as evidence of any sexual relationship between Jesus and Mary as it was customary in those times to kiss a fellow believer by way of greeting. Also the historical sources are too contradictory to suggest any romantic relationship between the two.
Later Years & Death
Some sources suggest that Mary Magdalene was betrothed to St John the Evangelist. They were even thought to be married to each other.
During her later years, she is said to have retired to a cave on a hill by Marseille, La Sainte-Baume, where she lived a life of penance for 30 years. At the time of her death she was carried by angels to Aix and into the oratory of Maximinus, where she received the viaticum.