Apologetics, Archaeology, Bible, Main, Testimonial, Women, z92
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Taking a second look at Mary Magdalene’s tattered reputation


Peter Ruben's (1577-1640) painting of the women at the tomb. Perhaps fitting of her reputation as a prostitute, Ruben's had Mary of Magdalene wearing a red dress.

Peter Ruben’s (1577-1640) painting of the women at the tomb. Perhaps fitting of her reputation as a prostitute, Ruben had Mary of Magdalene wearing a red dress. Credit: Norton Simon Museum/Wikipedia

It was during a sermon preached by Pope Gregory 1, in 591 AD, that Mary Magdalene’s reputation was publicly scandalized for the first time and she never full recovered.

In his homily, Pope Gregory said that Mary Magdalene had been a prostitute. And it is a view that stuck. He based this conclusion on a couple of things. First according to the Gospels, Mary had seven demons cast out of her (Mark 16:9, Luke 8:2). Pope Gregory suggested these seven demons involved seven capital sins that included lust.

Gregory then added the unnamed sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50, who anointed Jesus with expensive perfume, was none other than Mary of Magdalene. It was generally believed by everyone’s reaction that the immoral woman was probably a prostitute, but even that can’t be certain.

But nevertheless, Gregory concluded:

She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary, we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark. What did these seven devils signify, if not all the vices? It is clear, that the woman previously used the unguent to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts.

And from that moment on, most Christians have looked upon her as a reformed prostitute. Now to be fair, it didn’t really concern most because Christ can redeem and transform the worst of sinners.

Mary is mentioned at least 12 times in the Gospels and was there when the Romans crucified Christ and she was also one of the first to witness Christ’s resurrection. In fact, Jesus commissioned Mary to go tell the apostles that He had risen from the dead (John 20:17-18).

But archaeologists digging in the city of Magdala, the home town of Mary, are suggesting her reputation is undeserving and it is her name Mary Magdalene that provides the clue.

It was common practice during the first century for well-known, famous people to take on the name of their town. By calling her Mary Magdalene this is exactly what the Gospel writers did. However, this was not an honor you would give a prostitute.

So it suggests Mary was more likely the widow of a rich businessman from Magdala. And we know she was rich because Mary was one of three women who Luke specifically mentioned as providing financial help to Jesus’s band of disciples:

8 Soon afterwards, He began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means. (Luke 8:1-3 NASV)

Luke lists three women by name as providing financial help, Mary, Joanna and Susanna. There were also several other unnamed people who contributed financially. The three women probably gave regular financial help, while the unnamed contributors were more sporadic.

We know at least one of these women was wealthy because Luke describes her as the wife of Chuza, one of King Herod’s high-ranking bureaucrats. Mary Magdalene was clearly wealthy enough to contribute regularly and by listing her first it implies she was probably the group’s largest benefactor.

The dig at Magdala also reveals it had a thriving economy with a large market and even a fish factory which could explain the source of the Mary’s family wealth.

Archaeologists have also discovered a unique synagogue at Magdala leaving some to wonder if it might have been a messianic congregation that broke off and accepted Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.

It was located on the outskirts away from the other main synagogues found in the center of town. It was quite small, suggesting it was serving a smaller congregation and it also had a very ornate pulpit referred to as the Magdala stone. If so, it was probably built after the Holy Spirit fell on the Day of Pentecost. If this is a Messianic congregation, who would have been the benefactor that paid for the construction of the synagogue?

Sources:

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