“She spoke this utterance as the woman who understood everything.”
– The Dialogue of the Savior
The oppression of the Feminine in Christianity has had dire consequences on the spiritual and secular aspects of our society. The repression of women’s role in the church has led to the estrangement between the intellectual understanding of spirituality, and the internal, direct, and bodily experience of the Sacred. The rediscovery of a wholesome spirituality in our era means reconciliation with the feminine, and taking back the nobility of the spiritual feminine that was robbed when Mary Magdalene was catapulted into lies.
To this day, I still encounter individuals who not only believe that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, but they also defend her status of prostitute as a helpful example for people to receive forgiveness. “But her example as a prostitute shows people that Christ will still forgive and elevate the greatest of sinners,” I once heard when I was sitting at the foot of the Sainte Baume mountain, sipping on tea and conversing with two Americans pilgrims.
It is appealing to preserve a lie to sustain faith and the so-called remission of sins.
The defamation of Mary Magdalene was such an important keynote in Christianity that she became the patron saint of prostitutes. In Paris, prostitutes were called “Madelonnettes” or daughters of the Magdalene. There was even a convent in Paris called the Convent of the Madelonnettes, a home to reform prostitutes. Its residents were organized in three internal denominations: sisters of Saint Magdalene who wore proper white robes, the sisters of Saint Martha who wore simple grey robes, and the sisters of Lazarus, who wore regular clothing with their face concealed behind a black taffeta veil.
In the New Testament, the most preeminent women occupy very little space: Mary, the mother of Jesus, utters 191 words and Mary the Magdalene speaks about 61 words. The women of the New Testament tend to be placed in a male-chosen binary: they are either sinners or virgins. There is the Virgin Mary, a holy unattainable holiness by any standard for lay women because she was the mother of God.
The church placed her high enough above the clouds of humanity so to speak that womankind could still not be holy, no matter how hard they tried. And there is Mary Magdalene, a disciple reduced to a sinful repentant.
Furthermore, the role of every single woman in the New Testament was assigned to them by men, except maybe for Mary the Magdalene. The women are defined by their relationships to men: mother, virgin, prostitute, wives, sinners because of sexual sin.
It is my belief that Mary Magdalene was demoted by the early Christian leaders from Apostle to sinner. Why is that important, you may wonder. The restoration of Mary the Magdalene in her true identity is also the rightful place of the Feminine in religion, in the world, in culture, in spirituality, in politics. The dismissal and lies spread about Mary Magdalene did not only damage her reputation and falsified history, it eliminated the role of women in churches, and demonized the Feminine.
Mary Magdalene brought upon the Christian movement (by announcing the victory of life over death), yet she was slandered as a prostitute to erode her status as an Apostle and leader in the early Christian movement.
According to Luke, qualifications: to have been with Jesus, witness death and resurrection, and then teach the true gospel which he gave.
1. Mary Magdalene was officially commissioned by Jesus to tell the apostles that He resurrected. In John 20-18, she is commissioned by Jesus himself to go to the apostles and tell them that He was ascending to the Father and that he had resurrected. The etymological root of the word Apostle is apóstolos, one that is sent forth to share a message, an emissary. In Mark 6, Jesus chooses 12 disciples, gives them authority over unclean spirits, and sends them off on the road two by two (Mark 6:7).
After she fulfills her role as an apostle on the morning of the resurrection, Mary the Magdalene fades into scriptural obscurity. She disappears from the rest of the New Testament.
2. There is no evidence to substantiate her identity as a sinner. The background of that historically and scripturally false label is the association of Mary Magdalene with the sinful woman who anointed Jesus in Luke 7. The nature of the sin she is allegedly guilty of has been connoted as a sin of the flesh, a sexual sin but if you actually look at the Greek word used for sinner, hamartōlos, it means someone who breaks God’s law and will, not necessarily a sexual sin. A hamartolos is one who goes against the correct order and/or does not live according to the Mosaic law. On Sept. 21, 591, Pope Gregory the Great gave a homily at the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome, and formally declared Mary the Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, and the sinful woman in Luke to be one and the same woman. From that day forward, Mary the Magdalene, the most faithful student and supporter of Jesus was depicted as a repentant woman, in very little clothing to show her sexual sins, and her need to repent. One would hope that one papal declaration would not be sufficient to change the course of history and the true identity of a woman.
“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,” Gregory said in his 23rd homily. “And what did these seven devils signify, if not all the vices? . . . It is clear, brothers, that the woman previously used the unguent to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts . . .”
It is also interesting to note that nowhere in the Gnostic writings does it mention anything about Mary Magdalene being a sinner or prostitute.
3. She was a benefactor and supported Jesus’s work.
In Luke 8:3, we learn that many women were supporting the travels and work of Jesus from their own means. Mary Magdalene was one of these women.
When most of the apostles fled when Jesus was on the cross, Mary Magdalene stayed.
In Matthew 27:55, Mary the Magdalene is listed as the first woman watching from a distance.
4. She received special teachings and was sent forth to teach.
In the Apocryphal Gospel of Mary, an exchange between Peter, Andrew, and the other apostles reveals that Mary Magdalene received special teachings from the Master, teachings that the Apostles had not received nor heard of. As soon as Mary becomes silent after sharing what the Teacher had shown her, Andrew stands up and refutes her words: “As for me, I do not believe that the Teacher would speak like this. These ideas are too different from those we have known.”7
Then Peter adds, “How is it possible that the Teacher talked in this manner with a woman about secrets of which we ourselves are ignorant? Must we change our customs, and listen to this woman?”
Here Peter argues that traditional customs must prevail over the secret teachings of Jesus, not even giving Mary the benefit of the doubt. At last, Levi speaks up and reveals that the teacher must have trusted her, He loved Mary more than the apostles.
In the apocryphal text the Acts of Philip, an apocryphal text found by biblical scholar Francois Bovon (Harvard) in the Greek monastery of Xenophontons that is probably related to Philip the evangelist, Mariamne is described as an apostle who baptized people. Although Mariamne could also be yet another Mary, it is plausible to believe that Mariamne is Mary the Magdalene for several supportive elements. In the Acts of Philp, Mariamne is “chosen among all women, she baptizes converts2, and she assisted with healings. In the Acts of Philip, she is carrying the list of countries where the apostles are called to preach forth the gospel3.
In the Pistis Sophia, Mary Magdalene speaks a number of eighty-three times.
She has become “pure spirit” (97) and she understands every word the Master says.
In both the Gospel of Mary and the Pistis Sophia, there is tension between Mary the Magdalene and Peter the apostle. In her gospel, Peter doubts her revelation and in the PS, Mary expresses that she is afraid of Peter because he “hates our sex”. (Pistis Sophia, Second Book, Chap. 72).
In the Psalms of Heraclaides, Mary the Magdalene first appears in a conversation with Jesus:
(9) I am not the gardener: I have given, I have received the …., I
appeared (?) [not]
(10) to thee, until I saw thy tears and they weakness … for (?) me.
Cast this sadness away from thee and do this service:
be a messenger for me to those lost orphans.4
On a last note, the apocryphal gospels may not be religiously valid according to some traditions, but they certainly have historical validity.
For a list of recommended books on Mary Magdalene, click here.
1. Leloup, Jean-Yves, Gospel of Mary Magdalene (2002), Page 17.
2. Bovon, Francois, Acts Phil. 14.9 (2012)
3. Bovon, Francois, Acts Phil. 8:2 (2012)
4. Psalms of Heracleides, Analysis of Man, PS. II, 187