View Full Version : Who Was The Real Mary Magdalene?

1st March 2010, 20:55
Who Was The Real Mary Magdalene?

So many legends, apocryphal stories and layers of myth have accrued to the figure of Mary Magdalene that the only honest answer is that we can’t really be sure. She certainly existed, and it is now accepted that she was a major apostle in Jesus’s group of disciples.

The issue for readers is that the author of The Da Vinci Code presents Mary Magdalene as the wife of Jesus, the mother of his children, and the progenitor of the subsequent royal Davidic bloodline. This is what we have to accept at least for the duration of reading the book, or else we lose the author’s purpose. For comprehensive details concerning this popular hypothesis, readers might care to consult other sources - for instance, genealogist Laurence Gardner’s Bloodline of the Holy Grail, Lynn Picknett’s Mary Magdalene, Barbara Thiering’s Jesus the Man, Margaret Starbird’s The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, and Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln’s Holy Blood, Holy Grail..

Although detractors of this theory point to its relatively recent appearance in the vast literature relating to Jesus and his relationship with Mary Magdalene, there have, in fact, been similar speculations over the centuries, including by some highly respected religious figures, Martin Luther among them.

The theory was given additional substance (and, it must be admitted, increased opportunity for some imaginative theorising) as old parchments and scrolls have been uncovered in their centuries-old hiding-places. There are documents in the possession of both Church and layman establishments that have not yet been released, possibly because they have not yet been decrypted. It is almost certain that many more will be found, and that together these are likely to help clarify the picture one way or the other.

What is now known quite definitely is that Mary Magdalene was a woman of substance, a loyal supporter and follower of Jesus and, it is now thought, very likely his most important and most-loved apostle. It was to her that he revealed himself when he re-appeared after his crucifixion, and it was she whom he asked to reveal his living presence to the other apostles.

‘Mary of Bethany’ anointed the head of Jesus with spikenard in the house of Lazarus (Simon Zelotes) in Bethany. (See Matthew 26:6-7 and Mark14:3.) Spikenard is an ancient and very costly aromatic ointment that was used only on special occasions, including in ritual observances between those to be committed to each other in marriage. In John 11:1-3 we are told that the same woman anointed the feet of Jesus later, using spikenard that filled the house with its perfume. Luke (7:37-38) reports that a woman anointed the feet of Jesus with ointment and then wiped them with her long hair, and John (11:1-2) tells us that this woman was Mary.

Laurence Gardner points out in Bloodline of the Holy Grail that Mary had performed this same ritual three months after the wedding feast at Cana which had taken place “two and a half years earlier”.

He notes that on both occasions Jesus was seated at table like the king in The Song of Solomon: “While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof.” (The Song of Solomon, 1:12) Gardner relates Mary’s act of devotion to an ancient rite concerning the preparation of the bridegroom’s table by the bride and says that using spikenard was specific to the ritual of both the First and Second Marriage ceremonies. In keeping with Messianic tradition, only the wife of Jesus, he says, would have been permitted to perform these ceremonies of sacred anointment. (pp. 86-87)

We are on firmer ground regarding the identity of Mary than we are concerning the later role she played. The ‘Mary of Bethany’ label seems to have resulted from the fact that Martha and Mary are referred to as ‘sisters’ in the house of Lazarus of Bethany (whose real name was Simon Zelotes), but this was a titular term rather like that applied to nuns of a religious order and does not indicate that they were blood relations. Mary’s actual name was Sister Miriam Magdala… or Mary of Magdala; that is, Mary Magdalene.

It is of significance that in some ascetic and spiritually devout Jewish groups of the Qumran period, ‘Miriam’ (or ‘Mary’) was a title of some distinction as it indicated that the bearer was the leader of the women in her particular group and also took part in the formal ministry along with the male leaders, the ‘Moses’ figures.

Genealogist Laurence Gardner states that Mary Magdalene’s father was the Chief Priest, Syrus the Jairus, and therefore second only to the High Priest. The Jairus Priest, he says, had been a hereditary position from the time of King David and was handed down only through the descendants of Jair. (See Numbers 32:41)

Mary Magdalene would have been a fitting marriage partner for Jesus, who was heir to the royal line of David, for she was descended through her mother from the royal house of Israel, the Hasmonaean royal line, and a daughter of the tribe of Benjamin to which Israel’s first anointed king, Saul, had also belonged.

The tribes of Benjamin and Judah had been supportive of each other from early tribal times, and if there were indeed a joining of the two royal lines by marriage it would have been seen by many Jews as a positive and healing factor at a time when there was much dissension among them, as well as a pervasive hopelessness owing to the seemingly all-powerful overlordship of Rome.

The figure of Mary Magdalene that is emerging from the bewildering mixture of fact, legend and religious tinkering is a far cry from the now officially rejected Biblical myth of the reformed prostitute.

Scribes of the Roman Church embroidered on the New Testament description of Mary Magdalene as a “sinner”, ignoring the fact that this merely referred to the celibate almah state to which she was obliged to adhere at a particular time in terms of her religious culture. A plausible theory is that the male-dominated Church manipulated the term to impugn Mary Magdalene’s character by describing her as a harlot, and this was reinforced in the sixth century by Pope Gregory I’s inaccurate proclamation that Mary was a reformed prostitute. Even here, though, one cannot be sure of the facts, as author, Sharan Newman, among others, claims that Gregory’s words have, in turn, been misinterpreted and that he did not intend that Mary Magdalene should be labelled a prostitute. His words nonetheless had exactly that effect.

If the intention to label Mary Magdalene as a harlot was never there, one wonders why, in 1969, the Vatican issued its rather low-key retraction. This should have removed seventeen centuries of calumny from Mary Magdalene’s name, but largely did not do so. It is known that retractions typically receive much less publicity than did the original untrue statements and so continue to be believed by the public at large. And so it is with the accusations against the character of Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene is increasingly seen as one of the major feminist icons of our time. Books about her proliferate, and some of the stories that exalt her in this new role are probably as exaggerated as those that earlier diminished her.

In some places, especially in France, to which she might have fled after the Crucifixion, adulation of “the Magdalen” has become a thriving industry.

Are we ever likely ever to know the real Mary Magdalene? At this stage, it seems unlikely. But as more historical material from her own time becomes available, we will be able to form a picture that will be closer to the flesh-and-blood woman whom Jesus undoubtedly loved, whether as wife or as devoted follower and friend.

1st March 2010, 21:01
For 1,500 years, Christians regarded the woman so close to Jesus as a reformed prostitute. Now, evidence suggests this may have been part of a devious smear campaign by the early church to remove women from the clergy.

It is believed that Mary Magdalene traveled with and provided for Jesus and his followers.

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