Histori Personale

Who was Mary Magdalene, one of the most misunderstood figures in the Bible?

Who was Mary Magdalene, one of the most misunderstood figures in the Bible?

She has been called a demon-possessed woman, a sex worker, and the wife of Jesus: Mary Magdalene's story has been written and rewritten endlessly over the 2,000 years since she was a follower of Jesus of Nazareth.

She may be one of the most well-known figures in the Bible, yet so much about Mary Magdalene remains shrouded in mystery. What is true about her—and what archaeological evidence do researchers have about her life and world?

Separating fact from fiction

The textual evidence for Mary Magdalene comes mainly from the canonical Gospels attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They identify him as part of Jesus' circle and someone who went to his tomb to anoint his body on Easter morning.

However, they do not always agree on the details of her life. Luke, for example, claims that she was possessed by demons, while others claim that she witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus.

Additionally, the non-canonical Gospels—early Christian writings that are not part of the New Testament—offer different accounts of Mary's relationship with Jesus, including hints of a strong bond. Some of these texts note that "the male disciples ignore her because she is a woman," says James R. Strange, the Charles Jackson Granade and Elizabeth Donald Granade Professor of New Testament at Samford University in Alabama.

What other information can researchers glean from these texts? Elizabeth Schrader Polczer, assistant professor of New Testament at Villanova University, notes that, "Mary Magdalene is never named in relation to a man, as many other women were. This suggests that Mary was an independent woman."

The Lamentation of Christ, an oil painting by Sandro Botticelli, depicts Mary Magdalene at the feet of Christ after his crucifixion. The Gospels disagree on whether she actually witnessed the crucifixion - and the lack of evidence for her life has given artists the freedom to imagine her.

This lack of certainty in the biblical texts about the life of Mary Magdalene has fueled myths, misunderstandings and speculation. Chief among them: she was a sex worker. This myth dates back to 591, when Pope Gregory I mistakenly confused Mary with a figure that Luke's Gospel identified as a "sinner".

Traditionally, many have assumed that the name "Magdalene" refers to Mary's birthplace: Magdala. As a result, she is often called "Mary Magdalene". Where exactly was Magdala? The early theologians did not know for sure.

It may have been near the Sea of ​​Galilee. Archaeologist Marcela Zapata-Meza, director of the Magdala Archaeological Project from 2010 to 2024, points out that "there are stories of pilgrims who claim to have been to Mary Magdalene's house on the shores of the Sea of ​​Galilee," the region where Jesus was active.

She says, “It's a misnomer to refer to her as 'Mary Magdalene,' because no gospel author ever refers to Mary Magdalene that way. On the contrary, the gospel authors repeatedly call her 'Mary Magdalene'. 'Magdalena' can also indicate an honorific other than her birthplace."