Lo, and behold – Mary Magdalene

Last week, Scarlett jokingly said her next article would be a rant about the historical distortions of Mary Magdalene. Guess what greeted me when I finally got my satellite dish installed, after much hassle and drama? An episode of Digging for the Truth examining the belief that Mary Magdalene was in fact the wife of Jesus Christ.

It’s not that show I want to talk about, per se. Nor is it that particular theory of who Mary Magdalene was. What I want to talk about is her misrepresentation as a prostitute. The idea that Mary Magdalene was a hooker is widespread among scholars and churchgoers alike, despite the fact that:

There are prostitutes mentioned in the scriptures, but it appears that the practice was not to provide their names (cp. Luke 7: 37, John 8: 3). When Mary Magdalene is mentioned, her name is freely supplied, as seen in the foregoing references. Notwithstanding, some believe that Mary Magdalene is the prostitute of Luke 7: 37. Some contend that the same woman is present in Luke 7: 37 and John 8: 3 and that the woman is Mary Magdalene. “Pope” Gregory declared in 591 A. D. that Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany (Lazarus’ sister), and the sinner of Luke 7: 37 are all the same. Hence, the origin of the view that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute (see addendum). As one even casually reads Luke 7: 36 through Luke 8: 3, it is apparent that the account of the woman of Luke 7: 36 and Mary Magdalene are two different instances, involving two different women and circumstances (notice “”¦it came to pass afterward”¦.” in Luke 8: 1). The fact that Mary Magdalene was a demoniac out of whom Jesus cast seven demons, does not prove that she was a prostitute (Luke 8: 2, Mark 16: 9).

This is from BibleTruths.com, not some New Age cult of Mary website. So I guess we can thank Pope Gregory for turning this woman into a hooker, and reducing three women to one. But if she wasn’t a prostitute, what was Mary Magdalene?

From the same source:

Based on the presentation we have of Mary Magdalene in the scriptures, she was an outstanding disciple of Jesus who stayed with him to the end.

This is the view the Bible – when viewed as a either a historical document or a literal testimony – supports. And yet, the belief that she was a prostitute has been advanced kept alive by countless preachers since then. It’s no wonder people think she must have been someone of great importance, to merit such a smear campaign from the church. The question is: why?

As one expert interviewed on the show explained: Mary and several other women traveled with Jesus and his apostles. For a rabbi (as Jesus was) to take on female disciples was revolutionary. Maybe the very idea that not just one but several women would pursue the same spiritual path as men was just a bit too much for the early church.

Some might argue it still is.


  1. scarlett says

    When I did my Bolyn piece I said historically women tend to be forgotten, and when they can’t be forgotten, they get character assassinated. I think the mere fact the patriarchy has gone to such lengths to portray Magdelene as a prostitute says a lot about how significant she was.

  2. Anemone says

    Yah, and even if she had been a temple prostitute, they were respected in the community, if not by the clergy.

    I checked at one point, curious, and it’s true that some gospels refer to Mary Magdelene but not Mary of Bethany, and others the reverse, so it does look like they were the same woman.

    One of the gnostic gospels in the Nag Hammadi library refers to the seven female apostles. One of them was named Salome and there was at least one Miriam (Mary). I never figured out all their names.

  3. rachel says

    on the first day of theology my 2nd year of college [16 years of catholic school – woot!] the priest/professor told us whoever could prove mary magdelene was a prostitute would get an ‘a’ for the semester. he said in the 25 years of teaching he never gave such an ‘a’.
    however…why do people need to think she was a prostitute? why do people need to think she was not?

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