Mary is called “The Magdalene” because she was from Magdala, a thriving fishing town on the coast of Galilee. While there were other towns with similar names, Magdala is within walking distance of Capernaum, where Jesus was based at the start of his ministry. Recent archaeological findings in the current day Israeli town of Migdal, including a 1st century synagogue, support this explanation.
There are half-dozen Marys mentioned in the Bible. but the most distinguishing characteristic about this particular Mary is that Jesus cast seven demons out of her (Luke 8:2-3).
So How did She Become Known as a “Repentant Prostitute” ?
The characterization of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute shows up several hundred years after the time of Christ when her identity was merged with that of the sinful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet in Luke 7:36-50.
This “composite Magdalene” was popularized in a sermon given by Pope Gregory I around 591 AD and that theory has been passed down through seminarians and popular belief. However, There is no evidence in the bible or church history that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. The Catholic Church formally rejected this characterization of Mary in 1969, but it continues to be perpetuated through sermons, as well as in some books.
But Mary Magdalene is named at least 12 times in the gospels, and not one of those references indicates that she was a prostitute or known for a sinful lifestyle.
In fact, the gospel writers are specific in noting that Mary and a number of other women had followed Jesus from Galilee (Matthew 27:55).
The first mention of her is in Luke 8:2-3, so we know that she was with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry. The last mention is in John 20, where we find Jesus appearing to her at the empty tomb.
In Luke 8:1-3, we read how Mary Magdalene along with other women gave financially to support Jesus in his ministry.
Several early church writers portray her as a leader in the early church movement. At some point she was given the title “Apostle to the Apostles”, because she was the first person to see the risen Christ and the first to share the news of the resurrection with the disciples.
Personally, I find the story of Mary Magdalene quite intriguing because I empathize with her. Single, older woman, possibly plagued by mental illness in a society that isn’t really friendly towards anyone different. But she met Jesus and he healed her; then she left everything she’s been familiar with, to travel with Jesus and the disciples everywhere he went. What an amazing and courageous woman!
She had endured the shame and embarrassment of being plagued by a very public illness, I believe that she probably felt, there’s nothing else to lose. so in a conservative society, where religious leaders and everyone else would have frowned at a single woman travelling with men who are not her relatives, she threw caution to the winds and followed Jesus.
Throughout the gospels whenever she is mentioned, her devotion to the Lord shines through. That commitment made her the first to know about the Lord’s resurrection.
That is a faith, love and commitment worthy of being modeled. That is a woman worth looking up to.
Luke 8: 1-3 (ERV)
“The next day, Jesus traveled through some cities and small towns. Jesus told the people a message from God, the Good News about God’s kingdom. The twelve apostles were with him. 2 There were also some women with him. Jesus had healed these women of sicknesses and evil spirits. One of them was Mary, who was called Magdalene. Seven demons had come out of her. 3 Also with these women were Joanna, the wife of Chuza (the manager of Herod’s property), Susanna, and many other women. These women used their own money to help Jesus and his apostles.”
Photo: Actress Chipo Chung currently stars as Mary Magdalene in the hit series ”A.D. The Bible Continues.” NBC