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Expansion of the Mary Magdalene Tradition
Mary Magdalene in the Canon

Mary Magdalene, which probably means "Mary of Magdala," a town on the western shore of the Lake of Tiberias, is described in the New Testament as a follower of Jesus Christ. 
St. Mary Magdalene's feast day is July 22. 

Mary Magdalene in the Canon

For part of her story, Catholics and Protestants agree: She is mentioned in Luke 8:3 as one of the women who "ministered to Christ of their substance." Their motive was that of gratitude for deliverances he had wrought for them. Out of Mary were cast seven demons. Gratitude to her great Deliverer prompted her to become his follower. These women accompanied him also on his last journey to Jerusalem (Matt. 27:55; Mark 15:41; Luke 23:55). They stood near the cross. There Mary remained till all was over, and the body was taken down and laid in Joseph's tomb. Again, in the earliest dawn of the first day of the week she, with Salome and Mary the mother of James, (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2), came to the sepulchre, bringing with them sweet spices, that they might anoint the body of Jesus. They found the sepulchre empty but saw the "vision of angels" (Matt. 28:5). Mary Magdalene hastened to tell Peter and John, who were probably living together at this time (John 20:1, 2), and again immediately returned to the sepulchre. There she lingered thoughtfully, weeping at the door of the tomb. The risen Lord appeared to her, but at first she knew him not. His utterance of her name "Mary" recalled her to consciousness, and she uttered the joyful, reverent cry, "Rabboni." She would fain have clung to him, but he forbad her, saying, "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father." 

This is the last entry in the canonic New testament regarding Mary of Magdala, who now returned to Jerusalem. 

The Gospel of Mary

The fragmentary Gospel of Mary Magdalene survives in two 3rd-century Greek fragments and a longer 5th-century translation into Coptic, in which the testimony of a woman first needed to be defended. All of these manuscripts were first discovered and published between 1938 and 1983, but there are Patristic references to the (despised and dismissed) Gospel of Mary as early as the 3rd century. In the fragmentary text, the disciples ask questions of the risen Savior (a designation that dates the original no earlier than the 2nd century) and are answered. 

Then they grieve, saying, "How shall we go to the Gentiles and preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of the Son of Man? If even he was not spared, how shall we be spared?" And Mary Magdalene bids them take heart: " Let us rather praise his greatness, for he prepared us and made us into men." She then delivers a vision of the Savior she has had, and reports her discourse with him, which shows Gnostic influences. 

Her vision does not meet with universal approval: 

"But Andrew answered and said to the brethren, 'Say what you think concerning what she said. For I do not believe that the Savior said this. For certainly these teachings are of other ideas." 

Peter also opposed her in regard to these matters and asked them about the Savior. "Did he then speak secretly with a woman, in preference to us, and not openly? Are we to turn back and all listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?" 

Karen King has observed, "The confrontation of Mary with Peter, a scenario also found in The Gospel of Thomas, Pistis Sophia, and The Gospel of the Egyptians, reflects some of the tensions in second-century Christianity. Peter and Andrew represent orthodox positions that deny the validity of esoteric revelation and reject the authority of women to teach." (introduction, The Nag Hammadi Library) 

Expansion of the Mary Magdalene Tradition

Early tradition identified as Mary Magdalene the unidentified woman who was a sinner in Luke 7:36-50:

37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, 

38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment." 

The idea that Mary was "the woman who was a sinner," or that she was unchaste, is rejected by most Protestants. Catholics, on the other hand, consider this one person to be the sinner Mary of Luke 7:36-50 and also Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and the resurrected Lazarus, of Luke 10:38-42 and John 11. Mary Magdalene is a Roman Catholic saint whose relics at Saint-Maximin were the occasion for such throngs of pilgrims that the great Basilica was erected from the mid 13th century, one of the finest Gothic churches in the south of France. Though her bones were scattered at the French Revolution, her head remains in her shrine in a cave at La Sainte-Baume near Marseille, France, although another holds that she died in Ephesus and was buried in Constantinople. 

The Magdalene became a symbol of repentance for the vanities of the world, and Mary Magdalene was the patron of Magdalene College, Cambridge (pronounced "maudlin" as in weepy penitents). Unfortunately her name was also used for the infamous Magdalen Asylums in Ireland where supposedly fallen women were treated as slaves. 

Easter Egg Tradition

One fairly modern, quite extra-biblical tradition concerning Mary Magdalene says that she was a woman of some wealth and social status. Following Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, she used her position to gain an invitation to a banquet given by Emperor Tiberius Caesar. When she met him, she held a plain egg in her hand and exclaimed "Christ is risen!" Caesar laughed, and said that Christ rising from the dead was as likely as the egg in her hand turning red while she held it. Before he finished speaking, the egg in her hand turned a bright red, and she continued proclaiming the Gospel to the entire imperial house. 

Today, many Eastern Orthodox Christians end the Easter service by sharing bright red eggs and proclaiming to each other, "Christ is risen!" The eggs represent new life, and Christ bursting forth from the tomb. This began one tradition of coloring Easter eggs. 

Wife of Jesus?

Some modern writers, notably the authors of the 1982 Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code hold that Mary Magdalene was in fact the wife of Jesus, a fact which was omitted by Pauline Christian revisionists and editors of the Gospels. These writers cite extra-biblical and Gnostic writings to support their argument. While sources like the Gospel of Philip depict Mary Magdalene as being closer to Jesus than any other disciple, there is no ancient document which claims she was his wife. 

There is however, an argument for support of this speculation. Bachelorhood was very rare for Jewish males of Jesus' time, being generally regarded as a transgression of the first mitzvah (divine commandment): "Be fruitful and multiply". It would have been unthinkable for an adult but unmarried Jew to travel about teaching as a rabbi, as Jesus certainly did. 

A counter-argument to this is that the Judaism of Jesus time was very diverse and the role of the rabbi was not yet well defined. Celibate teachers were well known in the communities of the Essenes and Paul of Tarsus was an example of an unmarried itinerant teacher among the Christians, at a time when most Christians were still practicing Jews. It was really not until after the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D. that Rabbinic Judaism became dominant and the role of the rabbi made uniform in Jewish communities. 

Mary Magdalene appears with more frequency than other women in the Gospels and is shown as being a close follower of Jesus. In the scene of the wedding at Cana, the names of the nuptial couple are not mentioned, but Jesus acts as a groom at such a wedding would be expected to act, for example by giving instructions to the servants (in fact, those servants had to be told by Mary his mother to obey his instructions). Finally, Mary's presence at the Crucifixion and Jesus' tomb, while hardly conclusive, is at least consonant with a role as grieving wife and widow, although if that were the case Jesus might have been expected to make provision for her care as well as for his mother Mary. Given the lack of contemporary documentation, this scenario cannot be proven, although some consider the idea without question. 

Other Christians traditionally believe that Jesus is the second Adam, and like the first, his bride was taken from his side when he had fallen asleep (died on the cross). The blood and water which came from his side when he was pierced, according to the gospels, represents in traditional Christian teaching the bringing forth of the Church symbolized in the water of baptism and the wine of the new covenant in his blood. In other words, Jesus has a wife which is one body with him, only in the Church; and it is not considered possible or tolerable to believe that he was otherwise married. 

The Urantia Book maintains that Jesus was not married to Mary or any other woman. According to its account, he refused an offer of marriage at age eighteen because he was dedicated to his "Father's business" ("If I am a son of destiny, I must not assume obligations of lifelong duration until such a time as my destiny shall be made manifest"), but gained parental experience by becoming the sole supporter and father-figure to his siblings after Joseph died. 

Author of the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John?

Some scholars have suggested that Mary Magdalene was a leader of the early Church and maybe even the unidentified "Beloved Disciple" who was the author of the Gospel of John. Ramon K. Jusino offers a logically presented explanation of this highly unorthodox view, based on the textual researches of Raymond E. Brown, a mainstream Catholic biblical scholar, in "Mary Magdalene, author of the Fourth Gospel?' 1998, available on-line. 

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Expansion of the Mary Magdalene Tradition