Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Public Service Announcement

Everything the Bible says about Mary Magdalene

1: Jesus performed an exorcism on her.

Luke 8:2 ...Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils
Mark 16:9 ...Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils

2: She had been a follower of Jesus in Galilee, and came with him to Jerusalem
3: She was one of a group of women who helped Jesus financially (Matthew, Mark and Luke.)

Mark 15: 40 ...Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome (who when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem.

Luke 8:2 ....and the twelve were with him, and certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance.

Matthew 27:56 ...And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.

4: She witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke (implicitly) and John.)

Mark 15: 40 There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome.

Matthew 27:56 And many women were there beholding afar off...among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's children.

Luke 24:10 And all his acquaintance, and the women that followed him from Galilee, stood afar off, beholding these things.

John 19:25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.

4: She witnessed the burial of Jesus (Matthew, Mark and Luke (implicitly)

Matthew 27:59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.

Mark 16:46 And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid.

Luke 24: 55 And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid.

5: She went to Jesus tomb on Sunday morning and found the body missing. (Matthew, Mark, Luke (implicitly) and John)

Matthew 28: 2 In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.

Mark 16:1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.

Luke 23:55 And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment. Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.

John: 21:1 The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.

6: She was the first person to tell the disciples about the resurrection (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.)

Matthew 28: 6 And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.

Mark 16: 10-11 Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene….. And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept

Luke 24:10 And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.

John: 20: 4 Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him."

John 20:18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

7: She is the first person to see the resurrected Jesus.(Matthew, Mark, John.)

Mark 16: 9 Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene….

Matthew 28:9 And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, "All hail." And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.

John 20:10 Then the disciples went away again unto their own home. But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, and seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, "Woman, why weepest thou?" She saith unto them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him." And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, "Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?" She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, "Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus saith unto her, "Mary." She turned herself, and saith unto him, "Rabboni"; which is to say, "Master". Jesus saith unto her, "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God."


Matthew and Mark records a story about an anonymous woman who poured precious ointment on Jesus head. Luke reports a substantially different story about an anonymous sinful woman who poured precious ointment on Jesus feet, “and did wipe them with the hairs of her head”.

Luke and John both say that Jesus was sometimes the guest of two sisters named Martha and Mary who lived in a village called Bethany. John says that Jesus raised their brother, Lazarus, from the dead; and that this Mary is the same one who anointed Jesus.

John also tells a story of how Jesus forgave an unidentified “woman taken in adultery”.

None of these women are said to be the same person as Mary Magadelene. Nor for that matter, are the frequently married Samaritan woman, the wise Syro-Phoenician, the woman who touched the hem of Jesus robe, or any other nameless female character in the New Testament.


Nick Mazonowicz said...

And is thus a woman of great importance; an (implictly) single woman with her own finances; strong minded enough to stay with Jesus when even Peter ran off and denied him; and one of the first to see him alive.

Whereas Dan "Church suppressing females" Brown decides that her only relevance was that she was married to Jesus.

Robert Rodger said...

"Misquoting Jesus" has an interesting piece about the insertion of bit about Jesus forgiving the prostitute and how it came next to a passage on Mary.

Gavin Burrows said...

There was a thing on Brit TV the Xmas before last about the historical authenticity of the Bible, which suggested Mary Magdelane had once been an important disciple. But there was a later attempt to smear her name by associating her with a lot of other female characters in the Bible, some called Mary, some not, one of which was a prostitute.

Then again, here in Brighton we’ve a street named after Saint Mary Magdelane, suggesting her name was never entirely blackened.

This doesn’t have much to do with Dan Brown et al, but really is there any point in arguing against such rubbish? Brown’s credibility is on a level with his prose style. I often suspect that we live in such a commodified society these days that it’s become hard for us to grasp the significance of a symbol. There was another, so vastly inferior as to be hysterical, thing on Brit TV a few years ago about the Grail. Its unspoken supposition was that there was so much talk about the Grail there must be a real, physical Grail lurking somewhere and spent fifty minutes fruitlessly searching behind sideboards and under sofas for it. The idea that the Grail must be a physical person seems just a variant on the theme that it must be a physical object. If it’s just an idea or symbol… you know, something you couldn’t buy in the shops, it’s automatically assumed to be a lesser thing.

Andrew Rilstone said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Andrew Rilstone said...


"Said Judas to Mary, now what will you do/With your ointment so rich and so rare"/"I'll pour it all over the feet of the Lord/And I'll wipe it away with my hair." Written by Sydney Carter who also perpetrated "Lord of the Dance."

I rather like it, I must admit. I like the way it says that you have to interpret "The poor are with you always" in the light "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

In John's Gospel (only) the woman who annoints Jesus is said to be Mary of Bethany, that is, Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus. There is no textual reason to say that this Mary-the-sister-of-Martha is the same as Mary-Magdalene -- the fact that the former lives near Jerusalem but the latter followed Jesus from Galilee makes it rather unlikely, to my mind.

However, some traditions do make this connection, and also connect the woman who annointed Jesus with the woman taken in adultery. I believe that the Roman Catholic tradition is that Mary Magdalene = Mary of Bethany but that Eastern Orthodox tradition is that they are two different people.

(On the other hand, I have heard at least one preacher state that since the versions of the annointing story in Matthew/Mark, Luke and John are clearly inconsistent than obviously Jesus was annointed three times. And since the three kinds of people you annoint are prophets, priests, and kings and Jesus was all three....)

There is a completely off-the-wall apocyphal gospel which says that Mary the Mother of Jesus grew up in a village called Magdalia. It also identifies her with the otherwise wholly obscure "Mary the wife of Cleopas" by claiming that Joseph the Carpenter had at one time gone by the name of Cleopas.

Fan fiction is a dangerous game.


Mary Magdalene is certainly regarded as a saint; even if you conflate her with the "woman-taken-in-adultery", then that still makes her a repentant sinner.

When C.S Lewis moved from Magdalen College Oxford to Magdalene College Cambridge, he was inclined to refer to them as "The Pentitent" and "Impetitent". A secret plot by the priory of Sion required that academics mispronounce the name, of course....

One of these days I am going to type "Gallifrey" when I mean "Galilee", or vice versa....

Andrew Rilstone said...

"Penitent" and "Impenitent".

Blogger having a bad day.

Andrew Rilstone said...

No, I don't think "Lord of the Dance" is universely reviled. Though if you have ever stood in a half empty church while a comatose organist play "Lord of the Dance" at half speed, you will have a pretty good understanding of the doctrine of hell.

There is no particular shortage of lively, modern hymns with theologically literate words. But I think that over the last, say, 20 years, most of the people producing such songs have been from a specifically evangelical background. It happened that Sydney Carter, and one or two others writing in the 50s and 60s, weren't as committed to a specific theological perspective. Compare Carter's "I danced on the Friday when the sky turned black / It's hard to dance with the devil on your back" with, say, Kendrick "Hell had spent it's fury on Him/Left Him crucified/But by blood He boldy conquered/Sin and death defied." The former can be sung with pretty much any congregation; the latter probably can't. Therefore "Lord of the Dance" and it's ilk have become appallingly tired simply by over-use.

I think that clergy also have a bad habit of treating as hymns things which were really intended as religious songs i.e not really suitable to be sung without rehearsal by the congregation. (On Good Friday in Bristol Cathedral the congregation was compelled to sing all nineteen verses of "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord" -- and not once did they manage to make the words fit the tune!) Some of the older, more ponderous hymns can stand repeated communal singing a lot better than some of the up-tempo modern ones, perhaps because the composers are drawing on classical traditions rather than, and I use the term advisedly, pop music.

Regarding "the poor of the world". Obviously, Jesus' words in the hymn are fictional. But the writer has correctly spotted that the story of Judas and Mary -- like the story of Martha and Mary in Luke's Gospel -- is about the contradiction between spiritual and practical religion; one might almost say, faith and works. If Christianity is purely about knowing God (sitting at Jesus feet and hearing his words; pouring precious oil on his feet) then does it follow that doing practical things -- giving money to the poor, making and serving dinner -- are un-necessary; even bad?

It's interesting that the writer or redactor of Matthew's Gospel has placed the story of the Last Judgement directly before the story of "the woman" who annointed Jesus: as if he recognised a dynamic contradiction between the two.

A popular medieval reading of the story of Martha and Mary went as follows. Martha is "cumbered with much serving", actually preparing Jesus food. If we we want to prepare food for Jesus today, we would give food to anyone who is hungry. Mary sits at Jesus' feet and "hears his words". If we want to be with Jesus and listen to him today, we must pray and meditate. Therefore, Martha represents the active life of Christian serivce; Mary represents the contemplative, monastic life. Jesus says that Mary's way is better. But he doesn't say either that Martha's way is Bad; or that Mary's way is the best possible. Therefore: service is good; contemplation is better, but best of all is to combine contemplation and service, as Jesus himself did.

The hymn writer is obviously uneasy with this, and has creatively taken things in a different direction. If anything you do to the poor and needy is really done to Jesus, then practical acts of charity are themselves acts of worship; there is no necessary contradiction between Mary and Martha, or (if Judas could only have seen it) between Mary and Judas. I don't know if this is the Right Answer; but it's a good poetic response to something which is implicit in the original story.

Incidentally: Carter's hymn finishes "...and Martha and Mary will find me again/and wash all their sorrows away." Since"Mary and Peter" would have scanned just as well, I'm wondering if he was drawing on an older religious folk song where Martha is one of the women at the tomb?