The character Mary Magdalene in the modern Bible has been controversial throughout the centuries. I’ve been reading a book by Margaret George, Mary, Called Magdalene, and I’ve found it incredibly interesting. There isn’t a great deal known about her and, until the last hundred years or so, there was a lot of confusion about who she was because Mary was such a popular name in her time and several Marys were mentioned in the Bible. Also, the recent discovery of bound papyrus books and other documents, have enabled historians to sift through the dross and discover more truth. George’s book sent me on a quest on the Internet to learn more and I found some very credible documentaries on You Tube.
First, there is a National Geographic documentary with several historians taking part. They look at the artwork and the condemnation by the church of Mary as a prostitute as totally erroneous, tracing the prostitute tag back to Pope Gregory I and a homily he gave at the end of the 6th century. Until that, she had been venerated with July 22nd being a feast day for her as recorded in 510 A.D. as being celebrated in Ephesus. The story behind that is as intriguing as any of the others surrounding her life. In 1969, the Vatican formally refuted the prostitute label as historically incorrect. If you prefer to read, rather than watch a video, there is an excellent article by Leah Alabrè called “The Evolution of Mary Magdalene in Christianity” which covers the same ground.
There is also a BBC documentary, narrated by Melvyn Bragg, called The Mystery of Mary Magdalene in which Bragg carefully unravels who Mary Magdalene really is. He takes us to Jerusalem, to the city of Migdal, believed to be Magdala in the time of Christ. He, too, mentions that texts found in 1895 which contained the Gospel of Mary, a video of the text of which can also be found on online and transcribed here.
There are many books available that also approach the dilemma of the role of women in the early church and that of Mary Magdalene in particular. In the back of George’s book, there is an introduction to her book as well as an interview with George about how she portrays Mary, her personal research and familiarity with the areas where Jesus’ ministry takes place, and her personal beliefs. Certainly, if you don’t delve into some research before reading George’s book, you’ll most likely be compelled to do so afterwards. Watch for my review of Mary, Called Magdalene next week.