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Mary Magdalene, Bible, New Testament, resurrection
Watercolour and ink portrait of Mary Magdalene by Sarah Beth Baca.
Used with permission of the artist. All rights reserved.
Prints of this portrait and of other Bible women can be purchased here.

Tradução em português aqui.

This article looks at what the Bible says about Mary Magdalene, and especially at what “Magdalene” might mean. Does it refer to Mary’s hometown? Was it her nickname? Or does it somehow imply that Mary was a prostitute?

Mary from Magdala

Mary (or, Miriam) the Magdalene was a wealthy woman and one of Jesus’ closest and most faithful disciples. She is mentioned by name over a dozen times in the New Testament, only in the four Gospels, where she is referred to with remarkable consistency as “Mary the Magdalene”: Maria, or Mariam, hē Magdalēnē in the Greek.[1] The word Magdalēnē may function in a similar way as, for example, Nazarēnē in “Jesus the Nazarene.”[2] So it is widely assumed Mary was from a town in Israel with the name Magdala (Aramaic) or Migdol (Hebrew).

Mary’s hometown may have been Migdol Nûnîya, a busy and fairly Hellenized port town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, three kilometres north of Tiberias.[3] Migdol Nûnîya (“Fish Tower”) is known in Greek sources as Tarichea (“Centre of Fish Salting”). Or perhaps Mary’s hometown was the “Tower of Dyers,” also near Tiberias, and Mary had made her wealth from dyed cloth (cf. Lydia in Acts 16:14–15). Many places in Israel were (and are) called Migdol, Magdal, or Magdala—words which mean “tower.” So it is impossible to determine which town is Mary’s hometown with any degree of certainty, assuming that “Magdalene” does, in fact, refer to her place of origin. There are, however, a few other interpretive possibilities for “the Magdalene.”

Mary the Tower

It is possible that Mary Magdalene was not necessarily from a town called Magdala but that “Magdalene” was a nickname. Jesus gave the descriptive nicknames “Rock” and “Sons of Thunder” to his three closest disciples: Simon Peter and the brothers John and James. Perhaps he gave Mary the nickname “the Magdalene.” Mary was a common Jewish name in the first century, and Jesus had other female followers and relatives called Mary. So a distinguishing nickname would have been, and continues to be, useful in identifying Mary Magdalene.

Since magdala means “tower,” “watch-tower,” or “fortress” in Aramaic,[4] a nickname meaning “tower,” may indicate that Mary was a particularly tall or strong woman. Mary was with Jesus in many critical moments of his life and ministry, and she may have been strong support for him and his followers, especially his female followers from Galilee.[5] Mary, and many other women from Galilee, travelled with Jesus and the Twelve, and they financed Jesus’ ministry out of their own resources (Luke 8:2; Matt. 27:55–56 cf. Mark 16:1). Mary is named first in lists of these women from Galilee, with the exception of the list in John 19:25.

The idea that “Magdalene” was a nickname fits with what it says in Luke 8:2, that Mary was called “Magdalene” (Maria hē kaloumenē Magdalēnē). Luke uses an identical construction for “Judas who is called Iscariot” in Luke 22:3: Ioudan ton kaloumenon iskariōtēn,[6] and for “Simeon who is called Niger” in Acts 13:1: Simeōn ho kaloumenos niger. (Niger is a Latin word meaning “dark” or “black”.)

It is possible that Mary, as a close, valued, and loved disciple, was given a nickname with a strong meaning, like the nicknames of Peter, John and James, but there is at least one other possibility that may account for the appellation “the Magdalene.”

Mary who Plaited Hair

Thomas McDaniel quotes others who state that an almost identical word to magdala can mean “hairdresser,” from gadal which means “to weave, to twine, to plait, to dress hair” (Jastrow 213, 218), and that in the Arabic-Syriac lexicon of Bar-Bahlul (c. 953 C.E.) it was stated that Mary was called “Magdalene” because her hair was braided (J. Payne Smith, 60–61).[7] Was Mary a hairdresser? According to Rabbinic literature, being a hairdresser was one of several occupations open to respectable Jewish women.[8]

McDaniel goes on to quote from John Lightfoot’s A Commentary of the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica (1658: 3:87, 375) where Lightfoot equates plaited hair with prostitution.

Whence she was called Magdalene, doth not so plainly appear; whether from Magdala, a town on the lake of Gennesaret, or from the word mgdla which signifies a plaiting or curling of the hair, a thing usual with harlots. . . . The title which they [the Talmudists] gave their Mary [mgdla] is so like this of ours, that you may with good reason doubt whether she was called Magdalene from the town of Magdala, or from that word of the Talmudist mgdla, a plaiter of hair. We leave it to the learned to decide.[9]

Lightfoot was not the first to link Mary the Magdalene with prostitution. Pope Gregory I (Gregory the Great) gave a sermon in Rome on September 14th, 591, in which he incorrectly identified Mary Magdalene as the unnamed sinner in Luke 7:37, and he asserted that Mary was a penitent prostitute.[10] He further confused her with Mary of Bethany.[11] Pope Gregory’s faulty assertions stuck and for well over a thousand years most Christians in the Latin West, but not in the Greek East, have assumed that Mary Magdalene had been a prostitute. In the churches of the Greek East, Mary was never considered to be a prostitute but an “apostle to the apostles!”[12]

Furthermore, the chance similarity of a Greek word magdalia, which can mean “dirt washed off,”[13] with the completely unrelated Aramaic word magdala “became intertwined in Western traditions about Mary Magdalene, soiling her name and her reputation.”[14] Subsequently, “Magdalene” entered dictionaries as a word that means “reformed prostitute.” There is nothing in the Gospels, however, that hints at Mary having been a prostitute. What we do know of Mary’s past is that she had been afflicted by seven demons that Jesus cast out of her. Released from her suffering and torment, she became a devoted disciple of Jesus and a supporter of his mission (Luke 8:2).[15]

Mary Magdalene and the Resurrection

In the Bible, Mary Magdalene is especially connected with the resurrection of Jesus. After witnessing the execution of their master, which would have been a distressing, ghastly, and bewildering experience, Mary and a few other women were the first people to learn that Jesus had come back to life. Mark and John record that Mary, in particular, was the very first person to see Jesus alive after his resurrection (Mark 16:9; John 20:1ff, cf. Luke 24:1ff). She was the first witness of the resurrection.

My favourite Bible passage about Mary and the resurrection is in John’s Gospel where we get to hear her speak (John 20:2, 11–18). John 20:16 is especially moving when Jesus simply calls her “Mary,” and she responds with “Rabboni” which means “my master-teacher.”[16] I am certain that the strong affection between the two was mutual.[17]

We should not downplay Mary’s ministry and her role as one of Jesus’ foremost disciples. And we shouldn’t dismiss the significance that Mary Magdalene, in John’s Gospel at least, was the first person to see Jesus alive at the beginning of a new era, and that she was commissioned by Jesus to proclaim the message of his resurrection. We do not know for certain if Mary was from a town called Magdala or if she was a hairdresser, but the Gospels do show that she was a faithful tower of strength and support among Jesus’ disciples.


[1] Mary Magdalene is mentioned by name in the following Bible verses: Matthew 27:56, 61; 28:1; Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1, 9; Luke 8:2; 24:10; John 19:25; 20:1, 11, 16, 18.
In most of these verses, she is called Maria (or Mariam) hē Magdalēnē (Mary the Magdalene): Matt. 27:56, 61; 28:1; Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1, 9; Luke 8:2; 24: 10; John 19:25; 20:1, 18. (Note that Mark 16:9 may not have been part of the original Gospel of Mark. The oldest manuscripts of Mark end at Mark 16:8.)
In Luke 24:10 Mary’s name appears as hē Magdalēnē Maria (the Magdalene Mary), but in Luke 8:2 we have a difference of note, Maria hē kaloumenē Magdalēnē (Mary the one called Magdalene).
In John 20:1ff, she is mentioned several times. In John 20: 11 and 16 she is simply called Maria or Mariam. 
(Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary of Bethany are likewise sometimes called Maria and at other times called Mariam. The names are essentially the same; however, Mariam is more Hebraic.)
In the New Testament, Mary Magdalene is not mentioned outside of the four canonical Gospels, but I sometimes wonder if the Mary in Romans 16:6, who is mentioned fourth (fairly high up) in the list of twenty-eight Roman Christians, was Mary the Magdalene now ministering in Rome. (Some suggest Joanna, another female disciple of Jesus, is Junia in Romans 16:7.) The Eastern Orthodox Church tell the tradition that Mary Magdalene went to Rome and travelled throughout Italy with the message of the gospel, and that she even spoke to Tiberias, the Roman Empire. (Source)

[2] The grammatical construction of “Jesus” with “Nazarene” in the Greek New Testament is not nearly as consistent as the construction of “Mary the Magdalene” (Maria hē Magdalēnē) (cf. Matt. 2:23; Mark 14:67; 16:6).

[3] Thomas F. McDaniel in Chapter 32 “The Meaning of ‘Mary,’ ‘Magdalene,’ and other Names: Luke 8:2 and Related Texts”, from his book Clarifying Baffling Biblical Passages (2007), 338–339. (Source)
An article with photos that looks at recent archaeological finds at Magdala (Migdol Nûnîya)  is here.

[4] There is also a Greek word magdōlos that means “tower” but it is a loan word from the Hebrew and Aramaic.

[5] Dorothy A. Lee comments on Luke 8:1-3 and the prominence of Mary Magdalene.

The context in Luke is Jesus proclaiming the good news of God’s reign in word and deed in the earlier parts of his ministry in Galilee (Luke 8:1). The implication is that those accompanying Jesus are also participants in that proclamation. His companions fall into two parallel groups: the Twelve and the Galilean women. There is an inner group of men and an inner group of women who continue to follow Jesus and engage in ministry with him throughout his career. And just as Peter is the leader of the men’s group, so Mary Magdalene is the leader of the women’s.
Lee, The Ministry of Women in the New Testament: Reclaiming the Biblical Vision for Church Leadership (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2021), 47. (I love this book!)

[6] The meaning of “Iscariot” is unclear. It may refer to a place; however, the word is very similar to two Hebrew words one meaning “false one” and another meaning “stop up.” Joan Taylor discusses the meaning of Iscariot in her paper “The name ‘Iskarioth’ (Iscariot),’ Journal of Biblical Literature, 129.2 (2010): 367–383. Taylor “supports the very early definition made by Origen—that [Iscariot] derives from the Hebrew/Aramaic root scr, ‘stop up’, ‘block.’” “Iscariot” may have been a nickname given to Judas posthumously to indicate that he was a false disciple or, as Taylor suggests, it may refer to how he died (Matt. 27:5; Acts 1:18; and Papias, Exposition 3).

[7] McDaniel, Clarifying Baffling Biblical Passages, 339–340. McDaniel also gives a few other possible meanings for Magdala in his book.

[8] See Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women of the Gospels (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002),133. (Google Books)

[9] McDaniel, Clarifying Baffling Biblical Passages, 354.

[10] Gregory’s sermon, Homily 33, is in Homiliarum in evangelia, Book 2, Patrologia Latina, volume 76 (Paris: J.P. Migne, 1844–1864), columns 1238–1246; and here. An English translation is here.

[11] The conflation of Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and the woman in Luke 7 has formed the “composite Magdalene,” so-called by scholars. A few also confuse Mary Magdalene with the unnamed woman caught in adultery. Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again” (John 8:11 NRSV, my italics). Mary Magdalene, on the other hand, did not go her own way after being delivered from seven demons; she accompanied Jesus throughout Galilee and went all the way to Jerusalem with him for his crucifixion.

Gregory was not the first to confuse Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany. Mary Ann Beavis notes,

The earliest evidence of possible conflation of Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene is in Hippolytus’s Commentary on the Song of Songs 24–25 (d. ca. 236). Here, it is “Martha and Mary” who seek Jesus in the tomb and find it empty (24.3), who meet with the risen savior (25.2), and to whom are attributed the words of Scripture: “I have found him whom I love and I will not let him go” (Song 3:4). Hippolytus identifies the women as new Eves, and calls them “apostles to the apostles”: “Thus it became clear that the women were apostles of Christ and were to make up through obedience the shortcomings of the old Eve. From now on she will show herself to be listening in obedience. O new comfort! Eve becomes an apostle!” (Song of Songs 25.6–7a).
Beavis, “Mary of Bethany and the Hermeneutics of Remembrance,” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 75 (2013): 739–755, 745.

Furthermore, Elizabeth Schrader of Duke University suggests that Martha in John’s Gospel is actually Mary Magdalene. She has found that 1 in 5 ancient manuscripts of John 11 has some issue with the name “Martha.” I look at her hypothesis in this article: Is Martha Missing in the Oldest Surviving Text of John 11?

[12] Apostle to the Apostles. Since the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church no longer states that Mary Magdalene was a former prostitute. In the 1988 document Mulieres Dignitatum, Pope John Paul II attempted to salvage her reputation and referred to Mary as “apostle of the apostles” (apostolorum apostola). In June 2016, Pope Francis affirmed this title and elevated the liturgical celebration of Mary Magdalene to the same rank as the liturgical celebrations of the apostles, the rank of Feast. (Vatican source)

Mary Magdalene had previously been called “apostle of the apostles” by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century.

Notice the three privileges given to Mary Magdalene.
First, she had the privilege of being a prophet because she was worthy enough to see the angels, for a prophet is an intermediary between angels and the people.
Secondly, she had the dignity or rank of an angel insofar as she looked upon Christ, on whom the angels desire to look.
Thirdly, she had the office of an apostle; indeed, she was an apostle to the apostles insofar as it was her task to announce our Lord’s resurrection to the disciples.
Thus, just as it was a woman who was the first to announce the words of death, so it was a woman who would be the first to announce the words of life.
Aquinas, In Ioannem Evangelistam Expositio 20.3 §2519. (Online)

In the ninth century, Rabanus Maurus had also referred to Mary Magdalene as “apostle of the apostles” in De vita beatae Mariae Magdalenae 28 (unless this work was written later and pseudonymously.) Still earlier, in around 235 AD, Hippolytus used the term “apostle of the apostles” in paragraphs 24-26 of his commentary on Song of Songs 3:1-4, which only survives in Georgian manuscripts. He applied the term to the Myrrhbearers and appears to confuse Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany. He also brings Martha into the picture. [Mary Anne Beavis suggests that “it is not unlikely that early oral tradition sometimes placed the Bethany sisters among the myrrh-bearing women.” Beavis, “Mary of Bethany and the Hermeneutics of Remembrance,” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 75 (2013): 739–755, 746.]

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Mary Magdalene has been given the title of “Equal to the Apostles.”

[13] The Greek word magdalia (and the later word apomagdalia) has as one of its meanings “dirt washed off.” Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones, with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 209 & 1070.

[14] McDaniel, Clarifying Baffling Biblical Passages, 348.

[15] Ben Witherington writes that, because seven was the number of completion or perfection, “We are meant to understand that [Mary] was particularly captivated by the dark presence in her life and required deliverance by an external power. Demonic possession controls the personality and leads to voices speaking through the person, fits, and acts of unusual power. Jesus delivered Miriam [i.e. Mary] from this condition, which apparently prompted her to drop everything and follow him around Galilee.” (Source: Beliefnet.com)
Gregory the Great, in his sermon maligning Mary Magdalene, states that the seven demons were the seven deadly sins: gluttony, lust, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride. He stated, “And what did these devils signify if not all the vices.” (Gregory the Great, Homily 33) However, the concept of the seven deadly sins is not a biblical or Jewish idea. I strongly doubt this is what Luke had in mind.
It could be that Mary had been very ill. In the ancient world, illness was often attributed to unclean, evil spirits (e.g., Mark 9:17ff). Mary and some other women are described by Luke as “women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses” (Luke 8:2–3, italics added). The words “healed” and “sicknesses” may indicate the effect of the evil spirits.

[16] Rabboni (or rabbouni) is rabbon with a suffix which means “my.” Rabbon is the highest title of honour for a teacher in the Jewish schools. Wesley Perschbacher, The New Analytical Greek Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1990), 361.

[17] There is nothing in the Bible that indicates Jesus and Mary were married or had children together. Considering Jesus’ ministry, including his death and return to the Father forty days later, it is unlikely that he would have chosen to marry and have a family.

© Margaret Mowczko 2014
All Rights Reserved

Postscript: Jerome on Mary Magdalene as Tower

Jerome speaks glowingly of Mary Magdalene in two letters to a woman named Principia, a disciple of Marcella. In the letters, he refers to Mary as a tower.

In a letter written in 397, Jeromes defends his own teaching to women and he tells Principia,

Priests and Pharisees crucify the son of God and Mary Magdalene weeps at the cross, prepares unguent, seeks him in the tomb, questions the gardener, recognizes the Lord, goes to the apostles and announces that she found him. They doubt, she believes, truly “towering” [Jerome uses the Greek word purgitis], truly a tower [Latin: turris] of white and of Lebanon … (Jerome, Letter 65, Source: Epistolae)

In a letter written in 412, Jerome eulogises about Marcella and mentions the noble deeds of a few Bible women. He says of Mary Magdalene,

… Mary of Magdala, called ‘of the tower’ [turritae] because of her earnestness and ardent faith, was privileged to see the rising Christ first even before the apostles, they will convict themselves of pride rather than me of folly, who judge of virtue not by the sex but by the mind. (Jerome, Letter 127, Sources: Epistolae and New Advent)

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Explore more

Mary Magdalene and the Ascension
The Other Mary: Mother of James and Joseph
Is Martha Missing in the Oldest Surviving Text of John 11?
Miriam, Maria, Mariamne, and Mary in the Bible
Partnering Together: Jesus and Women
Jesus had many female followers – many!
Who will roll away the stone?
Martha, Mary, and Lazarus of Bethany
Paul’s Instructions for “Modest Dress”
Equality and Unity in Ministry: 1 Corinthians 12 

Further Reading

I recommend Karla Zazueta’s chapter on Mary Magdalene in Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible, edited by Sandra Glahn (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2017) available at Amazon.

Vindicating the Vixens Huldah, Mary the magdalene.

38 thoughts on “Who was Mary the Magdalene?

  1. Great post! I love the fact that she was the first to declare that Jesus had risen!

    1. Thanks Ginny. Me too!

  2. I did not know about options 2 and 3, so thanks.

    I think you have a typo, you mean Mark 16:9 not Luke in note 1.

    Are there any constructions where Magdalene is used similar to Peter or sons of Thunder?

    1. Hi Don,

      I’ve looked up Luke 6:14 and Mark 3:17. The wording is quite different in these two verses compared with the verses about Mary Magdalene. In these two verses the Greek word for named and names is used in regards to “Peter” (Rock) and “Boanerges” (Sons of Thunder). And it is clear that Jesus gave these names to his three closest disciples. However, different wording does not rule out that “Magdalene” was a nick-name meaning “the tower” given to her by either Jesus and/or the community of Jesus followers.

      Typo corrected. Thanks for that.

  3. Excellent once again, Marg. I did not know most of that, and love the inference that Mary was a strong tower to the ministry and life of Jesus. Changes my thoughts exactly. I’m irritated that she has been smirched as a prostitute all these years with such little evidence.

  4. Hi Bev, thanks for your encouraging comments here and elsewhere.

    It’s nothing less than scandalous how Mary Magdalene has been maligned and misrepresented. And she’s just one of many New Testament women whose ministries have been diminished, overlooked, or ignored.

    On the other hand, some Christians refer to Mary Magdalene as the “apostle to the apostles” because, at the dawn of a new era, Jesus charged her with telling the “brothers” the amazing message that he was alive. She also gave instructions concerning the ascension.

    I don’t think it was a coincidence that the first person to see Jesus alive after his resurrection was a woman. And I think the resurrected Jesus was trying to show us something by choosing to first speak through a woman. Thank you Jesus!

    1. AMEN!I have increasingly become aware that her assignment to tell the disciples was strategic and intentional by the Lord….

    2. This is awesome thank you for your comment and marg thank you for the article i have always been the one of my brothers and sisters to go on my own and follow Jesus. Even when i was following alone. I know people say they your name has significance in who you will be and i have always felt like i was looked down upon since people say she was a prostitute. God has used this to open my eyes about something. I am his follower and no matter what people think he thinks greatly of me. And all of us

  5. I’m assuming you came to the conclusion that Mary was a wealthy woman based on Luke 8:2-3 which states that several of Jesus’ female followers, including Mary, provided for him out of their own resources. I agree that she was relatively well off however I’ve noted that scholars are divided on this subject. Have you delved into the arguments for and against the conclusion that she was a woman of means?

    Regardless, my favorite analysis of Mary is by Marianne Sawicki in her article, “City Women in the Entourage of Jesus” p.193. She speculates that she was a business women in the salt fish export business. As profitable as that enterprise may or may not have been, if Mary was in the export business, I think it very likely that she sold garum, the fish sauce Romans couldn’t get enough of. In the first century, the sauce made from the fish from the Sea of Galilee was world-renowned and could fetch the highest prices. If anything could make Mary rich, it would be trafficking in this commodity.

    At any rate, I’m curious about your insights.


    1. Hi Robin, thanks for your comment. I value your knowledge and insights.

      Basically, I assume that Mary Magdalene was wealthy because she, along with other women, financially supported Jesus and his disciples during their itinerant ministry, and also because she had the freedom and means to travel herself for an extended period of time. Matthew 27:55-56 and Mark 16:1 add to the picture of a woman with access to money.

      Unlike most women of that time, Mary Magdalene is not identified by her connection with a male family member, so she may have been a widow – although some Jewish widows are identified by their late husbands or sons in the NT. I think it’s more probable that she may have been an independent business woman.

      Just working from the texts of the canonical gospels, I can’t see that a case can be made that she wasn’t a woman of some means, but I am always happy to learn more.

  6. In fact, I agree that Mary Magdalene was the apostle of the apostles because she was the first woman entrusted with a good news of the promises of salvation and resurrection of the righteous of mankind.

  7. Thanks for relinking this post, Marg. The word study on Magdalene (and Rabboni, to boot!) is excellent.

    1. Thanks Tim.

      I can’t believe how many people still believe with certainty that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, and that Eve, Delilah, Bathsheba and other Bible women were seductresses, even though the scriptures never say so. It seems that some people’s interpretations of the Bible have been unduly influenced by films and traditional art, rather than the words on the page.

  8. Thanks to everyone that researched the meaning and person of Mary Magdalene. I’m happy to know it means tower and that she was a tower of strength to Jesus, a dedicated and trusted apostle, she was with Jesus during the crucifixion, one who saw Jesus first after the resurrection. My dad named me Mary Magdalene but because of the wrong interpretation of some Bible scholars I decided to remove the Mary and started bearing Magdalene though I was still not comfortable with it but now I can answer the full name. Thanks again.

    1. It’s a great name to have! Mary Magdalene was a remarkable woman and probably Jesus’ closest female friend.

    1. I’m looking forward to seeing it when it’s shown in Australia.

  9. I love your articles. I’m so tired of the church telling women they should only work with the kids and that’s all.

    1. I’m glad you like my articles, Kim.

  10. Marg, I really appreciated your take on Mary Magdalene. In order to gain an accurate perception of women in Scripture and their valuable contributions we need scholarship like yours that revisits, researches studies, and interprets what Scripture actually reveals to us about these women. It can be so easy to just rely on faulty historical or traditional interpretations for our understanding of these amazing women, rather than study until we acquire more reliable and trustworthy reflections.

    1. Thank you, Anne.

      There’s a lot of misinformation floating around and some of it is still being taught in churches.

  11. Hi Marg, thank you for all your insightful articles! Question: after understanding Mary ‘the Magdalene” to be a nickname for Mary (“The Tower”) what are your thoughts on the possibility that Mary of Bethany IS also Mary the Magdalene? I’ve often wondered where the devout disciple, Mary of Bethany, went after the anointing account (she is not mentioned at the cross or tomb) but her loyalty to Jesus signifies she would have been present for every step of Calvary. As far as I can tell, these two Marys are never mentioned together at the same time. I’m still working out the ramifications of her being one individual vs. two individuals: but I do love the idea that Jesus may have called his dear friend Mary of Bethany “The Tower” and that this brave, intuitive disciple, who sat at His feet to learn and later anointed him with oil preceding his death, was also the first one commissioned to share the gospel after the resurrection. Thanks for your thoughts!

    1. Hi Mel,

      I think it’s unlikely that Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany are the same person. However, they are often conflated into a “composite Mary” in some early Christian texts.

      One reason the two Marys are not mentioned together in the Gospels is because one was Galilean and the other was Judean. “Mary” (or, “Mariam”) was an extremely common Jewish name in the first century.

      Have you seen my article on Mary and Martha of Bethany? https://margmowczko.com/martha-mary-and-lazarus-of-bethany/

      1. Thank you very much, Marg!

        1. You’re welcome, Mel. 🙂

  12. There are so many stories, so many ideas about Mary in circulation that it would be difficult to even survey them all. On one extreme, she’s considered to have been a prostitute. On the other— sometimes by the same people— she is thought to be the wife of Jesus. But of course the latter is not true. Whether or not she was a prostitute is not so simple.|

    For all the speculation about her, we really know very little. Scripture does state directly that Jesus cast seven demons out of her. But precisely how that demon possession manifested itself, we do not know, as we are not told. Magdala, the town from which Mary came and from which she derived her surname, was a fishing town on the shores of Galilee. . . . . Like sailors everywhere, fishermen were known for their appetites, including sexual ones. Towns filled with sailors, then as now, attracted a number of women whose only means of supporting themselves was to sell their bodies. Possibly, as is all too common today, some young girls were trafficked there and suffered significant trauma. If Mary of Magdala was one of these, it might well explain her symptoms. Still, we do not know. Scripture is silent on the matter.

    But since the town had that reputation in those days, many people may have assumed she was a prostitute simply because she came from there. Don’t forget, Nathaniel’s question in John 1: 46. “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”

    Dickerson, Ed . For Such a Time (pp. 135-136). PPPA. Kindle Edition.

    Part of my take on her.

    1. Thanks, Ed.

      I personally don’t see any reason at all to link Mary Magdalene with prostitution.

      Sailors who have been on long sea voyages were known, and perhaps are still known, to visit brothels in foreign ports. But this can’t be compared to fishermen working in the Sea of Galilee, a large inland lake. Typically, these fishermen did not spend long periods of time away from their families who lived in or near Magdala. Why visit a prostitute in Magdala when your wife and hearth are nearby?

    2. Thanks you so much for your in depth investigations here, Marg. It feels as if Ed has not read the entirety of your article here, and merely took a moment to share his preferred opinion on the topic. I appreciate that you have taken the time to research and investigate all the possibilities, and also that you have presented great evidence against the “prostitution theory”. Thank you again!!

  13. Dear Marg I always enjoy your posts. Re Judas Iscariot I remember reading ‘Zealot’ by Reza Aslan. Although I did not concur with Aslan’s theory of Jesus as Zealot, some of his arguments were very interesting. One was the connection of the word Iscariot with the name for a small knife carried by persons opposed to the Roman occupation of Palestine. Was it possible Judas had carried such a knife and joined Jesus’ anti establishment group wanting more active/ violent resistence. This could explain his annoyance on seeing ” the wastage of oil” at the Annointing at Bethany, which in his mind could have been spent to help the poor. Perhaps his betrayal of Jesus came after the realisation that Jesus was not going to use violence to overthrow the colonising forces or indeed he may have wanted to instigate a situation which may force a rebellion by Jesus supporters. Perhaps failure of his plans led to his suicide.

    1. Thanks, Myra.

      I can see why Aslan connects Iscariot with sicarii. I’ll try and look more into it.

  14. Dear Marg.

    I trawled through my copy of Reza Aslan’s book Zealot today and although he mentions sicarii on multiple pages I feel I must apologise because I have been unable to find a direct link in his writing to Judas Iscariot at this time. In retrospect I feel I had read of this connection in other sources and soon afterwards read Aslan’s book and the idea became solidified in my own mind at this time and the questions I posed became apparent and again in my mind became connected to Aslan’s book. So apologies for my mistake.

    Today I came across this quote on the Ancient Hebrew Research Centre website and it is in the Spirit of my original reading and research:

    “The word Iscariot is not Judas’ last name; it is a description of who he is. There are several theories for the meaning of this identifier, one being that it is from the Hebrew איש קריות (ish qri’yot) meaning “man of Kerioth.” Another possibility is that Judas was a part of the sect of the sicarii, a group of assassins among the Jewish rebels that carried a dagger called a sicae. ”

    taken from: https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/names/Judas.htm on 24/07/2019

    I hope this may be helpful to you.

    1. Thanks again, Myra. It’s very interesting.

      I’m assuming you’re letting me know about this because of footnote 5 above.

      1. Yes indeed Marg. When I read Footnote 5 it reminded me of what I had read before and I thought at the time it seemed a clever connection of words, Iscariot and sicarii.

  15. There is no reason to suppose that the purpose of the name “Cephas” was to distinguish Simon from other Simons. There would have been ways to distinguish him from other Simons before Jesus gave him the name “Cephas.”

    “Magdal/Migdal” was a metaphor for protective strength. It therefore parallels Cephas and also Sosthenes (saving strength), which was the name given to Crispus. See my 2016 Tyndale Bulletin article, which shows that benefactors of the Jesus movement were often persecuted and were given leadership roles and were often given new names. Another good parallel is Aseneth being named “city of refuge.”

  16. […] The three most notable Miriams in the New Testament are Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary the Magdalene, and Mary of Bethany. These three Miriams are often, but not always, called Mariam in the Greek texts of the Gospels and Acts 1:14. […]

  17. […] Mark Goodacre observes that Mary Magdalene “seems to be depicted in the narratives of the four canonical Gospels as the first woman apostle.”[9] Mary Magdalene and other women who were close followers of Jesus may have been category two apostles. […]

  18. […] Jesus did not shy away from female company. He had several, perhaps many, female friends, women such as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, Salome, and Martha and Mary of Bethany. And he continually showed kindness and respect to the many other women he encountered during his ministry. […]

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