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Mary, the Magdalen: Apostle to the Apostles

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RE: Mary, the Magdalen: Apostle to the Apostles 2008/07/22 16:32:34 (permalink)

Mary Magdalene, by He Qi
Mary Magdalene,  chosen by Jesus to be the first preacher of the good news of the resurrection... yet for almost 2,000 years, women have been forbiddent from officially preaching the good news officially within a mass.
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RE: Mary, the Magdalen: Apostle to the Apostles 2008/07/22 17:04:15 (permalink)
What is an apostle?

The noun 'apostle' (apostolos) derives from the Greek verb apostello.  It means 'to send.'  Accordingly, an apostle is 'one sent'  as an envoy or a missionary. The word did not originate with Christians.  It is found in secular Greek literature where it refers to a bearer of a message (e.g., Herodotus 1.21; Plato, Ep. 7.346a).  The verb is also found in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) at Ezra 7:14 and Daniel 5:24. In the early third century Origen defined the term this way: Everyone who is sent by someone is an apostle of the one who sent them (Jo 32:17). In the New Testament, the purpose for the sending is to carry on the mission of Jesus.

- Barbara Reid, OP, The Other Apostles, http://www.womenpriests.org/circles/fb.asp?m=7588
Barbara E. Reid, O.P., holds a Doctorate in Biblical Studies from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. She is Professor of New Testament at Catholic Theological Union,Chicago. She is the author of Parables for Preachers (Liturgical Press, 1999; 2000; 2001), A Retreat With Luke and is New Testament Book Review Editor for the Catholic Biblical Quarterly. She has led a number of CTU's Israel Study Programs and Retreats.
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RE: Mary, the Magdalen: Apostle to the Apostles 2008/07/22 17:09:16 (permalink)

The definition of an "apostle" is one who is sent with a message or sent on a special task. Mary Magdalene fulfills this role. Certainly those in the early church and among the early Church Fathers recognized her role and contribution. Implied in the total gospels is the idea that other women were with Mary and so the title 'apostle' may also be shared by her companions there that morning.

The Gospel of MATTHEW –

Who is sent: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary

Matthew 28, 7

“Go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead…”

Matthew 28, 9-10

"Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me."

The Gospel of Mark

Who is sent: Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, Salome

Mark 16, 7:

"...go and tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.'"

Mark 16, 9:

"When he had risen, early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene... [when] She went and told his companions who were mourning and weeping... that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe [her.]"

The Gospel of Luke

Who is sent: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the 'other women with them'

Luke 24, 9-11:

"Then they returned from the tomb and announced all these things to the eleven and to all the others. The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles..."

Luke 24, 11:

"but their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them."

The Gospel of John

Who is sent: Mary Magdalene

John 20, 17:

"Jesus said to her, '...go to my brothers and tell them, I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

John 20, 18:

"Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord," and what he told her."

Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles
Her feast day is today!

Mary Magdalene was in deed an apostle in the same sense that her male counterparts were.
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RE: Mary, the Magdalen: Apostle to the Apostles 2008/07/23 01:29:06 (permalink)
Mary Magdalene
Apostle to the Apostles
Feastday July 22

1st century; feast of her translation, especially in the Eastern Church, is May 4. Saint Mary Magdalene, the "Apostle to the Apostles," was the first to encounter the Risen Jesus. Just when it seems the real Mary Magdalene is revealed in Scripture, there are questions. She is further obscured by the legends that surround her following the Resurrection. There is a considerable difference of opinion, particularly between the exegetes of the East and the West as to the identity of Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene
Largely due to the influence of Saint Gregory the Great's writings, the Western liturgies have identified her with the unnamed sinner (Luke 7:36ff; cf. Luke 8:2) and Mary of Bethany, the sister of SS. Lazarus and Martha (see John 11). There is also a third Mary, who came from Magdala on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee near Tiberias in Judea. This is the woman from whom Jesus "had cast out seven devils" (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). She was one of the women present at Calvary and was the first to witness the Resurrection, which Jesus told her to announce to the disciples.
In the opinion of the Eastern liturgists (and the venerable opinion of Saint Ambrose), there are three different people, and it certainly seems doubtful that Mary of Bethany and Mary the Sinner were the same person. Or does it?
Modern scholars do not believe they are the same woman because there is the question of the two different origins (Bethany and Magdala). But it has been suggested that if they are identical, it would be easier to explain why three adults siblings were living together without their spouses. If Mary of Bethany is the sinful woman (assumed to be a prostitute or whore) and her brother and sister took her in after she repented, they would be considered tainted.
Nevertheless, the Eastern tradition of the repentant woman, Mary of Bethany, and Mary Magdalene being three different women has been adopted in the revised Roman calendar of 1969.
However, it is very probable that after the repentance of Mary the Sinner, she should have followed Jesus to the last and have been present at the Crucifixion. Such, at any rate, is the belief of the many faithful who have venerated her as the classic example of the repentant woman who was forgiven by Jesus and who thereafter followed and served him.
Mary Magdalene, the woman exorcised of seven devils, ministered to the Lord in Galilee (Luke 8:2) and was among the women at the Crucifixion (Matt. 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25). With Joanna and Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, she discovered the empty tomb and heard the angelic announcement of the resurrection of Christ (Matt. 28:1ff; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-10). She was the first person to see Christ later that same day (Matt. 28:9; Mark 16:9), to which Saint John (20:1-18) adds the moving account that the Master gave her a message to deliver to the brethren.
According to an ancient Eastern tradition, Mary Magdalene accompanied John and the Blessed Virgin to Ephesus, where she died and was buried. One of the tales of the Middle Ages was that she was betrothed to Saint John the Evangelist when Jesus called him, and that in anger "gave herself to all delight." Jesus, not wishing to damn her when the cause of her behavior was his calling of Saint John, converted her to penance.
A later pious legend in the West tells of her travelling to Provence, France, with Martha, Lazarus, and others to evangelize Gaul. These sources hold that she spent the last 30 years of her life in a cavern of La Sainte-Baume in the Maritime Alps, and was miraculously transported just before her death to the Chapel of Saint-Maximin, from whom she received the last sacraments and by whom she was buried at Aix.
Her relics have been claimed by various places at various times, but none of the stories can be authenticated. Saint Willibald is said to have seen her tomb in Ephesus in the 8th century. Vézelay (France) has claimed her relics since the 11th century (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Farmer, White).
In art, Mary Magdalene's emblem is a jar of ointment and she always has long hair. Among the scenes that may be portrayed, she is shown (1) wiping Christ's feet at the house of Simon; (2) anointing Him at Bethany; (3) with Martha [Caravaggio's painting]; (4) with Martha at the raising of Lazarus from the dead; (5) clinging to the foot of the Cross; (6) kissing or anointing Christ's feet at the Lamentation; (7) with the other two Marys at the tomb; (8) at His feet at Noli me Tangere (do not touch me) [view Fra Angelico's, Correggio's or Alonso Cani's versions]; (9) casting aside her jewels in the presence of Christ; (10) wringing her hands and spurning jewels; (11) weeping; (12) penitent in the desert with long hair and an ointment jar; (13) with Saint Mary of Egypt; (14) old and haggard, clad only in her long hair; (15) uplifted by angels at the canonical hours; or (16) in various scenes of shipwreck with Martha and Lazarus on their way to Marseilles (Roeder).
Because Mary Magdalene is described as weeping at Jesus' tomb on Easter Sunday, she is often portrayed in art as weeping, or with eyes red from having wept. This is the source of the English word "maudlin," meaning "effusively or tearfully sentimental." There is a Magdalene College at Oxford and a Magdalene College at Cambridge (different spelling), both pronounced "Maudlin."
Saint Mary Magdalene is especially venerated in Marseilles, Saint Maximin le Sainte-Baume, and Vézelay, France (Roeder). She is the patron of repentant sinners and of the contemplative life (Farmer).
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RE: Mary, the Magdalen: Apostle to the Apostles 2008/07/23 12:49:21 (permalink)
There is no evidence Mary Magdalene was ever a sinful woman.  She was cured of seven demons by Jesus, a common reference to illness in Jesus's time.  Magdala is not a place ,and research shows no town called Magdala ever existed in ancient times.  Magdala is a title, migdal-eder---tower of the flock.
Micah, text of the bible, refers to a daughter of Zion, a queen, a tower of the flock, a woman leader,  Saint Jerome, translater of the Bible, refers to Mary of Magdala as a title, not place.
Rex Weyler, nominated Pulitzer Prize author, religious commentator wrote a great book 2008  The Jesus Sayings, Oxford University Press, with a great chapter and research about Mary Magdalene.
He shows that in the Early Church hundreds of monasteries and churches were named after the Great Mary, the Tower of the Flock, the Migdal-eder, Mary Magdalene.
She as important female apostle chosen by Jesus was an important early leader of the church. 
Mary Magdala  was never a prostitute or the woman of the city, she was tarnished and called a whore to demean the role of women by Pope Gregory,
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RE: Mary, the Magdalen: Apostle to the Apostles 2008/07/23 12:57:22 (permalink)
Bishop Spong also shows us Mary Magdala is not named after a place but a title of great honor and respect, in his book Sins of Scripture.  This Great Mary, this Tower of the Flock is a title.  The belittling of women was the result of Pope Gregory's deliberate misreading of the scripture to relegate women to a nonordination role in the church, to remove women from all clergy positions like deacons, priests and bishops.  Women previously were ordained in the early church.  Archival , apostolic journals, archeological evidence, papal letters show that women were ordained as deacons, priests and even bishops in the church.
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RE: Mary, the Magdalen: Apostle to the Apostles 2008/12/11 00:32:02 (permalink)
Balm vase link to Mary Magdalene
December 11, 2008

Archaeologists from Jerusalem's Studium Biblicum Franciscanum have discovered first century vases of perfumed appointment from a site in the ancient Palestinian town of Magdala. The UK Telegraph reports that the Italian team have been digging for several months at the town of Magdala - from where Mary is said to get her name.

The archaeologists of the Franciscan academic society Studium Biblicum Franciscanum found the unopened vases dating to the first century AD conserved in mud at the bottom of a swimming pool in Magdala's thermal complex.

Mary Magdalene by He Qi

The town is on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee and Mary Magdalene is mentioned several times throughout the Bible.

Many believe that Mary Magdalene was the woman described in the Gospel of St Luke who anointed Jesus' feet with oil and then wiped them with her tears and hair. Speaking of the discovery Fr Stefano De Luca who is leading the dig, said: "The mud filled condition of the site allowed us to find these truly extraordinary objects, which were intact and sealed and still contain greasy substances.

"We think these are balms and perfumes and if chemical analysis confirms this, they could be similar to those used by Mary Magdalene in the Gospels to anoint the feet of Christ.

"The discovery of these vases is very important. We have in our hands the cosmetic products from the time of Jesus. It's very likely that the woman who anointed Christ's feet used these products, or ones similar in organic composition and quality."


Vase discovery linked to Mary Magdalene (Telegraph, 10/12/08)
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RE: Mary, the Magdalen: Apostle to the Apostles 2008/12/13 20:50:25 (permalink)
These vases do not prove they are from Mary Magdalene and the thermal baths often used oils for secular use too.  Athletes rubbed oil on their bodies too in ancient times as well, and it was a way for ancient people to clean themselves as well.
The person is again confusing Mary Magdalene with the woman of the city anointing lady and again making the same error that Pope Gregory of 599 C.E. made.
Magdala is a title of honor, not a place.  Finding these ointments does not prove it was of Mary Magdalene.
Mary Magdalene found that Jesus was Resurrected.  An empty tomb.  Jesus told her to announce his Resurrection.
Mary of Bethany anointed the head of Jesus.  The unnamed woman of the city anointed his feet.
Mary Magdalene was the first to see, talk to and preach the Resurrected Jesus to the world.
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RE: Mary, the Magdalen: Apostle to the Apostles 2008/12/13 20:56:12 (permalink)
 I am glad Father Stafano De Luca found the vessels in the mud, however he needs to read the New Testament.
Jesus RESURRECTED, Mary Magdalene did not anoint Jesus's body as he was all ready Resurrected.
However, Mary BETHANY  did anoint the head of Jesus.
However, the unknown woman of the city did anoint the feet of Jesus.
It is unfortunate that Fr. De Luca does not know this or has been misquoted.  He is confusing Mary Magdala with other women in the bible who did anoint Jesus.  Unless, Mary of Bethany is actually Mary Magdala, the great Mary.
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RE: Mary, the Magdalen: Apostle to the Apostles 2008/12/13 21:04:58 (permalink)
St. Jerome wrote that Magdala is a title, not a place, not a town.  Mary of Magdala is a title of honor of a great Apostle of the church.
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RE: Mary, the Magdalen: Apostle to the Apostles 2008/12/13 21:09:07 (permalink)
The Palestinian town of Magdala did not exist in ancient times and is a modern town, not called Magdala in ancient times.  This has been extensively and intensely researched.  The term is a term of honor, based on a prophesy from the book of Micah and is not an historical place.
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RE: Mary, the Magdalen: Apostle to the Apostles 2009/03/14 17:48:44 (permalink)
Bible  Study Resource: Women of the New Testament
Mary: first witness of the Resurrection; Apostle to the Apostles


Mary's name:

Mary means ‘wise woman’ or ‘lady’. It is a Greek form of the Hebrew Miriam or Mariamme, and was the most popular woman's name at the time of Jesus.

Mary came from a town called Magdala, on the western side of the Sea of Galilee. She is often called Mary Magdalene.

What the story is about:

Mary Magdalene led a group of women who were prominent followers of Jesus of Nazareth. They were the main witnesses of all the events surrounding Jesus; crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection. The idea of women as primary witnesses does not seem very startling to people in the 20th century, but it was a revolutionary concept at the time. The testimony of women was not given the same weight as men's, either personally or in a court of law. When the Christian stories described Mary Magdalene and the other women as the first witnesses of the Resurrection, they were saying something important about the status of women within Christianity. 

The story of Mary Magdalene contains four different episodes:

1.     Mary Magdalene as a disciple of Jesus (Luke 8:1-3)
Mary is described as a woman whom Jesus cured of an unspecified illness. She led a group of women who provided for Jesus and his followers from their own financial resources.

2.    Mary at the crucifixion (Mark 15:40-41, Luke 23:49, Matthew 27:55-56, John 19:25)

In each of the four accounts of the crucifixion Mary was present, either standing at a distance with other women, or standing near the cross.

3.   Mary prepared Jesus’ body for burial (Luke 23:55-56, Matthew 27:61)

Mary watched as Jesus’ body was sealed inside the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. She could confirm that he was really dead. She and the other women prepared the spices needed for proper burial of a body.

4.   Mary witnesses the resurrection (Mark 16:1-11, Luke 24:1-11, Matthew 28:1-10, John 20:1-18).

Mary found that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb. She received a message from an angel and was the first person to see the risen Jesus. She was thus the first witness of the resurrection.

For a short version of Mary's story, go to BIBLE MEN AND WOMEN: MARY MAGDALENE  

The Magdalene, Bernardio Luini; this portrait is an example of the centuries-old confusion between Mary Magdalene and the woman with the alabaster jar


Throughout the centuries, Mary Magdalene was incorrectly portrayed in literature and art as a reformed prostitute. This happened because

  • Mary Magdalene was confused with the woman with the alabaster jar, described in Luke 7:36-50; the story of this other woman comes just before Mary Magdalene is first mentioned
  • the woman with the alabaster jar is called a 'sinner', but there is no reason to think that this meant she was a prostitute; in fact, when Luke describes an actual prostitute in 15:30, he uses a different word
  • Mary Magdalene is described as having a serious illness, but the nature of the illness is unspecified; later celibate male interpreters linked Mary’s illness, her ‘demons’, with her sexuality
  • Mary was traditionally presented as the sinful woman, contrasting her with Mary of Nazareth, the perfect virgin/mother.

Mary Magdalene has been immensely popular with artists throughout the centuries. Go to BIBLE ART: MARY MAGDALENE for about twenty-five of the most famous paintings of her. 

For images of her in modern films, go to BIBLE TOP TEN: FILMS 

As Jesus moved throughout the country, teaching and talking about God, he was accompanied by a group of women. Mary Magdalene was the main woman in this group.

‘Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bring the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.’

(Read Luke 8:1-3)

Mary’s town of Magdala was a thriving center of the fishing industry, producing smoked fish in large quantities. It was also known as a manufacturing center for fine wool and woolen dyes. Mary probably lived in a comfortable village house similar to the ones shown at BIBLE ARCHITECTURE: HOUSING.  

Many Greeks lived in Magdala, and the town had a worldly Hellenistic culture. Remains of the ancient town still exist, about two kilometers from the modern village of Migdel Nunya (meaning ‘fish tower’). This village was almost completely destroyed in the Arab-Israeli war.

Mary had a serious illness, caused by ‘seven demons’ who had entered her.

From the earliest times, people believed that spirits and demons caused many illnesses. This was one way of explaining the presence of sickness or evil in the world. According to the thinking of the time, specific demons caused specific illnesses, for example schizophrenia, blindness, heart disease and epilepsy. The spirits could be
  • people no longer living, hostile to those who were still alive
  • the surviving spirits of feared animals, for example wolves, bears and snakes
  • malevolent beings that entered a person and caused physical or psychological illness. 

This third type of demon was thought to have entered Mary Magdalene. Mary had seven demons tormenting her, the number ‘seven’ indicating the severity of the illness.

An excavated fresco from Sepphoris, dubbed the 'Mona Lisa of Sepphoris'

Magdala was quite close to Nazareth and Cana, and Jesus probably visited the region a number of times. At some point in her life, Mary met Jesus, and he cured her of a severe illness. We do not know what the illness was, or whether the cure happened in one moment or over a period of time. Perhaps it occurred gradually, as her knowledge of Jesus developed.

In any event, she became the leader of a group of women who traveled with Jesus, and who supported him financially.

Two groups traveled with Jesus: a group of men, led by Peter, and a group of women, led by Mary Magdalene. It was the common practice for men and women to accompany each other when traveling, but they moved in separate groups. Mary and Peter seem to have been the leaders of these two groups. Unfortunately, the words and actions of the men were recorded, and the women's were not. Nevertheless, Peter and Mary should probably be seen as equal in their support for Jesus’ work, each contributing different things.

Other named women in the group led by Mary were Joanna and Susanna. Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward (Luke 8:3) was of high social standing, with connections at the royal court. A woman like this would not travel without a retinue of servants, including a recognized chaperone. 

This was an important point, as far as Luke was concerned. One of the purposes he had in writing his gospel was to make Jesus acceptable to a wide audience, including the Gentile population of the Roman empire.

At the time Luke recorded the stories, everyone knew that Jesus had been executed as a criminal by the Romans. Many people in the 1st century Roman world found it difficult to reconcile this fact with the belief that he was the Son of God. So Luke took pains to show that Jesus was supported by well-connected, law-abiding people during his life.
Mary Magdalene, Mary of Nazareth, and John, in the film 'The Passion of the Christ'


All four accounts of the crucifixion and death of Jesus say that women were at the scene, and Mary Magdalene was prominent among these women. She had been close to Jesus during his life. She stayed close to him as he faced death.

‘There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee. And there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.’

(Read Mark 15:40-41)

BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY: CRUCIFIXION  for information on the horrific process of crucifixion, and on archaeological evidence for this form of execution.

There are three groups of women mentioned in these verses from Mark:
  • the inner core of women who were close friends or relatives of Jesus
  • the women who provided for him from their financial resources
  • the women who came up with Jesus to Jerusalem, just prior to his execution.

Matthew 26:56 makes the point that all the male disciples deserted Jesus and fled for their lives. But the women remained, standing as near as they dared to the spot where the soldiers were carrying out the brutal execution.

This does not mean that the men were more cowardly than the women. It was simply more dangerous for them to be near the execution site. The Romans saw Jesus as a dangerous rebel leader, and so they viewed Jesus’ male friends with suspicion. The male disciples might easily have been arrested as co-conspirators, so they kept their distance. Women were seen as less threatening and so their presence was tolerated.

In this part of the story, Mary

  • was present at the temporary burial of Jesus and saw him placed in the tomb, then
  • returned to the place were they were staying and collected the materials needed for a proper burial. (See DEATH AND BURIAL for the role that women played in burying the dead).

‘The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.’

Read Luke 23:55-56, Mark 15:47, Matthew 27:61

The burial seems to have been done hastily, either because it was night or because of the approaching Sabbath. Pilgrims who died in Jerusalem and people who were executed were temporarily buried in graves for non-residents, and then later removed to the tomb of their family.
BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY: TOMBS AND CATACOMBS for images of the interior and exterior of tombs from the time of Jesus.

The presence of the women at the tomb was meant to highlight the factual nature of the burial: that Jesus was indeed dead, and that his body had been buried in the normal manner. 

This point was later disputed by people who said that Jesus had not been dead, but merely unconscious. Since women’s testimony was not given the same weight as men’s in courts of law, this might have been a problem. Deuteronomy 19:15 stipulated that at least two or three witnesses were needed to prove that something had happened. But the gospels stress that as well as the women, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Council, was there, so the required number of witnesses was present at the tomb of Jesus to verify that he was really dead.
Magdalene fresco from the Basilica of St Francis, Assisi


According to Jewish law, ointments and spices could not be bought or sold on the Sabbath. Jesus’ death had been sudden, unexpected. The women did not have the necessary burial spices. So they waited until the Sabbath was over, bought the spices, and went to the tomb.

The women intended to wash and anoint the body of Jesus. This was a traditional task of Jewish women, as they prepared the bodies of family members for burial. It was a last, gentle service given to the body of the person they loved.

But when they got to the tomb, they found it empty of Jesus’ body. At this moment Mary had a profound revelation where she 'saw' and 'heard' Jesus. She understood in a way that is not easily explained that Jesus was no longer dead, but alive. She experienced what the gospels call an ‘angel’, a message from God that gave her an unshakeable conviction that Jesus lived.
‘But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb, and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 
They said to her “Woman, why are you weeping?”

She said to them “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him”. 

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 

Jesus said to her “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” 

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away”. 

Jesus said to her “Mary!” 

She turned and said to him in Hebrew “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 

Jesus said to her “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” 

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples “I have seen the Lord”. And she told them that he had said these things to her.’

Read John 20:11-18, Mark 16:1-11, Luke 24:1-11, Matthew 28:1-10

Mary saw and heard Jesus. She was the first witness of the Resurrection. She was convinced that he was alive, although she was too distraught to recognize him immediately. It is interesting that in this moment of extreme emotion she calls him 'rabbouni', the title his disciples would have used. 

She did not call him by his own personal name of 'Jesus', which she surely would have done if she and Jesus had had the sort of intimate relationship that has been suggested in popular novels. She used the word she had always used as his name, 'rabbouni', teacher.

Jesus told Mary not to cling to him, but to let him go. He was telling her that their former way of life has ended, that she must let go and move on. They are words that are often said by those who seek to comfort and advise people who are grieving.

In a way the angel said the same thing: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Death had happened, nothing would ever be the same. Your place is now with the living.

Greek icon of Mary Magdalene

At the tomb, Mary was given instructions. She was told by Jesus or by the angel to “Go to my brothers and say to them….” Mary then ‘went and announced’. With these words Mary was commissioned as an apostle of Jesus (‘go and tell’ is apostellein in Greek). She was an apostle in the same way as the men (the Twelve and the other disciples) who were commissioned to spread the story of Jesus.

Until the third century, teachers in the Christian church referred to Mary as an ‘apostle’, and she is still called ‘apostle to the apostles’ by the Eastern Catholic churches. She has been one of the most revered figures in  Christian history.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul does not include the women at the tomb among the witnesses to the Resurrection.
According to his narrative, Jesus appeared to Cephas, and then to the twelve male disciples, then to 500 people, then to James, then to all the apostles. Mary of Magdala is not mentioned. Paul was writing to Greeks in Corinth, and sadly his letter reflects the culture of the Greeks, who viewed the testimony of women as unreliable.

Mary was present at all the major events in Jesus' life. She was there during his ministry, heard him teach, and may have been the major financial backer sustaining him and the group of disciples who followed him - pious writers have overlooked the practicalities of sustaining a group of men for several years, but Mary did not. She was there during the crucifixion and death of Jesus - all four gospels mention her presence, faithful to the end.
Most importantly, she was there at the resurrection, the first witness of this world-changing event, and commissioned by the angel to 'go and tell', as an apostle to the apostles.
The Reality and the Fantasy

photgraph of a Palestinian woman, circa 1900


Dante Gabriel Rosetti's 'Magdalene', 1877 

Though he lived centuries before Christ, Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) influenced the Jewish world in which Mary Magdalene lived. Alexander was not merely a military conqueror, but a visionary with an ambition to spread Greek culture throughout the world.

There was much that was refined and intelligent in Hellenistic (that is, Greek) culture, and many Jews were tempted to adopt it. But as they did, they found that their own culture and identity were threatened. For this reason, Greek culture was resisted by many Jews and its influence was uneven. 

For example, Nazareth where Jesus grew up was a conservative town that clung to traditional Jewish culture. But only a few miles away the town of  Sepphoris showed strong Greek influence, with a Graeco-Roman theatre capable of seating 5000 people. It is difficult to generalize about the impact of Greek culture, but its influence was pervasive, and eventually altered European thought and culture.

An aerial view of the ruins of Sepphoris, and a colonnaded street there that Jesus and Joseph may have helped to build

For more about Sepphoris, see BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY: CITIES 
In 63BC the Roman general Pompey occupied Jerusalem. From that time until after the time of Jesus, Palestine was governed as a vassal state by the Romans. The ruler of Palestine from 37-4BC was Herod the Great, who was a great builder, founding among other things the seaport of Caesarea and the fortress of Masada. He rebuilt the Temple (the present-day Wailing Wall in Jerusalem dates from this time). He also helped to finance the Olympic games in Greece!

In 4BC Herod was succeeded in Judea by his son Archeleus, who mismanaged state affairs so badly that he was removed from office by the Romans, and replaced by an official called a procurator, who supervised the troops, gathered taxes, and administered criminal justice.

During these later years, most of Palestine was undergoing a serious economic recession. Despite the fertility of the land, there was unemployment and poverty throughout the country. The great building programs of Herod the Great had come to an end, throwing thousands of tradesmen out of work. Without a modern social security system to fall back on, the families of these unemployed men were in a serious situation.

The gospels show evidence of social dislocation and political unrest. Jesus’ arrest, trial and execution took place in a climate of political instability and economic uncertainty.

Gospel stories are often discussed as if they happened in isolation, outside the real world. But in fact they occurred within a historical context, against a cultural background quite different to our own. Knowing about the world of the gospel gives the reader a better understanding of the stories.

Greek philosophy was greatly admired at the time of Jesus, and it had a profound impact on the way that people saw their world. One of the greatest philosophers, Plato, proposed the theory of dualism, suggesting that everything in the cosmos had an equal and opposite other. This theory had a profound impact on the way that women were viewed, and it was not to women's advantage. 'Woman' was placed in a category containing elements that were viewed as negative:

Man                       Woman
Civilization           Nature
Reason/logic        Emotion 
Good                  Evil
Light                  Darkness

Keep in mind that:

  • Civilization was the ideal; Nature was mistrusted and potentially dangerous
  • Logic and reason were admired, and emotion was to be subordinated.
  • Goodness was always preferable to evil.
  • Light, especially in the pre-industrial world, was preferred to darkness.

'Sin', by Franz Stuck

These are examples only, but they show that Platonic dualism placed women in a negative category. They were seen as closer to the natural/animal world than men. By nature they were irrational and untrustworthy, and therefore unfit to make their own decisions and govern their own lives. They had to be looked after and controlled, never treated as equals.

This differed from the traditional Jewish way of looking at the world, which saw all things in creation as integrated and complementary, rather than as opposites of each other. An example of this is the creation story of Eve, which relates that the first woman was created from a rib taken by God from Adam's side, thereby suggesting that a man could never be fully complete unless he was in partnership with a woman.

Jewish and Jewish/Christian women resisted the ideas of Platonic dualism, which patronized them and diminished their status. While Christianity remained a Jewish sect, the status of  women within the Christian communities was high.

But as the ideas of Christianity moved out into the Gentile, Hellenised world, the first Christians found they had to use the Greek philosophical framework to explain their beliefs and be accepted. So Jesus' original ideal of mutual respect between the sexes was watered down and changed. Women found they were given roles that were acceptable in the outside, Hellenistic culture. In doing so, the Christian church stepped back from the radical ideals of the first Jewish/Christians.

Women were still powerful in the private sphere, but were shunted to the side in the public arena. This shows up, for example, in 1st and 2nd century re-tellings of the biblical stories. Where these stories had often had women as central characters, they now focused on men and male activities.
The ideal Roman matron

An example of this is the story of Moses’ birth in Josephus’ Antiquities (Josephus was a Jewish writer and historian of the 1st century BC).

In the original biblical telling of the story (in Exodus 1 and 2) the baby Moses is saved by the two midwives, by his mother, by his sister, and by Pharaoh’s daughter – all, obviously, women.

In Josephus’ retelling of the story written in about 94AD, the focus is largely on Moses’ father Amram. He performs many of the actions previously attributed to the women. Female characters in the story are changed. The mid-wives in Josephus’ retelling
  • are Egyptian, not Hebrew
  • are unnamed
  • are not present at Moses' birth
  • kill Hebrew babies, not save them.

The basic story of Moses’ birth remains the same, but the female dimension has been lost.

There were reasons for the changes Josephus made to the story. He was trying to counter the anti-Semitism that existed in Rome at the time, so he wrote about Jewish women who behaved like decent Roman matrons! This ideal of Roman womanhood had been vigorously promoted in a ‘back to basics’ program by the emperor Augustus and the Roman authorities. 

The ideal Roman woman, they said, was a mother of many children, content with her household duties. She kept to her traditional role, in the home, and did not speak assertively to the men in her family. She did not enter the public world.

For additional information on the lives of women in the Bible, see:


Comparing the stories

In columns, transcribe the gospel accounts of an event in Mary's life, for example
  • the women standing near the cross when Jesus died
  • the appearance of the angels at the tomb
  • the appearance of Jesus to Mary of Magdala.
Find and mark the phrases that are the same in each gospel. Then find and mark the phrases that are different. Remember that the evidence given by eye-witnesses is often inaccurate in details; you might test this yourself by having members of your group give separate descriptions of a recent event you all witnessed.

1. What information is contained in all accounts of the gospel event?
2. What information is left out of any one account?
3. What information is added?

Find out what the general purpose of each evangelist was. What audience was each writing for?

Is the evangelist’s purpose evident from the passages you have looked at?

Interviewing an eye-witness

Imagine that you can interview an eyewitness who was present at some incident in the gospel. This eyewitness has direct experience of one or several events.
  • Choose an incident you wish to examine.
  • Read different accounts of the event in the four gospels.
  • Prepare a list of questions you might ask the eyewitness for further information about the events and people.

Linking with Old Testament Stories - Lot's Wife

1.  Read the whole of Genesis 19 thoroughly, trying to get a grasp on the characters and their actions - why they do what they do. 

2.  Concentrate on Lot's wife and try to imagine you are her - what would you be thinking, feeling, etc. Maybe jot down a few thoughts she might have had. Why does she look back?
See information about this story at

3.  Link her story with the story of Mary Magdalene in the garden outside the tomb, where she meets the resurrected Jesus and he says to her 'don't hold on to me' - which can be interpreted as 'don't hold onto the past'. Link this gospel event with the story of Lot's wife by drawing out the message of Jesus, that we are not to hold onto that which is past, or look back as Lot's wife did.

Focus Questions for the gospel passages

1. What are the most interesting moments in the story? Why do these particular moments appeal to me?

2. In the story, who speaks and who listens? Who acts? Who gets what they want? If you were in the story, which person would you want to be friends with? Which person would you want to avoid?

3. What is God's interaction with the main characters? What does this tell you about the narrator's image of God? Do you agree with this image?

4. What is happening on either side of the story, in the chapters before and after it? Does this help you understand what is happening?

5. The narrator/editor has chosen to tell some things and leave other things out. What has been left out of the story that you would like to know?

6. Are the characteristics and actions of the people in the story still present in the world? How is the story relevant to modern life, especially your own?

INTERESTING SITES - stories, pictures, reconstructions

'Women Arriving at the Tomb', He Qi


'There is a good deal of evidence that in the Greco-Roman world in general women were thought be educated men to be gullible in religious matters and especilly prone to superstititus fantasy and excessive in religious practices. Strabo, for example, points out that "in dealing with a crowd of women.... a philosopher cannot influence them by reason or exhort them to reverence, piety and faith; nay, there is need to religious fear also, and this cannot be arounsed without myths and marvels" (Geog.1.2.8).

We are fortunate to have an example of this prejudice directed specifically against Mary Magdalene as an alleged witness to the resurrection by the second-century pagan intellectual despiser of Christianity, Celsus: "after death he rose again and showed the marks of his punishment and how his hands, had been pierced. But who saw this? A hysterical female, as you say, and perhaps some other one of those who were deluded by the same sorcery" (apud Origen.C.Cels.2.55). Even allowing for Celsus's polemical intent in focusing on a female witness of the resurrection, it is notable that the appearance to Mary Magdalene was sufficiently prominent in what Celsus knew of the Christian claim about the resurrection of Jesus for him to be able to take it up in this way. Thre can hardly be any doubt that the gender of the "hysterical" or "crazed" woman is important to Celsus's sneering polemic.'

(Quoted from 'Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels', Richard Bauckham, p270-271)

Mary Magdalene - Bible Woman - Women of the New Testament; Bible  Study Resource
Mary and Jesus: first witness of the Resurrection; Apostle to the Apostles

post edited by Sophie - 2009/03/14 18:14:02
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RE: Mary, the Magdalen: Apostle to the Apostles 2009/03/14 18:26:59 (permalink)
Dear friends,

In its attempts to ban the ordination of women, one of the justifications Rome tries to use is the argument that Jesus did not choose women as apostles.  Convincing?  Curiously, even Pope John Paul II acknowledged Mary Magdalene as Apostle to the Apostles.

At www.womenpriests.org, we are a group Roman Catholic theologians who deeply loves our family, the Catholic Church. While we fully accept the authority of the Pope, we also are convinced that he and his advisors in Rome are making a serious mistake by dismissing women as priests.
History shows the Vatican sometimes makes mistakes.  We feel obliged in conscience to make our carefully considered reasons known, fulfilling our duty to speak out as our present Pope has repeatedly told us to do 

In doing this, we have carefully assembled literally thousands of documents that will help our visitors assess both sides of the case. Our site is unique in that in addition to outlining the case for women's ordination, we also provide in full all Vatican documents that ban the ordination of women.  Our summary that explains the case and provides a range of links to additional is available in a nutshell here:

I.  Key Points: Introduction - http://www.womenpriests.org/story.asp

II. Seven Reasons Why Women Can and Receive Holy Orders:http://www.womenpriests.org/preasons.asp

  • There are no valid arguments against women priests.
  • There are many truly Catholic arguments in favour of woman priests!  

If you have any questions, as always, please let me know!

Let us know what you think! 
with love and blessings,
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RE: Mary, the Magdalen: Apostle to the Apostles 2009/03/14 18:29:42 (permalink)

"Criticism of papal declarations will be possible and necessary to the degree that they do not correspond with Scripture and the Creed, that is, with the belief of the Church. Where there is neither unanimity in the Church nor clear testimony of the sources, then no binding decision is possible; if one is formally made, then its preconditions are lacking, and therefore the question of its legitimacy must be raised."
- Joseph Ratzinger, Das neue Volk Gottes. Entwuerfe zur Ekklesiologie, p. 144, Patmos 1969.
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Re: RE: Mary, the Magdalen: Apostle to the Apostles 2018/01/02 09:46:54 (permalink)
Dear friends,

Today, September 3 is the anniversary of Saint Gregory the Great's accession to the papacy in 590, AD.  One of the most influential popes of all time -- now recognised as one of 32 Doctors of the Church* --

Pope Gregory I

aspects of his legacy include:
  • he did not use the term 'pope' but instead summed up the responsibilities of the papacy in his official appellation, as "servant of the servants of God".
  • his pontificate saw the development of the notion of private penance as parallel to institution of public penance.
  • he explicity taught a doctrine of purgatory
  • he concentrated diplomatic energies on the West where he undertook conversion of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms
  • he worked to improve communications between the eastern and western Church
  • he implemented many liturgical reforms
  • Gregorian chant

and perhaps most importantly to those of us concerned with women's ordination, through a famous sermon he preached in 591, he is credited with conflating three Gospel women into one person -- with one name -- Mary Magdalene!

Mary's reputation as a prostitute, adulterous woman, and penitant sinner who annoints Jesus's feet is solidified from the pulpit of Pope Gregory the Great.  His ecclesiastical conflation is now solidified and set to last for the next 1400 years and more!

Stay tuned--

with love and blessings,

*for more about Doctors of the Church, see our dialogue thread Holy Women at this post: RE: Holy Women Through the Ages
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