Study Guide

Mary Magdalene in Gospel of John

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Mary Magdalene

Talk about prime seating. Mary Magdalene is only mentioned twice—very late in the Gospel—but she gets up close and personal at the most important events in the story: the crucifixion and the resurrection. People have a lot to say about her, that's for sure, but what does John's gospel want us to know about this (in)famous Mary?

One of the Guys

John never lists of all the disciples by name, so it's pretty safe to assume that there are more than just twelve guys hanging around Jesus during throughout the story. If that's the case, Mary probably would have spent a lot of time with Jesus & co.

In fact, after the whole empty tomb fiasco, Jesus appears to her before he even goes to visit the guys. He tells her:

"Go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" (20:17)

Wait, what? The girl disciple gets to go back and tells the guys what she's seen and heard? Future feminists erupt into cheers on her behalf.

Natural Woman

As you might imagine, women weren't running companies back in the 1st century—that's to say, things weren't quite the same back then. And people weren't afraid to discredit Mary Magdalene because of it. In the first few centuries, people discredited the resurrection because it was based on the witness of "a half-frantic woman" (source, Chapter 55).

It's not surprising, then, that Mary has gotten kind of a bad name. She was considered a "fallen woman" since way back in 591 C.E. when Pope Gregory the Great told everyone that she was a prostitute. None of the gospels say anything about Mary being a prostitute or even a notorious sinner, but the charges stuck. And it wasn't until 1969—nearly two millennia later—that the Catholic Church finally corrected that little error. Better late than never, we guess.

Where's Mary?

Being one of the only women who consistently appears in the Jesus stories has its advantages. For one, Mary gets a lot of screen time in art and literature worldwide.

She is usually portrayed with long, red hair, signifying her supposed lack of modesty—you know those red-heads. Lots of people have even imagined some kind of romantic relationship between her and Jesus. The plot of The Da Vinci Code also hinges on the idea that the Catholic Church has attempted to cover up the fact that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were secretly married and had kids.

Why all this attention? Well, as a prominent disciple, a vital witness, and a powerful woman, Mary's the total package.

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