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How Early Church Leaders Downplayed Mary Magdalene's Influence by Calling Her a Whore

March 1, 2019 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Other early documents portray her as Jesus’s companion—and even mention kissing. What’s really known about the Bible’s most mysterious woman?

She was Mary of Magdala, one of the earliest followers of Jesus of Nazareth. According to the . “She was named in the Gospels, so she obviously was important. There were apparently hundreds, if not thousands, of followers of Jesus, but we don’t know most of their names. So the fact that she’s named is a big deal.”

After Jesus’s crucifixion—which she witnessed along with several other women from the foot of the cross—and after all his male disciples had fled, Mary Magdalene also played a key role in the story of the Resurrection. According to the gospels, she visited Jesus’s tomb on Easter Sunday, either alone (according to the Gospel of John) or with other women, and found the tomb empty.

“The women are the ones who go and tell the disciples,” Cargill points out. “They are the ones that discovered that he had risen, and that’s significant.”

In the Gospel of John, Jesus actually appears to Mary Magdalene alone after his Resurrection, and instructs her to tell his disciples of his return (John 20:1-13).

READ MORE: What Did Jesus Look Like?

Mary Magdalene as sinner

Despite—or perhaps because of—Mary Magdalene’s clear importance in the Bible, some early Western church leaders sought to downplay her influence by portraying her as a sinner, specifically a prostitute.

“There are many scholars who argue that because Jesus empowered women to such an extent early in his ministry, it made some of the men who would lead the early church later on uncomfortable,” Cargill explains. “And so there were two responses to this. One was to turn her into a prostitute.”

To cast Mary as the original repentant whore, early church leaders conflated her with other women mentioned in the Bible, including an unnamed woman, identified in the Gospel of Luke as a sinner, who bathes Jesus’s feet with her tears, dries them and puts ointment on them (Luke 7:37-38), as well as another Mary, Mary of Bethany, who also appears in Luke. In 591 A.D., Pope Gregory the Great solidified this misunderstanding in a sermon: “She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary [of Bethany], we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark.”

“By turning [Mary Magdalene] into a prostitute, …read more

Source: HISTORY

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