Glossary of Terms

Mary Magdalene


Oxford Companion to the Bible [book review], edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993, page 499):

Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene is one of the inner circle of the followers of Jesus in the Gospel narratives. Her name suggests that she came from Madala, a large city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, also called Taricheae. Magdala was know for its salt trade, for its administrative role as a toparchy, and as a large urban center that was part of the contiguous cities and large villages along the western shore of the lake from Tiberias to Bethsaida/Chorazin.

Mary Magdalen is mentioned sparingly but at crucial points in all four Gospels. During the events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus, she is depicted as watching the proceedings and waiting near the tombs to attend to the body (Matt. 27.56, 61.28; par.; John 19.25). She is also one of the first witnesses to the resurrection (Matt. 28.9; John 20.11-18). These passages probably gave rise to the romantic protrayals of Mary as the devoted follower whom Jesus had saved from her errant ways.

Contrary to subsequent Christian interpretation, reflected in popular belief and recent films, there is no evidence from the Gospels that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute or for the later identification of Mary Magdalene with the women who anoint Jesus' feet (Luke 7.36-50; Matt. 26.6-13 par.) or with Mary of Bethany (Luke 10.38; John 11.1-2) In Luke 8.2 it is said that Mary Magdalene was healed of seven evil spirits by Jesus. But this is in the context of a list of women who were followers of Jesus, who had also been healed, and who supplied the material support for his mission. Since Mary Magdalene, Chuza (the wife of a steward of Herod) and Susanna are the only women mentioned, it is likely that these three were the benefactors of the Jesus movement according to Luke.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985). You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition, edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books (, Christian Science Reading Rooms, or Christian Book Distributors (

Mary Magdalene, or ‘of Magdala,’ mentioned first in every listing of Jesus’ female disciples (Mark 15:40-41, 47; 16:1; Matt. 27:55-56, 61; 28:1; Luke 8:2-3; 24:10). She therefore seems to have been the leader of a group of women who ‘followed’ and ‘served’ Jesus constantly from the outset of his ministry in Galilee to his death and beyond. Matthew and Mark acknowledge them only immediately after Jesus’ death, but Luke mentions their presence with the Twelve in Jesus’ ministry in Galilee (8:1-3). Here Mary is included among the many women who provided for Jesus’ ministry from their own means and among a smaller number ‘healed of evil spirits and infirmities.’ That she was healed of some serious affliction is expressed by describing her as one ‘from whom seven demons had gone out’ (v. 2). She is foremost as a witness to Jesus’ death according to all four Gospels (Mark 15:40-41, 47; Matt. 27:55-56, 61; Luke 23:49, 55-56; John 19:25), to the empty tomb (Mark 16:1-6; Matt. 28:1, 6; Luke 24:1-3, 10; John 20:1-2), and in receiving the news or appearance of the risen Christ to tell to the disciples (Mark 16:6-7; Matt. 28:5-9; Luke 24:4-10). According to Luke the women’s testimony was not believed but was later vindicated (24:11, 22-48). According to John 20:11-18 the risen Jesus appeared first to her and talked with her about his coming ascension (v. 17). She is characterized as an apostle in some apocryphal NT writings (e.g., The Gospel of Philip). She rivals Peter in that she receives revelations from the risen Christ to pass on to the rest of the apostles.

Dictionary of the Bible, Second Edition, original edition edited by James Hastings, revised by Frederick C. Grant and H.H. Rowley (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1963, page 628-629):

Mary Magdalene, probably so called as coming from Magdala, also known as Tarichaea, on the western side of the Sea of Galilee. She is first mentioned in Lk 8:2 as one of the women who having been 'healed of evil spirits and infirmities ... provided for them out of their means.' Seven demons had been cast out of her (cf Mk 16:9), indicating, perhaps that her affliction had been particularly serious (cf Mt 12:45, Mk 5:9).

A questionable tradition identifies her with the unnamed sinful woman who anointed our Lord (Lk 7:37ff); and she has thus been regarded as the typical reformed 'fallen woman.' But St. Luke, though he placed them consecutively in his narrative, did not identify them; and possession did not necessarily presuppose moral failing in the victim's character...

... [The] first appearance of our Lord after His Resurrection (Mk 16:9) conferred a special honour on one whose life of loving memory had proved the reality and depth of her devotion.

All the biblical texts referring to Mary Magdalene by name (from the Today's English Version [book review])

Additional information about Mary Magdalene and other women in the early church


Topical index of terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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