Mary Magdalene is one of the most famous women in the New Testament. Despite her renown, the Bible provides very little biographical information regarding the heroine. She only becomes prominent at Jesus’ death (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25) and resurrection (Matthew 28:1; Mark 15:47; Luke 24:10; John 20:1-18). Prior to these events, Mary Magdalene appears only once in the gospel narratives: Luke places her in Jesus’ entourage and notes that she had been plagued by seven demons. (Luke 8:2).
Anna Fedele encapsulates:
The four canonical gospels do not say much about the saint: after Jesus casts seven demons out of her [Luke 8:2], she becomes one of his disciples and stays at his side during the crucifixion [Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25]. She is then the first person to see the resurrected Christ and to announce this to the other disciples [John 20:1-18]. Mary Magdalene is therefore called apostola apostolorum, apostle to the apostles. (Fedele, Looking for Mary Magdalene: Alternative Pilgrimage and Ritual Creativity at Catholic Shrines in France, 7-8)Craig A. Evans (b. 1952) expounds:
Mary, called Magdalene [Luke 8:2]...is so named because she is from the town of Magdala (possibly meaning the “city of the tower”). She figures prominently in the Gospel tradition, particularly at the crucifixion and resurrection (Matthew 27:56, 61, 28:1; Mark 15:40, 47, 16:1, [Mark 16:9], Luke 24:10; John 19:25, 20:1, 11, 16, 18). Only Luke mentions that seven demons had come out of this woman [Luke 8:2] (the later ending affixed to the Gospel of Mark repeats the Lucan statement [Mark 16:9]). The number of demons indicates the severity of the possession (E. Earle Ellis [1926-2010], 128; Joseph Fitzmyer [b. 1920], 698). According to a rabbinic tradition the Angel of Death “said to his messenger, ‘Go bring me Miriam [Mary] the Women’s hairdresser!’ He went and brought him Miriam” (Babylonian Talmud Hagiga 4b). “Hairdresser” is megaddela, which could be a pun with Magdalene. The wider context of this rabbinic tradition reveals that Magdalene has been confused with Mary the mother of Jesus. (Evans, Luke (New International Biblical Commentary), 123-24)Charles R. Swindoll (b. 1934) evaluates:
Mary Magdalene had been freed from demon possession (Luke 8:2). The name Magdalene may be a reference to her home region of Magdala on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, roughly three miles north of Tiberias. Church tradition often has labeled her a former prostitute, but nothing in Scripture supports that conclusion. “Mary” was [a] common name among first-century Jewish women, and no less than four have notable roles in the Gospels: the mother of Jesus [Matthew 1:16, 18, 20, 24, 2:11, 13:55; Mark 6:3; Luke 1:27, 30, 34, 38, 39, 41,46, 56, 2:5, 16, 19, 34; John 2:3-5], the sister of Lazarus [Luke 10:39, 42; John 11:1, 2, 19, 20, 28, 31, 32, 45, 12:3], Mary Magdalene [Matthew 27:56, 61, 28:1; Mark 15:40, 47, 16:1, 9; Luke 8:2, 24:10; John 19:25, 20:1, 18], and the mother of James and Joses [Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40, 16:1]. Consequently, some may have confused her with the woman who washed Jesus’ feet (Matthew 26:1-5; Mark 14:3; Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-8). Regardless, nothing in Scripture suggests Mary Magdalene was any different from many people Jesus had cleansed of demons, except that she followed Jesus by faith, not for selfish reasons. (Swindoll, Insights on Luke)Mary often appears with other women and when she does, she typically receives top billing. Jean-Yves Leloup (b. 1950) examines:
Mary Magdalene is the only woman besides Mother Mary who is mentioned by name in all four texts, and her name, in all but one instance [John 19:25], is the first listed when there is mention of the women present at the event. (Leloup, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene)After the resurrection narratives (Matthew 28:1; Mark 15:47; Luke 24:10; John 20:1-18), Mary departs from the biblical record. Esther A. de Boer (1959-2010) notices:
It is very strange that these women in Acts 1:14 should be unidentified and that Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers are mentioned, although they play no discipleship role in the gospel. One would have expected at least the name of Mary Magdalene to occur again, but this is not the case. Throughout Acts she is not mentioned; also absent is the name of any other woman mentioned in the gospel. They play no role in Luke’s story about the beginnings of the church. (Amy-Jill Levine [b. 1956] with Marianne Blickenstaff [b. 1959], “The Lukan Mary Magdalene”, A Feminist Companion to Luke, 157)Despite being written out of the canonical story, Mary Magdalene appears in extra-biblical literature. Duane Olson (b. 1959) chronicles:
In other noncanonical gospels, Mary Magdalene is often mentioned, but she is never identified as a prostitute or adulteress. She is often presented as engaging in dialogue with Jesus in an intelligent manner, and she appears to have an important status among the disciples. This is true, for example, in the Gospel of Thomas (saying 21) and the Dialogue of the Savior. In the Gospel of Mary, which is attributed to her, she has a vision of the resurrected Christ and is a teacher of the disciples, although some of the disciples do not accept her teaching. (Olson, Issues in Contemporary Christian Thought: A Fortress Introduction, 175)Mary Magdalene first appears in the Bible when the Gospel of Luke lists her among the female patrons of Jesus (Luke 8:1-3).
Soon afterwards, He [Jesus] began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means. (Luke 8:1-3 NASB)Jane D. Schaberg (1938-2012) and Sharon H. Ringe (b. 1946) dissect:
One of the names in Luke’s list and the verb that describes the women’s activity are drawn from other Synoptic traditions. Mark 15:40-41 tells of many women looking on from afar at the crucifixion, who had followed Jesus when he was in Galilee and provided for him. Luke appears to be using this Markan verse but also have other information. A comparison of the name of women at the crucifixion and empty tomb in the four Gospels shows that the name of Mary Magdalene is constant—based on a strong, unshakable, widespread memory—and suggests that the names of others were remembered in different communities. (Carol A. Newsom [b. 1950], Ringe and Jacqueline E. Lapsley [b. 1965], Women’s Bible Commentary: Revised and Updated, 506)Joel B. Green (b. 1956) comments:
Luke singles out three women of particular prominence among the several women in Jesus’ following: Mary, Joanna, and Susanna [Luke 8:2-3]. Mary is further distinguished (from the other Mary, Jesus’ mother, present earlier in the narrative [Luke 1:27, 30, 34, 38, 39, 41,46, 56, 2:5, 16, 19, 34]) as a former resident of the city of Magdala (modern Migdal; northeast of Tiberias about three miles). She is mentioned first undoubtedly because of her importance in the resurrection account (Luke 24:10). The mention of seven demons underscores the magnitude of her prior demonization [Luke 8:2]. (Green, The Gospel of Luke (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 320)Darrell L. Bock (b. 1953) adds:
In Luke 8:1-3, unique to Luke, the Evangelist notes the work of three women of faith. As Jesus ministers, he draws followers who come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Mary Magdalene serves after having seven demons exorcised by Jesus [Luke 8:2]. Joanna, as the wife of Herod’s steward, Cuza, gives evidence that Jesus’ message has reached even into the palace [Luke 8:3]. When these and other women come to faith, they immediately give of their resources to enable Jesus’ ministry to continue. This note is important, since the passage makes clear that those contributing to Jesus’ ministry span both gender diversity and the social scale. The pattern of grace received and ministry pursued emerges in the exemplary response of these women. Their ministry comes at two levels: personal involvement and the contribution of resources. Both levels of involvement are important to effective ministry. (Bock, Luke (NIV Application Commentary), 220)Luke Timothy Johnson (b. 1943) connects:
This group is particularly important [Luke 8:2-3]. They will witness Jesus’ death (Luke 23:49) and burial (Luke 23:55). Mary Magdalene and Joanna are also the first to be told of Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 24:10, 22). (Johnson, Luke (Sacra Pagina), 131)Typically, Mary maintains preeminence (Luke 8:2-3). R.C.H. Lenski (1864-1936) attends:
Luke particularizes only the case of Mary, who is called “the Magdalene” from her home town Magdala on the west shore of the Lake of Galilee [Luke 8:2]. She always stood first among the women just as Peter did among the men, and Jesus appeared first to her after his resurrection [John 20:1-18]. (Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel, 1-11, 440-41)Like Luke’s gospel itself, historically, most commentators have passed over this summary statement (Luke 8:1-3). Amy-Jill Levine (b. 1956) credits:
Ben Witherington III [b. 1951]’s 1979 article, ‘On the Road with Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and Other Disciples – Luke 8:1-3’...is in no small extent responsible for reintroducing gospel women to the academic mainstream. The study...was, according to his own investigation, the first treatment of Luke 8:1-3 in any scholarly journal in a century...Since Witherington’s initial publication, there has been a spate of articles on Luke 8:1-3. (Levine with Marianne Blickenstaff [b. 1959], A Feminist Companion to Luke, 12-13)Luke 8:1-3 is actually composed of a single sentence. Esther A. de Boer (1959-2010) ruminates:
The long sentence construction of Luke 8:1-3 raises several questions, the first being ‘who is ministering to whom?’ The sentence, having four subjects—Jesus, the Twelve, some named women, many others unnamed—could be divided in two parts: Jesus and the Twelve on the one hand and the named and unnamed women on the other. This would imply that all the women provided for all the men. The sentence can also be interpreted as an inclusion: providing the frame are Jesus and the unnamed women, each with their own active verbs; enclosed are the Twelve and the named women, who have no active verbs of their own but are said to be ‘with him’. The unnamed women in this configuration provide for Jesus and the Twelve as well as for Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna...Luke 8:1-3 thus allows two quite different answers to the question of who provides for whom: either all the women provide for all the men, or the many unnamed women provide for Jesus, the Twelve, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna. The latter interpretation would mean that, according to Luke, the women following Jesus did not all have the same role. According to this interpretation, Luke 8:1-3 itself contradicts the assumption that Luke restricts women to typical gender roles. (Amy-Jill Levine [b. 1956] with Marianne Blickenstaff [b. 1959], “The Lukan Mary Magdalene”, A Feminist Companion to Luke, 144)I. Howard Marshall (b. 1934) assures:
The syntax is loose, but the meaning is clear. They have been healed (θεραπεύω, Luke 4:23; et al.; here pluperfect) from evil spirits (Luke 7:21) and diseases (Luke 5:15). Three receive special mention. First there was Mary from Magdala (cf. Luke 24:10; Mark 15:40, 47, 16:1 parallel Matthew 27:56, 61, 28:1; John 19:25, 20:1, 18; cf. Mark 16:9). Μαγδαλά, modern Migdal, a town which lay about three miles from Tiberias on the west side of the Lake of Galilee; it is probably to be identified with the village of Tarichaea mentioned frequently by Josephus [37-100], and its name is to be derived from migdal (a watch tower) (Jack Finegan [1908-2000], No. 54; Clemens Kopp [1886-1967], 190-97). Mary receives special mention at the head of the list because of the firm tradition that she occupied a prominent place among the witnesses of the resurrection on Easter morning [Matthew 28:1; Mark 15:47; Luke 24:10; John 20:1-18]. She had also been cured of possession by seven demons [Luke 8:2], possibly recurrences of mental disorder (J. Alexander Findlay [1880-1961], 1040); the round number expresses the worst possible state of demonic disorder (cf. Luke 11:26 parallel Matthew 12:45; Karl Heinrich Rengstorf [1903-1992], Theological Dictionary of the New Testament II, 630ff.). The verb ἐξέρχομαι [“had been healed of”, Luke 8:2 NASB] is used to express the passive of ἐκβάλλω, a construction which is found in Koine Greek (James Hope Moulton [1863-1917], Wilbert Francis Howard [1880-1952] and Nigel Turner [b. 1916] III, 53, 292). The way in which Mary is introduced here makes it clear that neither Luke nor his source identified her with the sinful woman in the preceding story [Luke 7:36-50]; demon possession and sinfulness are to be carefully distinguished. (Marshall, The Gospel of Luke (The New International Greek Testament Commentary), 316)Though Luke presents the information impassively (Luke 8:1-3), Jesus’ close association with women is highly irregular. John Gillman (b. 1948) pronounces:
What is highly unconventional, even scandalous, is that these women, at least one of whom was married [Joanna, Luke 8:3], were in public as traveling companions of a male itinerant preacher [Luke 8:1-3]. Normally, the role of women was to manage and work within the household, while the men were expected to handle public matters outside the home. Apart from the home a woman was not to be seen in the presence of man unless accompanied by a male from her family. This is why in John’s Gospel the disciples of Jesus were amazed that he was interacting with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4:27). (Gillman, Luke: Stories of Joy and Salvation, 80)Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) contextualizes:
Luke 8:1-3 stands in contrast to its historical context in rabbinic Judaism. We know women were allowed to hear the word of God in the synagogue but they were never disciples of a rabbi unless their husband or master was a rabbi willing to teach them. Though a woman might be taught certain negative precepts of the Law out of necessity, this did not mean they would be taught rabbinic explanations of the Torah. It was not uncommon for women to support rabbis and their disciples out of their own money, property, or foodstuffs. But for her to leave home and travel with a rabbi was not only unheard of, it was scandalous. Even more scandalous was the fact that women, both respectable and not, were among Jesus’ traveling companions. Yet it was an intended part of his ministry that women be witnesses from the earliest part of his Galilean ministry until his death, and benefit from his teaching and healing. This involved their traveling with him so they would understand and be prepared for the significance of his resurrection when they were called upon to be the last at the cross, first at the tomb, and first to bear witness to the resurrection (Luke 23:55-24:11). (Amy-Jill Levine [b. 1956] with Marianne Blickenstaff [b. 1959], “On the Road with Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and Other Disciples—Luke 8:1-3”, A Feminist Companion to Luke, 134-35)Bruce J. Malina (b. 1933) and Richard L. Rohrbaugh (b. 1936) support:
Travel for other than conventional reasons (feasts, visiting family, business) was considered deviant. Women leaving behind family responsibilities would have been considerably deviant, arousing suspicions of illicit sexual conduct. Since the women specified are all said to have been healed by Jesus [Luke 8:2-3], they could have returned to their proper places in their own communities. The fact that they travel with Jesus and provide support implies reciprocity: paying off the debt incurred when they were healed. It may also imply that they were widows who now see the surrogate family as taking precedence over biological family. (Malina and Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, 257)Jack Dean Kingsbury (b. 1934) concurs:
Altogether striking is Luke’s notation that Jesus is accompanied not simply by the twelve, but by many women disciples [Luke 8:1-3]...Historically, in fact, Jewish rabbis did not have women as disciples, and for a teacher to travel with women was scandalous. Accordingly, in that Jesus not only has women as disciples but is also accompanied by them, Luke presents him as removing social barriers and fashioning a community in which membership is not determined by gender. Moreover, by making mention of women disciples in this first phase of Jesus’ ministry, Luke emphasizes that women, too, are among the “Galileans” Jesus calls to discipleship and that they, too, are eye- and ear-witnesses of his ministry. On a related noted, Luke furthermore prepares the reader for the significant role that women disciples will play at the end of his gospel story: They will be “last at the cross, first at the tomb” (Luke 23:49, 24:8). More conventionally, Luke’s statement that the women disciples support Jesus and the twelve from their means points to a form of service that women, as well as men, were known in the ancient world to perform (Luke 8:3). (Kingsbury, Conflict in Luke: Jesus, Authorities, Disciples, 114)Kyoung-Jin Kim annotates:
Ben Witherington III [b. 1951] (Women in the Ministry of Jesus [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984], p. 117), comments: ‘For a Jewish women to leave home and travel with a rabbi was not only unheard of, it was scandalous,’ Cf. Eduard Schweizer [1913-2006], The Good News according to Luke, p. 142; C.F. Evans [1909-2012], Saint Luke, p. 366. But Josef Ernst [1926-2012]’s suggestion in this respect may explain Jesus’ behaviour: ‘Jesus setzt sich über derartige tiefsitzende Vorurteile unbekümmert hinweg (Luke 7:36-50, 10:38-42; Mark 14:3-9; John 11:1-6, 17-27, 38-33a, 39ff); er macht aus seiner Haltung kein Programm, aber es werden “Anstöße” gegeben, die weiterwirken und trotz gelegentlicher konservativer Tendenzen in der späteren Verkündigung (vgl. I Corinthians 11:7-16, 14:34ff; Colossians 3:18; Ephesians 5:22; I Timothy 2:10-15) neue Orientierungsdaten gesetzt haben’ (Ernst, Das Evangelium nach Lukas [Regensburg: Friedrich Pustet Regensburg, 1976], p. 262). Johan Albrecht Bengel [1687-1752] (Gnomon of the New Testament, II, p.78), Walter Grundmann [1906-1976] (Das Evangelium nach Lukas, p. 174) and Witherington (Women in the Ministry of Jesus, p. 118) also mention this implication. Cf. Leon Morris, The Gospel according to St. Luke, p. 150. (Kim, Stewardship and Almsgiving in Luke’s Theology, 103-04)Within the context of Luke’s Gospel, which features women prominently, Jesus’ close association with females is not as aberrant. Richard Bauckham (b. 1946) compares:
Unlike Matthew and Mark, where it comes as something of a surprise to the reader to learn during the passion narrative, that many women had accompanied Jesus from Galilee and had ‘provided’ for him (Matthew 27:55-56; Mark 15:40-41), Luke makes clear that these women disciples were constant companions of Jesus from an early stage of the Galilean ministry [Luke 8:2-3]. (Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels, 112-13)David A. Neale informs:
Women play prominent roles in Luke. Elizabeth and Mary dominate the infancy and adolescent narratives of the first three chapters (Elizabeth in Luke 1:5-7, 13, 24-25, 36, 40-45, 56-61; Mary in Luke 1:26-56; Anna in Luke 2:36-38). Chapter 1 of Luke is “gynocentric” [Luke 1:1-80] (Richard Bauckham [b. 1946] 2002, 47-76). Later in Luke, the sinful woman and the widow of Nain are prominent figures in the story (Luke 7:11-17, 36-50). Now the women of Galilee assume a key supporting role for Jesus’ itinerant ministry [Luke 8:1-3]...Luke is one of the most egalitarian of all the biblical writers. His representation of women, if not a complete deconstruction of patriarchy as a foundation of religious belief, is at least a marked equalization of the sexes as participants in the new community. More than simply egalitarian, Luke’s story establishes women as heroines of Jesus’ ministry. (Neale, Luke 1-9: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition (New Beacon Bible Commentary), 182-83)Vernon K. Robbins (b. 1939) echoes:
We are told of a large number of females in the adult world of Luke-Acts (Moses I. Finley [1912-1986] 1969). Elizabeth and Mary have prominent roles in the setting of the birth and infancy of John and Jesus (Luke 1:24-2:35). The prophetess Anna, sees Jesus and praises God for the redemption of Israel (Luke 2:36-38). Then throughout Luke, the narrator either refers to or presents a significant number of named and unnamed women: Herodias (Luke 3:19); a widow of Zarephath (Luke 4:26); Simon’s mother-in-law (Luke 4:38); a widow (Luke 7:13); a woman of the city (Luke 7:37-50); Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna (Luke 8:3); Jesus’ mother (Luke 8:19-20); Martha and her sister Mary (Luke 10:38-42); an unnamed woman (Luke 11:27-28); the queen of the South (Luke 11:31); a woman with an eighteen-year infirmity (Luke 13:11-13); Lot’s wife (Luke 17:32); a widow (Luke 18:1-8); a poor widow (Luke 21:1-4); a maid (Luke 22:56-57); a great multitude of women (Luke 23:27-31); and women from Galilee (Luke 23:49, 55,24:10). (Jerome H. Neyrey [b. 1940], “The Social Location of the Implied Author of Luke-Acts”, The Social World of Luke-Acts: Models for Interpretation, 316)The summary statement including the women marks a significant milestone (Luke 8:1-3). Barbara E. Reid (b. 1953) presents:
With these brief lines [Luke 8:1-3], unique to Luke, we have the first reference to women who accompanied Jesus and partook in his mission. Unlike “the Twelve” (Luke 6:12-16, 9:1-6), there is no narrative of the women’s call to become disciples nor of their being sent on mission. There is no record of how they first came to know Jesus. All that is preserved is that some of them have been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, presumably by Jesus, which leads them to support his mission. (Reid, Choosing the Better Part?: Women in the Gospel of Luke, 124-25)The passage complies to a pattern in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 8:1-3). Henry Wansbrough (b. 1934) asserts:
This [Luke 8:1-3] is another instance of Luke’s quite deliberately pairing up women with men. In Christianity women have equal standing with men. The subjects of miraculous cures by Jesus, and later by the apostles in the early chapters of Acts, are equally women and men. Women just as much as men receive the divine message and call; indeed in the parallel story of Zechariah and Mary [Luke 1:5-25, 26-38], Mary is the clear winner! Parables are about women as well as men: a man loses his sheep [Luke 15:3-7], a woman loses her coin [Luke 15:8-10]. In the early community of Jerusalem women are constantly mentioned and brought into prominence. Women as well as men are inspired by the Spirit to prophesy. As Paul journeys round, women are often the leaders of the group or community who receive him. (This is reflected in the greetings at the end of Paul’s letters, especially to the Romans [Romans 16:1-27]. There women stand at the head of the household in which the Christians meet for worship. Paul even calls a woman, Junia or Julia, an apostle [Romans 16:7]. At Ephesus both Priscilla and Aquila, a woman and a man, instruct the teacher Apollos [Acts 18:26]...Particularly in the Jewish world, but also in the Hellenistic, this would have been a striking novelty. (Wansbrough, Luke: A Guide for Reflection and Prayer (Daily Bible Commentary), 70-71)Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) tantalizes:
Hans Conzelmann [1915-1989], The Theology of St. Luke, pp. 47-48, makes the interesting comment ‘it is possible that by this emphasis on the women he [Luke] forestalls those (claims) of Mary. The Galilean women and Mary seem to stand in a similar relation to one another as the Twelve and the Lord’s brethren.’ (Amy-Jill Levine [b. 1956] with Marianne Blickenstaff [b. 1959], A Feminist Companion to Luke, 134)Jesus’ inclusion of women is indicative of his nondiscriminatory nature. I. Howard Marshall (b. 1934) characterizes:
If Jesus is presented as the friend of sinners, He is also in Luke the One who cares especially for women. The significance of this may easily escape the modern reader to whom the equality of women with men, at least in the majority of countries, is normal experience. In the ancient world, however, it was otherwise, and it was not uncommon for women to be despised. Luke has two stories peculiar to his Gospel in which Jesus brings forgiveness and healing to women (Luke 7:36-50, 13:10-17). He produces the story of Mary and Martha serving Jesus (Luke 10:38-42), and of the concern of Jesus for the widow of Nain in the loss of her son (Luke 7:11-17). It is he who tells us of Jesus’ cure of Mary Magdalene from demon possession (Luke 8:2) and especially emphasizes the place of the women who helped Jesus in His travels (Luke 8:1-3). Luke alone has the story of the women who wept for Jesus on His way to Calvary (Luke 23:27-31). (Marshall, Luke: Historian & Theologian (New Testament Profiles), 139-40)One of these women’s primary functions is that of patronage (Luke 8:3). Mary R. Thompson (b. 1928) notes:
The words translated “out of their resources” mean literally, “of their property” [Luke 8:3]. Obviously, these women were identified as donors to the work of Jesus and his followers. Richard A. Horsley [b. 1939] mentions two examples of inscriptional evidence that show women as principal donors to the synagogue and mentions that many other similar inscriptions exist. Bernadette J. Brooten [b. 1951] lists forty-three such inscriptions. (Thompson, Mary of Magdala: What The Da Vinci Code Misses, 96)This practice was not irregular. Walter L. Liefeld (b. 1927) briefs:
It was not uncommon for ancient itinerant cult leaders, fortune-tellers, and their kind to solicit the financial support of wealthy women (Lucian [125-180, Alexander the False Prophet 6; cf. II Timothy 3:6-7). In this case, however, it is in a Jewish, not a pagan, culture: and the relationship is morally pure. (Frank E. Gaebelein [1899-1983], Matthew, Mark, Luke (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary), 905)Kyoung-Jin Kim presumes:
Luke records a unique pericope which shows brilliantly how the needs of the wandering Preacher and his disciples were met during their mission journey [Luke 8:1-3]...What is revealed in this story is, however, that although they followed Jesus personally (compare Luke 23:49, 54, 24:10), they did still possess private possessions at their disposal: they did not forsake possessions as completely as the itinerant disciples, while travelling with them. Instead of this, they made use of material possessions of their own for the benefit of Jesus and his disciples who left πάντα [“all”] to preach the Kingdom of God [Matthew 19:27; Mark 10:28; Luke 18:28]. This enabled the wandering group to concentrate on their mission without being distracted by having to support themselves. (Kim, Stewardship and Almsgiving in Luke’s Theology, 103-04)Jonathan Marshall (b. 1978) posits:
Probably the most likely source, and definitely the most explicit, through which Jesus learned of benefaction and/or patrocinium would be two of the women mentioned in Luke 8:1-3 who financially supported his ministry. Mary and Joanna were women of means whose financial and political connections probably helped Jesus to become familiar with “the Herodian sphere of influence.” As Tiberias developed into an economic hub, Magdala (Tarichaeae) likely adjusted its fishing industry to suit a growing need. Mary probably earned her nickname while traveling, since one is less likely to be known by city of origin within that city. Marianne Sawicki [b. 1950] suggests that this was business travel undertaken as Magdala increased its lake-related industries in connection with the construction of Tiberias. Mary may have met Joanna while traveling to Tiberias where Joanna resided. Joanna was probably from Tiberias since her husband served Antipas who moved his capital to the new city [Luke 8:3]. Whether Sawicki’s recreation of this relationship’s beginnings stands or fails is not the most important issue. In regard to Mary it is more important that she traveled (earning the nickname) and earned enough money to support Jesus. (Marshall, Jesus, Patrons, and Benefactors: Roman Palestine and the Gospel of Luke, 180)It is within this context of patronage that Mary Magdalene first appears in the Bible (Luke 8:2). Contrary to the norms of the period, Mary is identified not by her pedigree but by her place of origin (Luke 8:2).
George Martin (b. 1939) infers:
Married women were often identified in terms of their husbands (“Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza”—Luke 8:3), but Mary is identified with the town of Magdala [Luke 8:2]. This likely indicates she is not married. It might also indicate that she was prominently involved in the dominant industry of Magdala, preserving and selling fish. Some merchants were women: food containers found in the storerooms of Masada, Herod the Great [74-4 BCE]’s fortress by the Dead Sea, name three women among the suppliers. Mary of Magdala was in any case apparently a women of some means (see Luke 8:3). (Martin, Bringing the Gospel of Luke to Life: Insight and Inspiration (Opening the Scriptures), 215)Richard Bauckham (b. 1946) counters:
Mary Magdalene did need to be distinguished from other Marys, but if she had left a husband who was not a disciple of Jesus he would not have been mentioned because such relationships no longer had defining value among Jesus’ disciples (cf. Mark 3:31-35; Luke 9:59-60, 11:27-28, 12:53, 14:26, 18:28-30). That she is named from her town of origin cannot in itself tell us she had no husband. That she had been possessed by seven demons is more suggestive [Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2]; such a woman might well never have married or have been rejected or divorced by a husband...Her state of demon possession could have prevented marriage or led to her being divorced; but Carmen Bernabé Ubieta [b. 1957], “Mary Magdalene and the Seven Demons in Social-Scientific Perspective,” in Ingrid Rosa Kitzberger [b. 1954], editor, Tranformative Encounters: Jesus & Women Re-viewed, 221, thinks the demon possession could have been the result of her being widowed or divorced: “The symptoms of possession in such a society see, to indicate a feeling of inadequacy, and at the same time a mute ineffective protest.” (Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels, 119, 134)Instead of being connected to a man, Mary Magdalene is associated with her hometown, presumably Magdala, a locale in Galilee (Luke 8:2). John Phillips (1927-2010) speculates:
Of these three [Luke 8:1-3], we know Mary Magdalene best. She seems to have come from Magdala, a village on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. That village was noted for its dye works, wooden goods, and trade in the pigeons and doves needed for the sacrificial offerings as required under the Mosaic Law. Magdala, moreover, was also known for its moral corruption. Mary grew up in that place and fell prey to evil spirits. Her case was hopeless—until Jesus came and set her free. She became the Lord’s devoted follower. (Phillips, Exploring the Gospel of Luke: An Expository Commentary, 130-31)Jane Schaberg (1938-2012) describes:
The town had a reputation for opulence and immorality. According to y. Ta’anit 4, 69c, “Magdala was destroyed because of prostitution (znut)”; according to Midrash Ekha 2,2, 4, because of the profound corruption of its inhabitants. Adolf Neubauer [1831-1907] comments illogically that the corruption “trouve une confirmation partielle et tres-curieuse dans l’episode de la pecheresse des Evangiles, ‘Maria Magdalena.’” So strong is the Magdalene’s legend that some have suggested that “Mary the Magdalene” might be the equivalent of “Mary the Harlot,” since “by the Jews, the word Magdala was used to denote a person with plaited or twisted hair, a practice then much in use among women of loose character.” Since the Aramaic for hairdresser is megaddlela, some sort of pun may have been regarded as disreputable. (Schaberg, The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament, 55)Mary Magdalene further stands out as one from whom seven demons have been expelled (Luke 8:2). Carolyn Custis James (b. 1948) submits:
The Bible introduces her as “Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out” (Luke 8:2). There’s a whole lot of history packed into that one simple statement. This dark piece of Mary’s past distinguishes her from the other Marys in the New Testament and reveals the truth about her background, making her rise to prominence among Jesus’ followers all the more remarkable. (James, Lost Women of the Bible: Finding Strength & Significance Through Their Stories, 184)Mary has been plagued by seven “demons” (ASV, CEV, ESV, HCSB, MSG, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV) or “devils” (KJV) (Luke 8:2). Marguerite Porete (1250-1310) rendered this phrase as “seven enemies”. The disputed longer ending to the Gospel of Mark (Mark 16:9-20) corroborates the tradition that at one time Mary had seven demons (Mark 16:9).
Andrew Gregory (b. 1971) critiques:
[Regarding] the question of whether the Longer Ending of Mark made use of a single-tradition at Luke 8:2b, which refers to Mary Magdalene from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons [Mark 16:9]...Joseph Hug [b. 1946] points to the different verbs employed in the identification of Mary by reference to her healing in Luke 8:2b (ἐξεληλύθει) and in Mark 16:9 (ἐκβεβλήκει), and he argues that this difference means that the author of the Longer Ending of Mark drew on tradition independent of Luke 8:2b for his reference to Mary. If we assume that such traditions were available and do not assume that the author of the Longer Ending of Mark must have drawn on Luke, then this conclusion seems reasonable. James A. Kelhoffer [b. 1970], by contrast, who sees the survival of such tradition as unlikely, takes another view. He argues that the author of the Longer Ending of Mark did draw on Luke 8:2b, but that he altered the verb of exorcism in order to match it with the verb used in Mark 16:17. ἐκβάλλω, not ἐξέρχομαι, is the verb that is preferred by the author of Mark, whose style the author of the Longer Ending of Mark imitates here. On the question of the form of Mary’s name, he argues that he altered the distinctive Lukan form of Mary’s name in order to standardise the spelling with the form used in Mark 16:1 and elsewhere in the gospel tradition. This too is a reasonable argument if we accept Kelhoffer’s belief that the author of the Longer Ending of Mark consciously draws only on the fourfold Gospel. (Gregory, The Reception of Luke and Acts in the Period Before Irenaeus [130-202]: Looking for Luke in the Second Century, 88-89)Demons appear frequently in the New Testament, particularly during the life of Jesus. Carla Ricci (b. 1954) surveys:
In the New Testament the word δαίμων occurs once (Matthew 8:31) and δαιμόνιον sixty-three times. The elements of demonology present in the New Testament stem from Judaism and the Old Testament, though they are less obvious in the New than in the Old. Meinrad Limbeck [b. 1934] makes the interesting point that, “The problem of human motives for speaking about the devil is shown at its most acute in serious reflection on Jesus’ words or silence about the devil...but the passages that deal with Satan generally reveal a formation by the proto-Christian community or one or another Evangelist. (Ricci, Mary Magdalene and Many Others: Women who followed Jesus, 133)Trent C. Butler (b. 1941) introduces:
The New Testament assumes that demonic powers are active in the world. It gives little information about their origin or nature, concentrating on their power to control people and their lack of power in the face of Jesus’ power. Eight major episodes illustrate the conflict between demonic powers (also called evil or unclean spirits and angels). Satan tempted Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). Jesus enabled a demon-possessed mute to speak (Matthew 12:22-23; Luke 11:14). Jesus healed the demon-possessed daughter of a Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:22-28; Mark 7:24-30). An evil spirit was exorcised from a man in a Capernaum synagogue (Mark 1:23-27; Luke 4:31-37). Jesus sent the legions of demons away from a man among the Gerasenes (Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-37). Jesus healed a boy with epileptic seizures caused by a demon (Matthew 17:14-20; Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-43). Jesus silenced the demons (Matthew 8:16; Mark 1:32-35; Luke 4:40-41). (Butler, Luke (Holman New Testament Commentary), 134)Carla Ricci (b. 1954) traces:
The demonological concept...has its roots in Mesopotamia: “the evils of life that were not due to great natural catastrophes were attributed to the wicked influence of demons.” This conception influenced the Hebrews and spread into the Greek world, where popular belief saw demons as intermediate beings between the gods and human beings and tried to interfere in their doings through magic. The concept attached to the word “demon” underwent an evolution among the Greeks, starting from a generic divine power and moving to these intermediate personal beings, messengers between gods and humans or supervisors of humans, and under the influence of manifestations close to animism – magic, exorcism – was drawn into cultic practices. “In many philosophical systems, demons are beings who ‘possess’ human beings. Certain abnormal events are attributed to the ‘divinity’ that inhabited the body, as we can read in Hippocrates [460-370 BCE] and still more in the tragedians...More diffuse, but nevertheless still recognizable, is the conviction that particular diseases were to be attributed to certain spirits...those that we would call ‘internal diseases,’ diseases, that is, whose natural causes the ancients were unable to discover, unlike, for example, a wound.” (Ricci, Mary Magdalene and Many Others: Women who followed Jesus, 132-33)Fred B. Craddock (b. 1928) assesses:
Luke joins Matthew and Mark (no exorcisms occur in the Fourth Gospel) in reflecting the widespread belief in demons (evil spirits) and the power of Jesus over them. Belief in demons was not native to Judaism and therefore entered through contact with other cultures. Demons were said to inhabit deserts, large bodies of water, the air, and the subterranean regions. When they entered a person they were considered to be the cause of blindness, muteness, and all kinds of physical problems as well as mental disorders. Matthew distinguished between demoniacs and epileptics (Matthew 4:24), “epileptic” being a translation of the word literally meaning “moonstruck” (“lunatic”). That the moon and the stars adversely affected human conditions was a popular belief too. We should not generalize too broadly, thinking that all people in Jesus’ time believed in demons or that all physical and mental maladies were due to demons. People in that time and place were not unlike those of other times and places in experiencing a great deal of hostility in the universe and in having to deal with forces hidden in mystery, lying outside the avenues of cause and effect. What is important to keep in mind is that in the Gospels the influence of demons is physical, not moral. This distinction is important. For example, we will meet Mary Magdalene in Luke 8:2, of whom it is said Jesus exorcised seven demons from her. It is erroneous to assume that she was an immoral woman, as is so often portrayed. (Craddock, Luke (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 65-66)Some critics have concluded that Luke presents women as being more susceptible to demons than men. Elizabeth Dowling argues:
Luke’s penchant for characterising women as demon possessed is at its peak here [Luke 8:2]. Mary Magdalene is not connected with demons in Mark’s Gospel nor anywhere else in the Second Testament. Bruce J. Malina [b. 1933] and Jerome H. Neyrey [b. 1940] argue that, in the first-century Mediterranean world, the label of demon-possession may have been given to those who exhibited deviant behaviour and that physical mobility could be one reason to incur such a label. This suggests that the women may have been given a label of demon-possession because of their itinerant activity. Elaine Wainwright [b. 1948] identifies examples in Roman literature of labels of demon-possession being given to healers and argues that the women in Luke 8:1-3 may also have been healers. Either way, such labels are given as an attempt to control behaviour considered deviant. Luke does not link the male itinerant followers of Jesus with demon-possession but seems to add this identification to the women’s description as an attempt to control and marginalise their roles. The assertion that these women have been healed [Luke 8:2] may indicate that these women ‘are no longer considered a threat to the community’. (David C. Sim and Pauline Allen [b. 1948], “Monitoring Women’s Roles: Luke’s Response to a Crisis of Acceptability in the Roman Empire”, Ancient Jewish and Christian Texts as Crisis Management Literature: Thematic Studies from the Centre for Early Christian Studies, 88-89)Frances Taylor Gench (b. 1956) inquires:
Perhaps Luke is more likely to see women than men as objects of demonic possession. Joanna Dewey [b. 1936] argues this point, noting that Mark and Matthew include only one such female character (the Syrophoenician/Canaanite’s daughter in Mark 7:24-30/Matthew 15:21-28). Luke, however, unlike Mark and Matthew, attributes Simon’s mother-in-law’s fever to an evil spirit (Luke 4:39), adds the story of the bent women who is Satan-bound (Luke 13:10-17), and describes the women following Jesus as formerly demon-possessed [Luke 8:1-2]...Moreover, in his redaction of Mark and Q material and in his own special material, the evangelist Luke adds no additional references to males possessed of demons. Dewey speculates “that this is part of Luke’s general pattern of rendering women visible in his narrative, but at the same time restricting them to subordinate roles. It is one of his ways of discrediting the authority of women” (Dewey, “Jesus’ Healings of Women: Conformity and Non-Conformity to Dominant Values as Clues for Historical Reconstruction,” in Society of Biblical Literature 1993 Seminar Papers 32, editor Eugene H. Lovering Jr. [b. 1952] [Atlanta: Scholars, 1993], 181). However, I am not as certain of this point, as Luke does retain stories in the tradition that present men as objects of demonic possession (Luke 4:31-37, 40-41, 6:17-19, 7:21, 8:26-39, 9:37-43). Thus, perhaps by increasing the number of stories in which women suffer demonic affliction, he seeks to make women equally visible as objects of possession. (Gench, Back to the Well: Women's Encounters with Jesus in the Gospels, 180)A rationale existed which would explain Luke’s alleged bias. Jane Schaberg (1938-2012) explicates:
Ruth Padel [b. 1946] notes that in early Greek thought, because a female body had more openings than a male’s, the female was considered to be more permeable, and so women more susceptible, to the entrance of spirits. Even if this conceptuality may be “nowhere explicitly present in early Christianity...nonetheless, the continued emphasis in other texts on the sexual purity or impurity of women prophets may carry this conceptually subliminally.” (Schaberg, The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament, 77)For centuries interpreters have attempted to explain demons as being something other than external evil forces. This is natural as the symptoms of contemporary illnesses and ancient demon possession are identical.
Carla Ricci (b. 1954) relays:
Jean Starobinski [b. 1920]...has an interesting observation on the interpretive aspects of possession: “The most widely held conception among historians of science is that cases of demonic possession provide us with a good example of how a natural phenomenon comes to have a cultural interpretation. Demoniacs, it is said, were individuals who presented alarming symptoms – such as we see today in epileptics, spastics or schizophrenics. Physical disorder, an evident fact, is given meaning through the interpretive tools available to the language of time (or a civilization). The object that needs to be interpreted is violence, shaking, shrieking. The interpretive instrument, in the first century, was the concept of demonic possession.” Starobinski goes on to point to a circularity in the interpretive process, by which what starts off as an interpretation – demonic possession – “becomes in turn a datum offered to the interpretation given...One can in fact hold that the ‘world view’ in Jesus’ time, and still more in the evangelists’ time, accentuated the opposition between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the devil to an extent that it became necessary for those who experienced this to produce an ensemble of signs: so it was not the morbid symptoms that were the primary fact, but the ‘cultural’ concept of the devil, a concept that was explained through shaking, shrieks and the like. The disturbed behavior, the shrieks, the ‘non-language,’ the violence, therefore become the means with which individuals interpret and actualize the presence of the devil, about which they have previously been informed through religious discourse.” (Ricci, Mary Magdalene and Many Others: Women who followed Jesus, 134)David Lyle Jeffrey (b. 1941) specifies:
Bede [672-735] and Gregory the Great [540-604], among others who identify Magdalene with the weeping penitent of Luke 7:36-50, suggest that the “seven devils” may be understood as a reference to seven vices (Bede, Homilies on the Gospels 2.4) or to a universal proclivity to a life of vice (Gregory the Great, Homily on the Gospels 33). Luke’s text itself, however, suggests in the episode of the Gadarene swine that ensues [Luke 8:26-39] that something more dramatic, however unspecified in his narrative, may have been involved. In any case, Luke is here naming a woman whose repentance and spiritual transformation were especially noteworthy and whose utter faithfulness to Jesus would see her both among the few remaining at the cross itself [Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25] and, after Jesus’ resurrection, as the one to whom first he would appear, in an episode recorded only in John’s Gospel [John 20:1-18]. Magdalene clearly occupies a place of respect among the disciples. (Jeffrey, Luke (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 119)People of each generation have attached the issues of their own day to Mary Magdalene’s seven demons (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). Ingrid Maisch (b. 1939) educates:
This statement [Luke 8:2] has always incited readers to produce “contemporary” explanations. Medieval theologians explained the seven demons as the seven deadly sins; Martin Luther [1483-1546] translated the expression in an era excited by fear of the devil and belief in witches with “seven devils”; authors in our own time, a period influenced by esotericism and New Age ideas, read the biblical text as an echo of the seven steps of initiation in the cult of a mother goddess or as a coded reference to the fact that Mary Magdalene was really filled (“possessed”) by the (feminine) Holy Spirit. The “seven demons” have always been made functional for the current age in every era of the history of interpretation. (Maisch, Mary Magdalene: The Image of a Woman Through the Centuries, 177)Nuria Calduch Benages (b. 1957) surmises:
In the 1st-century Mediterranean world illness was considered a social question and as such a deviation from the cultural norms and values. Mary of Magdala, a woman possessed by seven demons [Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2], was an “outsider,” marginalized from society, who lived outside the limits, i.e. beyond the confines that fixed the limits of pure and impure, of holiness and sin, of observance and infidelity. (Benages, The Perfume of the Gospel: Jesus’ Encounters with Women, 78)Many have attempted to re-diagnose Mary Magdalene’s condition. Carla Ricci (b. 1954) evaluates:
The only evidence we have for trying to reconstruct the nature of the disturbances from which Mary Magdalene was suffering is the expression under examination. In the light of recent advances in medical and psychological knowledge, we can suggest hypotheses. It was perhaps something in the nature of a psychic disorder. She may have been a woman of strong sensibilities, whose equilibrium had not withstood the impact of the painful problems life can bring, particularly those special problems a woman faced in the Palestine of Jesus’ time. (Ricci, Mary Magdalene and Many Others: Women who followed Jesus, 135)Many modern ailments have been connected with Mary Magdalene. Margaret Starbird (b. 1942) reviews:
Luke’s assertion that Mary Magdalene was one “from whom seven demons had gone out” [Luke 8:2] may refer to her having been healed of illness, for people of that time often attributed unexplained diseases to demonic possession. Some also suggest the reference indicates specifically mental or emotional disorders, migraine headaches, or possibly severe bouts of depression. We should note that Luke, whose gospel was most likely written between A.D. 80 and 85, is the first of the synoptic gospels to mention demons in connection with Mary Magdalene. Although the final lines of Mark’s gospel speak of the seven demons, scholars believe that this passage (Mark 16:9-16) was a late addition to the gospel probably derive from the allegation in Luke. (Starbird, Mary Magdalene, Bride in Exile)Jane Schaberg (1938-2012) supplements:
Her demon-possession [Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2] is variously interpreted today as epilepsy or mental illness, an obsession or addiction, a not understood compulsion, a binding by the spirits of unfreedom, a sign of the lack of the Holy Spirit. Her exorcism, linked with her first encounter with Jesus, is thought to have set her free from what oppressed her, made her a new woman, made holy and pure. Still the sexual dimension clings. And the demonic is often associated in film and video with senseless sound, garbled or improper speech, a roaring that must be silenced. (Schaberg, The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament, 77)Epilepsy has been a particularly usual suspect in recent times. Sandra M. Rushing (b. 1941) typifies:
Apparently Mary Magdalene was epileptic or prone to a syndrome which carries the label “manic-depressive” in today’s culture. One scholar notes: “She was probably an epileptic, for epilepsy was commonly attributed to possession by evil spirits. ” (Rushing, The Magdalene Legacy: Exploring the Wounded Icon of Sexuality, 47-48)Cynthia Bourgeault (b. 1947) presents:
In a modern commentary on Mary Magdalene, Jean-Yves Leloup [b. 1950] is able to turn this text back on itself, arguing ingeniously that the fact that seven demons have been cast out of her [Luke 8:2] means that she’s “done her psychological work” inwardly and is hence prepared to be a disciple. But within Luke’s own frame of reference, this detail seems more intended to subtly undercut Mary Magdalene’s credibility as the premiere witness and apostle of the resurrection. It plants the first seeds of doubt—the vaguest innuendo of something “off” in her character...These seeds will soon spring up to take over the whole portrait. (Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity, 14)Significantly, there is nothing inherently sinful in being attacked by demons, and certainly nothing that lends itself to being characterized as a prostitute as has commonly been the case with Mary Magdalene.
David E. Garland (b. 1947) clarifies:
Demon possession is not connected to moral failure. Those possessed by demons need deliverance, not forgiveness, and possession by seven demons [Luke 8:2] indicates a grievous condition (see Luke 11:24-26). (Garland, Luke (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 342)Joel B. Green (b. 1956) stipulates:
Luke neither characterizes Mary as having been previously a particularly immoral person nor gives any reason to suggest that she is to be identified with the “sinful woman” of Luke 7:36-50. (Green, The Gospel of Luke (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 320)Luke indicates that Mary has been afflicted with precisely seven demons (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). John A. Martin (b. 1949) notifies:
Often in Scripture the number seven is used to denote completion. Apparently Mary had been totally demon-possessed. (John F. Walvoord [1910-2002] and Roy B. Zuck [1932-2013], The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, 24)A.T. Robertson (1863-1934) consents:
The presence of seven demons in one person indicates special malignity (Matthew 5:9). See Matthew 12:45 for the parable of the demon who came back with seven other demons worse than the first. (Robertson, The Gospel according to Luke (Word Pictures of the New Testament)), 124)Esther A. de Boer (1959-2010) scrutinizes:
Luke describes only the illness of Mary Magdalene: not just one demon has gone out of her, nor a legion [Mark 5:9, 15; Luke 8:30], but precisely seven (cf. Luke 4:33, 8:30, 9:42). Most exegetes suggest that the number seven indicates totality (cf. Luke 11:21-26), meaning that Mary Magdalene would have been totally possessed and subsequently completely healed. As Carla Ricci [b. 1954] phrases it: Mary Magdalene was ‘dispossessed of herself’ and through Jesus could ‘return to self’...The seven demons also coincide with the Stoic view of the soul as having seven parts difficult to control: the capacities to feel, to hear, to touch, to taste, to see, to desire, and to speak. The eighth part of the soul is the ‘commander’: it has the task of keeping these different capacities in check and giving direction. To achieve a life in harmony with the Divine, one should free oneself from the claims of the seven, more sensual parts. If this is the context of Mary’s seven demons, Jesus, apparently taught her to control them...But Luke is far from clear. The seven demons of Mary Magdalene and the illnesses of Joanna and Susanna raise many questions [Luke 8:2-3], especially since Luke does not hesitate to specify the ailments of other women. Luke simply gives no clues to enable us to fins definitive explanations concerning the conditions of these three women. (de Boer, The Gospel of Mary: Beyond a Gnostic and a Biblical Mary Magdalene, 146-47)Nuria Calduch Benages (b. 1957) discloses:
In the Semitic world of the Bible, but also in other cultures (Egyptian, Greek and others), the number 7 has a very strong symbolic meaning, as it expresses a complete period of time and especially the idea of totality. Quoting Luke 17:4 would suffice: “And if [one of your brothers] sins against you seven times a day and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive;” here the expression refers to proportionally between “much sin” and “much forgiveness.” However, if we analyze this expression in light of cultural anthropology, then “seven demons” may be interpreted as a reference to a case of pathology that has already been treated previously but without success. The number of demons (daimon, daimonion) indicates a case with symptoms that, after improvement in an initial phase, have repeated themselves and gradually become more virulent. In Luke 11:24-26, for example, Jesus explains that the possession of seven demons is a very serious case...According to Carmen Bernabé Ubieta [b. 1957], Mary of Magdala had suffered from a series of relapses of a chronic disease and probably showed the following symptoms: a state of altered consciousness with traits of personality split that most likely influenced her character. In her view, the mention of seven demons in Luke 8:3 is an indication in this direction. (Benages, The Perfume of the Gospel: Jesus’ Encounters with Women, 77-78)Carla Ricci (b. 1954) bolsters:
The number seven – like other numbers – had a special significance not only in the area of semitic culture and in the Bible, but also in Greece, Egypt and elsewhere. The origins of this would appear to lie in the four lunar phases of seven days each, rather than in the seven observable planets. According to Karl Rengstorf [1903-1992]: “In Babylon, where...attention was paid to the seven planets earlier than anywhere else, the number seven already had great importance in myth and worship before the planets were taken into consideration,” and, “on the other hand, the phases of the moon could be seen earlier and for primitive man were an obvious datum for working out and dividing time.” Symbolically, the number seven expresses a complete period of time and the idea of totality itself....A religious use of the term can be seen in Hebrew culture in the institution of the sabbath, the seventh day dedicated to God, and of the sabbatical year. In the New Testament writings it appears eighty-eight times. While in some of these cases, the number itself may be meant (e.g. Matthew 15:34), in others the influence of the old conceptions is clear. (Ricci, Mary Magdalene and Many Others: Women who followed Jesus, 131-32)Annette Weissenrieder (b. 1967) postulates:
At first glance, the seven demons that characterize Mary Magdalene’s illness in Luke 8:2 seem linked to the number seven, which is known to be associated with demons in antiquity. However, it is also possible that this number refers to the significance of the number seven in classical medicine, which is covered in depth in the Hippocratic text “De hebdomadibus” (Hebd). After an extensive introduction, in which the author observes a correspondence between the seven parts of the cosmos and the seven sections of the body he explains his remarks exclusively in terms of fever, which he analyzes as a total disturbance of the unity of the body – a unity that is based on the number seven. Fever has an especially detrimental effect on the human soul, which consists of seven parts, and this leads to a change in the person’s perception of reality. In Chapters 44-46 in particular, the author distinguishes between the patient’s reality and his own. The patient’s soul, he says, loses itself and confronts him or her with frightening and unfamiliar images, causing the person to lose control of him or herself. The author explains this phenomenon by stating that the seven sections that make up the human body have shifted out of equilibrium. It is possible that the author of the Gospel of Luke referred to a similar concept of illness. (Weissenrieder, Images of Illness in the Gospel of Luke: Insights of Ancient Medical Texts, 300)Whatever plagued her, it is clear that Mary Magdalene’s condition was severe. Carla Ricci (b. 1954) appraises:
As perceived in her time, this woman was considered a victim of a disease not easily understandable, which took her over physically and psychically, completely (shown by the use of the number seven [Luke 8:2]) and which took her into the category of those possessed by demons. (Ricci, Mary Magdalene and Many Others: Women who followed Jesus, 135)The extent of Mary Magdalene’s ailment accents the magnitude of Jesus’ healing. Elizabeth V. Dowling reasons:
In semitic interpretation, the number seven is linked with the character of totality so that, regarding the description of Mary Magdalene [Luke 8:2], ‘the number seven points to the fact that there could be no worse state of corruption.’ It should be noted that if the number seven indicates the extent of her possession, it also indicates the extent of her cure. Mary Magdalene is characterized as ‘someone who has experienced the unlimited (seven) liberating power of basileia [“kingdom”] in her own life.’ (Dowling, Taking Away the Pound: Women, Theology and the Parable of the Pounds in the Gospel of Luke, 150-51)Barbara E. Reid (b. 1953) agrees:
Luke, in underscoring the gravity of Mary’s illness, is more intent on highlighting the greatness of Jesus’ power of healing that he is on telling us something about Mary. Rather than speculate on how ill she had been, the preacher would do better to focus on how completely she experienced the liberating, healing power of God. (Reid, Parables for Preachers: Year C, 99)The text, after all, is about Jesus, not Mary Magdalene. Robert H. Stein (b. 1935) grants:
From whom seven demons had come out [Luke 8:2]. Luke mentioned this in order to show the severity of her problem (cf. Luke 11:26) and the greatness of Jesus’ miracle of healing. (Stein, Luke (New American Commentary), 241)When demons encounter Jesus in Scripture, they unequivocally lose; the demons accrue a worse record than the Washington Generals.
Some critics have viewed the reference to Mary Magdalene’s demons as an embarrassment (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2) and have suggested that Luke includes this detail to discredit her.
Richard J. Hooper (b. 1943) criticizes:
The author of Luke attempted to diminish the importance of Mary Magdalene and her resurrection tradition by inventing a story about her “seven demons” [Luke 8:2], not naming her as a witness to the crucifixion, denying her an apostolic commission, having her prostrate herself before two masculine heavenly messengers, and by claiming that the male disciples of Jesus did not believe her testimony. (Hooper, The Crucifixion of Mary Magdalene: The Historical Tradition of the First Apostle and the Ancient Church’s Campaign to Suppress It, 214)Sylvia Browne (1936-2013) interjects:
The Gospel of Luke...tries to suppress Magdalene’s importance by referring to the seven demons within her that were cast out and portraying her as a financial supporter of Jesus’s ministry [Luke 8:2-3]. According to Karen L. King [b. 1954], scholars suspect these two tidbits of data as perhaps an obvious attempt to reduce Magdalene’s (and all women’s, for that matter) importance and put her in a subservient role. (Browne, The Two Marys: The Hidden History of the Mother and Wife of Jesus)Some have even conjectured that Luke concocts Mary Magdalene’s demons to disparage her. Jane Schaberg (1938-2012) shares:
Robert M. Price [b. 1954] has argued...that the claim that Mary Magdalene had been demon-possessed may not be based on historical memory. It may be, rather, a trace of early polemics against what was regarded as heresy, and hence her authority. “[I]t is hard to see how being tagged with the reputation of sevenfold demon-possession would not seriously undermine one’s credibility as an apostle” — even if it is only what she was healed from, what she used to be. (Schaberg, The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament, 77)Margaret Starbird (b. 1942) supports:
Some modern scholars assert that, rather than a historically accurate statement, Luke’s allegation of demon possession was an attempt to diminish Mary Magdalene’s stature by suggesting that she was unclean and subject to psychological problems of some nature. Perhaps this was a politically motivated attempt to lessen her preeminence, which is inherent in the story of her witness to the resurrection. (Starbird, Mary Magdalene, Bride in Exile)Jane Schaberg (1938-2012) professes:
Whether Luke created her seven demons [Luke 8:2], or they were traditional, Mary Magdalene is the madwoman in Christianity’s attic. (Schaberg, The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament, 79)Some scholars have used the unease surrounding the inclusion of Mary Magdalene’s demons (Luke 8:2) to validate its historicity. Jane Schaberg (1938-2012) reveals:
John P. Meier [b. 1942] thinks that the criterion of embarrassment and coherence suggest that historically Jesus performed an exorcism on her. But whose embarrassment? We can suppose the prominence of a flawed female figure was less embarrassing to males who opposed her and her memory than an unflawed female, especially when that flaw, even if healed, connotes madness, deviant behavior, and heresy. Feminist scholars look at the tradition in a radically different way, as indicating the association of Mary Magdalene with protest against injustice, and with prophetic vision. (Schaberg, The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament, 260)It is clear that whatever her demons may be, they no longer torment her as she follows Jesus (Luke 8:2-3). Mary Magdalene makes a complete recovery.
A.T. Robertson inspects:
And also some women who had been healed (καὶ γυναικές τινες αι ἠσαν τεθεραπευμέναι) [Luke 8:2]...[is] a periphrastic past perfect passive, suggesting that the healing had taken place some time earlier. These women all had personal grounds for gratitude toward Jesus. (Robertson, The Gospel according to Luke (Word Pictures of the New Testament)), 124)Bruce Chilton (b. 1949) considers:
Should we see the exorcism of Mary’s seven demons as a series of events or a single explosive rout? Luke’s spare reference doesn’t answer this question directly. The demons are simply described as having “gone out” (exeleluthei) of Mary. If a Greek speaker wanted to imply that on one spectacular occasion Jesus expelled them all, it would have been more natural just to say that he cast them out (using the verb ekballo), as happens at other points in the Gospels (see Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39; Matthew 8:28-34). The use of the verb exeleluthei and the absence of any reference to a dramatic expulsion of the demons make it seem likely that Mary’s demons balked when Jesus commanded them to depart. In a later version of Luke’s description, which was appended to the Gospel According to Mark (Mark 16:9), the wording was changed in order to describe the demons as having been “cast out” (ekbeblekeii). This pastiche ending of Mark is much later than the Gospel itself. In the way of many summary references in the Gospels, it irons out the troubling feature of demonic contention with Jesus. (Chilton, Mary Magdalene: A Biography, 164)Luke does not record the exorcism itself (Luke 8:2). As such, some have speculated that in this case, Jesus may not even serve as exorcist. Cynthia Bourgeault (b. 1947) notifies:
In fact, claims the historian Bruce Chilton [b. 1949], Jesus may actually have learned the art of ritual anointing from Mary Magdalene! In his remarkable book Mary Magdalene: A Biography, Chilton speculates that her struggles with demons may have brought her into the healing and shamanic circles for which her region of Galilee is well known. Anointing may have been a core piece of the healing arts with which she gifted him, accounting for his increasing divergence from the Nazirite path to which he was originally consecrated...While there is clearly some circular logic at work (and quite a few eggs in the basket of Luke’s brief comment in Luke 8:2, “Mary called Magdalene had been freed of seven demons”), I believe that Chilton is genuinely onto something here. Less important than the bottom line of who-taught-whom the actual spiritual skill in question is his implicit understanding that Jesus may have learned from Mary Magdalene as much as he taught her. (Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity, 183-84)Bart D. Ehrman (b. 1955) responds:
Luke doesn’t actually say that it was Jesus who was healed of her ailment, but it can probably be inferred. Just a few verses earlier he indicates that “Jesus cured many people of sicknesses and plagues and evil spirits” (Luke 7:21). And it is explicitly stated in then ending of the Gospel of Mark [Mark 16:9] that was added by a later scribe (Mark himself ended his story at Mark 16:8). (Ehrman, Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend, 206-07)In spite of their gender and troubled pasts, Mary Magdalene and the other women assume prominent roles in Jesus’ retinue (Luke 8:2-3). Brendan J. Byrne (b. 1939) ponders:
From a feminist perspective, this brief notice will not be particularly appealing. There is a suggestion that women are prone to mental illness; their role seems to be the auxiliary one of providing for Jesus and those (the male disciples) who had “left and followed him” (Luke 5:11). At the level of interpretation, these problems cannot be denied. At the same time, it is important to note what is likely to have been Luke’s intention at this point. In comparison with men, women in the ancient world belonged to the margins of society. What Luke seems to be suggesting here, in continuity with the scene immediately preceding [Luke 7:36-50], is that among the marginalized who received healing from Jesus and responded with generous service were a significant number of women. (Byrne, The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel, 76-77)Many scholars presume that these women share equal status with Jesus’ male disciples (Luke 8:2-3). I. Howard Marshall (b. 1934) values:
Along with the Twelve are mentioned the women; they appear on the same level as the men (Walter Grundmann [1906-1976], 174). (Marshall, The Gospel of Luke (The New International Greek Testament Commentary), 316)David L. Tiede (b. 1940) proclaims:
Whatever modern minds make of the delivery from evil spirits, even this strange passage accredits Mary Magdalene and the other women social prominence, economic capacity, and standing among the disciples. (Tiede, Rebecca J. Kruger Gaudino, Gary Peluso-Verdend [b. 1955] and David Schnasa Jacobsen [b.1961], New Proclamation: Year C, 2007, Easter Through Christ the King, 11)The women are ministers in their own right (Luke 8:2-3). John Indermark (b. 1950) expounds:
There is one crucial discipleship text from Luke among this chapter’s passages: Luke 8:1-3. It is so brief that we may miss its power and potential scandal. It lists women who followed Jesus along with the Twelve. Mary Magdalene leads the list, along with others whose names may not be so familiar. Luke later refers to women present in the post-Crucifixion story (Luke 24:1-9), when, by the way, the Twelve were nowhere to be found. But even now, in Chapter 8, Luke affords these women not simply a place in the story, but a ministry in the story. The word translated “provided for” in Luke 8:3 is diakoneo, a verb that, when used in reference to males, tends to be translated as “minister.” So already in the community Jesus calls and empowers, women play a central—and some would argue, a ministerial—role, affording...a glimpse into Luke’s broadly inclusive view of Jesus’ ministry and the community it generates. (Indermark, Luke (Immersion Bible Studies))Mary Magdalene certainly has “a past” (Luke 8:2). She holds many qualities that would have prevented her from following most itinerant rabbis of the era. Not so Jesus. Not only is Mary permitted to follow Christ, she is given a place of prominence in his band of followers and the subsequent tradition that develops around him. The presence of women in general and Mary Magdalene in particular speaks volumes about Jesus’ inclusiveness. All are welcome to follow Christ.
Why does Luke provide these specific details regarding Jesus’ female followers (Luke 8:2-3)? What characteristic of Mary Magdalene is most identifiable (Luke 8:2)? Which attribute represents the biggest obstacle to her following Christ? Is the reader supposed to like her? In what ways are the roles of Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna similar and different from Jesus’ male disciples (Luke 8:1-3)? Do you believe Mary’s demons are external evil forces or internal scientifically explainable ailments (Luke 8:2)? Are these demons the cause of her encounter with Jesus? Is there any indication as to how she acquired her demons? When have you been overtaken by an illness? What from your past have you struggled to live down? What can be determined from the biblical record about Mary Magdalene? How has Mary been presented?
Mary Magdalene has captivated the imagination of believers throughout the centuries. The lack of detail provided by the Bible has proven tantalizing and many have attempted to fill the gaps.
Betty Conrad Adam (b. 1939) acknowledges:
There has always been a mystique about Mary Magdalene, whether she was understood as an apostle of high moral character or as a reformed prostitute. There’s always been a fascination with her relationship to Jesus, her preaching and teaching, and after the sixth century, her penitence. In the Middle Ages there was an outburst of mysterious attraction and veneration than in its intensity rivaled any saint. There seems to have been an insatiable desire to fill in the gaps and lost detail of the life of the woman whose seven demons Jesus had cast out [Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2] and who remained at the cross and went to the burial place and received first blessing from Jesus after his entombment (Matthew 27:56, 28:1; Mark 15:40, 47; Luke 24:10; John 19:25, 20:1-18]. (Adam, The Magdalene Mystique: Living the Spirituality of Mary Today, 63)A mythology has developed around the figure of Mary Magdalene. John T. Carroll (b. 1954) remarks:
The characterization of Mary as a woman from whom seven demons have been banished (with Jesus implicitly the healer) [Mark 16:9;Luke 8:2], together with her later role in connection with the resurrection of Jesus (Luke 24:10; embellished in John 20:11-18, and expansively in extracanonical literature such as the gnostic Gospel of Mary), provides the raw materials for considerable legendary development, reaching even to the twenty-first century. (Carroll, Luke: A Commentary (New Testament Library), 182-83)The perception of Mary changed dramatically over time. Kathleen MacInnis Kichline (b. 1947) briefs:
Although the early Church fathers frequently extolled the virtues of Mary Magdalene, over time a different picture of her emerged. Some of this can be attributed to confusion over the several Marys and other women of the Gospels, and the resulting tendency to conflate these into one. Over time, the dominant image associated with Mary Magdalene became that of a repentant sinner. (Kichline, Sisters in Scripture: Exploring the Relationships of Biblical Women, 98)Sylvia Walsh (b. 1937) tracks:
Initially...she was recognized and lauded in the early church for being a disciple who was present at his crucifixion and, according to Mark 16:9 and John 20:14, the first person to witness the resurrection, as well as, according to John 20:17, the first of Jesus’ disciples to be charged with publicly proclaiming the good news of his resurrection and ascension (Susan Haskins, 3-14). Hippolytus (ca. 170-ca. 235), a bishop of Rome, not only accorded her apostolic status but elevated her to the position of being the “apostle to the apostles” (Haskins, 63-65, 88-90). Since the status of women in the church was already in decline by the second century AD, this appellation was anachronistic and soon obscured by the association of Mary Magdalene with the woman who was a sinner [Luke 7:36-50]. Among the Christian Gnostic cults, however, she continued to play an important role, in correlation with the more egalitarian status of women in these groups. One of their writings, The Gospel of Mary, written sometime in the late second or early third century, portrays her as more beloved by Christ than his male disciples (much to their envy) and as standing in a position of authority over them (much to their disgruntlement) (Haskins, 38-41). Significantly, the Gnostic gospels nowhere refer to Mary as a sinner or prostitute, yet the dualistic nature of their religion, in which the opposition between spirit and matter, male and female, good and evil is ultimately overcome in a spiritual state of androgyny or sexual indifference, nevertheless led to the association of women and sexuality with evil, requiring her to lose her femaleness and become a man in order to achieve spiritual perfection (Haskins, 38, 42-43). (Robert L. Perkins [b. 1930], “Prototypes of Piety: The Woman Who Was a Sinner and Mary Magdalene”, Without Authority, 316-17)The shift of the depiction of Mary Magdalene is evidenced in artistic representations. Michelle A. Erhardt (b. 1969) and Amy M. Morris (b. 1972) chart:
Not only was Mary Magdalene constantly emerging in new roles, but even the manner in which standard scenes were represented was constantly evolving. Magdalene imagery responded to a range of artistic, social, and historical factors. Andrea Begel [b. 1972] in her essay on Giovanni da Milano [fourteenth century]’s Anointing from the Guidalotti-Rinuccini Chapel, Florence chronicles how the Magdalene was transformed into a demonically possessed sinner by the inclusion of a rare detail, seven demons fleeing the room. Begel argues that the fresco makes reference to a rarely depicted episode from Luke 8:1-3, the exorcism of Mary Magdalene by Christ as a result of Christ’s forgiveness. (Erhardt and Morris, Mary Magdalene, Iconographic Studies from the Middle Ages to the Baroque, 17)Despite Mary Magdalene’s image being influenced by the passage detailing her seven demons (Luke 8:1-3), this scene is seldom represented in art. Michelle A. Erhardt (b. 1969) teaches:
In the fresco Christ reaches down with his right hand and accepts Magdalene’s contrition for her sins, showing his acceptance with the open palm of his hand in a gesture of absolution. It is also, as Andrea Begel [b. 1972] notes in her essay on the Magdalene and demonic possession, the only depiction of this scene to include the detail of the seven demons fleeing from Magdalene’s tortured soul upon Christ’s forgiveness of her sins described in Luke’s Gospel. (Erhardt and Amy M. Morris [b. 1972], “The Magdalene as Mirror: Trecento Franciscan Imagery in the Guidalotti-Rinuccini Chapel, Florence”, Mary Magdalene, Iconographic Studies from the Middle Ages to the Baroque, 30)Through the majority of church history in the west, Mary Magdalene has been depicted as a prostitute. Bruce Chilton (b. 1949) reveals:
Luke’s reference to Mary’s seven demons [Luke 8:2] encouraged the Western tradition that depicts her as a prostitute. Typical paintings portray her in lavish dress, arranging herself in front of a mirror, or abased in shame at Jesus’ feet. Medieval piety associated vanity with prostitution, on the grounds that women sold themselves only because they enjoyed whoring, and pastoral theologians saw self-abasement, including flagellation on many occasions, as the best cure for this sin. Vanity and lust were kissing cousins within Mary’s demonic menagerie prior to her exorcism, which was portrayed in the West as a conversion. (Chilton, Mary Magdalene: A Biography, 8)Carolyn Custis James (b. 1948) recognizes:
Although there is no biblical evidence linking her to Mary Magdalene, this association became so strong English dictionaries define magdalen as a “reformed prostitute.” (James, Lost Women of the Bible: Finding Strength & Significance Through Their Stories, 184)Mary Magdalene’s connection with prostitution stems from an ancient conflation between the Mary of Luke 7:36-50 and the Mary of Luke 8:1-3. Eduard Schweizer (1913-2006) explores:
Mary of Magdala was later identified with the sinful woman of Luke 7:37 because the two texts stood close together and perhaps even because Magdala was infamous for its lewdness (but this was a different town of the same name; cf. Hermann Leberecht Strack [1848-1922] and Paul Billerbeck [1853-1932] 1.1047). If the identification were correct, Luke 7:37 should have mentioned that she had been healed of possession (Luke 8:2; cf. Luke 11:26). In addition, if all of the “anointing” narratives were identified—which the variety of setting and content does not permit—Mary of Magdala would be the woman of Mark 14:3, according to John 11:1-2 the sister of Lazarus and Martha, who “served at table,” like the woman in Luke 10:40, i.e., the “Mary” mentioned in Luke 10:39, 42. In this case Jesus would be near Jerusalem in Luke 10:38, which Luke at least does not assume. This is pure speculation, but she does appear clearly in all the Easter stories, where she is always (except for John 19:25; but cf. John 20:1) the first of the women mentioned, usually three. (Schweizer, The Good News According to Luke, 142)Carla Ricci (b. 1954) records:
In 1872, Frédéric Godet [1812-1900], declaring that the identification of Mary Magdalene with the sinner in Luke “is without the slightest basis,” picked out one of the reasons for it as confusing demonic possession, which is an illness, with a state of moral corruption...Marie-Joseph Lagrange [1855-1938], in his monumental 1920 commentary on Luke’s Gospel, identifies Jerome [347-420] as the author who, associating the concept of possession with that of sin, was perhaps responsible for the first step on the road to subsuming the three in one. In a letter to Marcella [325-410], Jerome writes: “Maria Magdalena ipsa est, a qua septem daemonia expulerat; ut ubi abundaverat peccatum, superabundaret gratia.” Lagrange maintains that the texts cannot support the identification of the sinner with Mary Magdalene, confirms that no early exegete before Jerome made this identification and shows how exegetes came to support the unicity of Mary of Bethany and the sinner because of the fact that the Fathers had allowed only one anointing, and how they came to identify Mary Magdalene with the sinner through the confusion in the references to each of them and demonic possession. The identification of Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany stemmed from this, aided by the coincidence of the name Mary. (Ricci, Mary Magdalene and Many Others: Women who Followed Jesus, 34-35)The most important connection between the two Marys comes from Gregory the Great (540-604). Brittany E. Wilson (b. 1980) pinpoints:
The first influential identification of Mary Magdalene as a sinner who repents of her sexual lascivious past does not occur until the sixth century with Pope Gregory the Great [540-604]. Mary Magdalene’s appearance in this guise arises from her conflation with a number of other women in the canonical accounts, including Mary of Bethany, who anoints Jesus’ head (or feet) (Mark 14:3-9; Matthew 26:6-13; John 12:1-8), and the nameless sinner who anoints Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-50). In a move that overturned earlier uncertainty regarding their unified identity, Gregory the Great claimed that all of these women were one and the same, designating Mary Magdalene as the anointing “sinful woman.” What is more, he not only identifies Mary Magdalene as sinful, but specifies that her sinfulness was sexual in nature. In a homily on Luke’s Gospel, he writes: “This woman, whom Luke calls a sinner, John names Mary, I believe that she is the same Mary of whom Mark says that seven demons had been cast out [Mark 16:9]...It is evident, my friends, that a woman who had earlier been eager for actions which are not allowed had used the ointment as a scent for her own body. What she had earlier used disgracefully for herself she now laudably offered for the Lord...She converted the number of her faults into the number of virtues, so that she could serve God completely in repentance as she had rejected him in sin.” (Homily 33)...Although Eastern Orthodox Christians never subscribed to this conflation of Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and the unnamed sinner, Gregory the Great’s interpretation cemented Mary Magdalene’s reputation as a penitent sinner for most of her interpretive history in the West. (Carol A. Newsom [b. 1950], Sharon H. Ringe [b. 1946] and Jacqueline E. Lapsley [b. 1965], “Mary Magdalene and Her Interpreters”, Women’s Bible Commentary: Revised and Updated, 532)Though many had speculated previously, Gregory’ influence made the conflation of the two Marys the pervasive view. Betty Conrad Adam (b. 1939) laments:
Beginning in the fourth century, the move had been made in some corners of the church, among the popular masses as well as by church leaders. In the sixth century the move was definitively set out by Pope Gregory I [504-604] in a sermon in 591. Thus the mystery-laden Mary Magdalene, known for her patience and perseverance and loyalty to Jesus and for her visionary prophecy following her encounter with the risen Lord, was pushed into the darkness by her contrived sensational past. Her true light had almost gone out. (Adam, The Magdalene Mystique: Living the Spirituality of Mary Today, 54)Ingrid Maisch (b. 1939) attributes:
It was only with the work of Gregory the Great [540-604] that the unified figure began to prevail in the West...It is true that Gregory did not invent this conflation, but he combined existing initiatives and thus created a unified figure that, thanks to his authority, was accepted in the Western Church. In this he did not argue as an exegete defending a scholarly theory; he simply took up statements made from time to time in different situations. This made his argumentation powerfully persuasive, for depending on the occasion the individual features of this “new” Mary Magdalene could be alluded to: the convert, the loving woman, the Easter messenger. The occasions were public homilies Gregory preached, each oriented to a particular pericope from the gospels (Luke 7:36-50; John 20:1-18), and in one case a very personal letter to Gregoria, a lady-in-waiting at the imperial court, who was concerned about the forgiveness of sins and assurance of salvation. In particular, his response to Gregoria shows that Gregory did not proceed in the manner of a systematic theologian, but simply reacted to the occasion...This letter begins to make clear to us the source of the power of the image of the sinful Magdalene: it was so influential not because it devalued a particular woman but because it relieved the anxiety of everyone about his or her salvation..Gregory had no interest in Mary Magdalene as a person (and to the extent he is only indirectly the originator of her biography and of the later negative image of Magdalene!) but only in her significance as a unifying element between the biblical model and the ecclesial reality. Nevertheless, with this “artistic image” he created a Christian figure that little by little developed a power of attraction al its own. (Maisch, Mary Magdalene: The Image of a Woman Through the Centuries, 44-46)The image of Mary Magdalene as a reformed prostitute has persisted. Kathleen MacInnis Kichline (b. 1947) chronicles:
Although some writers, including the German nun Anne Catharine Emmerich (1774-1824), have made much of exploiting the salaciousness of this image, other writers and artists, such as the great eleventh-century theologian and saint Anselm of Canterbury [1033-1109], have found much comfort and encouragement in the still-popular image of Mary Magdalene as repentant sinner. (Kichline, Sisters in Scripture: Exploring the Relationships of Biblical Women, 98)Jean-Yves Leloup (b. 1950) regrets:
Unfortunately the fact that Mary Magalene is freed from the possession of seven demons [Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2] has resulted in greater focus on the perceived stigma of her past as interpreted in Homily 33 than on her cleansed state after this healing. Only in 1969 did the Catholic Church officially repeal Gregory [540-604]’s labeling of Mary as a whore, thereby admitting their error—though the image of Mary Magdalene as the penitent whore has remained in the public teachings of all Christian denominations. Like a small erratum buried in the back pages of a newspaper, the Church’s correction goes unnoticed, while the initial and incorrect article continues to influence readers. (Leloup, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene)That the two Mary’s in Luke 7:36-50 and Luke 8:1-3 are one and the same has been rejected by modern scholars. Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) refutes:
The fact that no name is given to the ἁμαρτωλός [“sinful woman”, Luke 7:37 NASB] in the preceding section, while Mary Magdalen is introduced here as an entirely new person [Luke 8:2], is against the traditional identification of the two. Moreover, such an affliction as virulent demoniacal possession would be almost incompatible with the miserable trade of prostitution. If Luke had wished to intimate that the ἁμαρτωλός is Mary Magdalen, he could have done it much more clearly. Had he wished to conceal the fact, he would not have placed these two sections in juxtaposition. Had he wished to withhold the name of the ἁμαρτωλός, who may possibly have been included among the ἕτεραι πολλαί [“many others”, Luke 8;3 NASB], he would have done as he has done. The ἁμαρτωλός [Luke 7:37] and Mary Magdalen [Luke 8:2, 24:10] and Mary of Bethany [Luke 10:39, 42] are three distinct persons. (Plummer, The Gospel According to St. Luke (International Critical Commentary), 216)R.T. France (1938-2012) concedes:
The traditional chapter division obscures the significant link between this story and the following account of other women associated with Jesus’s ministry. On the other hand, however, too much was made of the juxtaposition of the two stories when later tradition supposed that Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2) was formerly a prostitute. There is no biblical warrant for that idea. Luke makes no suggestion that Mary was the woman of Luke 7:36-50, and he describes her deliverance in quite different terms. (France, Luke (Teach the Text Commentary), 134)Susan Haskins contemplates:
That Mary Magdalen’s condition might have been psychological, that is, seen as madness, rather than moral or sexual, seems never to have entered into the considerations of the early biblical commentators, although it preoccupied her interpreters from the nineteenth century onwards. There is, afer all, no implication in the story of the man possessed of devils that his ‘unclean spirit’ is sexual (Luke 8:26-39), nor in that of the demoniacs whose ‘devils’ went into the swine which ‘ran violently down a steep place into the sea’ (Matthew 8:28-34). Nor, indeed, in the story of the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman who was cured of her unclean spirit (Matthew 15:21-28). Mrs. [Clara Lucas] Balfour [1808-1878], the noted nineteenth-century Evangelical, was one of the first to deny that Mary Magdalen’s malaise was anything other than psychological, and more recently one scholar has written that rather than being in a state of sinfulness, she probably suffered from a ‘violent and chronic nervous disorder.’ (Haskins, Mary Magdalen: Truth and Myth, 14-15)Justo L. González (b. 1937) accuses:
The manner in which Mary Magdalene has been traditionally depicted merits some reflection. There is nothing in the text to suggest that the “seven demons” of which she had been cured had anything to do with sexual impurity or immorality [Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2]. Nor is there any reason to think that the “sinful woman” of the previous section [Luke 7:36-50] had any particular connection with Mary Magdalene. Yet the common notion, often depicted in art, is that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. This may well be the result of a history of interpretation dominated by men—and by men who tended to see woman almost exclusively as sexual objects, and their sins as mostly sexual in nature. (González, Luke (Belief: a Theological Commentary on the Bible), 103)Mary Magdalene has been unduly disparaged as a grievous sinner, most commonly a prostitute, throughout much of the western church’s history. Whereas Mary the mother of Jesus has been almost deified in some circles, Mary Magdalene has been equally chastised. Instead of being pitied for her condition, the victim has been blamed.
Jesus redeems Mary. Yet the church has undone the redemption of her reputation. In publicly maligning her, her name has been irreparably damaged. But God knows the truth.
What maladies evoke sympathy, which evoke disdain? Has Mary Magdalene been treated fairly by history? When has a false accusation spread out of control?
“Reputation is what men and women think of us; character is what God and angels know of us.” - Thomas Paine (1737-1809)