Believing Thomas: Mary Magdalene
By Tom Peterson
©2001, 2017 by Thomas H. Peterson
Readers of this column may remember my assertion in the very first of these essays that the Apostle Thomas was the victim of a bad press. It is further my belief that Saint Mary Magdalene, whom we remember annually in our Church Calendar on July 22nd, suffered a similar fate.
The “seven demons” of which she was cured by Jesus (Luke 8:2) were afflictions she suffered before their meeting. One should note that this simple statement of miraculous cure by Luke refers only to demonic possession, not necessarily sinfulness. There has been considerable controversy as to whether Mary of Magdala, (described as a small community now known as El Mejdel in The Woman’s StudyBible, New King James Version, ©1995 Thomas Nelson, Inc.) Mary of Bethany (sister of Martha and Lazarus) and the unnamed woman who anointed the feet of Jesus with her tears and dried them with her hair (Luke 7:36-48) were one and the same woman. Catholic Encyclopedia points out that most of the Catholic writers believe them to have been the same woman, but that Protestants and Orthodox Christians generally are not so inclined. Apparently, based upon the belief that they were one and the same woman, a tradition has arisen that Mary Magdalene was a great sinner who might even have been a prostitute. I am not one of those who believes this of her.
Herbert O’Driscoll, in his book, For All the Saints, (published by Cowley Publications, © 1995 Herbert O’Driscoll) speculates that Mary Magdalene may have suffered from epilepsy. He says that the 14th century artist Donatello represented her either in a way consistent with this theory in his wood carving of her or in a way consistent with plague victims of his era.
Sam Portaro, in his volume, Brightest and Best, (also published by Cowley Publications, ©1998 Sam Portaro) discloses a Byzantine tradition that Mary Magdalene was a wealthy and influential woman who supposedly went to Tiberias Caesar to report the resurrection of Jesus and to make a complaint against Pontius Pilate. In describing the resurrection, she is said to have picked up an egg and to have been interrupted by Caesar, who said that it was as impossible for a human to rise from the dead as for an egg to turn red. At this moment the egg in Mary’s hand reportedly became bright red. He says that this is the color of eggs exchanged at Easter by Orthodox Christians.
Whatever the truth about her prior character might be, it is clear that Mary Magdalene provided steadfast support for the Lord and the Apostles and were held in high esteem by our Lord. She was there at the foot of the cross when so many others had drifted away. She bravely went to the tomb intending to complete the proper preparation of the Body for burial. There Jesus chose to reveal Himself to her first of all his followers, asking her to go and tell the disciples the Good News. The biographer of the saints, James Kiefer, says that she thus is sometimes known as “the apostle to the apostles.” What a singular honor in the male-dominated society of the time and what a demonstration that anyone can become a saint! +