Monday, July 26, 2010

Mary Magdalene Was Not a Prostitute

Mary Magdalene gets a bad rap. We like to depict her as the prostitute who did ridiculous things like washing Jesus' feet with her hair.

The problem is that there are several Marys in the New Testament, and they're not all the same. We have Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary the mother of James, Mary the mother of Joses, Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary the sister of Martha (that's the one who did the anointing), "the other Mary," and Mary Magdalene. Of course, some of these are the same person, but my point is that not every Mary mentioned in the Bible is necessarily either Jesus' mom or Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene is explicitly referred to in Matthew, Mark and John as being one of the women who went to Jesus' tomb (see Matthew 28:1-4, Mark 16:1-8 and John 20:1-16). In these same three gospels, she was also present at Jesus' death, and in Matthew and Mark, at Jesus' burial;

The only really strange mention of Mary Magdalene is in reference to her having been cured of demon possession. This is found in the longer ending of Mark and Luke 8:2.

So where did this idea that she's a prostitute come from? Get this. It's because in Luke 7, an unnamed woman washes Jesus' feet, and he declares, "her many sins have been forgiven." Now, I won't bother going into too much detail on how we can't even be positive this is Mary Magdalene (at best we can peg her as Mary of Bethany, Martha's sister), but the even bigger issue is the assumption the church made.

All we know from the text is that the woman is sinful. What her sins are, we do not know. But to the ancient church (and, um, the modern church), the automatic conclusion is that a sinful woman is a sexually promiscuous woman. Ergo, sinful chick who may or may not even be named Mary = Mary Magdalene is a prostitute.

This is troubling to me. It is even more so because of the way we talk about prostitutes and women's sexuality in general. I decided to write this blog when I recently saw a skit/talk where Mary Magdalene was described as a prostitute and said to have washed Jesus' feet with her hair. When one speaker asked jokingly if that meant she ran a salon, the other replied, "Well, not that kind of salon."

Sure, it's funny. I was amused for a moment, and all the teenagers present laughed. I love irreverent humor and can handle bawdy jokes as long as they're mildly clever. But we couldn't have known every listener's sexual history. How did we know there wasn't someone among us who had at some point sold their body or been sexually exploited? Because, guess what, even unwanted sexual contact brands a woman as somehow damaged. That's a problem, especially when 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted sometime in their life.

So can we please stop saying Mary Magdalene was a prostitute? Can we please start to combat the incredibly negative view of female sexuality that prevails in the church? It would be fine if she were a prostitute and Jesus forgave her, but the assumption that the worst thing a woman could do would be something sexual is a problem.

Note that Mary Magdalene was the first person to whom the resurrected Christ appeared. Heck, Mary Magdalene basically delivered the first sermon. Check out John 20:17-18--she's the first person to proclaim the resurrection. Take that, anti-women-in-the-pulpit people.

3 comments:

Tolkienista said...

You suggest that Mary Magdalene is not a prostitute, and we need to stop tarring her with that brush and making assumptions about women.

You also testify to the truth that Mary Magdalene was the first Apostle, the first to see and proclaim the risen Christ.

I would agree with both. But, I would suggest that there can be something almost as powerful as fighting against the attempt by some to tar and feather Mary Magdalene, or to assume her history by virtue of their own sexist lenses. There is power in believing BOTH these things.

That is, in believing that Mary Magdalene WAS a prostitute and she WAS ALSO the first Apostle. It says something about who God chooses: and that God may not always make the choices that are obvious to us, in our socially-construed world of sins carnal and spiritual. It suggests that we might just have it wrong, that we might see dimly and know partially, that God is bigger than we are.

I guess I mean to suggest that the picture of Magdalene-as-prostitute is ambiguous. Big surprise. What isn't?

Sarah said...

I see your point, Madison. And I realized after writing that post that I was to some degree removing the redemptive image of the risen Christ's first witness being a woman who was redeemed from a socially reprehensible station. Which, of course, was not my intention, and there is a powerful witness in the ability of Christ to draw all people to himself, including "Magdalene-as-prostitute."

I think my main issue is that a prostitute or a sexually promiscuous woman is the worst thing we can think of for a female to be. It reminds me of one time in high school when a guy called me a dyke. I wasn't offended that he was implying I was gay; I was troubled because I knew that was, for him, the lowest blow he could deliver.

Martha Martin said...

Interesting. I agree that it is a awesome illustration of God's grace to use someone with a sinful past. But the truth is that the idea of Mary Magdalene being a prositute is a pop culture idea. There is no real truth behind it. The wonderful thing is that we don't have to add anything to God's word. We are told that demons were cast out of her! That means she was in Satan's clutches, under demonic control and Christ saved her. Not only saved her but gave her life real purpose. We don't have to degrade her reputation any further to make God look better.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mary Magdalene Was Not a Prostitute

Mary Magdalene gets a bad rap. We like to depict her as the prostitute who did ridiculous things like washing Jesus' feet with her hair.

The problem is that there are several Marys in the New Testament, and they're not all the same. We have Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary the mother of James, Mary the mother of Joses, Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary the sister of Martha (that's the one who did the anointing), "the other Mary," and Mary Magdalene. Of course, some of these are the same person, but my point is that not every Mary mentioned in the Bible is necessarily either Jesus' mom or Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene is explicitly referred to in Matthew, Mark and John as being one of the women who went to Jesus' tomb (see Matthew 28:1-4, Mark 16:1-8 and John 20:1-16). In these same three gospels, she was also present at Jesus' death, and in Matthew and Mark, at Jesus' burial;

The only really strange mention of Mary Magdalene is in reference to her having been cured of demon possession. This is found in the longer ending of Mark and Luke 8:2.

So where did this idea that she's a prostitute come from? Get this. It's because in Luke 7, an unnamed woman washes Jesus' feet, and he declares, "her many sins have been forgiven." Now, I won't bother going into too much detail on how we can't even be positive this is Mary Magdalene (at best we can peg her as Mary of Bethany, Martha's sister), but the even bigger issue is the assumption the church made.

All we know from the text is that the woman is sinful. What her sins are, we do not know. But to the ancient church (and, um, the modern church), the automatic conclusion is that a sinful woman is a sexually promiscuous woman. Ergo, sinful chick who may or may not even be named Mary = Mary Magdalene is a prostitute.

This is troubling to me. It is even more so because of the way we talk about prostitutes and women's sexuality in general. I decided to write this blog when I recently saw a skit/talk where Mary Magdalene was described as a prostitute and said to have washed Jesus' feet with her hair. When one speaker asked jokingly if that meant she ran a salon, the other replied, "Well, not that kind of salon."

Sure, it's funny. I was amused for a moment, and all the teenagers present laughed. I love irreverent humor and can handle bawdy jokes as long as they're mildly clever. But we couldn't have known every listener's sexual history. How did we know there wasn't someone among us who had at some point sold their body or been sexually exploited? Because, guess what, even unwanted sexual contact brands a woman as somehow damaged. That's a problem, especially when 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted sometime in their life.

So can we please stop saying Mary Magdalene was a prostitute? Can we please start to combat the incredibly negative view of female sexuality that prevails in the church? It would be fine if she were a prostitute and Jesus forgave her, but the assumption that the worst thing a woman could do would be something sexual is a problem.

Note that Mary Magdalene was the first person to whom the resurrected Christ appeared. Heck, Mary Magdalene basically delivered the first sermon. Check out John 20:17-18--she's the first person to proclaim the resurrection. Take that, anti-women-in-the-pulpit people.

3 comments:

Tolkienista said...

You suggest that Mary Magdalene is not a prostitute, and we need to stop tarring her with that brush and making assumptions about women.

You also testify to the truth that Mary Magdalene was the first Apostle, the first to see and proclaim the risen Christ.

I would agree with both. But, I would suggest that there can be something almost as powerful as fighting against the attempt by some to tar and feather Mary Magdalene, or to assume her history by virtue of their own sexist lenses. There is power in believing BOTH these things.

That is, in believing that Mary Magdalene WAS a prostitute and she WAS ALSO the first Apostle. It says something about who God chooses: and that God may not always make the choices that are obvious to us, in our socially-construed world of sins carnal and spiritual. It suggests that we might just have it wrong, that we might see dimly and know partially, that God is bigger than we are.

I guess I mean to suggest that the picture of Magdalene-as-prostitute is ambiguous. Big surprise. What isn't?

Sarah said...

I see your point, Madison. And I realized after writing that post that I was to some degree removing the redemptive image of the risen Christ's first witness being a woman who was redeemed from a socially reprehensible station. Which, of course, was not my intention, and there is a powerful witness in the ability of Christ to draw all people to himself, including "Magdalene-as-prostitute."

I think my main issue is that a prostitute or a sexually promiscuous woman is the worst thing we can think of for a female to be. It reminds me of one time in high school when a guy called me a dyke. I wasn't offended that he was implying I was gay; I was troubled because I knew that was, for him, the lowest blow he could deliver.

Martha Martin said...

Interesting. I agree that it is a awesome illustration of God's grace to use someone with a sinful past. But the truth is that the idea of Mary Magdalene being a prositute is a pop culture idea. There is no real truth behind it. The wonderful thing is that we don't have to add anything to God's word. We are told that demons were cast out of her! That means she was in Satan's clutches, under demonic control and Christ saved her. Not only saved her but gave her life real purpose. We don't have to degrade her reputation any further to make God look better.

 

Designed by Simply Fabulous Blogger Templates, Modified by Sarah Howell