In today's Easter-themed episode, we discuss Mary Magdalene from the Bible. Zoe (who was raised Catholic) explains biblical lore to Lizzie (who was not raised Catholic). We discuss her depiction in the Gospels, her relationship to Jesus, and the origins of the Madonna-whore complex.
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“The Intersectional Significance of Voice and Testimony: Suggestions for a 21st Century Womanist Reclamation of Mary Magdalene” by K. Evangeline Frye
Mary Magdalene: Myth and Metaphor by Susan Haskins
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Lizzie: Hello, and welcome to Mytholadies, the podcast where we talk about women from mythology and folklore all over the world. We're your hosts.
Zoe: I'm Zoe.
Lizzie: And I'm Lizzie. And how are you today, Zoe?
Zoe: I'm all right. It's been very nice out the past few days. So that's been really lovely. It's good to see the sun. I'm a big fan. I've also been incredibly busy because now I have entered the stage in my life where I am involved with three different shows. Last week, I had performances for one show this week, I have performances for another show. And next week, I start tech week for the third show. So very excited. Life is so busy. It is so busy. There is a performance for a show every weekend in April. I'm involved that's five weekends. I'm involved in three out of five of those weekends
Lizzie: Ooh. Wow. Go-getter.
Zoe: Yeah, one of them I'm act— was acting in, that was last weekend. One of them I'm assistant stage managing and surprise doing soundboard for and that's this weekend. And then one of them. I'm doing the soundboard for and that's for like credit as part of my major and that is in two weekends. But that's the tech week. That's starting next week on Thursday.
Lizzie: Yeah my vantage point is that I watched Smash while it was airing. That's all I know about theater. So.
Zoe: Theater elder right here, Lizzie.
Lizzie: Exactly. Yeah.It was a fun show. Actually, it wasn't that good. Anyway. Right. It's also it's gotten warm here too. I went to the tulip gardens, the big ones in Lisse, Netherlands, which was fun. It was very nice. I saw so many different kinds of tulips. It was great.
Zoe: Yeah. Very Dutch of you. Did you see any windmills?
Lizzie: Yeah, they had a windmill. That you could like, climb, which I didn't do, well, not like climb like rock climbing, but like you could go up and—
Zoe: Why didn't you do it?
Lizzie: I didn't want- first of all, it was crowded. Secondly, I was like, well, what's the point?
Zoe: I guess that's true.
Lizzie: But it was it was mostly tourists. I feel like I have, I, in my mind. I'm like, I'm not one of you.
Zoe: Yeah. You have to keep that level of pride.
Lizzie: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So, before we begin, we'd like to remind you all that we have a ko-fi page that you can donate to us. And if you donate with either a one time or recurring payment, then you can access our bonus content when it appears, which could be soon.
Zoe: Which will be soon.
Lizzie: And yeah. So you should definitely do that.
Zoe: Yeah. Also, we have a website. It has our transcripts on it and has all our sources on it. So you can check that out. It's mytholadies.com. It's linked in in the description. Yeah.
Lizzie: And you should look at that. And you should follow us on Instagram, if we're shouting things out, because we post little edits of the episode. Yeah. Yeah. So who are we talking about today?
Zoe: First, Lizzie, I have a small pop quiz for you.
Lizzie: Ooh, okay.
Zoe: Yeah. Do you know what today is? Friday, April 15. Do you know what today is?
Lizzie: It's Good Friday…?
Zoe: Yes, it is. Yeah.
Lizzie: Oh, okay!
Zoe: So proud of you. Yes. And so today is Good Friday. What does it mean Sunday is?
Lizzie: I'm so Catholic.
Zoe: You are so Catholic. I am very proud of you.
Lizzie: It's also the first day of Passover.
Zoe: Oh, it is the first day of Passover. That is very true. But they are very connected this year. Even more so than usual. And so yeah, so since it's very close to Easter, and the day after the day before this episode comes out will actually be Orthodox Easter. So.
Lizzie: What does that mean?
Zoe: It, so basically, you know, the Eastern Orthodox religion goes by a different calendar than the Catholic religion. It goes by the Julian calendar, which basically adds, it's basically a week later. So their Easter is a week later than the Easter that's most commonly celebrated in like Western Europe. Okay, but basically, that's my excuse for choosing this lady who is a biblical lady very heavily associated with Easter. Okay, and so today I am doing Mary Magdalene.
Lizzie: Ooh! Okay, nice.
Zoe: Yeah. So Lizzie, what do you know about Mary Magdalene?
Lizzie: She's associated with Jesus somehow. I think she's meant to be kind of a trollopy figure in the eyes of some.
Lizzie: I don't actually know very much about her.
Zoe: That's fine.
Lizzie: If I'm being honest.
Zoe: That's okay.
Lizzie: I know the Da Vinci Code. She was... something of her being important.
Zoe: Do you remember what is about her in the Da Vinci Code?
Lizzie: I think I think it was arguing that she did something that was attributed to Jesus, but I don't remember what exactly.
Zoe: Okay. Yeah, so I don't have I'm not really talking about the Da Vinci Code. But like, I'll talk about basically one of the main arguments of the Da Vinci Code in here.
Zoe: So yeah, basically, yeah. Mary Magdalene is a woman from the Bible, the New Testament, obviously, because it's Jesus. She's said to have traveled with Jesus and his 12 apostles and been present throughout his ministry. She is mentioned by name 12 times in the four Gospels, which is more than most of the apostles and more than any other woman except for the women in Jesus's family. So that's pretty cool.
Lizzie: So, Mary?
Zoe: Yeah, Mary, his mother, basically. And Magdalene means from Magdala, which is a fishing town on the Sea of Galilee. It's like, near Greece. And it's basically an epithet added simply to distinguish her from all the other Marys, it's where she's from.
Lizzie: Oh, Okay.
Zoe: So that's what it means. It's not really anything deep. But yeah, I mean, there's so many Marys in the Bible, as you will find out soon. I will talk about I will mentioned several others throughout this this episode. So she's, that's basically just added there to distinguish her from the other Marys. And she is largely believed to have been an actual historical figure like Jesus, although historical records of her outside the Gospels are pretty much nonexistent. So yeah. So since I'm going to be talking about the Gospels in this in this episode, I wanted to give a quick background about the Gospels. For those who did not go to Catholic school, and didn't learn about the Gospels in depth, like I did—
Lizzie: Including myself.
Zoe: Yes, exactly. Especially Lizzie, because you are on a call with me. So therefore—
Lizzie: You teach me so much about Catholicism. I don't know anything about Catholicism until you tell me it.
Zoe: Yes, it's true. We were talking about baptism earlier this week and Lizzie was like, can you be unbaptized? And I was like, I don't think so. But yeah. Anyways, I could have been wrong, though. I'm not an expert.
Lizzie: I mean, I don't know. For all I know, you're like, the expert.
Zoe: I could lie. I could be lying.
Lizzie: You could lie. You could lie and I would definitely believe you.
Zoe: Yeah. But yeah, there are four canonical gospels. They are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If that sounds familiar at all to you. Mark is actually the oldest gospel.
Lizzie: Just sounds like a fake name to me. Like it doesn't sound biblical. But what do I know?
Zoe: Yeah. I don't know what to tell you.
Lizzie: Matthew sounds biblical to me. Anyway.
Zoe: Anyways, so Mark is the oldest gospel. But Matthew comes first in the Bible, because it references the Old Testament a lot. It's basically its purpose as a gospel, scholars generally agree on, is to convert Jewish people to Christianity. So it references a lot of like the Hebrew Scriptures, and basically to prove that Jesus is the Messiah that was foretold in the Scriptures. And that's why it's at the beginning of the New Testament is because it ties back to the Old Testament a lot. But Mark is actually the oldest.
Lizzie: Can I ask a dumb question? What is the difference between- what's the difference between the New and Old Testament?
Zoe: So the Old Testament is like, pre-Jesus, to say in very Christian terms, the Old Testament is basically it has, you know, the original five books, Genesis... Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Numbers, which are contained in the Torah, and then it has a bunch of other stories like it has the story of David has a story of his son, Solomon, and a bunch of other it's a lot longer than the New Testament by a significant number of books, but it basically has like the history of like, I'm okay, this is what I'm not a biblical scholar, because I really only know things about like the New Testament. But it's basically everything leading up to it. Jesus. And the reason I say that is because even though a lot of it is like, similar to the stories contained within the Torah, it's still like, held within a Christian's perspective, because it's meant to lead up to the Christian story of Jesus as a messiah. And that's why it's considered the Old Testament. And then they—
Lizzie: The New Testament is all Jesus-focused.
Zoe: Yeah. And that's like the new story. So like, it's based on the old covenant of God, that God makes with Abraham, which is basically that- his- He is God's people, and his children will be God's people, and that is Jewish people. That is Judaism. And then Jesus makes a new covenant in the New Testament, through his suffering and death. And that is sort of what the New Testament is about. I think I'm not an expert. But yeah, so that's why Old Testament and New Testament is a really Christian framing, because the New Testament is sort of meant to replace or supplement like the Old Testament, whereas like, if you're a Christian, that doesn't really it's not the same. It's not like doesn't have the same way. Because Jesus is not the Messiah unless you're a Christian. I think, again, I'm not an expert. This is my understanding, I am coming at this from a Christian perspective. So.
Lizzie: Makes sense to me.
Zoe: Yeah. So anyway, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are what are known as the Synoptic Gospels, and synoptic comes from synoptikos in Greek, which means able to be seen together. So basically, they tell very similar stories in the same order with very similar wordings. And basically, it's assumed that like Matthew and Luke got a lot of their inspiration from Mark specifically, because it's the oldest but also that they got their inspiration from an unknown and no longer existing source, but source that probably existed, which scholars refer to as Q, like the letter Q, which is interesting. But basically, the idea is that these three gospels all got their ideas and their story from this one source. And that's why they're so similar. And they're called Synoptic Gospels, because they're very similar to each other. But John is not synoptic. It contains some different stories that aren't in the rest of the Gospels. It contains references to "the disciple that Jesus loves" which interpretations of who that is varies depending on who you are. And also, there are some significant differences in the style of storytelling. And so John is not considered synoptic. But it's still considered part of the biblical canon, because overall, it tends to line up with like, the story. There are many gospels that are not canon. There's there many gospels, they're generally called the Gnostic gospels that are just not considered like part of the biblical canon, but are like written about Jesus or the disciples or like discourses, or whatever, that are included in like, biblical study or like apocrypha. Yeah, and I will talk about a few of them. But those are, these are the only four gospels that are considered like the canonical story of Jesus and his life and what happened. So that being said, so and I wanted to like just talk a bit about that, because I think that's an interesting, that has some influence in the way I interpreted some of the stories about Mary Magdalene in the Gospels.
Lizzie: No, I think it's good background information. Like I'm gonna be asking, I'm sure I will ask you very stupid questions about all this as I know nothing.
Zoe: They're not gonna be stupid. Oh, you're not gonna be stupid, because it's very possible that a lot of people listening will have similar questions. So it'll be very helpful, actually.
Lizzie: Fair. Okay. So I will continue to ask questions that are probably obvious.
Zoe: Most people did not go to Sunday school for most weekends of their life.
Lizzie: I mean, not everyone is Christian at all.
Zoe: Yeah, exactly. So the Gospels, basically the story of Mary Magdalene, a lot of the stories, Gospels say that Jesus exorcised seven demons from Mary's body. And afterwards, she became completely devoted to Jesus and followed him from time to time throughout his ministry. And she was not unique in that she was one of several women alongside the disciples to do this.
Lizzie: Oh, and those are the seven deadly sins. Or no?
Zoe: Well. Well, we'll get to that.
Lizzie: Okay, got it.
Zoe: Yeah. Luke states that she helped provide for the disciples with her resources, indicating that she was likely very wealthy. And she helped fund Jesus's ministry because like, they were basically. I mean, one of the big thing about Jesus's like, ministry was like, Give all your wealth away. So they didn't have a lot of money. So they're basically relying on the charity of others, and she was one of the people being charitable. And so the story of exorcism is found in an extended version of the gospel of Mark that was added later potentially inspired by the gospel of Luke. That's just some Biblical stuff. They're all drawing on each other. All the Gospels agree that Mary Magdalene was witness to Jesus's crucifixion along with several other women including, which are different, depending on the Gospels. So in Mark it says that Mary Magdalene lives there alongside Mary, mother of James, Salome, who was a follower of Jesus, not the woman who asked for John the Baptist's head.
Lizzie: Different, different person. Than the other Salome.
Zoe: Yeah. And that so that's it. Yeah. Then Matthew says that Mary was there, Mary Magdalene was there along with Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, and the unnamed Mother of the sons of Zebedee, who could have also been Salome, biblical scholars think, but it's not stated directly. Then John says that Mary Magdalene was there with Mary, the mother of Jesus and Mary, the wife of Clopas. And then Luke's just says that a bunch of unnamed woman were there. And I guess everyone just assumed that Mary Magdalene was one of those unnamed woman because she's listed in all the other ones. I have in my notes, it was a Mary affair. Ha ha ha ha. That's a bad joke.
Lizzie: I thought it was great.
Zoe: Anyway, so as basically it's significant that Mary Magdalene is listed in all the Gospels considering the other differences and women present throughout the Gospels. And that's why I wanted to talk about the Gospels and like the differences and similarities with them, because the fact that she is similar throughout all the Gospels, including John and not just the Synoptic Gospels, for me is significant. Because that just is a lot of evidence that she was there.
Lizzie: Okay, so it's like, it is in question whether she was there then. But you're like, No, she was there probably.
Zoe: Basically, like, she she was pretty much definitely there. I think most historians are like, yeah, she was, she was probably there.
Lizzie: And this is significant because why?
Zoe: Oh, I just think it's neat.
Lizzie: Oh, got it. Got it. I mean, maybe, maybe it means something to be in a little audience there. I don't know.
Zoe: I mean, I mean, so basically, the idea is, it's very significant that a woman was there, you know? Because I mean, as we know, the church is a very patriarchal institution. And—
Lizzie: Yeah, and this gives her a lot of significance in the bible.
Zoe: Yeah, like, she's the only person that we know for sure was at Jesus's crucifixion. And I think that's important. That's important to me, personally, maybe no one else cares. Maybe everyone's like, okay, whatever.
Lizzie: No, no, yeah.
Zoe: I'm like, that's cool.
Lizzie: Yeah, okay.
Zoe: And it's, it's, it's my week, and I get to say whatever.
Lizzie: It's true.
Zoe: It's also significant, because the overall accounts of Jesus's passion and crucifixion differ a lot across the Gospels, as someone who's heard pretty much all of them throughout the many years I've been going to church. And that's likely influenced by the personal politics and agendas of each of the gospel writers. But they're all like, no, she was there. She's she saw him. Okay. And so that's why a lot of scholars think that it's pretty much based on historical facts, because it wouldn't be so consistent throughout. And the gospel writers probably wouldn't have invented women attending such an important event in Christianity, because they wouldn't have cared. You know, it wouldn't have been significant for women to have been there. Like, they wouldn't have made that up, they would have had just to include it because it was like so undeniably true. And this is me talking about the crucifixion as a historical event, not like as you know, whatever, as like the religious significance, a significant event, because, like, as a historical event, most people agree that it did happen. And most people agree that it was she was there. And so she's also present at Jesus's burial and the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, and then this is her starring moment.
Lizzie: Ooh, okay.
Zoe: Mary Magdalene is possibly most famous for being the first person to witness Jesus's resurrection. It's a detail found in all four Gospels, although the stories differ depending on the gospel. So I'm gonna go gospel by gospel. So in the Gospel of Mark, Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother, James; and Salome all go to the tomb just after sunrise on the third day, and find the stone already rolled away. So Jesus was placed in this like grand stone tomb in the Bible. And the stone was placed in from the entrance to protect it from you know, like the elements. And they entered, the stone had been rolled away, which is like pretty wild, because it's giant stone, and they entered it. And they met a man dressed in white, who told them that Jesus had already risen from the dead, and that they should tell all the other apostles the good news, and that Jesus would meet them in Galilee. However, they did not tell anyone because they were too afraid. That's Mark.
Zoe: In the Gospel of Matthew, Mary Magdalene, and quote, "the other Mary", who knows who that was, go to the tomb. Once there they feel an earthquake and an angel dressed in white descends from heaven in front of them rolling away the stone. The angel tells the women that Jesus has risen from the dead, and then the risen Jesus Himself appears to them. He tells them to tell the other disciples the news and to meet him in Galilee. Then in the Gospel of Luke, a group of unnamed women go to the tomb and find the stone already rolled away and sign the tomb, they find two young men dressed in white, who tell them that Jesus has risen from the dead. They are not given a direct commission to spread the news by either Jesus or the angels, but they go to tell the remaining 11 apostles. However, the stories are dismissed as nonsense, until Jesus Himself appears before all of them. Even then, Jesus only directly appears in front of the male disciples, not Mary. And in the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb by herself, when it is still dark, she finds the stone rolled away and runs to get the apostle Peter and "the beloved apostle". They come with her to confirm that the tomb is empty, but then they leave. Alone in the garden, Mary sees two angels in the tomb. And then Jesus Himself appears to her. She originally mistakes him for the gardener, but then recognizes him. And he tells her to tell the apostles the good news. And so later versions of the gospel of Mark add other episodes to the end of the story based on the other gospels, including Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene alone. And so that is the story of Mary Magdalene. Her most important moment and the moment she is most well known for, at least in my perspective, which is that she is the person who discovered the most significant moment in Jesus's entire life, which is that he rose from the dead after his death. And he was like, you know, ultimate miracle. And she was the one who learned about this first.
Lizzie: It's interesting that in each version, it's always women going to the tomb and discovering him. Like, why is that?
Zoe: So I think the story generally says they want to, like go and anoint his body with something I think. So like, actually, this is interesting, because I was doing I did a quick bit of research about Orthodox traditions, because I was like, do the, just like, Eastern Orthodox Christianity even care about Mary Magdalene? They do, they have a special holiday. And it's called the like, Ceremony of the Myrrhbearers. So that's like myrrh bearers, bearing myrrh. And they, basically, were taking myrrh to the tomb to anoint Jesus's body with it. And that was when they discovered that he had risen.
Zoe: And that's why they had gone there. You know, and I believe that, like, that's a traditionally like, you know, feminine role is to, you know, anoint, the body prepared the body, burial, or after burial. And oh, actually, okay. This is something I think I remember. So Jesus dies on a Friday. They can't do anything about his body, for your whole day, because it's a Sabbath, the Sabbath on the Saturday, you can't like do anything. So they put him in the tomb. And then I think on Sunday, they were going to anoint his body and start the burial preparations, only to find that he had risen. Yes, I believe that is the story. I could be wrong. I will find out later today.
Lizzie: Okay. It's interesting that like, that's like his, that Jesus kind of big thing is that he was resurrected or whatever. And nobody was there to witness the actual resurrection. They just like, come and realize that he had risen again.
Lizzie: So that kind of happens off screen, you know.
Lizzie: That's interesting to me.
Zoe: It's all about the message. I mean, it's all about the message, right? Because that's the thing that we have evidence of is the message that we know for sure that people really believed that and they started telling everyone that.
Lizzie: Got it. So what happened next?
Zoe: Everything else is a matter of belief. Yeah. Well, so basically, that's the kind of end of the, the Gospels, and then we have Jesus appears to the disciples, there's, he stays he, like, proves that he's really risen from the dead to them. He ascends, there's the Pentecost, which is, the Holy Spirit comes down to the apostles from heaven, and then they go out and start spreading Christianity to the world. And that's the beginning of Christianity. And Mary Magdalene is like a part of that. But there's less details about her after that, but she is mentioned in apocryphal texts.
Zoe: So Mary Magdalene is mentioned in many apocryphal Christian texts, as I said, such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Pistis Sophia. So in these texts, she's shown to have played a significant role in Jesus's ministry and the founding of the early church, which is not as depicted in Acts of the Apostles, which is the biblical book about the early church. She is depicted as having a close personal relationship with Jesus and is often described as "the disciple he loved the most", which leads many scholars to speculate about the possibility of a romantic relationship between the two of them, which is kind of what the Da Vinci Code is about is that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a child.
Lizzie: Oh, right. And then that child was Audrey Tautou, or like, that's a descendant of that person, right?
Zoe: Yes, exactly.
Lizzie: Yeah, okay, I remember now.
Lizzie: And was this like a scandal? Like, was Jesus supposed to be like chaste? Or like, did that not matter?
Zoe: Oh, yeah, this is a huge scandal. Christians don't like to. I mean, like Catholics in general don't like to believe that Jesus had sex for the most part.
Lizzie: Okay, got it.
Zoe: So, in like the 70s. I can't remember exactly when the movie came out. But there was a movie based on a book called The Last Temptation of Jesus Christ, or Christ, just Christ. I can't remember what it's called. But in this movie, Jesus is shown to have sex with Mary Magdalene. And people were horrified. They were angry. They were rioting. They were burning copies in the movie and like bonfires like it was it was massive, it was a whole thing like this is this is a huge thing. And so like, I mean, you have it in other things like in Jesus Christ Superstar, there's basically implications that Mary Magdalene is in love with Jesus, but it's not really shown to be reciprocated as much. But in this movie, that's basically showing that they had like a thing. And that is not okay. For most for like, really devout Christians, like that is not allowed. You can't do that. It's controversial. And it's not canon, biblical canon. So.
Lizzie: It seems like all this is kind of like inference and like analysis. Like, it seems like a lot of this is not explicitly known like, 100%.
Zoe: Yeah. I mean, like, I understand how, like, one could assume that, like, the disciple he'd loved the most could be like, oh, they were having a relationship. You know, but I mean, it is all inference. It's like, basically, you come to this conclusion, and then you write a paper, and then scholars write paper saying, no, this cannot be true. Because in this fragmented text we found in Egypt, like it says this or whatever.
Lizzie: I mean, not to be like that. But I feel like if it had been like Matthew, or Luke, or someone that he loved the most, like, not a woman, they probably wouldn't think that, you know?
Zoe: Yeah, well, here's the thing. So, speaking of a lot of people, I mean, one of the main interpretations of the disciple that he loved the most, or like, the disciple whom Jesus loved, in John, like, you know, that's often said is like, oh, the disciple whom Jesus loved is like, brought to the tomb or was there at the cross. And a lot of people interpret that to be John, which, to me is really funny. Because imagine, you're like writing, you're writing a story about Jesus, and you're like, yes. And the disciple whom Jesus loved: me. But, I mean, yeah, and I don't know some people, I think there are people who've definitely interpreted that as like, that's gay.
Lizzie: Oh! That's really fun.
Zoe: I don't know how many of them are biblical scholars, but like, and then I believe that in the Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown interprets that as Mary Magdalene, which to me doesn't make sense because she's already listed. So it's like Mary Magdalene, and the disciple whom Jesus loved: Mary Magdalene. Like, that doesn't make sense to me, but also, whatever anyways, okay, so there's also a text called the Gospel of Mary. It's not written by her, but it's about a Mary That's presumed to be Mary Magdalene, although that is debated. Some people think it could be Jesus's mother. Some people think it's a sister of Jesus that's been lost to history named Mary. Just a wild fact that I learned while doing research. It is super fragmentary. Much of it is missing. But the part that remains depicts Mary comforting the disciples after Jesus's ascension, as they are afraid of what they have been sent out to do and don't know what to do without Jesus. And so Mary recalls a conversation that she had with Jesus about visions, and eventually begins talking about a revelation that she had through a vision. And then four pages are missing. So we don't know what she said. But then, after those four pages are missing, she is challenged by the other disciples, Peter and Andrew specifically doubting that she had a private conversation with Jesus without the rest of them. Andrew says, "say what you think concerning what she said for I do not believe that the Savior said this. For certainly these teachings are of other ideas." And Peter said, "Did he then speak secretly with a woman, in preference to us, and not openly? Are we to turn back and all listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?" So yeah, I have thoughts about that. I have a lot of thoughts about that. First of all, I mean, it's misogynistic. Like this seems misogynistic that the disciples like don't want to listen to Mary. Because she's a woman. And also Peter sounds jealous.
Lizzie: It kind of sounds like he sounds like a jealous sibling. He's like, oh, does dad like you the best, you know? It's kind of funny. Like, is Jesus your dad?
Zoe: Yeah. So that's that's a little silly. And there are other apocryphal texts. They depict Mary as the leader of the disciples, the one teaching them what to do. And the one experiencing Jesus's divine powers through visions. So it's really interesting. There are these texts that depict Mary Magdalene as like a really significant leader of the disciples, the one who's like, sort of showing them what to do through Jesus's like, ministry and like the beginnings of the early church. And that is interesting, because at the beginning of like, in a very early church, and like the Roman Empire, women played a significant role in the church, and then eventually that sort of died out through like, enforced patriarchy and stuff. So it's interesting. So, at the beginning of when I asked you what you knew about Mary Magdalene, you said she was kind of a trollopy figure.
Lizzie: I thought that she was viewed as such, not that I think that she is. No judgment to Mary Magdalene from my end.
Zoe: Can you just say what you meant by a trollopy figure?
Zoe: Yeah. So Mary Magdalene is generally known in the public consciousness as a sinful woman often considered to be a sex worker.
Lizzie: Oh, okay.
Zoe: However, I get to do a little you're wrong about.
Lizzie: Ooh, okay! Got it.
Zoe: Hashtag #yourewrongabout. There is no technical evidence in the Bible to support that.
Lizzie: Then why do people think that?
Zoe: I'm going to tell you. We know that she's most likely an independent woman with no family of her own. And we know this because her epithet refers to a place, Magdalene Magdala. And usually epithets—
Lizzie: Rather than like a family name.
Zoe: —yeah, refer to their relationship with a man in their life. For example, we have Mary mother of Joseph, for example. And she seems to be quite wealthy in her own right, as she was providing for Jesus's ministry out of her own wealth and possessions. So where did she get the wealth? I guess we don't know. But this depiction, it doesn't say that this depiction has been around for a long time, like, but it was really kicked into high gear in 591 C.E. by Pope Gregory I.
Zoe: And so what this Pope did, Pope Gregory I, he equated Mary Magdalene, with Mary of Bethany, and this Mary was a "sinful woman", quote, unquote, in the Bible. And what she is known for is that she is in a scene in the Bible where she washes Jesus's feet, and perfumes them. And basically, she's described to be sinful by like the disciples. And then he also to states that the seven devils driven out of her were actually the seven deadly sins. And so what this does, then, is the idea of Mary Magdalene, as a repentant sex worker supports medieval theological thought, which emphasizes the importance of penitence, you know, regretting your actions, your sins, feeling sorry, and really humbling yourself, like washing Jesus's feet, super humbling moment. Therefore, Mary Magdalene has repented humbling actions of washing Jesus's feet sets a standard for Christians to follow. And that's basically the ideology that is being created by depicting Mary Magdalene as a sex worker. And also we have again, this dichotomy between Mary mother of Jesus, who is literally the Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalene, who we now view as a sex worker, it is literally the Madonna-whore dichotomy, like, the original.
Lizzie: Like, literally. Yeah.
Zoe: And so now we have that because Pope Gregory I says so.
Lizzie: So, because she had independent money somehow, and because perhaps she washed Jesus's feet.
Zoe: Well, so it wasn't actually her though, it was a different Mary, who washed Jesus's feet basically said that they were the same person, and they were not the same person that is objectively in my opinion, not true that they were the same person. Because Mary Magdalene, and Mary of Bethany, these are two different places. Magdala and Bethany are two different places, so they cannot be the same person. And basically, also, the seven devils driven out to her were the seven deadly sins, which means she's associated with all those really bad things. So basically, he's making her into this really awful sinner that needed Jesus's help to repent. And like, there's nothing bad was wrong with like being a sinner or being like a sex worker. I just think that you shouldn't make stuff up.
Zoe: Just to prove a point or create this ideology.
Zoe: I definitely believe that Jesus associated with sex workers. I think he loved sex workers. I think they had a great time. Obviously, I mean, he was associated with like the quote unquote, like with, like "the hated and cast out of society". Yeah. And therefore I do believe that Jesus associated with sex workers simply because they were likely to be hated and cast out of society, not because they deserve to be that because they probably were, but I also don't necessarily believe that Mary Magdalene was one because there's not really anything to say that she was. And I just sort of bristle at that thought because she- they only said that she was to make the specific dichotomy and to, like, promote the specific ideology that I really like don't support which is the idea of like the importance of like, always present being repentant and humbling yourself and stuff.
Lizzie: Yeah. And there's, I feel like, this idea in Christian thought and like, a theme that you see again and again in like Christian figures, female figures, is that like, if you're a sinful woman, you're definitely promiscuous. Like, if you do anything wrong, you are promiscuous. Even if there's no evidence to suggest that.
Zoe: Yeah, and I mean, like people have talked about, like Mary of Bethany being a sinful woman. And they're like, well, sinful, could have meant anything like basically sinful meant anyone who didn't follow Moses's laws, like the Ten Commandments perfectly, which is like literally every person. So like, it doesn't necessarily mean that she was a sex worker, or that she was promiscuous. It just means that she like, I don't know, maybe she was covetous, and like, jealous of other people. Like, I don't know. Maybe she was rude to her mother. Like.
Zoe: Maybe she went shopping on the Sabbath. I don't know. Like, those are all things that are technically against the Ten Commandments.
Lizzie: Yeah. And there's just the automatic assumption that that means she was promiscuous, or that she was a sex worker, even with little to no evidence.
Zoe: Yeah. And then again, it's all to feel the specific ideas of Mary mother of Jesus as the perfect woman. And Mary Magdalene is like, the bad sinful woman that you don't want to be like, or that you need to like, repent, repent from and like, try and be like the perfect woman. And I don't like that. I mean, like I, first of all, so I really understand if like any sex workers identify with Mary Magdalene and find her image to be empowering. I think that's awesome. I fully understand that. I think that Mary Magdalene being- I think the idea of like Jesus's ministry being funded by a sex worker is really fun and exciting. I love that idea. I just think that like Pope Gregory I, basically, he just said that she was promiscuous, just because he thought it was a bad thing. And I don't necessarily myself think of that as like a positive like representation. And that's why I'm like, I don't know, man. Are we saying this one like, it's not true? We don't know if it's true. So speaking of the demons, it's likely that the seven demons could have been more of a symbolic number than an actual numbers and seven as the number of completion in Judaism. So maybe it wasn't actually seven demons. It's just more of like a symbolic number.
Lizzie: Sort of literary number.
Zoe: Yeah, yeah, exactly. I mean, it's important to remember that the Gospels are literary texts. And there are relatively few details about her exorcism compared to others that are more dramatic, that are found in the Bible. So it was likely not that dramatic, or it was done in private. Either way, like, it wasn't this big thing. It was just a thing that happened. And another interesting thing is that she is generally listed first out of all the woman following Jesus, marking her importance is comparable to the importance of Simon Peter, who is the disciple that Jesus like in the Bible makes the leader of the church, the early church, like the first pope, so that's very important. And as I sort of stated earlier, the Gospel of Mary likely represents attitudes and conflicts that were common in the early church, specifically men questioning woman's abilities to lead and interpret Jesus's teachings. And woman did have significant authority roles in the early church, but then they were sort of shut out from that. Another interesting idea is that Mary Magdalene was elevated to a greater importance to fill the void of a female divine figure that is lacking in Christianity, because as we've sort of talked about, like, there are a lot of divine female figures in early religion such as Inanna, or Ishtar, Astarte, Cybele, Athena. And so by making her into a female counterpart for Jesus, she becomes the Queen of Heaven as modeled after early goddess figures. And that's sort of another possible reason why people were interested in like making her a romantic counterpart to Jesus as well. Another interesting idea comes from parallels between Mary Magdalene and Jesus and Moses and Miriam. And Miriam, first of all, it's the same name just like from a different language, basically.
Zoe: They have the same root. She is believed to be Moses's sister. And then she is the one who puts Moses in the basket and sends him down the river trying to, you know, save his life. And then she sees the pharaoh's daughter retrieving Moses from his basket, and through the witness of his rebirth from the water becomes a kind of second mother to him as well. And so similarly, Mary Magdalene witnesses Jesus's resurrection and rebirth, and could be related to him in the same way. Because like Moses kind of becomes reborn from the water in the basket when the pharaoh's daughter, like picks them up out of the water, and gives him a new life, like free from, like the persecution for a little bit, but and then Mary Magdalene witnesses Jesus's resurrection and a kind of rebirth in that way. And then another thing that was interesting is that I also found parallels to the story of Isis—
Zoe: —who reconstructs the dead body of Osiris, and then brings him back to life. And after which they're able to conceive their son-slash-brother Horus. And so again, we have this woman who is like, helping bring about the rebirth, relife of this one really significant male godly figure. And then through that new life is able to happen.
Lizzie: Yeah, makes sense.
Zoe: And also, really, interestingly, Miriam becomes a reviled figure later on in her story, due to her decision to marry an Ethiopian.
Zoe: And so she begins as someone with a decent amount of authority, but eventually becomes a symbol of sin and repentance, like Mary Magdalene, which I think is really interesting.
Lizzie: I didn't know that.
Zoe: Yeah. Well, the other thing is, if we're talking about like, the Bible as a literary text, like there are drawing, they're drawing parallels between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Like, for example, Jesus is the sacrificial lamb of Passover. He is like the lamb that they slaughter and like, paint the blood over their doors during Passover, if you're familiar with the story of Passover, and also Jesus sort of serves as another like Moses archetype, because he is freeing people from the slavery of sin as Moses freed like the Israelites from the literal slavery of Egypt. So like, there's parallel like they're, they're like, the writers are, like conspicuously literally drawing parallels between the two. Yeah, as like, as a literary text.
Lizzie: Yeah, I mean, the Bible is literary, regardless of what you have what you believe is like factual, like it is a work of literature.
Zoe: Yeah. And it's a work of literature written by people with specific agendas and ideas. Yeah, so not long after the gospels were officially canonized attention began to shift away from Mary Magdalene and focus more on Peter, the man, again, whom Jesus officially gives authority over the church in the Bible. And it began to emphasize that Peter was the first one Jesus appeared to after resurrection, despite textual evidence to the contrary. And so in the epistles of Paul, the apostle, he removes the role of Mary Magdalene and the other women entirely, potentially to erase any evidence or knowledge of her involvement in a story. And that's interesting, because Paul has some pretty negative ideas of women throughout his epistles. So that's very interesting. Wow, those are letters by the way.
Lizzie: Oh, like epistolary. Got it.
Zoe: Yeah. Yeah. So that's interesting that Paul is the one who's like when it really like trying to lead the charge to like, make Peter the main focus, not Mary Magdalene. Yeah. Also, again, as I said that, like, the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene is, like, interesting. I don't really care that much about like, what was true, what was not, I mean, in general, that that's not something we focus on a lot here.
Lizzie: Yeah, that's true.
Zoe: But what I do find interesting is the text I found that discuss how Mary and Jesus's relationship is meant to reflect the relationship between God and the church, which is basically supposed to be a perfect like marital union, sort of similar to the one experienced by Adam and Eve before the fall of man. So like, for example, if you're a Catholic priest or nun, and you're celibate, you sort of symbolically wed the church, or Jesus, depending on if you're a man or a woman. Because it has to be heterosexual.
Zoe: So like, the idea is that God and the church are sort of like symbolically married in a way or like, unified in that way. And so therefore, since Mary and Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Jesus kind of could have that kind of relationship, they emerge as symbolic guides for the church as this union to be modeled after. And it also this is very interesting reflects ideas of certain early beliefs, that original sin created the polarization of male and female, and that in a divine union, such gendered experiences would cease to exist. So.
Lizzie: Oh! Oh... Okay.
Zoe: Interesting thoughts. Interesting thoughts. That's all I have to say about that. But yeah, I mean, I've always been drawn to Mary Magdalene more than Mary the mother of Jesus because Mary the mother of Jesus is like literally created to be perfect.
Zoe: In order to be the mother—
Lizzie: And that's not very interesting.
Zoe: Yeah. And it's also like, I can never be like her because she is literally created without original sin. And that is not me. And I can never do that. You know what I mean? Like, it's just impossible. But Mary Magdalene is an ordinary person and a sinner herself. Like, she's an ordinary person, like, she's a sinner, like, as an ordinary person. And yet, she was still the first and to find out that Jesus was risen, like, not his mother, but her. Like, that's huge. To be that is huge.
Zoe: Like that is so significant. And it wasn't like any of his apostles that had been traveling with him since the beginning. You know, like, it was her she was the one who found that out, she was the one who was present for like, the most significant moment and all of Christianity was this one woman, Mary Magdalene. Like, that is huge.
Lizzie: Yeah, it places her in a very important, like, pivotal role.
Zoe: Yeah. And I've been drawn to St. Peter for similar reasons, too, because like he in the Bible, I've talked about this a little with you, Lizzie, but like, he's always messing up. He's always saying the wrong thing. And there are like, these really funny moments where Peter says something and then the Bible like commentaries, like, but he did not know what he was saying. Or Jesus was like, no, like, you don't, that's not right. You're not understanding me or whatever. But even though he's always messing up, he's still becomes like, one of the main leaders of the church. And it's like, yeah, even ordinary people who mess up all the time can still like, be significant, and like, become really important, and like, have the right idea. And I think that's really important.
Lizzie: Yeah, that seems like on message for Christianity of like, being pro, like, redemption. And you can make mistakes and it's still okay.
Zoe: Yeah. And also, again, as I said, I don't super care about Mary Magdalene and Jesus's relationship. I don't care if they had sex or not. I'm fully willing to believe that Jesus had sex. I don't care. Like, good for him. Like, he did that. I'm sure he did. But also, it kind of does feel like forcing heterosexuality onto Jesus. Like.
Lizzie: Yeah. Of thinking, like, why else would she be important to him? If not, like, for sexual reasons, you know, because she was a woman and she was important to him. So obviously, they were having sex.
Zoe: Yeah, it's like, well, she was cool. Maybe she was a really awesome person. Maybe they just liked hanging out.
Lizzie: Maybe she was really smart. Yeah.
Zoe: She's really smart. She had a lot of interesting ideas. Like, she could have been important to him in other ways, like, and she's like, the only recurring character in the Bible who's not related to him. And so I guess people are like, well, then they must be having sex or like, married, and it's like, oh, what about all the apostles?
Lizzie: What other options are there?
Zoe: What about all the apostles, like, hello? There was 12 men in Jesus's life, that he could be having, he could be married to like you, we don't know. And so that's what I want to say about that. It just feels very boring and unimaginative to just be like, well, it has to be her because she's the only woman. It's like, no.
Zoe: I don't know. I mean, I'm sure they had a really profound and important relationship. I think that like, she was obviously a really significant figure in his life. I'm sure he'd love to be around her. But like, I don't believe that. that necessarily means they had to be romantically involved. That's all I have to say. Anyways, that's Mary Magdalene.
Lizzie: If they were, then good for Mary Magdalene.
Zoe: Yeah, good for Mary Magdalene. Maybe she was involved with another apostle like we don't. There are other people. There are other people there. I don't know. But I think she's cool. Like I said, She's been like, important to me. I think she's really interesting. I think, again, I think it's just so important that the only the first person to witness Jesus's resurrection was this one woman. And I think that's really cool.
Lizzie: Definitely. I know you probably would have said this if you knew, but like, Do we know anything about her early life?
Zoe: Which is like a fishing village actually was pretty prosperous. But anyways.
Zoe: And, I mean, I've read like some interesting things about reclaiming Mary Magdalene. And basically, I read a really interesting paper called “The Intersectional Significance of Voice and Testimony: Suggestions for a 21st Century Womanist Reclamation of Mary Magdalene” by K. Evangeline Frye. And it talks about how Mary Magdalene serves as a figurehead for our community in distress both in the gospels as a leader of the disciples, but also the struggling persecuted young Christian communities in which the gospels were being written. And so on Easter morning as witness to Jesus's resurrection, and the messenger sent for to bring the good news, she brings hope and light into her community. And that's awesome.
Lizzie: That's great.
Zoe: Yeah. That's all I got for you.
Lizzie: I learned a lot about Christianity.
Zoe: Well, that's what I'm here for.
Lizzie: I still don't 100% understand what an apostle is.
Zoe: I don't either, to be honest.
Lizzie: Like a disciple, kind of?
Zoe: I don't—I kind of use that interchangeably. It's not the best.
Lizzie: Got it.
Zoe: Someone could explain it to me. I could have looked it up myself too. I did not. Oops.
Lizzie: Fair enough.
Zoe: Yeah, Anyways.
Lizzie: Okay! Thank you, Zoe, for explaining Mary Magdalene to us. And thank you for listening. Please feel free to subscribe, donate to our Ko-fi, listen to our other episodes, go on our website, et cetera. And we will see you back here again in two weeks.
Zoe: Yeah. Thank you so much. Bye.