Mary Magdalene: How important is She?
by Sid Pranke

Throughout art history, there are many images of Mary Magdalene that depict her as a cloying, repentant woman—eager to listen, eager to please, aware of her “unworthiness.”

Another image of her—featured with the egg icon—seems confusing at first. It shows strength, resolve, and what about the egg? An obvious fertility symbol?

If you remember the Easter Bunny and dyeing Easter eggs, then you had a clue all along, it turns out—and the resurrection is tied up in that too. There was a pagan festival for Eostre/Ishtar, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring (whose symbol is the rabbit), which celebrates the end of winter and the start of spring. The tradition of hard-boiling eggs and painting them symbolizes new hope and dates back to 4000 B.C.

Even in the “accepted” New Testament gospels, Mary Magdalene’s importance to the events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ is clear: she was present at the cross (Mark 15:40) and the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection (John 20:13-15). Here we have another parallel to myths—this one to resurrected gods: the Egyptian goddess Isis mourning over her husband/brother Osiris’ death. In ancient times, among well-to-do Egyptinas, young men often married their sisters, mostly to keep property in the family. Egyptian mythology holds that Isis was the daughter of the god Keb (“earth”) and the goddess Nut (“sky”). Like Jesus, Osiris was put to death on a Friday, according to some sources. Set, the god of Destruction, dismembered the body of Osiris into 14 pieces and scattered them. Isis searched hard to locate the many pieces of Osiris. She eventually found them and performed the first rite of embalming. She magically bound the pieces together with cloth strips, making the first Egyptian mummy. Isis then became a bird, enfolded Osiris in her wings and brought him back to life. So, both Mary Magdalene and Isis had mourned the loss of their beloved. Osiris arose from the dead, as did Jesus.

Some people point to these similarities and suggest that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were reenacting the Egyptian Osiris’ resurrection story, according to Meera Lester, author of “Mary Magdalene: the Modern Guide to the Bible’s Most Mysterous and Misunderstood Woman.” Mysterious and misunderstood, yes, but some of the intrigue was more insidious, deliberate and political—the behavior of the Church regarding Mary Magdalene’s role for instance. In his website, writer Andrew Collins asserts (along with many others) that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ “chosen successor—and not St. Peter. The early Church Fathers chose to marginalize and denigrate her rather than see her become the role model for women, and in rewriting the Christian story to make her unimportant, they effectively condemned generations of women to disenfranchised, uneducated and degraded lives.” That is a strong statement, one that might invite a strong backlash. But it’s hard to imagine it being worse than the last 2,000 years.

The Church is now accepting Mary Magdalene as one of Jesus’ disciples, and before his death, Pope John Paul II proclaimed her “Apostle to the Apostles.” But there is still much controversy surrounding her former status as “reformed prostitute” among Christians and Gnostics alike, as well as with the nature of her relationship with Jesus.

Mary’s identification as a prostitute stems from Pope Gregory I’s Homily 33, delivered in 591 C.E. (a symbol equivalent to A.D. which means ‘common era,’ and one which is used more frequently, along with B.C.E, which means ‘before common era.’). Pope Gregory I declared: “She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary, we believe to be Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark. And what did these seven devils signify, if not all the vices? … It is clear, brothers, that the woman previously used the unguent [ointment, balm] to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts.” Only in 1969 did the Catholic Church officially repeal Gregory’s labeling of Mary as a whore, but as many scholars note, that information was not preached much, if at all, from the pulpit. This could explain why many people today still consider Mary Magdalene the “penitent whore” who was saved by Jesus’ compassionate teaching and grace.

Other authors write that the “whore” legend may have developed because of Mary’s purported involvement with “sacred sex.” Lynn Picknett, author of “Mary Magdalene: Christianity’s Hidden Goddess,” writes, “It would be unduly hasty to dissociate her from all suspicion of ‘prostitution’ in an excess of modern zeal to rehabilitate her. Several researchers have pointed out that the ‘seven devils’ that were allegedly cast out of her may be a garbled reference to the seven underworld gatekeepers of the pagan mysteries, and may provide a valuable clue about her real background.”

Her real background, according to many researchers, may include a role as a temple priestess. Merlin Stone, in “When God was a Woman,” writes, “During Biblical times is was still customary, as it had been for thousands of years before in Sumar, Babylon and Canaan, for many women to live within the temple complex, in earliest times the very core of the community.” If Mary was a temple priestess, that would help to explain her wealth—she is credited with financing Jesus’ journeys throughout the countryside with his disciples.

Her name, Magdalene, provides clues to this possible role as well. The meaning of the word “Magdala,” according to Barbara Walker in “The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets,” is “high place,” or “Temple”; in Herod’s triple palace in Jerusalem, the sanctuary of High Queen Mariamne. Herod Antipas became ruler of the land through the ancient “sacred marriage” with the High Queen Mariamne, a priestess of the Triple Goddess Mari-Anna-Ishtar, who was popularly worshipped at the time of Christ. Thus “Miriam of Magdala” (Mary Magdalene) was either the queen herself or a high priestess, representing the Goddess Mari-Anna-Ishtar.

In her article, “Was Mary Magdalene a Temple Priestess?” Clysta Kinstler writes that “the temple was communal, held in common. For thousands of years before, not only priestesses, but women with no husbands, children or aging parents to care for, were welcome within the house of the Mother, where they could live useful, happy lives in her service and that of the whole community. This practice endured through Biblical times, when temples still owned their land and herds. They stored vast inventories of olive oil and wine, grain, dried dates and figs, produced by themselves and the outlying community against the threat of famine. They traded the fine wool, cotton and linen they produced for a wealth of gold, silver and brass from the endless caravan of traders.”

Merlin Stone provides some insight into the “sacred sex” link of temple dwellers: “Women who resided in the sacred precincts of the Divine Ancestress took their lovers from among the men of the community, making love to those who came to pay honor to the Goddess … the act of sex was considered to be sacred, so holy and precious that it was enacted within the house of the Creatress … it was upon the attempt to establish this certain knowledge of paternity, which would then make patriarchal reckoning possible, that these ancient sexual customs were finally denounced.”

How did Mary Magdalene meet Jesus? We don’t know. In the official copy of the Bible, there are gaps of knowledge and information: for example, where was Jesus from age 12 to age 30? Some scholars say he traveled possibly to India and Egypt—and studied, with a group called the Nasoreans, an ancient sect whose name derives from the Hebrew nostrim, which means “keepers or preservers.” The city of Nazareth was nonexistent until the 8th decade C.E., so the phrase “Jesus of Nazareth” is a misnomer accurately stated as “Jesus the Nasorean.”

The Bible as we know it today was not even compiled until the 4th century CE. However, many other gospels were written that were not included in the official canon. Among them are the Gnostic Gospels: including the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Mary. Surviving copies of the Gnostic Gospels predate the surviving Biblical manuscripts by 200 years.

The early Christian church became fragmented in the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Gnostics were one of these fragments. The word Gnostic derives from the word gnosis, meaning “mystical knowledge.” Mary Magdalene is exalted in Gnostic texts; they saw her as the embodiment of wisdom and the Sacred Feminine, or Divine Feminine.

What of the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene? Were they friends who worked together? Did Mary see Jesus as the Son of God? Were they lovers? Were they married? Modern books that postulate a romantic involvement between MM and Jesus rely on the Gnostic Gospels, Holy Grail legends and what the Bible does not say. As author Meera Lester points out, nowhere in the New Testament Gospels does it say Jesus was a single man.

Books like “Da Vinci Code” and “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” perpetuate the idea that MM and Jesus were married, and that MM herself was the holy grail, the vessel that carried the royal blood line of Jesus with offspring. The grail is traditionally thought to have been the chalice that caught the blood of Jesus on the cross, or the cup Jesus drank from at The Last Supper before his crucifixion. And of course, Dan Brown fans know the “secret” of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of “The Last Supper”—that MM is actually seated to the right of Jesus, and the space in the center creates an “M”—which signifies Mary Magdalene.

There isn’t evidence to say one way or another whether Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married or whether they had any children. We do know they kissed, that the other disciples were jealous of Jesus’ affection toward her (especially Peter) and that MM spoke her mind as an equal of the other disciples. In the Gospel of Mary, she related a secret esoteric teaching about the rise of the soul that Jesus had given to her in a vision, a statement that was challenged by Andrew, and hotly contested by Peter. In fact, Peter remains a thorn in MM’s side to this day. Elaine Pagels comments in The Gnostic Gospels, “The gospels of Mark and John both name Mary Magdalene, not Peter, as the first witness of the resurrection. But orthodox churches that trace their origin to Peter developed the tradition—sustained to this day among Catholic and some Protestant churches—that Peter had been ‘the first witness of the resurrection,’ and hence the rightful leader of the church.” Using that basis for preeminence in the Church, Mary Magdalene is the true Rock. 

SOURCE: Pulse of the Twin Cities

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