Images of Mary Magdalene in Christian Tradition: A Case of Prostituted Identity -- By: Jerry Camery-Hoggatt

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 18:4 (Fall 2004)
Article: Images of Mary Magdalene in Christian Tradition: A Case of Prostituted Identity
Author: Jerry Camery-Hoggatt


Images of Mary Magdalene in Christian Tradition:
A Case of Prostituted Identity

Jerry Camery-Hoggatt

Jerry Camery-Hoggatt holds a Master of Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Early Christian Origins from Boston University. He is Professor of New Testament and Narrative Theology at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California. Dr. Camery-Hoggatt’s area of expertise includes the interpretation of the Gospels and the role of narrative in theological reflection. He is the author of Irony in Mark’s Gospel, Speaking of God: Reading and Preaching the Word of God, and Grapevine: The Spirituality of Gossip.

Christian tradition is sometimes remarkable for the liberties it takes with the reputations of its saints, and in this regard no example springs so readily to mind as that of Mary Magdalene. Tradition has had its field day with the reputation of this once deeply troubled woman; the recent blaze of controversy set by Dan Brown’s incendiary novel, The Da Vinci Code,1 is only the latest in a series of firestorms stretching back almost two thousand years.2

Mary Magdalene has been confused with Mary the mother of Jesus, with Mary of Egypt, with Mary of Bethany the sister of Lazarus, with the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman in Mark 7, with the prostitute who anointed Jesus’ feet in Luke 7, and with the woman taken in adultery in certain manuscripts of John 7:53-8:11. She has been called Jesus’ consort, his wife, and his lover; in one ancient document, she is identified as “she who Jesus used to kiss many times on the mouth.”3

The Western tradition conjectured some sort of deeply seated rivalry with Peter, though this stands in sharp contrast with a very favorable portrait in the East. She has been called the apostola apostolorum, the “apostle to the apostles.” She is demeaned in the Talmud as a hairdresser and a harlot. Christian legend finds her with John the Beloved in Ephesus, with Martha and Lazarus in France, a thirty-year penitent in a cave near Arles, and alone in Rome, accusing Pilate before Caesar for his unrighteous judgment against her Lord.

In contrast, the New Testament shows remarkable restraint in its dealings with the Magdalene. Her name occurs a total of only twelve times. These are confined to the gospels and—except for Luke 8:2f—to parallels of three scenes. All three take place within a period of fewer than 36 hours:

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