Mary Magdalene: A Prostitute?

Robert, was Mary Magdalene a prostitute?
The word Magelene comes from Magdala, and is further derived from the Hebrew "magdala," which is used in a Hebrew expression "magdala shayara nshyaa," meaning "curling women's hair," a euphemism for an adulteress. Scripture does not specifically say Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, but the implication is very, very strong. Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2 say that seven devils were cast out of her, and John 7 and John 8 give two separate accounts of a women who was forgiven of adultery by Jesus.

This woman is traditionally understood to be Mary Magdelene. Most of the Latin fathers equated Mary Magdelene with the "sinner" of Luke 7 and with the Mary at Bethany (John 11:1), sister to Martha.

It is generally a Protestant hypothesis that these three persons represent different people, first proposed by the Protestant Westcott. Modern critics have also advanced Westcott's thesis.

It is the Catholic traditional contention that John identifies the Mary of Bethany with the woman who anointed Christ's feet (John 7:38; cf., Matt 26:6-13), since John 11:2 specifically says, "And it was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick." The word "anointed" here is a Greek aorist participle preceded by an article, which would be understood as "the one who previously anointed Jesus' feet," referring to a past event, not the one recorded in John 12:1-11.

The only discrepancy concerns the "two days" of Matthew and Mark before the Passover, and the "six days" of John, but this can be cleared up by noting that John is not referring to two separate anointings but to the fact that Jesus came to Bethany six days before the Passover.

Luke, writing earlier, may not have mentioned her name so as not to defame her while she was living, while John, writing later and probably after Mary was dead, need not have such concern.

Robert Sungenis
Catholic Apologetics International
July 27, 2001

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