Mary Magdalene

History Uncovered Episode 110:
The Truth About Mary Magdalene

Published March 21, 2024

Though many know Mary Magdalene as a fallen woman and a sex worker, she's actually described in the Gospels as one of Jesus' most loyal followers.

Most depictions of Mary Magdalene in popular culture characterize her in the same way: as a sex worker. In the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, for example, Mary is critiqued by Judas for her “profession” and later sings about how she’s “had so many men.”

Indeed, most people, when asked to describe Mary Magdalene, would probably say she was a sex worker, one who became a symbol of forgiveness and redemption through her relationship with Jesus. However, the Bible doesn’t depict Mary Magdalene that way at all. At no point do any of the Gospels of Mark, Luke, Matthew, or John suggest that she was a sex worker.

In fact, she’s described in the Gospels as one of Jesus’ most loyal followers. Unlike many of the male apostles, Mary Magdalene stays with Jesus during his crucifixion. She’s also the first person to notice his resurrection — because she was the only one sitting outside Jesus’ tomb. And throughout the Bible, there is no clear link between Mary Magdalene and sex work.

Mary Magdalene

Public DomainMary Magdalene (far right) was present during many important moments in the Bible, including Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.

So why did Mary Magdalene come to be thought of as a sex worker?

The answer is a complicated one that has to do with the evolution of gender roles since Biblical times, the Catholic Church, and especially Pope Gregory I. In 591 C.E., the pope gave a sermon that would forever alter the world’s perception of Mary Magdalene by describing her as a “sinful woman.”

The pope hadn’t decided to slander Mary out of nowhere. Religious scholars at the time had increasingly found a connection between stories of Mary Magdalene in the Bible and other women described in the Gospels. The pope agreed that these stories all referred to the same woman. And since some of these women were “sinful” women with “bad” names, he determined that Mary Magdalene was too. By then describing her as sinful in 591, he heavily suggested that she was a sex worker.

But his conclusion hasn’t stood the test of time.

So who was Mary Magdalene? In this episode of the History Uncovered podcast, we’ll be discussing how she was depicted in the Bible and why Pope Gregory I and the Catholic Church decided that she should be described as a “sinful woman.” We’ll also dive into what the Gospel of Mary — which was not discovered until 1896 and is not recognized by the Catholic Church today — says about her relationship with Jesus Christ and her role in his inner circle.

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