Was Mary Magdalene Just A Disciple Of Jesus?

Let’s try and figure out if the ossuary of Mariamne from the Talpiot tomb is the ossuary of Mary Magdalene and if so why her ossuary would have found a place in the family tomb of Jesus, while trying to establish whether or not the Talpiot tomb is Jesus’ family tomb. As referred to in the Gospel of Philip as Jesus’ koinonos, is Mary Magdalene his “companion” or “partner” and perhaps even the mother of his child? (1).

Ossuary said to be that of Mary Magdalene

Inscription on the Mary Magdalene ossuary

The inscription on the ossuary

Mary Magdalene or Mary of Magdala was one of Jesus’ most famous disciples but her rise to fame was after the crucifixion of Jesus. In spite of that she could well have been central to the Jesus movement but for what may have been gender bias. Based on available information her true relationship with Jesus may have been more than just another devoted disciple.

Mary Magdalene is said to have come from a place called Magdala, a town 120 miles to the north of Jerusalem. However her fame was achieved after the crucifixion. She was present at the cross while the male disciples went into hiding fearing for their own lives. Mary Magdalene was also present at the burial of Jesus and according to John 20 and Mark 16:9 she was the first to see the resurrected Jesus. The principal canonical sources of information about her are the four Gospels. However this information, with the exception of Luke, is limited to the period after the crucifixion and apocryphal sources that were written between the late 1st and early 4th centuries.

Mary Magdalene 2

Mary Magdalene Was Probably The Only Witness To The Crucifixion, Burial And Resurrection Of Jesus

In the canonical Gospels she is referred by name, though not always by the same name as a witness to three important events: the crucifixion of Jesus, his burial and his resurrection. In Mark 15:40, Matthew 27:56 and John 19:25 she is named as one of the few witnesses to the crucifixion. In Mark 15:47 and Matthew 27:61 she is named together with “the other Mary” as a witness to the burial of Jesus.

Magdalene with the resurrected Jesus

Mary Magdalene – Most Mentioned Woman In The New Testament

Among the women specifically named in the New Testament the name Mary Magdalene is mentioned most often. And invariably her name is always mentioned first. This is not a coincidence. This is by design to show that Mary Magdalene held a central position not only as a disciple but also because of her special relationship to Jesus.

Apocryphal texts depict Mary Magdalene as a “visionary and leader of the early movement” and one who was loved by Jesus more than he loved the other disciples. The Gnostic texts, most of which are dated between the 2nd and 3rd centuries, portray a Mary Magdalene who is considerably different from the Mary Magdalene depicted in the canonical gospels. According to these texts she is portrayed as the special disciple of Jesus who knows more about the teachings of Jesus and is asked to impart this to the other disciples.

The Other Apostles Were Jealous Of Mary Magdalene

Because of her greater knowledge about the teachings of Jesus and her closeness to him, the Gnostic texts state that the other apostles, especially Peter, were jealous of her. In the Gospel of Mary she is portrayed as someone who knows more than the male apostles. “Are we supposed to now all turn around and listen to her? Would Jesus have spoken privately with a woman rather than openly to us? Did he prefer her to us?” This jealousy is apparent from Peter’s attack on Mary.

The Gospel of Mary purportedly written around the same period as the Gospel of Philip elevates Mary Magdalene to a position higher even than the male disciples of Jesus. Although some question the identity of the central character of these Gospels, it is generally agreed that it is Mary Magdalene.

In the Gospel of Philip, written sometime during the 2nd and 3rd centuries portrays Mary as the koinônos of Jesus – a Greek word that could mean “partner, associate, comrade or companion”. “There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister, his mother and his companion were each a Mary”

Pistis Sophia portrays Mary Magdalene as being among the chosen of Jesus. Written sometime in the 2nd century it quotes Jesus as saying “Mary, thou blessed one, whom I will perfect in all mysteries of those of the height, discourse in openness, thou, whose heart is raised to the kingdom of heaven more than all thy brethren”.

The Resurrection Of Jesus Was The Turning Point For Christianity

It cannot be denied that the resurrection of Jesus was the turning point for Christianity. This was the singular event that transformed a localized group into a major religion. And the catalyst to the movement was none other than Mary Magdalene.

This gospel also depicts Mary Magdalene as “as a teacher and spiritual guide to the other disciples. She’s not just a disciple; she’s the apostle to the apostles” (2).

It is perhaps because of this that Mary Magdalene went her separate way. There is very little known what happened to her after that. Although there are many theories about her life after Jesus’ crucifixion, all of it is speculation. No one knows for certain where she was born or when and where she died.

Mary Magdalene rose in significance with the crucifixion and resurrection narratives. Actually, the gospels say very little about her until the story reaches the day of the crucifixion. But then she suddenly becomes very prominent. She saw Jesus die on the cross, and she watched to see where his body was taken. She went back to the tomb early on Easter morning and discovered that it was empty. And the Gospel of John indicates that she was the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection.

Why Was Mary Magdalene Hardly Mentioned Anywhere Else In The New Testament?

But then, without any explanation, she completely disappears from the story. The Book of Acts never mentions her, nor does Paul in any of his letters. Her sudden entry and exit during the most critical part of the story puzzles many scholars. Since she played such a significant role in the key events, why is she hardly mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament?

Evidence from outside the bible suggests a possible answer. This evidence indicates that Mary was ostracized by the other disciples after Jesus departed. One example of the possible hostility toward her can be found in Section 114 of the Gospel of Thomas, where Peter says “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of the Life”. The Gospel of Mary also depicts friction between her and Peter. All of this suggests that Peter may have led an attempt to drive her out of the original group of believers. These first believers, who became known as the Nazarenes, lived in Jerusalem for a number of years after Jesus’ resurrection, but there is no record that Mary was ever with them.

Some scholars have suggested that Peter wanted to get rid of her because he saw her as a threat to his position as the main leader of the post-resurrection community. She could have also suffered from the general prejudice against women who tried to assert themselves in the male-dominated societies of ancient times.

Although the bible says nothing about her later life, other sources do preserve some stories about her. According to one well-known tradition, she went to southern France and lived for thirty years at a place called La Sainte-Baume. A local church there claims to have her skull and displays it to pilgrims.

During the Middle Ages she became a symbol of the virtue of repentance, due to the belief that she was a reformed harlot. She is the patron saint of Magdalen College, Oxford and Magdalene College, Cambridge. But her name was also used for the infamous Magdalen Asylums for “fallen women” in Ireland (3).

After almost 2000 years Mary Magdalene was again in the news thanks to the discovery of an ossuary with “Mariamne Mara” inscribed on it and a documentary titled the “Lost Tomb of Jesus” co-produced and broadcast on the Discovery Channel and Vision TV in Canada on March 4, 2007. Not everyone agrees with the film makers identifying this Mariamne Mara with Mary Magdalene.

The Gospels refer to Mary Magdalene as Maria about eight times. They refer to her by the Semitic name Mariam four times. However the Gospels also refer to Mary the sister of Martha and Mary the mother of Jesus using the same variations (4).

In the 51 passages of the NT there are 9 different Maries referred:
Mary, the mother of Jesus;
Mary Magdalene;
Mary, the mother of James;
Mary, the mother of Joses;
Mary, the wife of Clopas;
Mary of Bethany;
Mary, the mother of Mark;
Mary of Rome;
“other” Mary (5)

Sometimes One Mary Has Been Confused For The Other

Sometimes one Mary has been confused for the other. Besides this Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany (the sister of Martha and Lazarus), and the unidentified repentant woman who anointed Jesus’ feet were all thought to be the same woman. This led to the faulty conclusion that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute before she came into contact with Jesus (6).

It cannot be said with certainty that the Mariamne in the Acts of Philip refers to Mary Magdalene as this Mariamne is not attributed with any of the significant events associated with her in the Gospels – the Mary Magdalene of the Gospels is healed by Jesus, witnesses the burial of Jesus (Mark 15:40-47) and is a witness to the resurrection of Jesus (Mark 16:1-8). On the flip side there is no mention in the Gospels of any of the fantastic things that the Mariamne of the Acts of Philip is supposed to have done – “such as converting talking animals and slaying a dragon!” Even if there was any reference in the Acts of Philip that could be construed as referring to Mary Magdalene not every one agrees that reference in the 4th century work written in far away Palestine about a 1st century personality can be accepted as proof (7). However in support of the claim that the Mariamne inscription of the Talpiot tomb refers to Mary Magdalene, it may be said that the only other place where she is referred by that name _ i.e Mariamne spelled with an N – is the Acts of Philip (8).


(1) Time Magazine. (Nov 20 2008). Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1860871_1860876_1861032,00.html

(2) Mary Magdalene. 2011. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/history/marymagdalene.shtml

(3) Secret Gospels. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.gospel-mysteries.net/secret-gospels.html

(4) Evans, Craig & Feldman, Steven. (2007). The Tomb of Jesus? Wrong on Every Count. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.bib-arch.org/scholars-study/jesus-tomb-02-b.asp

(5) Layfield, Lavelle. How many Mary’s there are in the Bible? (1998). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.scripturessay.com/article.php?cat=&id=601

(6) Saint Mary Magdalene, “The Apostle to the Apostles”. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.thenazareneway.com/mary_magdalene.htm

(7) Zacharias, Danny. (2007). Judah son of Jesus, one last time. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.deinde.org/blog/deinde_archive_files/deinde%20archive%2016.pdf

(8) Tabor, James. (2008). There’s Something About Mariamne with an “N”. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.jesusdynasty.com/blog/2008/06/

Picture Credits:

(Fig 1) The ossuary said to be that of Mary Magdalene

(Fig 2) The inscription on the ossuary
inscriptionhttps://www.google.co.in/search?hl=en&site=imghp&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1024&bih=635&q=Maria mene+e+Mara+&oq=Mariamene+e+Mara+&gs_l=img.12…2183.2183.0.3734.….0…1ac..64 .img..1.0.0.IcoSae6rewE#imgrc=BW1R053pM2X7MM%3A

(Fig 3) Mary Magdalene
https://www.google.co.in/search?hl=en&site=imghp&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1024&bih=635&q=mary+magdalene&o q=mary+magdalene&gs_l=img.3..0l10.2891.8818.0.11225.….0…1ac.1.64.img..0 .16.1029.VTQcCWNT9eE#q=mary+magdalene&hl=en&tbm=isch&tbs=sur:fc&imgrc=ysrkeJQLIlqZ4M%3A

(Fig 4) Mary Magdalene with the resurrected Jesus
https://www.google.co.in/search?hl=en&site=imghp&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1024&bih=635&q=mary+magdalene&o q=mary+magdalene&gs_l=img.3..0l10.2891.8818.0.11225.….0…1ac.1.64.img..0 .16.1029.VTQcCWNT9eE#q=mary+magdalene&hl=en&tbm=isch&tbs=sur:fc&imgrc=WRJEuqFOfujDDM%3A


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