"Mary Magdalene, apostle to the apostles or repentant sinner." Discuss.

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Mary Magdalene was the first eyewitness of the risen Christ, and for this reason she was also the first to bear witness before the male apostles. The four canonical gospels recount Mary Magdalene's early possession by demons, her cure by Jesus, the fact that she was financially able to support Jesus' ministry, that she remained with him during the crucifixion and in coming to the tomb on Easter morning, became the first to see the risen Jesus. The Gospel of Mary does not add any biographical information about her; it does stress her spiritual and visionary wisdom, her prestige among the disciples, and her closeness to Jesus. Gnostic and other non-canonical writings show Mary as a leader in the early Church. The general public view of Mary Magdalene is the repentant prostitute. Actual biblical accounts of Mary paint a far different portrait than that of the bare-breasted reformed harlot of Renaissance Art.

Tradition has seen the merger of Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and the 'sinful' woman as one and the same. The New Catholic Encyclopaedia states that "it is more difficult to understand how the repentant sinner ... was identified as Mary Magdalene by Gregory the Great, since St. Luke introduces Mary by name immediately after finishing the story of the penitent woman, whose name he either does not know or wishes not to reveal".1 Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), she has been officially affirmed as "Apostle to the Apostles," both in the new Catholic missal of 1969 and by Pope John Paul II in his 1988 encyclical Dignitatum Mulieris.2 Hence she came to be called 'the Apostle of the Apostles.'The fragmentary snippets of information in the gospels show Mary was healed of seven demons. In the culture of Jesus' time, mental and physical illnesses were often attributed to demonic possession. There is no gospel evidence that the seven devils possessing Mary refers to any sexual misconduct (NRSV Luke 8:2). In fact, all other New Testament references to devils are explained as physical or psychological illness. Seven is also a complete number, used to describe the severity of her illness.3 There is no definitive gospel link between Mary of Magdala and the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1-11), or with the woman sinner who anoints Jesus' feet (Luke 7:37) or the woman who anoints Jesus' head (Mark 14:3-11), or with Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (John 12:3 and Luke 10:38). The eastern Orthodox tradition has always maintained that Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and the 'sinful' woman were separate identities.4 This image of Mary Magdalene as the repentant sinner along with the 'temptress' Eve and Mary the 'Virgin Mother' form the basic Christian model for females and have determined the characterisation of women for centuries.5The use of the name 'Magdalene' implies that Mary originated from the city of Magdala. Mary Magdalene is not called by the name of a man but by the name of a place. She is called 'Mary Magdalene' in all four canonical gospels (Mark 15:40; John 20:1; Luke 24:10; Matthew 27:61). When mentioned, Mary Magdalene is always named first, before all others. Ingrid Maisch argues that this unique characteristic highlights her importance to the Jesus movement.6 Mary's origins in Magdala reveal that she came from a city environment that was culturally influenced by Roman settlement. Archaeological evidence shows that the city had a Roman layout and evidence of both Jewish and non-Jewish settlement.7 Maisch suggests that Mary, a financially comfortable, independent city woman, who was liberated enough to be free to follow Jesus would have been unusual among the disciples of Galileans of village backgrounds and of lesser financial means. This could suggest why she was known as 'the Magdalene.'8 Mary was referred to as the 'woman from Magdala', a city woman influenced by Hellenistic culture, who was well known among Jesus' followers.

In the canonical gospels we learn about those who accompany...
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