Who was Mary Magdalene?
A wealthy businesswoman?
Did she wash Jesus’ feet?
Was she married?
Was she dumped at the altar by John the Baptist?
The stories about who Mary Magdalene might have been are wild!
This weekend, I lead a discussion about Mary Magdalene among the youth at my church. What surprises me the most is that we have a wide range of understandings about who this woman was and most of them are not biblical.
The basic biographical background that is recorded in the New Testament comes from Luke 8:1-3
Soon afterward, Jesus traveled through the cities and villages, preaching and proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom. The Twelve were with him, 2 along with some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses. Among them were Mary Magdalene (from whom seven demons had been thrown out), 3 Joanna (the wife of Herod’s servant Chuza), Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources.
That is all we get. There are no other details about her life except for the “minor” detail that she had once had seven demons (more on that in another post).
The rest of the scriptures about Mary Magdalene’s life really describe her role in events – specifically at the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
So where did we get all of these other ideas? How do we get entire movies based upon theories about Mary being married to Jesus?
As the youth asked me some of these challenging questions, I realized the best modern day parallel/metaphor for the evolution of the story and various non-canonical gospel traditions would be fanfiction. People loved the stories so much and loved the characters that they wanted more than what they were given in the official canon. They sought out the connections that were left unanswered. They told the story their own way as they were passed on from place to place. And in some ways, they got rid of extraneous characters and conflated them all together to make the story tighter and more concise.
It was kind of a light bulb moment and as soon as I spoke it out loud in the high school small discussion, they said I needed to run across the hall and tell the junior high youth the same thing.
It made sense to them.
And the more I think about it, the more I’m hooked on the metaphor.