“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.”�
Timothy 2, 10-15
“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”�
1 Corinthians 14, 34-36
Before the industrial revolution, the Englightment, even before the superstition of the middle ages, one theory was held by everyone. That theory was the theological theory. That theory stated that God is the creator, the father of all, and his word is divine. We also know that the Bible is the word of God. Thereby, anything written in the bible is the word of God. Thus, if the Bible states that women are sinners or that Mary Magdalene was possessed by demons then that is a fact that can not be contested. As a result, every Christian is born with the same idea, that women are less than men. Therefore, the inequality problem that we are facing today is based on the alteration of the role of Mary Magdalene.
Mary Magdalene is a very controversial woman in the history of the church. Her traditional role found in the bible is that she is a woman who had seven demons in her and Jesus healed her which she consequently followed. She is also the first woman to see the resurrected Jesus. However, most people know her as a prostitute who led a very erotic and carnal life. The media certainly helped to reinforce that image of her. For instance, the movie “Jesus Christ Superstar”� depicts Mary as a prostitute who falls in love with Jesus. In the movie “Jesus of Nazareth”�, Mary is a prostitute of angry intelligence. In the movie, “The Last Temptation of Christ”�, Mary is, again, a prostitute who serves as the last temptation for Jesus.
This image however is wrong. In 1945, thirteen codices were found in Egypt that gave Magdalene a prominent role. Not only that, but several other ancient texts had already been found to support that argument. These texts basically explain the virtue and purity of Mary. Some historical texts explain the responsibility given to Mary to regroup the disciples who were afraid to be persecuted after the crucifixion of Jesus and to send them out on a mission to spread the word. Other historical texts explain that Mary was the child of a wealthy family and that she actually sponsored Jesus and his followers with her money. Not only that but she served as the model for how the disciples are supposed to be during their mission.
The question here, is why this conflicting information? Why do we have two versions of a woman? Why do we all know her as a prostitute while religious and historical texts state that she was a virtuous, pure and wealthy woman? The answer for this question is found in any church that you walk into. From the Catholic Church where the dominant figure is a man: the pope, to the fact that God is a man, to the idea that women are not allowed in the altar, etc. The fact simply is that women today are still subservient to man in the church.
If we went by the historical texts and even biblical texts we will see that nowhere in the Bible does it say that Mary Magdalene was a “prostitute”�. We will also notice that Mary is the only female in the bible that is mentioned several times and in most times she is mentioned first which is a sign of her importance. We also learn that Mary comes from an independently wealthy family and she served as a sponsor for Jesus’ followers. Mary also served as a preacher later on in her life. Thus, all these evidences show that Mary was a powerful woman. A woman who set a new standard for women that they can follow. Some even argue, that one of Jesus’ messages was to show the equality between men and women and what a better way than to choose Mary as the first disciple.
So, why is this not the idea that we have of Mary Magdalene? Part of the answer lies in the bible. In 1 Corinthians 15: 4-8, the apostle Paul writes: “that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born”� Thus, Paul clearly and bluntly excludes Mary from the list of the witnesses who saw the resurrection of Christ even though other apostles in the same Bible state that she was the first to see the resurrected Christ. What is clear here also is that Paul chooses Peter, the father of the church, as the first witness. Moreover, in Mark 16:9, Mark writes “When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons”� Hence, Mary was a crazy woman, a woman we should not listen to. This idea is reinforced in Luke 24: 10-12 “It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”� Therefore, women’s words are nonsense. But why does the church tarnish the image of a virtuous woman?
Author and Historian Marina Warner states that:
“the need for a penitent whore-heroine in Christian mythology shaped the understanding of passages that did and (in Christian imagination) might concern her. This need is not to be reduced to the human appetite for romance or drama; it contains Christianity’s fear of women, its identification of physical beauty with temptation, and its practice of bodily mortification. However, only if we see the story of the “sinner”� as almost obliterating the story of the woman prophet, and the added to the story of Mary Magdalene, do we realize that the process was reaction against the female power and authority of a major witness.”� (232).
Therefore, the inclusion of the element of prostitution respond to the desire to downgrade her and deny her authority, as well as the desire to attach to female sexuality the notions of evil, repentance, and male mercy. Peter Ketter argues that this transformation of Mary Magdalene is an attempt from the church to create a “manageable, controllable figure, and effective weapon and instrument of propaganda against her own sex.”�(36). Dr. Karen King, explains that we may never be sure if there was a “conspiracy”� against Mary or if there was an attempt to silence her. What is clear however is that “every prominent stream of theology and practice within early
The question that keeps repeating itself is when and where did the idea of Mary Magdalene the prostitute started? The answer to that is unclear. Mary Rose D’angelo writes that “this image appears to have risen in the sixth century, when the example of penitent whores became fashionable in the West, producing legendary lives of Pelagia, Thais and Mary of Egypt”� (105). This is reinforced by the fact that in the sixth century Pope Gregory the Great declared that:
” whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary, we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark. And what did these seven devils signify, if not all the vices….It is clear, brothers that the woman previously used the unguent to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts. What she therefore displayed more scandalously, she was now offering to God in a more praiseworthy manner. She had coveted with earthly eyes, but now through penitence these are consumed with tears. She displayed her hair to set off her face, but now her hair dries her tears. She had spoken proud things with her mouth, but in kissing the Lord’s feet, she now planted her mouth on the Redeemer’s feet. For every delight, therefore, she had had in herself, she now immolated herself. She turned the mass of her crimes to virtues, in order to serve God entirely in penance, for as much as she had wrongly held God in contempt.”�
Pope Gregory here eliminates the confusion that Jane Schaberg talked about and declares very clearly and vociferously that Mary Magdalene is the penitent whore that the church needed. This could be the start of the new degraded role that was assigned to Mary Magdalene as a prostitute.
By tarnishing the image of a powerful woman, the early church has killed two birds with one stone. On one hand, the church becomes a more patriarchal system. On the other hand, it prevents women from having a role model and thereby denying them any pertinent role in the future and even lowering their status in the church. After all, it was Eve who was “deceived and became a sinner”� and it was Mary Magdalene who was possessed by demons and was submerged in carnal sin. Thus the alteration begins with Mary and it branches out to all the female population in general. This is evident in the two quotes that I started this paper with. These quotes come from a letter that was sent from Paul, one of the apostles, to a preacher in the church in the first century. Churches, at the time, across the area had women preaching. This letter was essentially written to silence the preaching women. The letter renounced any potential movement by the women for a more egalitarian life under the new founded spiritual movement; Christianity. The letter also renounces women from teaching or having any authority over a man.
The discrimination against women continued throughout history thanks to these early alterations made by the church. For instance, we have Thomas Aquinas who stated that “woman is defective and misbegotten; woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discernment of reason predominates”�. The impact on the alteration of the Magdalene role is very resonant to this day. In a lot of Orthodox Christian churches, “women may not pastor a church, speak in the morning worship, serve on any governing board in the church, serve in any capacity of authority in the church that involves a woman directing men, speak at all in the church, and wear cosmetics, short dresses or pants.”�(10). What is significant here is that throughout two thousand years, women have been constantly loosing a battle to preach in church.