Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Were Mary Magdalene and Mary Bethany the same person?

Firstly, Mary Magdalene was also called Mary Magdala. Magdalene, in Hebrew מגדל Migdal means "tower", "fortress"; in Aramaic, "Magdala" means "tower" or "elevated, great, magnificent".

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As a place, Magdala (Magadan?) was a place on the western shore of the Lake of Galilee, 3 miles north of Tiberias.

So, it is possible that “Mary Magdalene” was referring “Mary from a place”, therefore, Mary Magdala, or Mary of such and such distinction, and therefore, Mary The Fortress or Mary The Tower. Of course, it is also possible that it was both, meaning that Mary was Mary The Fortress or Tower, and she was also Mary Magdala, the Mary who did reside in Magdala, a place, perhaps an elevated place with some form of tower or fortress on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.

The fuss about the name
Why the fuss about the meaning of the name of Mary, or what Magdalene was possibly referring to? Here is why: There was another Mary in the New Testament, and she was called Mary Bethany. Who was Mary Bethany? Could she have been the same person as Mary Magdalene?

Mary Bethany (MB), in Scripture, is the sister of Martha and Lazarus (John 11:1-2). There is no dispute about this. In order to know if there is a possibility of MB was MM, we need to look at the background of MB. Just like MM, there was not much written in Scripture concerning the background of MB, Martha or Lazarus.

Siblings’ background from Golden Legend
But in extra-biblical material (Golden Legend or Lives of the Saints, compiled in 1300 AD), these were written of the siblings, Martha, Mary and Lazarus:

They were born of right noble lineage and parents, who were descended of the lineage of kings. Their father was named Syro (Cyrus) and their mother Encharia (Eucharis). The siblings possessed 3 places, (1) the castle of Magdalen (Magdalo), which was 2 miles from Nazareth in Galilee (with Sea of Galilee on the east), (2) Bethany town, and (3) a great part of Jerusalem, which, all these things they divided among themselves in such a way that Mary had the castle Magdalo, whereof she had her name Magdalene; Lazarus had the part of the city of Jerusalem, and Martha had to her part, Bethany.

Mary gave herself to all delights of the body, Lazarus extended all to knighthood, and Martha, who was wise, governed nobly her brother's part and also her sister's, and also her own, and administered to knights, and her servants, and to poor men, such necessities as they needed. Martha was recorded to be without husband, but she, as a noble hostess, ministered and served our Lord, Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, after the ascension of our Lord, they sold all these inheritance.

Isn’t it clear from the above, MB was MM. In fact, Martha was also called Martha Bethany which was the right name, for she owned Bethany. Because they were several Mary in that time and place (Mary or Miriam, being a common and popular name then), Mary was identified either as Mary Magdalene (MM), her rightful name for she owned the castle, Magdalo, at Magdala, or Mary Bethany (MB), especially when she was around her sister Martha or when she was in Bethany, a town near Jerusalem, Judea.

Catholics tradition had it for over 1,300 years, MM and MB were the same person.
In 591 A.D. Pope Gregory I (Gregory the Great) said that MB and MM were the same person. In 1969, however, the Catholic Church (the Vatican), without commenting on Pope Gregory’s reasoning, disassociated MM from being identified as MB or the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50. So, for more than 1,300 years in the early past, Catholics had the understanding that MM and MB were the same person; that was a long time, that it went unchallenged, and it spoke volume.

With the above background information on the siblings, Martha, Mary and Lazarus, it is possible that Gregory the Great was right, but there are no Scriptures to support it. What is important is that the extra-biblical information was in no way in contradiction to any clear facts of the Scripture.

How could the name, Mary, went silent just like that?
There is still one more line of thought that lends support to saying MM and MB were the same woman. In the Gospel of Luke, MM was first mentioned in Luke 8:1-3.

1 After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

The next time Luke mentioned MM (not just Mary but Mary Magdalene) was in Luke 24:10, where MM had gone to the tomb of Jesus and found that it was empty, and she with other women, reported back to the Apostles.

The Gospel of Matthews only recorded MM being at the scene of crucifixion (Matt 27:56), at Jesus burial (Matt 27:61), and at the tomb on the day of resurrection (Matt 28:1-10).

The Gospel of Mark also recorded similarly, MM being at scene of crucifixion (Mark 15:40), at Jesus burial (Mark 15:47), and at the tomb on the day of resurrection (Mark 16:1,9).

The Gospel of John recorded this: MM being at scene of crucifixion (John 19:25), no mention of her at Jesus burial, and at the tomb on the day of resurrection (John 20:1,10,18).

In other words, only the Gospel of Luke had an earlier mention of MM (in Luke 8:1-3), prior to the scene of crucifixion, the rest of the Gospels were silent until MM was at the ground of the crucifixion.

If we traced the time and routes of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Luke 8:1-3 was probably at the beginning of Jesus’ 2nd preaching tour of Galilee; Prior to this, Jesus traveled from His home down south, to Jerusalem, and went back home; after that, He set off for His preaching tours of Galilee. The 1st preaching tour of Galilee concentrated on the West side of the Sea of Galilee, the 2nd tour with the help of the women, and his disciples, the team crossed the Sea of Galilee to the East side of the Lake. There would still be a 3rd preaching tour of Galilee, before Jesus slowly moved south to go to Jerusalem, entered it, back-tracked northward a little, into the province of Perea, before re-entering Jerusalem for the last time.

So, the deliverance of MM was back in Galilee, before His final south trip (to Jerusalem) which would see Jesus NOT returning to Galilee. A lot of time lapsed and a lot of things happened between Luke 8:1-3, and Jesus’ crucifixion, yet MM was NOT reported in any of the Gospels in that in-between period. It was unlikely that MM had NOT followed Jesus in His final south trip to Jerusalem, or at least, joined Him at some point in the trip, for she was there at the crucifixion. If she was NOT significant, which one can argue that, since only Luke separately mentioned Jesus’ deliverance and cleansing of MM, although Apostle Mark, in Mark 16:9, when mentioning MM on the day of resurrection, did identified MM as the same MM Jesus had previously cleansed in Galilee. If she was insignificant, why must she be mentioned at the essential junctures of the unfolding of the Gospel, the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of the Lord? Her presence and mentions at these junctures actually showed she was a significant character. How come she did NOT feature in the long and important in-between period, or was it, it might be she did, in another name, as Mary Bethany (MB)!

Similar argument can be made for MB. Firstly, Jesus said of her this way: “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Matt 26:12-13).

Secondly she was one who had shown great love for the Lord: at one occasion in Bethany (most probably before another separate occasion which had Jesus coming again, on the death of Lazarus {John 11:1-43}), in home of Martha, while Martha was busying herself with foods and so on, Mary was at Jesus’ feet listening to Him; and this is what Jesus said of her action vis-à-vis Martha’s:

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

Jesus was meaning to say that Mary loved Him much, and because she loved Him much, she listened to Him. Jesus talked about love in this way: If you love me, you obey my commands (or listen to my words), and those who obey my commands (or listen to my words) are those who love me. Jesus was saying Mary’s love for Him would NOT be taken away from her.

Finally, 6 days before the Passover, in John 12:1-3, we read of MB’s show of love for Jesus, in Bethany, in the house of Simon the Leper, where Jesus and his disciples, including Lazarus, were having dinner, hosted in honor of Jesus, with Martha serving, took a pint of expensive perfume (costing a year’s wages), and poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair, anointing Jesus for His burial in the days to come. Concerning the lavishing of the perfume on Jesus, Matthews recorded, as in Matt 26:12-13 which I given above, Jesus said MB’s act would be remembered wherever the gospel would be preached in the world.

Wouldn’t it be UNreasonable to find MB was NOT present at the ground of the crucifixion, at His burial or at His expected resurrection day? OR is it that she was there at the crucifixion and burial (remember what Jesus said when she anointed His feet {Matt 26:12-13}. If I were MB, wouldn’t I be at the crucifixion and burial? Wouldn’t you be, when you realised the Lord had given a prophecy involving you, and it was coming to pass?), and on the expected day of resurrection? It was just that she was called Mary Magdalene (MM) when she was NOT with her sister, Martha or she was NOT in Bethany, or it was intentional that she was to be remembered for who was she, Mary of Magdala, Mary The Tower, The Fortress, standing by the Lord when even the apostles stayed away (the disciple whom Jesus loved or the Beloved Disciple might NOT even be one of the Apostles; but there would another story, another article!)?

To me, the above is quite convincingly suggesting to us that MM and MB were the same person.

What about the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50?
There was an account of Jesus being anointed by a sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50, however no name was assigned to this woman. Could she be Mary Magdalene?

The scene was set in Galilee, possibly before Jesus went on the 2nd preaching tour of Galilee where Mary Magdalene and some other women supported Jesus and His disciples out of their own means, as mentioned in Luke 8:1-3. Some are of the view that the scene (Luke 7:36-50) was set in Bethany; that I believe is incorrect. It had to be in Galilee.   [Added: 1 Oct 2013 - The accounts of John 12:1-8 and Mark 14:1-10 are different from this account of Luke 7:36-50.  The John 12 and Mark 14 accounts were probably the same account and were set in Bethany, although there were some minor incongruencies, like the perfume was poured onto the feet in the John’s account, and onto the head in the Mark’s account.  These two (same) accounts were very close to Jesus’ capture for crucifixion (a few days away).  If we could accept that the accounts of John 12 & Mark 14 were the same, then, the woman in Mark 14 was Mary Magdalene, NOT an unknown or unnamed woman.  So, exposition on this Mark 14 should NOT be centered around outsiders as represented by the woman (purportedly unknown or unnamed) and insiders (like those represented by the Disciples); neither should it be expounded as unnamed servant or person in Scripture was referring to the Holy Spirit, as is being, sometimes, preached by some overly grace preachers.  Now, in my view, from the knowledge as contained in this article, Mary Magdalene was an insider, NOT an outsider.]

No name was mentioned for this sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50, and there was no reference back to this sinful woman when MM was introduced by Luke in Luke 8:1-3; as such, linking the two together is almost speculation.

I said “almost” because there is one piece of extra-biblical information that might be used to link the two together, but it must be recognised as only a weak link, because it was extra-biblical and it is a putting of “two and two” together, so to speak:

In the background information given in the Golden Legend, of Mary, it was said that MM or MB (we established the possibility of MM was MB, earlier) took the castle, Magdalo, in Galilee, as her share of inheritance, and gave herself to all delights of the body, so it was possible prior to her deliverance mentioned in Luke 8:1-3, MM was living a life of decadence. But the scene of Luke 7:36-50 was NOT the scene of the deliverance mentioned in Luke 8:1-3; if it was the same person involved, I reckon MM was cleansed before the scene in the home of Simon, the Pharisee, recorded in Luke 7:36-50. If you go by the actions mentioned in the text, of the sinful woman, you will agree with me, the actions of the woman should be those of a person who had been previously touched by the Lord, NOT those of one who was coming to the Lord for the first time, especially if she had NOT been set free from all her encumbrances. She was (still) said as a sinful woman because that was what she was, before she was cleansed by the Lord, and perhaps, there was not sufficient time in-between that people saw and believed of the change in her and her lifestyle. To me, her actions showed she had repented of her previous lifestyle, and so, and therefore, it was proper for the Lord to say that her sins were forgiven her, in that Luke 7:36-50 text.

The Pope Gregory the Great in his Homily 33 indicated his belief that the sinful woman was MM. The pope linked the 7 demons to the 7 cardinal sins or vices, and even said that the perfume MM used to anoint Jesus in Luke 7:36-50 was previously used to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts. The Pope explained her immolating herself at the feet of Jesus was symbol of her penitence, just as I believed it to be.

It is up to you to decide if you believe that Mary Magdalene had a decadent past. If you do, that darkness was cleansed; she repented and was forgiven by the Lord, and she went on to support the Lord in His earthly ministry, and stood by Him in the unfolding of the Gospel, in witnessing His ministry, in standing by Him at His crucifixion, at His burial, and at the expected day of His resurrection, and was the first person Jesus appeared to, on resurrection.

I have put weightage on the Golden Legend material and Pope Gregory I's assertion (which held good for a very long time) in coming to my conclusion, and that conclusion is that MB was MM, and the sinful woman who anointed Jesus in Galilee was MM. Without extra-biblical material, the linking of any 2 of the 3 (MM, MB and sinful woman), is speculation, for there are just NO tenable linkages, in Scripture.

After her deliverance and cleansing, MM became a friend of Jesus, and on His final journey south to Jerusalem, she introduced Jesus to her sister, Martha, and to her brother, Lazarus. Because Martha owns Bethany, and was a noble hostess, and Bethany was near to Jerusalem, Jesus accepted the hospitality of the siblings, and was at Bethany a couple of times. Jesus was said to love these siblings.


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Anthony Chia, high.expressions -
Lord, indeed, over and over again,you showed to us that our shameful past could be put behind us, and we could look to a meaningful future in you when we truly turn to you. When we honor, you will honor us.

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