Mary Magdalene Was Not a Prostitute

Over time, truth and tradition pick up untruths along the way and turn them into hardcore beliefs. No one remembers their origins or the story behind it. They just accept it as “fact”. As I grew older, I discovered a lot of what I had been taught as a child was incorrect. Many things were based on superstition passed down from my grandparents and those before them. One of them was a popular belief in my religion. I was always told that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. That was far from the truth.

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Titian [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Truth
According to the Christian scriptures, Mary Magdalene was a business woman who was possessed by seven demons. Aside from that, we only know that she supported Jesus’ ministry and traveled around with Him as He taught. She was there at his death. This woman was one of the faithful who refused to let fear or uncertainty stop her from her love and belief in her Lord.

The Myth
Tradition holds that Mary was a prostitute. She has also been attributed as the woman who was to be stoned after being caught with a married man. In reading the scriptures, one cannot tie either role to Mary Magdalene. The woman who was condemned to be stoned and was pardoned by Jesus never had a name given to her. She was just a woman who was found guilty of sin and then forgiven. No where in holy scriptures can one find where Mary Magdalene was anything more than a successful woman who was plagued by demons.

The Source of the Myth
So, if one cannot find a reference to Mary’s sinful life in scripture, how did the myth start? It started many years ago in the Catholic Church. Remember that the vast majority of Christians were illiterate. They couldn’t read the Bible for themselves. They relied on the priests and monks to tell them what it said. In order to help parishioners with the many Marys and Johns, priests began to connect them even if there was no direct connection. It was common to hear Mary Magdalene referred to as the woman who washed Jesus’ feet or the one adulteress to be stoned.

It was a Pope who officially made Mary a woman of the streets in 1591.Pope Gregory the Great gave a sermon in which he said that Mary Magdalene’s demons were her sins of the flesh. The Pope made several assumptions and cemented the apostle as a fallen woman. She remained such for hundreds of years. Religious leaders going forward never corrected the “fact”.

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By Pietro Perugino — The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,

Results of Myth
So what if Mary was given an incorrect role? What harm does it? Well, first off, it is incorrect. Religious teachings should have foundation int he scriptures and not based on assumption, but it goes much further than that. It reaches into the role of women even in our society today.

We have to look at the period the events happened in. It was a time in history where women were not highly regarded. They were valuable to provide heirs and to run a house. That was all. Their word meant nothing in the legal system. In the Gospels, women were elevated to a new status. Their actions and words meant something. They were present at many major events that included Jesus. It was mostly women who stayed with him and risked it all when it died. It was a woman who was told to tell everyone that Jesus had risen from the dead and was alive. Her testimony, Mary Magdalene’s, was taken as truth and by the men she reported to. She was someone important despite being a woman.

Now let’s look at the period of the early Catholic Church and when Pope Gregory made his false assumption. It was a time of women being subordinate once again in society. They had no voice. They were under the men. Women had no place in higher levels of society or even religion. That is one reason some have assumed so many of the religious texts from early Christianity that featured women were removed from the canon. The Church had to remind society that women were flawed. Mary had to be a prostitute since she wasn’t perfect like the holy Virgin Mary. Women had to know their place.

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By Piero di Cosimo — The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,

Today, we can see that Mary Magdalene was a woman with all the flaws being a human comes with. We know she had troubles and found peace in Jesus Christ. She supported his ministry and was there to mourn him and support his mother as she watched him die. She was the first to be given the news that he was alive. While flawed, she was honored. She was no prostitute. She was a woman who humbled herself.

US Catholic. org —

Smithsonian —

Written by

Writer for ten years, lover of education, and degrees in business, history, and English. Striving to become a Renassiance woman.

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