Mary Magdalene

Destroying the Reputation of The First Apostle of Christianity

By Richard Hooper, M.DIV

Setting the record straight about the most maligned woman in history

Mary as a prostitute and penitent sinner

This vile rumor did not originate in the New Testament or in any other early Christian text.  It was the invention of Pope Gregory the Great who, in 597 C.E., preached a homily to congregation of brothers in which he conflated the figures of Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, and the sinful woman of Luke 7:37.

The groundwork for Gregory’s fiction, however, was laid by earlier Church fathers who sought to ruin Mary’s reputation in order to obscure the fact that Mary—in the canonical Gospels—was commissioned as the first apostle.  Mary, as an apostle, posed a threat to the orthodox Christian patriarchs who denied woman all authority in the Church.

Secondly, by the beginning of the first century C.E., Mary Magdalene had become associated with a Christian theology the Church considered heretical.

The easiest way the Church could render Mary harmless was to

raise questions as to her moral character. 

Mary as Apostola Apostolorum (Apostle to the Apostles)

Mary’s commission as the first apostle is inherent in the Easter stories as written by the anonymous authors of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John, and Peter.

The author of The Gospel of Luke (written as late as 120 C.E.), on the other hand, intentionally denied Mary this commission in order to establish the  patriarchal tradition of Simon Peter.

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Mary’s “Demons”

The slander that Mary had once been possessed of seven demons was also the invention of the author of Luke in order to bring into question Mary’s credibility as a witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Mary’s “demons” appear in no other Gospel.[1]

Mary, as First Witness to the Resurrection

Mary is the first disciple to see the risen Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew, John, and Pseudo-Mark (the second century appended ending to The Gospel of Mark).  John 20:17 further suggests that Mary was the only disciple to see the risen Jesus.

Mary, as Jesus’ Wife or Lover 

This legend about Mary began in France during the fourth century, but has no connection to the valid historical traditions about Mary (texts written during the first through third centuries). 

There is not a shred of evidence in any early Christian text to suggest that the relationship between Jesus and Mary was anything other than master and disciple.

In his novel, The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown uses—as part of his evidence to suggest that Jesus and Mary had a romantic relationship—a passage taken out of context from the third century Gnostic text known as The Gospel According to Philip.

At a particular point of that text, the work seems to suggest that Jesus kissed Mary on a regular basis.  Brown, apparently, did not bother to read anything written in Philip either before or after this passage.  If he had, he would have known that

the “kiss” reference was a metaphor used throughout Philip to suggest the transmission of spiritual energy and authority—from master to disciple, and from disciple to disciple.

The intent of the author of Philip was to suggest that Mary Magdalene was more spiritually worthy of receiving Jesus’ teachings and authority than any of the male disciples.   

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Who was Mary Magdalene? Was she a reformed prostitute, the wife of Jesus, or his most spiritually advanced disciple?
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Mary Magdalene and the Da Vinci Code

Not only did Dan Brown get it wrong about Mary being Jesus’ wife, most of what he passed off as historical fact in his book, is actually taken from the equally non-historical book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail—which in turn was based on the fourth century French legends mentioned above.

Brown’s book contains numerous falsehoods and historical inaccuracies, of which only a few are mentioned here.  Brown claims, for instance, that:

            Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper shows Mary Magdalene on Jesus’ right.  This is incorrect; the disciple depicted is John, son of Zebedee and brother of James. Brown, apparently, was unaware that it was the fashion of the day during the Renaissance for painters to depict John without a beard—which made him appear effeminate. 

Brown refers to the Priory of Sion (Zion) as a real, and contemporary, religious order.  In fact, the Priory of Zion died out long ago and was absorbed by the Jesuits in 1617.  The name was appropriated in 1956 by a far-right political faction in France known as Alpha Galates—the members of which were neo-Nazis and anti-Semitists

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Mary in the Canonical and Apocryphal Gospels 

The authors of these Gospels—although their authors attempted to obscure the tradition—represent Mary Magdalene, first, as Jesus’ most faithful disciple—who alone (or perhaps with other women) witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion after all of the male disciples had fled for their lives.

They also represent Mary as having the first Easter experience (the other women at the crucifixion and resurrection are interchangeable from one Gospel to the next, so Mary may very well have been quite alone in her experiences). 

Mary’s Easter experience in some cases involved seeing visions of angels, but three Gospel traditions maintain that Mary was also the first disciple to receive an appearance of the risen Jesus.

Many scholars go so far as to suggest that Mary was the only disciple to see an apparition of Jesus after his death, and that later Gospel stories of Jesus appearing to men were probably invented to support the patriarchal foundations of the orthodox Church.

The commissioning of Mary as the first apostle

The commissioning of Mary as the first apostle is inherent in the tradition in which Mary is told to “go and tell” the other disciples that Jesus has risen.  In some cases, Mary receives this commission from an angelic being—in others, from Jesus himself.

Mary is known as the “apostle to the apostles”, because her specific mission, as stated, was to create faith in the risen Jesus among the male disciples.

Click here to see a full list of gospels in which Mary Magdalene appears



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Mary in the Gnostic Gospels

A second tradition about Mary Magdalene is preserved in Gospels and other ancient texts (dating from the middle of the first century to the end of the third century) that have only been discovered in relatively modern times.  

This tradition builds on the canonical tradition and represents Mary Magdalene

as a leader, teacher, visionary and spiritual adept.

In most cases Mary is also represented as the most astute and spiritually

 advanced of all Jesus’ disciples.

In such texts, Jesus favors Mary over all his male disciples because she alone is capable of understanding the innermost essence of what he taught. 

Click here to see a full list of the gospels in which Mary appears

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What every believer and nonbeliever should know about the historical Jesus and the true origins of Christian faith.
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The “Crucifixion” of Mary

Mary’s historical tradition proved to be collateral damage resulting from three centuries of theological and political battles in which the orthodox Church attempted to suppress “heretical” forms of Christianity. 

Since Mary was revered among Gnostic Christians, the Church did its best to

obscure her tradition and diminish her status.

Many early Gospels (the canonicals included) pitted the tradition of Simon Peter against the tradition of Mary Magdalene.  Although this rivalry probably has a historical basis—having its roots in matriarchal and patriarchal resurrection traditions—metaphorically, the figure of Peter represented Christian orthodoxy while Mary represented Gnostic Christianity.

Many early texts, therefore, (most notably the Gospel attributed to Mary herself) where Mary and Peter are pitted against each other, metaphorically represent the struggles between these two branches of early Christian faith.    

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The Gospel According to Mary (Magdalene)

The only Gospel known to have been attributed to a woman disciple

The Gospel of Mary—the only Gospel known to have been attributed to a woman disciple—first came to light during the 19th century.  The longest version of Mary—written in Coptic—was discovered in Egypt in 1896.  Along with three other formerly lost texts, the Coptic text is part of Codex Berolinensis 8502, or the Berlin Codex.

Two other fragments of Mary, written in the original Greek, were also discovered during the 19th century.  Both of the Greek fragments were written during the 3rd century, while the Coptic was composed during the 5th .

 Karen King, perhaps the foremost authority on Mary’s Gospel, dates the original composition around 125 C.E.

Discussion about the contents of The Gospel of Mary

The Coptic text of Mary represents less than half of the original Gospel, while the rest is still lost to us.   The extant portions of the Gospel of Mary include a discussion Jesus has with his disciples after his resurrection, a Gnostic dissertation on the ascent of the enlightened soul at the time of death, and an interchange between Mary Magdalene and the other disciples.

Jesus discusses several topics with mystical content, then commissions the disciples to go forth and preach the inner “Son of Man”—a concept roughly equivalent to the concept of the kingdom of God—and warns them not to lay down any laws that he, himself, has not given them—a clear reference to the legalistic dogmas in the orthodox church.

After Jesus disappears from the gathered company for the last time, the male disciples are stricken with grief and doubt and fear.  They fear that if they do what Jesus has commissioned them to do they will meet the same end he did. 

Of all the disciples, only Mary is unafraid.  Because of this lack of fear she is able to comfort and encourage the men.

After the men calm down, Peter then asks Mary to teach them about what Jesus had said to her when they were not present.  The author intends the reader to understand that these are secret teachings of Jesus transmitted to Mary alone.

Mary begins by relating a vision she had of Jesus in which she asked him about the nature of visions.  The text breaks off at this point, and when it continues we are in the middle of a Gnostic narrative on the ascent of the soul (enlightened) at the time of death.

When Mary concludes this narrative, Peter and his brother, Andrew, accuse Mary of lying. 

They state that they do not believe that the Savior would have said such things because these are “strange ideas”.  They also argue that Jesus wouldn’t have taught these teachings to a woman in the first place. 

Peter states, “Did he really speak with a woman without our knowledge (and) not openly?  Are we to turn about and all listen to her?  Did he prefer her to us?”

At this point, Mary breaks down in tears and is devastated by Peter and Andrew’s accusations.  The disciple, Levi, then comes to Mary’s defense and tells Peter that he is being hot tempered as usual.

Levi chastises Peter for contending with Mary as if she were one of the adversaries.  Levi then says, “But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her?  Surely the Savior knows her very well.  This is why he loved her more than us.”

Other texts in which Mary Magdalene is represented as Jesus’ most worthy disciple include:    the Gospel of Philip,  Dialogue of the Savior, and the Pistis Sophia.


Bringing together the most poignant and poetic of Jesus words from apocryphal and Gnostic texts, many of which have been discovered in modern times.
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Ancient Texts in Which Mary Magdalene Appears

Orthodox Christian Literature Source 

(canonical and apocryphal)

The Gospel According to Mark  The New Testament 
The Gospel According to Matthew                   The New Testament          
The Gospel According to Luke   The New Testament
The Gospel According to John The New Testament
The Gospel According to Peter

Akmim fragment

The Acts of Philip New Testament Apocrypha
The Acts of Pilate  New Testament Apocrypha
The Epistula Apostolorum     New Testament Apocrypha
Gnostic-Christian Literature Source

The Gospel According to Mary

The Berlin Codex

The Gospel According to Thomas Codex II2, The Nag Hammadi Library
The Gospel According to Philip Codex II3, The Nag Hammadi Library
Dialogue of the Savior Codex III5,The Nag Hammadi Library
The Pistis Sophia    The Askew Codex
The Sophia of Jesus Christ    Codex III4, The Nag Hammadi Library
The (First) Apocalypse of James  Codex V3, The Nag Hammadi Library
The Manichean Coptic Psalter, Book II    

[1] The same reference is also found in Mark 16:9.  However, the original Gospel of Mark ended at 16:8.  Verses 9-19 were appended to Mark’s Gospel sometime during the second century by a redactor who copied Luke.


Former Roman Catholic nun, Barbara Mayer, speaks out about narrow definitions and dogmatic perspectives about God, or “truth,” as defined by patriarchal Christian theology.
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