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Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene, sometimes called the Magdalene or the Madeleine, was a Jewish woman who, according to the four canonical gospels, traveled with Jesus as one of his followers and was a witness to his crucifixion and resurrection. She is mentioned by name 12 times in the canonical gospels, more than most of the apostles and more than any other non-family woman in the Gospels. According to many mainstream scholars, Mary's epithet Magdalene may mean that she came from the town of Magdala, a fishing town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee; the Gospel of Luke 8:2–3 lists Mary as one of the women who traveled with Jesus and helped support his ministry "out of their resources", indicating that she was relatively wealthy. The same passage states that seven demons had been driven out of her, a statement, repeated in the longer ending of Mark. In all four canonical gospels, she is a witness to the crucifixion of Jesus and, in the Synoptic Gospels, she is present at his burial. All four gospels identify her, either alone or as a member of a larger group of women which includes Jesus's mother, as the first witness to the empty tomb, the first to testify to Jesus's resurrection.

For these reasons, she is known in many Christian traditions as the "apostle to the apostles". Mary is a central figure in apocryphal Gnostic Christian writings, including the Dialogue of the Savior, the Pistis Sophia, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Mary; these texts, which scholars do not regard as containing accurate historical information, portray her as Jesus's closest disciple and the only one who understood his teachings. In the Gnostic gospels, Mary Magdalene's closeness to Jesus results in tension with the other disciples Simon Peter. In a series of Easter sermons delivered in 581, Pope Gregory I conflated Mary Magdalene, introduced in Luke 8:2, with Mary of Bethany and the unnamed "sinful woman" who anoints Jesus's feet in Luke 7:36–50; this resulted in a widespread but inaccurate belief that she was a repentant prostitute or promiscuous woman. Elaborate medieval legends from western Europe tell exaggerated tales of Mary Magdalene's wealth and beauty, as well as her alleged journey to southern France.

The identification of Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and the unnamed "sinful woman" was a major controversy in the years leading up to the Reformation and some Protestant leaders rejected it. During the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church used Mary Magdalene as a symbol of penance. In 1969, the identification of Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and the "sinful woman" was removed from the General Roman Calendar by Pope Paul VI, but the view of her as a former prostitute has persisted in popular culture. Mary Magdalene is considered to be a saint by the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Lutheran churches—with a feast day of July 22. Other Protestant churches honor her as a heroine of the faith; the Eastern Orthodox churches commemorate her on the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers, the Orthodox equivalent of one of the Western Three Marys traditions. Modern speculations that Mary Magdalene was Jesus's wife or that she had a sexual relationship with him are regarded by most historians as dubious.

It is accepted among secular historians that, like Jesus, Mary Magdalene was a real historical figure. Nonetheless little is known about her life. Unlike Paul the Apostle, Mary Magdalene has left behind no writings of her own, nor were any works forged under her name, as was common for the other disciples, she is never mentioned in any of the general epistles. The earliest and most reliable sources about her life are the three Synoptic Gospels of Mark and Luke, which were all written during the first century AD. Mary Magdalene's epithet Magdalene most means that she came from Magdala, a village on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, known in antiquity as a fishing town. Mary was, by far, the most common Jewish given name for females during the first century, so it was necessary for the authors of the gospels to call her Magdalene in order to distinguish her from the other women named Mary who followed Jesus. Although the Gospel of Mark, the earliest surviving gospel, does not mention Mary Magdalene until Jesus's crucifixion, the Gospel of Luke 8:2–3 provides a brief summary of her role during his ministry: Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.

The twelve were with him, as well as some women, cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, Susanna, many others, who provided for them out of their resources. The statement that Mary had been possessed by seven demons is repeated in Mark 16:9, part of the "longer ending" of that gospel – this is not found in the earliest manuscripts, is a second-century addition to the original text based on the Gospel of Luke. In the first century, demons were believed to be the cause of physical and psychological illness. Bruce Chilton, a scholar of early Christianity, states that the reference to the number of demons being "seven" may mean that Mary had to undergo seven exorcisms over a long period of time, due to the first six being or wholly unsuccessful. Bart D. Ehrman, a New Testament scholar and historian of early Christianity, contends that the number seven may be symbolic, since, in Jewish tradition, seven was the number of completion, so the statement that Mary was possessed by seven demons may mean she was overwhelmed by their power.

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