Mary Magdalene: Saint or sinner?





REDEEMED sinner, prostitute, wife of Jesus? Mary Magdalene's image has gone through myriad incarnations, and this Lent she's drawing new attention thanks to the upcoming movie The Da Vinci Code, a slew of books and internet arguments.

But those looking for a salacious side to the biblical figure will be disappointed: Serious religious scholars agree characterisations that stray from faithful disciple and witness to the Resurrection are bogus. Despite stage and screen portrayals, they say, the sinful Mary is a matter of mistaken identity.

The chief culprit was Pope Gregory the Great, who preached a sermon in 591 AD calling Mary a notorious prostitute who repented after encountering Jesus Christ.

The Da Vinci yarn says Christians conspired to conceal the Jesus-Mary marriage and the royal French bloodline their offspring established. But there's no evidence Jesus ever married Mary.

Mary supposedly travelled to France, but the claim is suspect; the first mention of her relics located there dates from the year 745.

The best source of material on Mary is a first century account, the New Testament itself. There she stands out as Jesus' most important female disciple. Mary is named first among the witnesses to Jesus' Crucifixion, entombment and empty tomb. The less valiant male apostles deserted Jesus at the cross and refused at first to believe the women's ''idle tale'' about the empty tomb.

For Christians across the centuries, ''she is the faithful disciple, and consistently portrayed that way,'' says Harvard church historian Karen King.

A cottage industry has sprung up around Mary, boosted by The Da Vinci Code novel and the film scheduled for release in May.

All this buzz for a figure whom, prior to Golgotha, appears in the Gospels only in Luke 8 - as one of the women who travelled with Jesus and the apostles and ''provided for them out of their means.'' The phrase indicates Mary was wealthy, making prostitution unlikely.

Pope Gregory mistakenly identified Mary with an unnamed female ''sinner'' in the preceding passage who had a dramatic encounter with Jesus. If Mary had been that sinner, Bible experts surmise, she'd have been named there first - instead of in Luke 8.


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