The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence, which we visited in December, a great wood carving of Mary Magdalene done by Donatello in the mid-15th Century. I had always been under the impression that Mary Magdalene is a former prostitute, and I assumed that Jesus’ acceptance of her was meant to be another example of his love for all people, regardless of their place in society. I was wrong.
There is no reference in the Bible to Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. She is said to be a Jewish woman who started to follow Jesus. In the Bible, she witnesses the crucifixion (when most of the male followers have run away scared), notices that Jesus’ tomb is empty and is the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection. Mary Magdalene is a potentially powerful figure, but she’s a woman, so the powers that be weren’t going to let her off so easy. They weren’t going to countenance having a woman in a position of such importance.
In the 6th Century, Pope Gregory the Great gave a homily in which he stated that Mary Magdalene is the composite of several female characters in the Bible, one of these female characters who makes up Mary Magdalene is an un-named sinner/prostitute. Out of nowhere, with no support in the text, Pope Gregory the Great slanders Mary Magdalene and sends a clear message — women are sinners, especially powerful women. Reminds me of how the Republicans treat Hillary Clinton.
It is interesting to note that only Western Christianity accepted the idea of Mary Magdalene as a former prostitute. The Eastern Orthodox Church did not accept this version of her.
Most depictions of Mary Magdalene show her as a young and beautiful women, but that’s not how she looks in Donatello’s sculpture. Does this change in Mary Magdalene matter? Does it give you a different view of Christianity or religion in general?