Later gospel writers and church fathers seemed annoyed that there were so many women named “Mary” in the New Testament. Lists were often made trying to nail them all down…a hopeless task. The usual method of listing them was to combine a few as Marina Warner did in her book Alone of All Her Sex. She devoted an appendix to the thankless task she called, A Muddle of Marys, and ends with these words:
The only text to deal satisfactorily with the problem is the Twentieth Discourse, a spurious Coptic work attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem in which the Virgin introduces herself as all possible Marys: “I am Mary Magdalene, because the name of the village…was Magdalia. My name is Mary of Cleopa. I am Mary of James the son of Joseph the carpenter.”
You don’t often see Mary and Mary Magdalene combined. Traditionally they are the yin and yang of women…the good and the bad. But there is yet another slander of Mary/Mariamne I saved from the last post but coming from Jewish sources that is crucial to look at now:
[But was not] his mother Miriam the hairdresser? (b.Sabb.104b, Sanh.67a)
In Mary’s day, hairdresser was a lowly position akin to being a prostitute. In The Illegitimacy of Jesus, Jane Schaberg says that the Hebrew word for hairdresser is Megaddela. The derisive comment is about Mary the mother of Jesus, but the rabbi’s love of puns is directly aimed at “Magdalene.”
The first passage to mention this Mary is from Luke making Mary Magdalene the most well-known sinner of all the sinning women in the gospels.
And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance. Luke 8:1-3
Usually, readers dwell on the “evil spirits and devils” part of this statement spinning off thousands of books and movies showing Mary Magdalene as not only a prostitute (most people’s understanding of “seven devils”) but crazy, too. Joanna wife of Chuza, “Herod” Antipas’ steward/chancellor is often glossed over and very little notice is given to the assertion that a follower of Jesus was from the court of “that fox” Herod Antipas and the evil Herodias. Nor is it noted that Mary Magdalene was ranked higher than Joanna by Luke as he named Mary Magdalene first. Then we might note that only Mary Magdalene had “seven” devils—the Hasmonean seven of the Books of Maccabees, Josephus, and the Pleiades’ seven womanly stars. One could also recall that in Mark, it is Jesus who first had the “devils.”
And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him; for they said, He is beside himself. And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils…because they said, He hath an unclean spirit. There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, saying, “Who is my mother, or my brethren?” And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, “Behold my mother and my brethren!” Mark 3:20-34
The quote about “Who is my mother” is repeated in Matthew and Luke but not the part about Jesus having the King of Devils…that was edited out and the devils went to “Mary called Magdalene” instead, even though it is their leader’s mother who has just been disowned.
That Name Magdalene
So what about that name “Magdalene” that the rabbis used as a pun against Mary/Mariamne. This Mary is also “veiled;” her father or house is not given. Matthew took “Magdalene” to mean that she came from a place called Magdala.
And he sent away the multitude, and took ship, and came into the coast of Magdala. The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said unto them… “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it…Matthew 15:39-16:4
Mary Magdalene might have gotten her reputation, as Harper’s Bible Dictionary suggests, simply because “wicked and adulterous” appears in the next lines after “Magdala.” Or, some have thought, that the town Magdala was given a reputation because of her. But the Magdalene’s “sin” has traditionally been prostitution, though “wicked and adulterous” seems to apply more to the rabbi’s slanders of Mary/Mariamne. As seen earlier, Mark even makes “adultery” the first commandment.(Mark 10:9 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill...)
But this Mary was “Mary called Magdalene,” she was not called “Mary of/from Magdala.”
Looking at a variety of bible dictionaries under “Magdalene,” I came upon the root word of “magdala” and the term “magadan” which mean “tower.” One town that researchers liked as a contender to have been “Magdala” is Migdal-Nunya which means “Fish Tower.” So what if “Magdal-ene” was referring to a tower not a town?
Going back to Josephus’ index and looking under “Tower” there was, believe it or not, a description of the world-class palace Herod built himself in Jerusalem with distinctive towers:
Now the towers that were upon it were…for largeness, beauty, and strength, beyond all that were in the habitable earth…and (Herod) dedicated these towers to the memory of those three persons who had been the dearest to him…They were his brother, his friend, and his wife. This wife he had slain, out of his love, as we have already related; the other two he lost in war….The third tower was Mariamne, for that was his queen’s name…its upper buildings were more magnificent, and had greater variety than the other towers had; for the king thought it most proper for him to adorn that which was denominated from his wife, better than those denominated from men, as those were built stronger than this that bore his wife’s name. Wars of the Jews V.IV.3
The Mariamne Tower
Once again, without really trying, we have circled back around to Mariamne the Hasmonean Queen. Rev. John Shelby Spong in his book, Born of a Woman[i], says that the Hebrew word “magdal” also means “great,” as in Herod the Great. He can give no reason why a Mary with seven devils should be called “Great,” but look at this:
Mary of the Great Queen’s Tower. Mary called the Magdal/Tower of the Queen, Magdalene. Among the titles given Mary by the church over the centuries beside Queen of Heaven and Mother of God are “Tower of David” and “Ivory Tower”, both genealogical references linking her to King David. Remember the two different genealogies in Luke and Matthew attempting to link Joseph or some think one might be for Mary, to the House of David. But also remember the play on words the rabbis used from “about the same time” that both evangelists were writing their gospels; Mary the “Megaddela” with its pun on Magdal/Magdalene.
Going way out on another limb here, I end up with Mary of the lineage/tower of Mariamne the Great Queen…Mariamne Magdalene the mother of Jesus…the rich “sinner” who traveled with her handmaidens from the palace of her sister Herodias and who “ministered unto him of their substance.”
[i] Born of a Woman, a Bishop Rethinks the Birth of Jesus by John Shelby Spong, Harper San Francisco, 1992
12 thoughts on “Mary called Magdalene”
Hi Cleta, I have recently discovered your site which I fond most interesting. For the last few months I have been involved in collating,and researching, certain information that has been passed to me. This information stems from the oral and written tradition spanning over 2000 years from a person (now deceased) of his families history which is known as the Sagas. The Sagas stress that the family is descended from the exiled Royal Hasmonean line of Jesus and the Aaronic Priesthood. The Sagas claim that the mother of Jesus attended the Jerusalem Temple school and, at the age of 18, was selected to be impregnated, as was the tradition, by a High Temple Priest named John Morash acting as the Messenger Angel Gabriel. This union brought about the birth of twins in BC8, the elder being called Judas, the younger called Josuha, or the diminutive, Jesus. The birth of the twins thus gives the birth date of Mary at around BC 26. The Sagas claim that a certain Mariamne who was the sister of Aristobulus111,was the mother of the twins. This Miriamne was indicated to be Miriamne 1, the second wife of Herod the Great. The problem is that this Miriamne, if the information about the birth is correct,would have been dead by that time by the hands of Herod her husband in BC 29. I have been searching to find a likely Miriamne candidate who would fit into the time line of the above. One clue that is part of the information is that Miriamne-Miriam-Mary would not marry the man chosen for her. The Jerusalem Temple,as a punishment for Mary, selected a group of Jews from outside the area and asked them to select a wand or stick from a bunch. One stick was marked and the man who pulled that stick was called Joseph of Tyre, a relative of Joseph of Arimathea. Over 2000 years the Sagas I have no doubt have to a degree gone through a process of mistranslation and misunderstanding. The Saga itself is extensive and goes into much detail including genealogies which I am trying to piece together. I wonder if you could give me your insight regarding the enigmatic Miriam.
Have you read The Protoevangelium of James said to be written ca 145 AD or The Golden Legend by Jacobius da Voragine ca 1260 AD? Some of the stories you mention are in them, also. Mariamne I had two sons that could have been twins but it is not recorded, if so…both executed by Herod in 17 BC. Her daughters were not named Mary/Miriam but one daughter had the next known Mariamne in her line, making her Mariamne I’s granddaughter, the one I chose to be Mary because of timing and her personal story as told by Josephus…and her disappearance from the court documents at the right time. The next Mariamne in Josephus is the High Priest’s daughter. She is only recorded to have had one son, Herod, who could have been the king but not the High Priest because of his Herodian blood. Both positions, king and High Priest, were driven by blood. Blood line was everything. A High Priest could only we chosen from a high priestly house. The Hasmoneans were allowed to be High Priests because…my theory…Simon the Hasmonean married the daughter of the last High Priest. Even though they were national heroes and were awarded the honor of being a high priestly house, they still needed the marriage tie to the long-running house of Onias/Joshua/Jesus son of Josedek who took over the government when the last Davidic king was disqualified to rule by the priests. Also, my theory…Herod was named king of Palestine by Rome but the people would not have accepted him as king if he had not married the pure-blooded royal princess, Mariamne I. I did posts on the other women named Mariamne at the time…the daughter of the last Hasmonean king, Antigonus, may have been named Mariamne…some scholars think…but she was married to Antipater and would have been older…though not impossible to be Jesus’ mother…many chose her. And, the wife of Archelaus son of Herod, we know is named Mariamne…I give my reasons for not choosing her but many do….Aristobolus III, is he the son of Salome Alexandra brother of Hyrcanus? He may have had a sister but none is mentioned in Josephus. Royal daughters had very little say over who they married. Their father was the king and he married her off at his will for political purposes. I know there has been a lot of speculation about “Temple Virgins” but I have not run across any historical reference. Women were rigidly segregated in the Temple and almost all the Old Testament trash talk about evil “Daughters of Zion” were written by priests and prophets. The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Essene in Josephus couldn’t stand women…they were from the devil to entice men away from their godly endeavours. Royal women and daughters of Aaron were tolerated from necessity…needed to birth a new king or high priest…but not liked. Queen Mariamne I, to this very day, is not mentioned much in Jewish circles because she was a sinner for marrying Herod and tainting all her Hasmonean heirs…all of whom were made kings and queen by Rome but hated by the Jews right-wing…see the chapter on Agrippa’s daughters. Good luck with your project. It is fascinating that just about any of our many theories…including mine…can find “proofs’ in the historical documents. sorry to ramble…thanks for your interest…Cleta
I’m not understanding what you are implying. Are you staying that you believe Mary mother of Jesus and Mary called Magdalene is one in the same. Trying to follow along but want to clarify if that is the intention here
Yes, that is what I am implying…that Mary was of the bloodline of Queen Mariamne. All the references to this Mary in the New Testament say “Mary Magdalene” not once “Mary of Magdala,” for instance. And once in Luke 8:2 he says…”And certain women, which have been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene.” The root of Magdal is Tower and I think it refers to the actual Tower of the Queen…Mariamne Tower. Making her have royal blood and her granddaughter Mariamne III is of the right age to be the mother of Jesus…and is one of the “tower of Mariamne.” My entire blog is an attempt to prove it…or at least give it a good hearing. Thanks for asking…
Secondary sources attribute the Mariamme Tower to Mariamme I the Hasmonean queen whom Herod the Great killed circa 27 BCE. However, our primary source Josephus does not mention for which Mariamme it was named after, he merely called it the Mariamme Tower. Could it be named after Herod’s 2nd wife, Mariamme II, daughter of a high priest? It’s an attractive proposition because for me Mariamme II is Mary Magdalene (“The Tower” or “The Great”), the patron of Jesus and apostles. Do we have information of when was this tower built?
According to Josephus, Herod built the tower after he had killed Mariamne I and after he had his nervous breakdown for doing it…when he came out of his depression, he came back to Jerusalem and began to build his magnificent palace and put three towers on its wall, one being to Mariamne I. It was anecdotally called “Queen” in the city…also footnoted somewhere. Mariamne I was the only Mariamne officially called a queen because she was one in her own right, carrying the royal Jewish bloodline. Mariamne II had a priestly bloodline (Boethus) and was actually queen by virtue of her marriage alliance with Herod, not because she was a descendant of Jewish kings. Her son Herod II was an heir to the throne but only because he was Herod’s son, not Mariamne’s…also Herod probably married her and was building the towers about the same time…and she was divorced by him…Josephus goes to great lengths to tell us how much Herod “loved’ Mariamne I and also how much the multitudes loved her…supposedly that is why Herod’s sister and advisor pushed for Herod to have her killed and not imprisoned…the people would revolt…so while it is possible that Mariamne II was why Herod built the tower, it, in my mind is not as likely…always a puzzle. Cleta
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Wow!! This is fascinating!! Have you ever watched “The Naked (as in the naked truth” Archeologist. He with other archeologists have found a tomb with osuaries with the bone boxes of a Jesus bar Joseph, the Mary with the different spelling than MAGDALENA, and a small box of a male child. The particular show was not part of the series. Look up YouTube then “The Most Controversial Archeological Discovery-The Lost Tomb of Jesus.” There are parts about Mary his mother and Mary Magdalena.
I have not seen the source you mentioned but will look it up. I have been a follower of James D. Tabor for 20 years…his books, blog, and Face Book Page. He is one of the archaeologists who discovered the tomb and the ossuaries and has written in detail about them. “The Jesus Discovery by James D. Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici, and “The Jesus Dynasty” by James D. Tabor. We all disagree to some extent but for me the beautiful thing I have learned from my 40-some years of researching Mariamne/Mary is that anyone who seriously looks at the gospel stories can come up with their own version and they all have something to say…are different facets of the whole. Glad you enjoyed my blog…I look forward to following ours.