In Biblical times surnames did not exist, in fact there were no surnames prior to the Magna Carta; people were defined by which family they hailed from or the place from whence they came. Women were defined by their father, their brother or their husband, for example Sarah of James or as in the Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood as Offred. So from this we can deduce that a woman not associated with a particular man would be associated with the place she was born.
Magdala or Magdalene is a village on the south eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It is from here that scholars believe Mary of Magdalene came. It was a Jewish settlement where flax was grown and it thrived as a fishing village. Other theologians translate her name to mean tower or as weaver of hair or perhaps flax. There is no reason it can’t encompass a bit of all explanations.
What do we know of Mary of Magdalene? She is a figure shrouded in mystery; portrayed over the years as a prostitute, an adulteress, and an object of veneration and even as Christ's wife. We know that she is only mentioned a mere twelve times in the Bible, yet her legacy is loud, she is a very key figure..
We know that the Biblical Mary Magdalene was a woman of independent means, she helped to finance Jesus of Nazarene’s mission. The New Testament recounts that “Mary Magdalene… and many others… provided for them out of their resources.” (Luke 8:2-3.) It tells us that “Mary Magdalene… followed him [Jesus], and ministered unto him” In fact in medieval iconography and art she is often depicted as carrying a money pouch and this supports that concept. She was an independent woman with independent means.
She is a controversial figure, much maligned, painted as a repentant prostitute who found healing at the feet of Jesus, and as having undergone an exorcism to cast seven demons out of her. Myths created by Pope Gregory the Great which no longer hold sway. The woman in the Biblical text who anointed Jesus feet with oil and dried them with her hair is never named as Mary Magdalene. In fact there is now compelling archaeological evidence to show that the Biblical reference “Mary Magdalene, out of whom he [Jesus] had cast seven devils.” (Mark 16:9, Luke 8:2)  Is actually a metaphorical short description of the sacred consecration ceremony for a High Priest or Priestess in the tradition of the Nazarene Essenes. In Essene Priesthood women were equal to men.
Mary Magdalene has thus emerged as a key figure in the life of Christ, so key in fact that you could argue that without her witness Christianity would not exist today. When Jesus’ disciples abandoned him after the last supper, after Peter had denied him three times and Judas sold him out. Mary of Magdalene was one of the women who stayed with him, even to the Crucifixion. She was present at the tomb, the first person to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection. She bore witness to that. She is the pivot on which the whole premise of Christianity rests. It was Mary Magdalene, a woman, who went and told the twelve Apostles that Jesus had risen from the dead; for this she is known as the “Apostle to the Apostles.”
After the ascension, Mary presented herself to the Emperor Tiberius Caesar in Rome to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ, with an egg in hand to illustrate her message. She was mocked and ridiculed by him, he said that Jesus had no more risen than the eggs in her hand were red, at which point the eggs turned red. We often find Mary Magdalene depicted in icons holding a red egg and it is from this tradition that we celebrate Easter with Easter Eggs.
It is believed that Mary and her companions fled persecution in Jerusalem, crossed the Mediterranean in a boat, and landed near Arles in the South of France (since named “Saintes Maries de la Mer”). She then retired to the Holy Cave (“Sainte-Baume”) on a hill in the Marseille region, and converted all of Provence to Christianity. Her remains are venerated there.
During the 19th and 20th century several ancient Christian texts were discovered hidden in Egypt and dating to the second and third centuries. These writings portray Mary Magdalene as not only a woman requested by Jesus to spread the good news of his resurrection to his twelve disciples; they reveal a loyal disciple who was a leader in the early church due to her actual witnessing of Jesus' rebirth.
The Sophia of Jesus Christ names Mary Magdalene as one of a small group of men and women entrusted by the risen Jesus with preaching the gospel. In the Gospel of Philip she is referred to as Jesus' companion and as one loved more than all other disciples. In the Dialogue of the Saviour and the Pistis Sophia she is cited as an equal among the other disciples, all men.
1. Katherine Ludwig Jansen, The Making of the Magalen: Preaching and Popular Devotion in the Later Middle Ages, Princeton University Press (2000).
2. Susan Haskins, Mary Magdalen: Truth and Myth, Random House (2011)
3. Picknett, Lynn, Mary Magdalene: Christianity's Hidden Goddess, Carroll & Graf, 2003.
4. Schaberg, Jane, The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament, Continuum, 2002.