Why Mary Magdalene was called a ‚prostitute‘?

We come across the wildest stories about Mary Magdalene. One story goes that she was possessed by seven demons, another one calls her a prostitute. This stigma has persistently followed her over thousands of years, although even the Bible does not mention it.

How has this allegation come about?

Of course, 2000 years after Mary Magdalene’s life with Jesus and the apostles, it is impossible to come up with any proof about why she was labelled a prostitute. Religious scholars assume, however, that it goes back to a misinterpretation of the Gospel of Luke.

It is down to the story about Jesus’ anointment in Bethany by the woman with the alabaster jar. However, the writer of the Gospel of Luke only recorded this story 50 years after the actual event. The woman referred to is none other than Mary Magdalene.

An old ritual of the priestesses of the temple

The anointment of a man by a woman is similar to a well-known ritual which was reserved by the holy priestesses in the Roman Empire. They were called hierodules.

The term hierodule was mistakenly translated as ‘prostitute’, although these women were ‘the Holy Women of the Temple of the Goddess’. They played an important part in everyday life in the classical world.

Mary Magdalene was also one of these temple priestesses. Therefore, she was a hierodule who was mistakenly called a prostitute according to an incorrect translation. Only in the recent past have some scientists made the effort to investigate and discover this misunderstanding. Quite late, one might think, but nevertheless …

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene – A Prostitute?

In 1896 a papyrus codex from the 5th century was found in Kairo. It contained the gospel of Mary Magdalene. Interestingly, it is not a gospel by Mary Magdalene, but about her. Well known religious scholars, among them Karen L. King of Harvard Divinity School (USA), have translated the document. It offers a fascinating insight into the origins of Christianity and allows for a new view of Jesus’ doctrines as a way to receive spiritual knowledge. And it shows that the common misconception that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute is nothing more than theological fiction.

How did it happen that the Roman Catholic church “misunderstood” Mary Magdalene to be a prostitute. Who came up with this rumor? One could suspect that the composer of the gospel of Luke misunderstood the original story of Jesus’ anointment by Mary Magdalene as the “woman with the alabaster jar”, because it was written down 50 years later. Because this anointment was similar to a widely known custom, that was carried out by holy priestesses or the goddesses’ “temple prostitutes” in the Roman Empire. The correct description for these priestesses was “Hierodulae” or “Holy Women”, not “prostitute”.

During my travels through Provence I stumbled upon many depictions of Mary Magdalene with the alabaster jar. The photos posted below were taken in the cathedrale of Aix-en-Provence, which I visited with my tour group during the spiritual trip in the fall of this year.

Mary Magdalene