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The Historical Mary Magdalene

Ossuary 80/500: “Mariamene e Mara” – “Mariamne, also called Master”

If ossuary 80/500 is indeed the ossuary of Mary Magdalene, it is the only archaeological evidence for her existence. Everything we know about her historically has been teased out of the New Testament and various apocryphal sources.

The Gospels tells us that Mary Magdalene was a Jewish woman whom Jesus healed. She was possessed by seven demons and when Jesus drove the demons out, she became a devoted disciple.

Most scholars agree that her name means “Mary from Magdala.” Magdala was a fishing town on the western shore of the Galilee. She was likely a woman of means, helping to fund Jesus and his ministry. The Gospels tell us that the Magdalene, as she is known, went with Jesus on his fateful journey to Jerusalem, where she witnessed the Crucifixion. She was the first of the disciples to discover the empty tomb of Jesus as well as the first to see the Risen Jesus. She has been called “the apostle of the apostles” because she was the one to bring the news to the rest of the disciples.

Tradition has managed to blend Mary Magdalene with two other women in the Gospels, one, an adulterous woman (usually mistaken for a prostitute) and Mary of Bethany, the woman who anointed the feet of Jesus.

Several non-canonical Christian sources carry stories featuring Mary Magdalene: the Gospel of Peter; the Acts of Philip; the Diatesseron, and the Epistle of the Apostles.

There are also so-called “non-canonical Gnostic” texts such as: Gospel of Mary; The Gospel of Thomas; The Dialogue of the Savior; The Pistis Sophia; The Gospel of Philip; The Second Apocalypse of James; and the Manichaean Psalms. Of these, The Gospel of Philip is a particularly valuable source of information about Mary Magdalene. From it we glean that Mariamne/Magdalene was sister to Philip (one of the twelve original apostles) and Martha; that Jesus called her "chosen among women"; that she healed people and baptized converts; and that she died at the Jordan River, “near Jerusalem.” It also reveals the following tantalizing tidbit:

“There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary.”

This text has led many to surmise a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.


Jesus of Nazareth Mary Magdalene: Mariamne Early Christianity
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