The woman at His side

She was probably the most influential woman in Christianity: her real name was Miriam. She was a Jew and lived in Palestine at the turn of the first century. Where she came from, where she went, what she witnessed, and what the centuries made of it—here is a description she might have given herself.

I was identified by the place where I lived. My hometown was a place the Greeks called Taricheae. The name means “pickled fish” in Greek and describes what the people did here and did successfully: catch and preserve fish, curing it with dried salt. The Sea of Galilee was teeming with fish. The city was flourishing and growing.

I was unmarried. Women of my generation actually only received a surname through a man, their father or their spouse. But since there was no man, the name of the town was fine too. Later, I was accused of having a lot of men—and a child by the love of my life. Such fantasies had very specific reasons.

I was unknown. Three of the four evangelists know nothing at all about my past. Only a certain historian by the name of Luke, I think, dug something up about me. He wrote that I had been possessed by seven demons. If you ask me, that is putting it on a little thick. But yes, I was sick. And my Saviour healed me. That turned my life upside down.

I was the one who was mentioned first. Wherever we showed up—that is, the women who accompanied and aided Jesus in carrying out His mission with our own means—I led the group. None of those who proclaimed the gospel could get past this. I watched as Christ was crucified and died on the cross. I was there when they buried Him. And it was me who discovered the empty tomb.

I was the one He instructed to tell the others. I was the first person to see the risen Jesus. And He spoke to me. He sent me to share the good news of His resurrection with the others. Only one of the narratives, the one by Luke, does not pass it on like that. Luke again! He credits Simon Peter with having been the first to see the risen Jesus.

I was the favourite female disciple. That at least is how later writings that did not make it into the Bible describe me, such as the Gospel of Thomas, of Mary, of Philip, whatever they are all called. They often talk about there being tension between me and Peter. That is a bit of an exaggeration. But this does document quite clearly that in the second century AD, some of the men had their issues with strong women.

My reputation was tarnished. A pope called me a prostitute. Gregory was his name. In a homily a good half millennium later, he identified me as the sinner who anointed Jesus’ feet with oil. As the first to witness the resurrection of Christ, I came to be stylised as the archetype of the penitent sinner. Religious orders and convents were named after me and even homes for fallen and endangered girls and women were given my name.

I was depicted as morally depraved. The stories people told about me excited fantasies. And they had to be illustrated, of course. If I was lucky, painters showed me in expensive clothes and bright colours. But throughout the ages, even the most prudish ones, artists found an excuse to give their fantasies free reign and depicted me in erotic ways: bare-breasted, semi-nude, or completely nude.

I was sold. The Messiah’s lover, the mother of His child, the ancestor of a secret race protected by conspirators: such amusing nonsense was invented by a priest’s heiress who wanted to sell a piece of property including a “treasure”, and an occultist who forged matching papyri. Men of the twentieth century turned it into cash by writing books and making films.

All I have to say about this is: “I have seen the Lord.” And this is what His disciples heard. Because I am His ambassador.

My name is Mary Magdalene. Many refer to me as the “apostle of the apostles”.

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Andreas Rother
Bible, People/Personalities