Home Mary Magdalene, pt. 1

Mary Magdalene, pt. 1

Mary Magdalene, pt. 1

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources (Luke 8:1-3).

 
Mary Magdalene. We know much more about her now that we used to. Part of that comes from the discovery of her village on the Sea of Galilee I will say more about in a moment. But for now, let’s begin with this first mention of her in Luke.

What were Mary Magdalene’s issues? Luke describes her former problem above as “seven demons.”[1] While we have no exact information as to what Luke implies, we can guess. Theories abound. Prostitution or mental illness seem the most common. Yet the Bible is clear that something else was at play.

Luke tells us Mary was one of four who supported Jesus “out of their resources” (Luke 8:1-3). These resources might have been considerable, and more than one commentator has speculated Luke refers to something archeologists are just now uncovering in Galilee, three miles from modern (and ancient) Tiberias.

 

The Ruins of Mary Magdalene’s Thriving Town

The ruins from the ancient town of Magdala have become the latest in a serious of exciting finds around the Sea of Galilee. On my trip to Israel and Palestine in the spring of 2016, a group of us walked the “Jesus Trail” and got to visit this amazing site.

Beginning in Nazareth, we traveled a total of thirty-four miles to Capernaum, Jesus’ place of adult ministry on the Sea of Galilee. Just south of this, right along our route, were the newly excavated ruins of Mary Magdalene’s hometown, Magdala. The visit there was a treat.

The name Magdala likely comes from the word migdal which means “tower” in Aramaic.[2] Magdala was an important town famous for the processing of fish—preparing, salting, curing, and packaging. The tower, or towers, would have been used as tall landmarks for fishermen to see and make their way to town from distant parts of the lake. They also may have been used as part of the fish preparation process. This offers a valuable clue as to how Mary might have obtained “resources” significant enough to help finance Jesus’ ministry. It also offers another clue concerning her “possession.”

Mary Magdalene is unusual several ways. Only a very few women are mentioned in scripture without reference to a husband or another man (Martha and Mary of Bethany in Luke 10, John 11 and 12; and Lydia in Acts 16 are examples in the New Testament; Deborah in Judges in the Old Testament).

Thus, we can surmise she was self-supporting, and had her own income significant enough she could give to help pay Jesus’ expenses.[3]

The fact she is consistently mentioned in conjunction with her town of Magdala further indicates significance. Magdala was an important supply depot for those visiting the spas and resorts of Tiberias as well as the many Greeks and Romans who purchased land and second homes there. This population of rich people wanted good and abundant food from both the land and the sea. And this could well have been Mary Magdalene’s specialty.

 

[1] Socrates, too, was once described as being possessed by a “daimon”—a Greek word meaning extra or unexplainable energy, insight, strength, intelligence, or malady. While most of the conditions the Bible describes as “demons” can today be explained by science or psychology, certain situations still are mysterious or inexplicable. Choosing to describe them as demon possession is a description some still make.

[2] From Marianne Sawicki’s book, Crossing Galilee (p. 143). In addition, she offers exciting details along with speculations like mine about Mary’s connections and business dealings.

[3] Strong and successful women were not unheard of in Jesus’ day. Remember from our section on Herod the Great, Cleopatra drove Herod crazy with her wealth, savvy, and power. Her abilities far outweighed his own, and he knew it. See Stacy Schiff’s book, Cleopatra, for an excellent in-depth exploration of her fascinating and tumultuous life.