Mary of Bethany Called The Magdalene

Mary of Bethany Called The MagdaleneMary of Bethany Called The Magdalene. A Synopsis of the Four Gospels Deciphering One Biblical Figure.
by Chukwuemeka Orji, S.J. African Jesuit Publications: Nairobi, 2018.  pp. xxxiii + 195 pages. ISBN 9966-7043-3-7

As the cover suggests, this book sees Mary of Bethany – sibling of Martha and Lazarus, as the woman disciple of Jesus who made a bold step, growing in the faith. It is in this context that she received the new name or surname of “tower”, consistent with the case of Simon whom he named Peter; James and John sons of Zebedee whom he named Boanerges (sons of Thunder); Simon called the Zealot; and so on; but not all surnames go back to Jesus himself.

According to this book, Mary of Bethany is doubtless Mary Magdalene – but often mistakenly presented as originating from ‘Magdala’ a city which existed only in Ancient Egypt and mentioned «Migdol» several times in the OT. It will be stressful and fruitless to search for this city which is not cited anywhere in the NT (see J. F. CHAMPOLLION [1814], A. PLUMMER [1922/1981], J. FITZMYER, S.J. [1979/1981] among many other exegetes). The word “Magdalene” is hardly a nomen gentilicium or geographically derived. To the contrary, the surname “the Magdalene” must rather be understood originally from the Hebrew root of the terms for “growth” and “tower”.

This volume has been achieved thanks to a synopsis of the Four Gospels. Saint John the Evangelist underlines in John 11,2 that it was this woman who anointed Jesus the Messiah in the course of a simple meal in Bethany. If the three Gospels Matt, Mark and John are in agreement with Bethany as the location of the residence where Jesus was entertained, Luke on the contrary differs, and locates a site in Galilee for his composition. His freedom as a redactor along with his own inspiration takes him even further. He presents a narrative on the same subject of a “lacking hospitality”: from the point of view of its serious absence. By doing that his readers massively inadvertently slip into the error of mixing up the four passages to the point of creating a repentant prostitute out of Mary the Magdalene.

Saint Luke alone in his Gospel speaks of Mary Magdalene from whom seven demons went out. This statement evokes a serious curiosity and is in itself enigmatic for anyone who reads the NT and the Apocryphal Writings. If this idea has been employed by the second redactor (Mark 16,9) of the “longer ending of Mark” (vv. 9-20), it is precisely because he borrows it from Luke and makes it an exorcism, attributing it to Jesus. But in the ‘careful wording’, this was not quite directly affirmed by Luke for whom the labelling with seven demons was only an insult directed to a woman who had nothing else to do other than getting herself involved in the circle of a Rabbi and his male disciples. The use of the expression “demon” or “evil spirit” that we often find in the Synoptic Gospels loses its importance as one gradually approaches the period of composition of the Fourth Gospel who uses the term uniquely in a sarcastic sense (cfr. all the occurrences of these terms in John). In addition, in John, “the ruler of this world” is cast out (12,31) and judged (16,11); the death and Resurrection of Jesus are one event seen as a cosmic Exorcism. But aren’t people still complaining of "demons" today? Has this primitive and obscure vocabulary not lost its meaning in a later world now aufgeklärt?

Saint Jerome was the first to point out the special merits of this woman, when, in a commentary, he calls attention to Mary named “the tower [the Magdalene] out of the earnestness and glow of her faith”.

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