A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to watch ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. It wasn't all that great and yes I found it a bit offensive, however it did get me thinking. Why does it seem as if Mary Magdalene was portrayed as a prostitute? She appears to have been a supportive force for Jesus, and not in any sexually immoral way at that. Could it be that during that time period women were seen as less than men, and those who were supportive were seen merely as prostitutes if they were not married? There seem to be several women throughout the Bible that were followers of Christ, and made a difference but were not seen as prostitutes, such as Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2. So why portray Magdalene as such?

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    You may want to ask this over at hermeneutics. But Christianity.SE would be a good place to find which passages people use to determine that she was a prostitute. I would take those passages to hermeneutics to find different translations to find the probability of that being her profession. Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 16:25
  • Just a hint, you have to look at the words that were translated to "prostitute" - there are multiple words in Hebrew which mean different things based on the context. One thing that we should all keep in mind. We shouldn't judge others - there is only one judge. Either way she was forgiven by God - so what difference does it make to us? Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 16:30
  • Thank you for the suggestion @DanAndrews - I'm so not judging her but I did find that it bothered me to have her portrayed in such a manner. Whether it is because I am a woman myself, or because people should not judge as whatever she had done was forgiven by God. This question is more of my overly curious nature in trying to understand things.
    – IndigoGirl
    Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 17:58
  • Were all Mary's in the bible the same Mary? Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 19:03
  • @Dan No. For example, Mary, the mother of Jesus was someone else than Mary Magdalene. Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 19:53

1 Answer 1


Traditionally Roman Catholics have identified St. Mary Magdalen with the "woman in the town who was a sinner" of Luke 7:36ff -- that's the Gospel reading for her feast day in the older form of the Roman liturgy. It's true that at face value the Gospel does not identify the nature of her sin but it seems clear that her sin is well-known, at least locally:

Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner." (Luke 7:39, RSV)

And it also appears to go beyond being ritually unclean, for the Lord himself seems to consider it fairly serious:

And Jesus said to him, "... her sins, which were many, have been forgiven" (Luke 7:43 & 7:47)

So the Gospel text may not establish for certain that she was a prostitute but it's at least a reasonable reading.

Her importance, of course, has less to do with her sin, whatever it was exactly, than with her conversion. Most female saints in the traditional liturgical calendar are identified as virgins or widows, but Mary Magdalen has the unique title of "penitent".

  • I wonder if she could have been unclean. We have to look at what a Pharisee considers a sinner, not what Christians consider a sinner today. However, good answer +1 Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 16:40
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    the tradition goes back (at least) to Pope Gregory I
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 16:59
  • @DanAndrews Good point I will add a little more to my answer to address that objection.
    – Ben Dunlap
    Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 17:11
  • @BenDunlap on the penitent side, perhaps it's showing others that Jesus and God forgive those who walk in His light? Not the best way to describe it but that's the gist that I'm getting from the word and how she represents it in relation to Christ - striving to move past those sins and truly want a relationship with the Father.
    – IndigoGirl
    Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 18:03
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    @IndigoGirl Yes absolutely. St. Mary Magdalen is a great model and patron for anyone who thinks himself/herself "too big of a sinner" for God -- for Christ can wipe all that away in a moment just as He did for her. Along the same lines, the Magdalen teaches us that sanctity is not reserved for those who have never fallen.
    – Ben Dunlap
    Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 18:14

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