I can’t help it; she’s hot! I mean she’s the most fascinating woman in the Bible. The four Evangelists thought so too; they mention her 12 times, more than most of the Apostles. And look what Dan Brown does in his best-selling novel, the DaVinci code: he has Jesus and Mary getting married and raising a daughter in France!
Where did all this notoriety start? How did Mary Magdalene capture the hearts and imaginations of so many men –including me? Well, there are two “so-called Gospels” that talk a great deal about her. One is called the Gospel of Mary and it was written around the same time as the Gospel of John, (I’ll talk about that in just a minute.) The Gospel of Mary has Jesus confiding in Mary more than in his Apostles and this creates a little tension with the good ole boys. The second book is called the Gospel of Phillip and this was written a hundred years later, but this one has Jesus and Mary as lovers.
Obviously, the early Church thought a lot about Mary Magdalene. These two Gospels, however, were not included in the Canon of Scripture in 325 when Emperor Constantine ordered the Bishops to hole up in the Greek town of Nicaea and come up with a Creed, (and perhaps a Bible too) but these stories remained in the memories of many.
However, my fascination with her stems from the Gospel of John, not from the other two Gospels which are not included in our current Bibles. And I must make a confession at the very start: none of my Scripture Scholar buddies have ever made the connection that I’m about to make here. Crossan and Spong and Ehrman and Borg skip over it. Karen Armstrong and Father Haight don’t even mention it. Not even Hans Kung or N.T. Wright seem inclined to comment. So I’m all alone on this one.
My thesis rests on that one Greek verb in Jn.20:17. The verb is Aptow. John has Jesus saying to Mary: “Quit Aptowing me.” You have seen it translated: “Quit clinging to me.” But it’s a bit more than clinging; Aptow is really a whole lot of hugging. Here’s the story that John has created:
Mary Magdalene runs to the tomb after the death of Jesus to find “two men or two angels or one angel or one young man” depending on which of the four Gospels you’re reading. But let’s stay with John; here it’s two angels, and suddenly, Jesus himself is standing behind her and whispers: “Mary.” She turns around and screams: “My Rabbi.”
Now John does not describe what Mary does at that moment; he simply jumps ahead to the statement of Jesus: “Quit hugging me.” But something had to happen in between! I think Mary had to grab him around the neck and smother him with kisses. The Greek word: Aptow implies this.
Well, that’s my opinion. I think John’s Gospel, which is written a little after the year 100, already contains the seeds of a sincere love affair. I don’t know if the writer of John’s Gospel wanted to say this deep love was mutual or just one-sided. Even though it’s obvious from chapter one that the writer believed Jesus was divine (the Eternal Word of God) he also believed that Jesus was very human; he says in 11:5 that Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. I guess he could love Mary Magdalene too; I guess he could love her a lot. Mary obviously loved him a lot; I feel certain she didn’t go around “aptowing” everybody.
Regardless, this fascinating woman has intrigued the imaginations of men since the 1st century. In the sixth century, Pope Gregory in his 33rd Homily took individual parts from several stories in the gospels and made a composite out of Mary Magdalene, and portrayed her as a repentant prostitute.
Prostitute, Sinner, Lover, Saint—what’s next? The stories of Mary from Magdala will never stop. As I said before: