Many Christians have been brought up believing that famous Adulteress from the Gospel of John was in fact Mary Magdalene and for nearly 1,300 years this is what was formally taught in Catholic doctrine – but is this legend even true?
In this article, we’ll explore the connection between the woman caught in adultery from John’s Gospel and the disciple Mary Magdalene.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a larger article about Mary Magdalene titled “Mary Magdalene – Saint, Sinner, or Something More?”
Why Do People Believe Mary Magdalene is the Woman Caught in Adultery?
The notion that the adulteress was Mary Magdalene traces back to (at least) the early 6th century when Pope Gregory I officially proclaimed her to be the adulteress from John 8.
In order to make the association stick, Pope Gregory also had to connect the dots by proclaiming that Mary Magdalene was in fact also Mary of Bethany – the sister of Martha and Lazarus. This was necessary because Mary of Bethany was the proclaimed to be the woman with the sinful past who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and/or anointed him with the alabaster jar of perfume in various gospels).
Why all the Mary’s?
The reason Mary of Bethany had to be the woman who anointed Jesus in order to trace her back to Mary Magdalene is a bit of a circuitous route. The apparent basis for Pope Gregory’s decision relates to Luke 8:2 where Mary Magdalene is specifically named as having been cured of “7 demons” by Christ. One or more of these ‘demons’ was thought to relate to a sinful ‘sexual’ past and from there it was apparently just a hop, skip, and a jump for Pope Gregory to connect the dots from Mary Magdalene, to Mary of Bethany, to the woman who anointed Jesus, to the Adulteress of John.
Well that makes perfect sense, right? Not!
Is there ANY Evidence that Supports Mary Magdalene is the Adulteress?
Besides the ‘sexual demon’ theory, there are some who claim that Mary’s place of birth was the best ‘evidence’ of all.
To wit: Mary Magdalene also means Mary of Magdala. This is important because Magdala, located along the Sea of Galilee near Tiberias, was a prosperous port city during the time of Christ. And what do we know about nearly all ‘port cities’ the world over? They are a haven for prostitutes.
It’s reported that Rome eventually destroyed Magdala “because of its moral depravity and its participation in the Jewish revolt.”
Additionally, the Jewish Talmud word Magdalene may be translated to “curling women’s hair,” which apparently is code word for “adulteress.”
Thus more ammunition to support Pope Gregory’s claims that Mary Magdalene was a woman of ill-repute and that she was committed to Christ for saving her from her unsavory past.
So IS Mary Magdalene the Adulteress?
Honestly we may never really know, however it’s worth digging a bit deeper into Pope Gregory’s decision.
Clearly we can conclude that Mary Magdalene was definitively the “Mary” of Luke 8 – after all she was specifically named by her full name in this verse. However one is left to wonder why the mention of her past demons and her place of birth must also necessarily mean that she was the adulteress, or Mary the sister of Martha, or the penitent woman with the perfume.
Consider the following…
- Mary was one of the most common names among the people of this time in Israel (even Jesus’ mother was named Mary), so just because a “Mary” is mentioned in the Bible that doesn’t mean it must be Mary Magdalene, right?
- In every other Biblical story that references Mary Magdalene, she is called by her full name at some point in the story. Why would she not be identified by name in the story about the adulteress or if Mary Magdalene was also Mary of Bethany?
We may never know why Pope Gregory made this decision (although our discussion of Conspiracy Theories about Mary Magdalene is of interest here), however it should be noted that while the Catholic Church held this view from the 6th century onward, it was officially reversed in 1969 by Pope Paul VI (although without much fanfare). As it stands now, the Church no longer associates Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany or the Adulteress. And as an interesting side note, the Eastern Orthodox Church apparently never did.
What's the Truth about Mary Magdalene?
In spite of her past demons and her place of birth the fact is that there is no concrete evidence that Mary Magdalene is the famous adulteress from the Gospel of John 8:3-11.
The name of the adulteress in these verses is actually not given so we have no way of knowing who the woman was.
The Adulteress could have been Mary Magdalene…or pretty much any other woman alive at the time who lived there.
Learn more about the debate with these links:
- Catholic Straight Answers: Who was Mary Magdalene?
- Wikipedia: Mary Magdalene Bio
- Wakeup.Org: Mystery of Mary Magdalene
- Bible Odyssey: Mary Magdalene
- Bible Archaeology: Was Mary Magdalene a Prostitute?
- Smithsonian: Who was Mary Magdalene?
- The Bible Means: Where in the Bible is Mary Magdalene a Prostitute?
What do YOU Believe?
Do you have an opinion or theory on this topic? Let us know what you believe about Mary Magdalene and the Adulteress.