What do the Episcopals teach their Priests? “Mary Magdalene”

Read this article: Put Women Back into Holy Week.

I’m all for it.


The author, a presumably educated Episcopal priest, says that the woman who anointed Jesus was Mary Magdalene.

Sorry. That’s a tradition, not supported by the biblical text:

Mat 26:6-7 NET. Now while Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, (7) a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of expensive perfumed oil, and she poured it on his head as he was at the table.

Mar 14:3 NET. Now while Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of costly aromatic oil from pure nard. After breaking open the jar, she poured it on his head.

Luk 7:37-38 NET.Then when a woman of that town, who was a sinner, learned that Jesus was dining at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfumed oil.  As she stood behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. She wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfumed oil.

Joh 12:1-3 NET. Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom he had raised from the dead. (2) So they prepared a dinner for Jesus there. Martha was serving, and Lazarus was among those present at the table with him. (3) Then Mary took three quarters of a pound of expensive aromatic oil from pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus. She then wiped his feet dry with her hair. (Now the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfumed oil.)

Here are a few church fathers, showing the progression of this question of  identification:

Origen: Some one may perhaps think that there are four different women of whom the Evangelists have written, but I rather agree with those who think that they are only three; one of whom Matthew and Mark wrote, one of whom Luke, another of whom John.

Jerome: For let no one think that she who anointed His head and she who anointed His feet were one and the same; for the latter washed His feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair, and is plainly said to have been a harlot. But of this woman nothing of this kind is recorded, and indeed a harlot could not have at once been made deserving of the Lord’s head.

Ambrose, Ambros. in Luc. 7, 37: It is possible therefore that they were different persons, and so all appearance of contradiction between the Evangelists is removed. Or it is possible that it was the same woman at two different times and two different stages of desert; first while yet a sinner, afterwards more advanced.

Chrys., Hom. lxxx: And in this way it may be the same in the three Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And not without good reason does the Evangelist mention Simon’s leprosy, to shew what gave this woman confidence to come to Christ. The leprosy was an unclean disease; when then she saw that Jesus had healed the man with whom He now lodged, she trusted that He could also cleanse the uncleanness of her soul; and so whereas other women came to Christ to be healed in their bodies, she came only for the honour and the healing of her soul, having nothing diseased in her body; and for this she is worthy our highest admiration. But she in John is a different woman, the wonderful sister of Lazarus.

Origen: Matthew and Mark relate that this was done in the house of Simon the leper; but John says that Jesus came to a house where Lazarus was; and that not Simon, but Mary and Martha served. Further, according to John, six days before the Passover, He came to Bethany where Mary and Martha made Him a supper. But here it is in the house of Simon the leper, and two days before the Passover.

Aug., de Cons. Ev., ii, 79: Though the action described in Luke is the same as that described here, and the name of him with whom the Lord supped is the same, for Luke also names Simon; yet because it is not contrary to either nature or custom for two men to bear the same name, it is more probable that this was another Simon, not the leper, in whose house in Bethany these things were done.

I would only suppose that the woman who on that occasion came near to Jesus’ feet, and this woman, were not two different persons, but that the same Mary did this twice. The first time is that narrated by Luke; for John mentions it in praise of Mary before Christ’s coming to Bethany, “It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.” [John 11:2] Mary therefore had done this before. That she did afterwards in Bethany is distinct from Luke’s account, but is the same event that is recorded by all three, John, Matthew, and Mark. That Matthew and Mark say it was the Lord’s head that she anointed, and John His feet, is reconciled by supposing that she anointed both.

As you see, no mention of Mary Magdalene at all. That required Pope Gregory the Great:

Greg., Hom 33 “We believe that this woman [Mary Magdalen] is Luke’s female sinner, the woman John calls Mary, and that Mary from whom Mark says seven demons were cast out.”

The problem is that Mariam/Mary was a hugely popular name for Jewish girls at the time, and thus we have multiple Marys in the gospels. Further, Mary Magdalene is the chief named woman going to the tomb Easter morning to anoint Jesus’ corpse. She is introduced in Luke 8:2, immediately after the incident of the sinful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet in Luke 7:37-50. And lastly, our desire to harmonize the gospels and get a fuller story out of them than indicated, which creates in “Mary Magdalene” an adulteress forgiven by Jesus (she is also identified with the adulterous woman of John 7:53-8:11, by the way), reunited with her brother Lazarus and sister Martha, who goes on to become one of Jesus’ most devoted followers, and a chief witness to the Resurrection.

It’s a good story, but it’s only a story. And it shouldn’t be peddled from the pulpit by those who know better.


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