There was not room enough in my prior post about Christian hostility to female preachers, and females in general, to mention the most fundamental figure in the historical Jesus Christ’s attitudes on women: one of the most libeled people in the history of humanity, Mary Magdalene.
The following post delves into Christianity for purposes of discussion. If such a thing is triggering* for you, don’t worry: the third part of this trilogy on the roots of misogyny moves away from religion and towards a non-Christian named Aristotle, and will not be kind to this problematic dead white male. This blog will be a safe space once again. Moving on:
Magdalene was among Jesus’ original disciples and generally regarded by religious scholars as among the most important. She was the leader of His female followers, and arguably one of His most important disciples overall. However, this is not a woman that gets much press in Christian circles these days, especially not compared to her namesake, Jesus’ mom. This is rather curious, as she is identified by name in all four canonical Gospels — a rare honor indeed. She is also one of the few people identified by name as being present in the three key moments of the Passion: the Crucifixion, the burial, and the Resurrection. In fact, not only was she present for the latter, but according to Mark 16:9: “Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.” The newly risen Lord appeared first not to Peter or any other male Apostle, but to Magdalene.
But Magdalene would get kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention if she tried to become a preacher.
Other ancient texts, which we will return to in a moment, actually describe Magdalene as Jesus’ choice to be the leader — not just of other women, but His entire church. In this interpretation, Peter and his bros literally blasphemed against the Lord by working against His chosen successor and stealing the emerging Catholic Church away from her. And therefore, religious conservatives continue to practice rank heresy, in defiance of the Savior they claim to love, by discriminating against women and barring them from the clergy He wanted women to serve in, and otherwise reducing them to second-class citizens.
But either way, Magdalene clearly was a woman of monumental importance to the Individual whom religious conservatives purport to worship, at least if the Gospels may be believed. So why does she get short shrift compared to men such as Peter and Paul? The answer lies in the misogyny and jealousies of the men of the early Church, above all that of those dour two gentlemen.
Paul, as noted before, was the raging woman-hater who is believed to have written 1 Timothy. He (or his ghostwriter) explicitly bars women from leadership roles in the newly formed Church, citing Eve as the reason, just as men would continue to cite Eve for millennia afterwards to justify their hatred of femininity. 1 Timothy remains most Christian sects’ Scriptural foundation for their misogyny, and therefore, is also instrumental in the denial of Magdalene as any kind of minister or leader either during Jesus’ lifetime, or immediately after. Paul’s 1 Corinthians further reinforces his “shut up, wimmen, and fetch your husband a sandwich” worldview. And notably, it is a break from Old Testament tradition, where at least five women served as bona fide prophets. Prophets were kind of a big deal in the Old Testament, you see.
As far as Peter is concerned, we have to turn to the Apocrypha to delve into the misogyny of the first Pope. In the Gospel of Mary, we see a Peter motivated by pure jealousy over the fact that Jesus favored Magdalene over anyone else. No wonder he would work hard to erase her out of history. The Gospel of Thomas sees Peter attempting to banish Magdalene (from a leadership role, apparently), only to be overruled by the Big Guy Himself — an act which would not have exactly eased Peter’s seething resentment.
And as centuries passed as and Magdalene’s influence and legacy withered due to the machinations of the men of the early Church, medieval scholars were only too pleased to invent the image of Magdalene as commonly held now: as a defiled, fallen woman, unworthy of Christ, a fabrication and libel wholly unsupported by Scripture. (Whether she was a sex worker or not, believe it or not, is immaterial — the disciples as a whole were a ragtag bunch of misfits, and besides, the ancients did not shame courtesans the way we started to in medieval times on. And again, none of the four Gospels or any of the Apocrypha ever call her a prostitute or even hint as such.) St. Augustine did fight the good fight by calling her “Apostle of the Apostles,” but not even this Christian heavyweight could stem the tide of misogyny — a hate that predates Christianity, a hate that simply uses Christianity and other religions as pretext.
The libel of St. Mary Magdalene is a libel of womanhood: ignorant, driven by hate, unsupported by the Gospels, and in defiance of the will of the Lord. The conservative Christian ministers that destroyed Shonda Reynolds-Christian’s church for her crime of being female, will have an awful lot of explaining to do once they reach the afterlife if they’re right about His being Son of God. And that goes double if they find Magdalene sitting at Jesus’ side.
I mean, if you believe in that sort of thing. Sermon over.