Pope Gregory the Great
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Revision as of 19:46, 12 May 2012
- "Few characters in the New Testament have been so sorely miscast as Mary Magdalene, whose reputation as a fallen woman originated not in the Bible but in a sixth-century sermon by Pope Gregory the Great. Not only is she misidentified as the repentant fallen prostitute of legend, meditating and levitating in a cave, but she was not necessarily even a notable sinner: Being possessed by "seven demons" that were exorcised by Jesus, she was arguably more victim than sinner. And the idea, popularized by The Da Vinci Code, that Mary was Jesus' wife and bore his child, while not totally disprovable, is the longest of long shots." --U.S. News and World Report
Since the late 6th century, Mary Magdalene has been misidentified in the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church as an adulteress and repentant prostitute. Pope Gregory the Great made a speech in 591 where he seemed to combine the actions of three women mentioned in the New Testament and also identified an unnamed woman as Mary Magdalene. In 1969 the Vatican, without commenting on Pope Gregory's reasoning, separated Luke's sinful woman, Mary of Bethany, and Mary Magdala by implicitly rejecting it via the Roman Missal.
Jeffrey Kripal, a religion scholar, wrote, "Migdal or Magdala (meaning "tower" in Hebrew and Aramaic respectively) was a fishing town known, or so the legend goes, for its possibly punning connection to hairdressers (medgaddlela) and women of questionable reputation."
This impression of Mary is perpetuated by much Western medieval Christian art. In many such depictions, Mary Magdalene is shown as having long hair which she wears down over her shoulders, while other women follow contemporary standards of propriety by hiding their hair beneath headdresses or kerchiefs. The Magdalene's hair may be rendered as red, while the other women of the New Testament in these same depictions ordinarily have dark hair beneath a scarf. This disparity between depictions of women can be seen in works such as the Crucifixion paintings by the Meister des Marienlebens.
This image of Mary as a prostitute was followed by many writers and artists until the 20th century. Even though it is less prevalent nowadays, the identification of Mary Magdalene with the adulteress is still accepted by some Christians. This is reflected in Martin Scorsese's film adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis's novel The Last Temptation of Christ, as well as in José Saramago's The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, Andrew Lloyd Webber's rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and Hal Hartley's The Book of Life.
One possible explanation for the labeling of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute is that there has been confusion between her and Mary of Egypt. Another possible explanation is that it has been deliberately used to camouflage the close relationship between Jesus and Mary.