Of Magdala

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She is named.

This is significantly important, especially in a collection of sacred texts where many are left unnamed.

There are two schools of thought about Mary’s identification as Magdalene/of Magdala.

One is that she is named geographically. This is how the gospel accounts name her. The second is that this is a nickname given to her.

In the biblical accounts, this important woman of our faith is identified as a woman from the Galilean town called Magdala. Magdala was a port city on the Sea of Galilee. We hear in Matthew that Jesus went to this town after feeding thousands with loaves and fish (Matthew 5:39). Magdala’s industry was fisheries and shipbuilding.

There is some speculation about the town’s actual existence in first-century Palestine. Some historical records beyond the gospel accounts contradict each other (Josephus and the Talmud). The city was destroyed in 66 CE by the Romans during the Jewish revolutionary war. (* Bellevie). It is named in the gospels as part of the Galilean ministry tour of Jesus.

The second theory about Mary Magdalene’s identification is that Magdalene is a nickname given to her. This theory supposes that the name is more about meaning and personality than actual place. This school of thought is supported by examples of Jesus giving alternative names to his closest companions: Peter named the Rock; John and James called “Boanerges,” which means sons of thunder.

This is also supported by the meaning of the word itself. Magdalene and Magdala are derived from the root Hebrew word migdal, which means tower, stronghold, fortress. Some suggest that Mary was named Magdala as it described her character and physical appearance. She was tall, forthright, and perhaps even fierce in her strength.

In 5 CE, Saint Jerome wrote: “Mary of Magdala received the epithet ‘fortified with towers’ because of her earnestness and strength of faith, and was privileged to see the rising of Christ first before even the apostles.” (* Bellevie).

Names matter. Names are significant. This woman’s name is important in our story of faith. She was a friend and disciple of Jesus. She was a close member of his inner circle. She was the first to come to belief in his resurrection, and in some gospel accounts, the first to see the Risen Christ.

Today as you spend time with Mary Magdalene, pray and speak your own name. Consider:

How are you identified by the place from which you come? What is your home heritage and the land from which you come, and how has it shaped and identified you?

How does the name given and chosen for you describe you and your spirit?

What is God’s nickname for you?

Prayer: Holy One, thank you for Mary Magdalene. Continue to reveal through your Spirit the wisdom and witness she brings to my believing and understanding of Jesus and the Risen Life. Amen. Alleluia.

* Reference: Mary Magdalene by Lesa Bellevie.

Photo: Bible History Online

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