The ambiguous figure of Mary Magdalene first appears in the Christian Gospels—most importantly as a witness to the Resurrection—and subsequently in mystical writings of Gnostic origins. Her true relationship to Jesus, and to other women in the Gospels, has sparked controversy since the early days. This project examines these controversies in light of present-day debates about the role of women in the church. To that end I consider her role in contemporary popular culture, such as in Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, and films such as Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. I then outline the early canonical and non-canonical writings in which she appears, and finally examine how contestants within the various faith traditions have framed her nature and role. Was she a reformed prostitute, or Jesus’s lover, or a female aspect of the Saviour himself, as the Gnostics seemed to claim? It emerges that the multifaceted image of the Magdalene has been used to send a variety of messages concerning gender, power, and the nature of redemption. I conclude that she is best considered as the female counterpart of Christ, and as such provides an inspiring example for women of our own day because of her simultaneous embrace of both worldly love and spiritual transcendence.
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