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21306The name "Magdalene"

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  • Richard Fellows
    Jun 4, 2006
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      It is normally assumed that Magdalene came from a place called Magdala, and received her name accordingly. However, an alternative view is that she was named "Magdalene" (Tower?) in much the same way that Simon was named "Cephas" (rock/stone). I believe that Jerome proposed something similar. Does anyone know of any discussion of this view? Here are some supporting arguments.

      1. Mary was a very prominent disciple. She is first in the lists of disciples where she appears (except John 19:25). The other prominent members of the movement in Palestine were Jesus Christ, Simon Cephas, James and John Boanerges, and perhaps Joseph Barnabas. Since they all received new names to represent their callings, it is reasonable to suspect that Mary also was given a new name.

      2. It seems from Luke 8:2-3 that Magdalene provided funds for the Jesus movement. Joseph Barnabas and Crispus (=Sosthenes) were also benefactors/patrons and they received new names in acknowledgement of their commitment. I have also argued that Titus received a new name when he committed to organizing a collection for Jerusalem. Magdalene's role as benefactor therefore makes it even more likely that she received a new name.

      3. "Magdalene" seems to derive from "Magdal", which means tower or fortress. We know of three other instances where a new name was given that also represents secure strength. Cephas was the rock on which the church was to be built. James, according to Hegesippus, was known as Oblias, which he interprets "Bulwark of the people". Crispus was named "Sosthenes" (saving strength). If Mary's other name likened her to a tower, it would be entirely in keeping with the style of naming of other leading disciples (and with a role of benefactor).

      4. "Mary" and "Magdalene", while not close homophones, begin with the same letter. Double names often had a phonetic resemblance. This increases the probability that she was not from a place called Magdala, but was named "Magdalene" (presumably by Jesus).

      5. Few Palestinian disciples were named after their place of origin. Indeed, the term H KALOUMENH in Luke 8:2 may further support the view that Magdalene signifies more than just her place or origin.

      In view of these points, why do commentators think it more likely that she was named according to a place of origin? Am I missing something?

      Richard Fellows

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