If you want to be spiritual, ask uncomfortable questions,’ Goddess News, Spiritual Blog, Divine Feminine,
Dr Joanna Kujawa
Is Mary Magdalene the same person as Mary the Jewess?
When I explored the possibility of a connection between Mary Magdalene and Egypt I did so as though on some wild adventure. Originally, as a scholar and student of the Gnostic Gospels related to Mary Magdalene, I had quietly assumed that Mary Magdalene’s life in Egypt was a figment of literary imagination, just as her status as a prostitute was.
Also, my earlier assumptions came from my past conviction that both Mary Magdalene and the Gnostics had their sources deep in early Christianity. My only problem at the time with the official sources of information was that Mary Magdalene had been misrepresented, just as her role as a prostitute had been fabricated – both with the intention of removing a wise and powerful feminine figure from the official version of the scriptures.
In the meantime, recent scholarship began to consider that the origins of the Gnostics might be much earlier and more complex than their connection with early Christianity and often lead back to Egypt.
Thus, as I began to explore some sources in my blog ‘In the Footsteps of Mary Magdalene: Alexandria’ (https://www.joannakujawa.com/in-the-footsteps-of-mary-magdalene-alexandria/ ), the possibility that there might be a connection between Egypt and Mary Magdalene became more real. The whole narrative of Mary Magdalene is so steeped in myth that sometimes it takes a genuine detective investigation to untangle the possible from the imaginary and from that which is simply historically untrue. Having said this, myth and imagination often carry hidden and repressed truths and require a sincere seeker (and spiritual detective) to consider them fully. And, although in ‘Mary Magdalene in Alexandria’ I write about discovering the genuine possibility that Mary Magdalene did live at some point in Egypt and I note that the right environment for her presence there did exist, I did not associate her with any women living in Egypt at the time.
So here I would like to disentangle and assess (as unromantic as that sounds) an additional possibility for the presence of Mary Magdalene in Egypt – the possibility which I have not discussed in my blog on Mary Magdalene in Alexandria or in its video version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wb1SfMvff4E. They pertain to one historical figure, who could be associated with Mary Magdalene and her Egyptian connections.
Following the intuitive link between alchemy and Mary Magdalene, as well the Gnostic idea that Mary Magdalene was the most advanced and cherished disciple of Jesus/Yeshua, I began searching for examples of educated women, with a leaning towards mystery and the ineffable. And in my searching I stumbled upon Mary the Prophetess, or Mary the Jewess. As a name, ‘Mary the Jewess’ makes perfect sense to me, as I tend to believe that Mary Magdalene was Jewish. At that time, there was a large community of highly educated and Hellenised Jews in Alexandria, with the most prominent example being Philo of Alexandria. However, the second name by which she was known, Mary the Prophetess, emphasises her spiritual gifts – which also connects her to the Gnostic version of Mary Magdalene as the ‘learned one’.
So who was Mary the Prophetess/Mary the Jewess?
Mary the Prophetess is quietly acknowledged as the Mother of Alchemy proper. ‘Quietly’ because, as history has been often written with complete disregard for women’s accomplishments, the focus has usually been on male alchemists and the fathers of Alchemy. Although, in the mythological sense the source of Alchemy comes from Hermes the Thrice Great (Trismegistus), its known human origins had their beginnings with the priests and priestesses of Ancient Egypt. One of the great alchemists was Zosimos of Panapolis (present-day Akhmim), who was, of course, Egyptian, and who died around 251 AD (all a bit later). It is Zosimos who mentions Mary the Prophetess as ‘one of the sages’ and places her as his predecessor.
Mary the Prophetess invented many alchemical instruments which were later used by all alchemists and described by Zosimos. In the National Library of Israel open sources it is also suggested that she was interested in the spiritual aspect of Alchemy, as ‘the creation of pure gold was considered a transmutation towards Heaven’ and thus also contained a spiritual aspiration. The goal of this process was ‘combining within Itself the powers of both the Above and the Below’, as is written in the Emerald Tablet attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. Interestingly, ‘As above so below’ is the key and most essential teaching not only of the Alchemists but also of many esoteric teachings around the world, including Hermeticism, and is encoded in the Christian Lord’s Prayer as ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. (Mystical truths are often hidden in plain sight.)
But back to Mary the Prophetess, about whose life little or almost nothing is known. Apart from the information sourced through Zosimus of Panapolis, the only additional information about her I found was (again) in the open sources of the National Library of Israel. They state that Mary the Prophetess did live in Alexandria and even opened an Academy there to teach Alchemy. This suggests that Mary the Jewess was financially independent. Interestingly, recent scholarship on Mary Magdalene suggests that she, too was an independent woman with her own financial means. Jane Schaberg in her book The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene, for example, argued that Mary Magdalene was never called someone’s daughter or wife as was then customary. Candida Moss (a Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham) also reached a similar conclusion that Mary Magdalene was a financially independent woman who helped to support Jesus’ movement along with another disciple – Joanna the wife of Chuza who was connected to the court of Herod Antipas (as mentioned in Luke 8).
At this point I became really excited because this creates a beautiful possible connection between Mary the Prophetess and Mary Magdalene – as I argue in one earlier blog, Alexandria was the perfect place for Mary Magdalene to escape after the events of the Crucifixion.
In my opinion, Mary the Prophetess’ connection with Mary Magdalene (if there is one) lies entirely in the dating of the former’s life. When did Mary the Prophetess live? For Zosimos, she was one of the ‘sages’ and he envied her in that, being Jewish she could openly teach and discuss Alchemy at that time while he, as an Egyptian, could not. This, he explains, was because Alchemy was an ancient lore guarded by the Egyptian priesthood. Since Zosimus lived in the third century and he talks about Mary the Prophetess as his predecessor, it is safe to assume that she lived in Alexandria during or prior to the third century. Again, I checked with the open sources in the National Library of Israel and there it is stated that Mary the Prophetess lived in the first century (although there is no explanation of how this is known).
So we are getting closer now – at least in terms of dating
their lives – to the possibility that
Mary the Prophetess and Mary Magdalene could both be placed, historically,
around the first century. But does this make the case that they are one and the
Since we know almost nothing about the actual lives of either of these two magnificent women, it is difficult to say. But I would not reject this proposition as a possibility. Some strictly scholarly minded people may argue that any connection between them is tenuous. They would note that there is no document identifying Mary Magdalene as an alchemist, and in particular there is nothing identifying her as one historical female alchemist. To this I would answer that history is frequently manipulated and that often, either by purposeful omission or a lack of proper resources, untruths are created and documented as the truth. Nothing is greater proof of this than the very successful attempts at either falsifying the historical and spiritual records or removing the importance of Mary Magdalene from them altogether.
So, I ask, is it any wonder that we do not know anything about Mary Magdalene and that ‘other’ or ‘same’ historical figure, and that we know even less about the possible connection between the two of them as being one and the same person?
Let me make this clear: I am not arguing that they are the same person but what I am saying is that there is a definite possibility that Mary Magdalene and Mary the Prophetess could be the same person.
Both lived at roughly the same time. There is a strong chance they both lived in Alexandria. Both were educated women with spiritual gifts (Mary the Prophetess, as her name suggests, also had spiritual gifts, apart from being an Alchemist) and Mary Magdalene was the most advanced disciple chosen by Jesus, according to some Gnostic sources such as the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the Pistis Sophia and the Gospel of Philip. Both were financially independent women in charge of their lives.
To me, at least, this sounds much more possible than the official, completely fictional, version of Mary Magdalene as penitent prostitute.
I would love to hear from you on this.
A short video version of this blog is also available on my youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6Z3PS02P7E
Dr Joanna Kujawa