What happened to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection? At first glance, it appears there is nothing more said about her in the New Testament — but the facts suggest otherwise. This blog entry discusses passages in the Bible that may shed light on what the rest of Mary’s life was like. This is a revision of a section of the introduction to The Gospel of John, my restoration of that original text, free from the later interpolations and excisions of the organized Christian religion. You will find ordering information here.
It is often averred that we know next to nothing about Mary’s life after the resurrection. This, I believe, is not quite true. Acts 12:13-16 has Mary as evidently still living in the family compound in Bethany; she has now given birth to John Mark, her son by Jesus. While Acts, which dates from the early second century, is none too reliable, the events in chapter 12 appear to take place about two years after the resurrection.
I think she appears several times in the Revelation, albeit wrapped in symbols; first in chapter 12, where she is naked (“clothed with the sun”) as she was at Jesus’s baptism and resurrection, and pregnant, as she was at the resurrection. She gives birth to a son who “rules with a rod of iron”; the complex symbology is mostly based on Psalm 2. John Mark, her son by Jesus, founded the church in Alexandria in 49 C.E., according to the Coptic Christians. But this child is killed (Revelation 12:5), just as John Mark was reportedly executed by the Romans in either 62 or 68 C.E., and the woman flees into the wilderness, there to be nourished as was Elijah.
I believe that it is Mary mentioned as the Bride in Revelation 19:7-8, clothed in βυσσινος (from βυσσος), which is the term for strips of linen used to bury the dead (basically synonymous with οθονιον in John 20). The Bride makes another appearance in the poetic imagery of 21:2.
I find another possible clue in the second letter of John the Presbyter. It is almost universally believed that “the elect lady” to whom he addresses it is the growing community of followers of Jesus, or one of its local congregations. However I read the letter as addressed to Jesus’s wife, Mary, whom John the Presbyter must have come to know well during the process of writing the Gospel of John. In Greek he begins by greeting εκλεκτη κυρια και τοις τεκνοις αυτης. The first word means “chosen” and the second word is the female equivalent to κυριος, the Greek word used to render the Aramaic ܡܪܐ (mari); it means “lord”, “master”, or “husband”. Since the latter (in the Greek New Testament and the Peshitta, the Aramaic New Testament) is how Jesus is addressed, this would well apply to his chosen “lordess”, his chosen wife. The letter next affirms John’s love for her, and then he assures her that he has observed certain of her children as walking in the truth – likely a reference to John Mark and Lazarus writing the truth in, respectively, the gospels of Mark and John. He says there are things he wishes to speak directly, “mouth to mouth” to her, and not through a letter, and he concludes by passing along to her the love of the children of her “chosen sister”. Assuming Martha, Mary’s sister, is still in Bethany, then this would suggest Mary has moved elsewhere in the world.
Thus I believe both II John and Revelation tell us that Mary went far from her home in Bethany. The first letter of Peter, written from Rome, in which he sends greetings from “she [who is] in Babylon chosen together with Mark my son.” Babylon is always in Jewish writings of the time a euphemism for the city of Rome, and “Mark” refers to John Mark, Jesus’s and Mary’s son, who was working on the Gospel of Mark with Peter as the eyewitness-source; this effort was undertaken in Rome, as John the Presbyter, Papias, and Irenæus all attest. As discussed elsewhere, Simon the Rock appears to have adopted the son of his beloved teacher and half-brother of his dearest friend Lazarus.
We don’t know what she was travelling for. Very probably she went to see her now adult children. Possibly also she met with leaders of the new Christian religion, which had turned her husband into a quasi-Roman godling, but though or perhaps because she was his wife and “merely a woman” she would have been shunted aside and prevented from having any influence, because there was far too much worldly wealth and power in a well-organized religious institution. But she was also certainly travelling abroad for her health.
Indeed, I tentatively conclude that there is sufficient merit in it to take seriously Val Wineyard’s hypothesis. She thinks that Sejanus, de facto emperor in Tiberius’s madness, and the father of Pontius Pilate’s wife Claudia Procula, owned an estate in the Corbières, near Narbonne, France. Pilate supposedly advised Jesus to flee to this estate and restore his health in the curative baths at Rennes-les-Bains, as did Claudia’s grandfather, Emperor Augustus, another “son of god” (but in his case the “god” was Julius Cæsar). She and her companions would have disembarked at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, which I have visited, and which has a strong local tradition to this effect. Wineyard also refers to another local legend that says Jesus was buried in a hidden cave about a kilometer outside the current-day hamlet of Saint-Salvayre, close to Rennes-les-Bains.