Mary Magdalene - Bible study ideas

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Bible scroll

Bible text 
for Mary's story

Golden dandelion among violets

Mary Magdalene's story

Painting of Mary Magdalene by Rossetti

Saint or sinner? Famous paintings

Painting by Albrecht Durer

The Da Vinci Code

Crucified feet of Jesus, Matthias Grunewald


Lay-out of a 1st century tomb

Ancient Tombs

Bramantino, the Resurrected Christ

Bible Art: Resurrection

Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus in 'The Passion of the Christ'

Mary in modern movies

Mary Magdalene hears the voice of Jesus on Easter morning

Bible Women: Mary Magdalene










Bible text 
for Mary's story



Activities for individuals or groups

Mary Magdalene in movies

Gold and pearl crownUsing the list of films below, or films of your own choice, discuss the following questions:

  • What are the main ideas in any story that has a 'Mary Magdalene' character (a leader of other women, an organizer, a support for someone she admires)?

  • Taking into account we know so little about her, what would you say were Mary's qualities? List them.

  • Who is the 'Mary' figure in the film you have chosen to examine? What are the main ideas in the film?

  • What are the central relationships?

  • Do any of the films scenes remind you of your own life or experiences?

Group activity:

Discuss the questions above, making sure everyone in the group has a chance to talk about their ideas.

Individual activity

Take some time to sit down for a few minutes and focus your mind

  • think about your responses to the film, and to ideas from the story of Mary Magdalene

  • jot down your responses

  • leave them for a few days, then look at them again: do you still agree with what you wrote? Have you any new ideas you would like to add?

Movies about women entrusted 
with a great message or task


Can you name the films? 

'Electric Horseman': honest man depends on a woman to carry his message to the world

'Paradise Road': A group of women support each other through thick and thin

Can you see a connection with Mary's story?

'The Passion of the Christ' - Mary Magdalene as a desperate young woman unable to stop the carnage

'Random Harvest': the competent woman behind the Great Man

 Answers HERE. (see 'Mary Magdalene')
Can you think of others?

Paintings of Mary Magdalene

 Mary Magdalene: Paintings
 has 20 famous paintings 
of the story of Mary

Stage 1

Read the story at Mary Magdalene

Stage 2

Go to Mary Magdalene: Paintings. Scroll through the paintings from first to last.

Which part of the story of Mary Magdalene has been the most popular with artists?

Would this have been your choice?

Artists paint what they want to paint, but they also paint with their audience in mind. Look at the paintings again. Who is the painting directed at? Explain your reasoning.

Stage 3

If you have chosen something different, ask yourself why this other incident appeals to you more than the scene favored by the artists. Spend some time quietly thinking about your response.

Comparing the stories

He Qi, Women Arriving at the Tomb

He Qi, Women Arriving at the Tomb

 In columns, transcribe the gospel accounts of an event in Mary's life, for example

  • the women standing near the cross when Jesus died

  • the appearance of the angels at the tomb

  • the appearance of Jesus to Mary of Magdala.

You will find the gospel accounts relating to Mary Magdalene in Bible Text.

Find and mark the phrases that are the same in each gospel. Then find and mark the phrases that are different. Remember that the evidence given by eye-witnesses is often inaccurate in details; you might test this yourself by having members of your group give separate descriptions of a recent event you all witnessed.
1. What information is contained in all accounts of the gospel event?
2. What information is left out of any one account?
3. What information is added?
Find out what the general purpose of each evangelist was. What sort of audience was each writing for?
Is the evangelistís purpose evident from the passages you have looked at?

Interviewing an eye-witness

Eyewitness, Roman W Schatz, Imagine that you can interview an eyewitness who was present at some incident in the gospel. This eyewitness has direct experience of one or several events.

  • Choose an incident you wish to examine.

  • Read different accounts of the event in the four gospels - for Mary Magdalene's gospel story, go to Bible Text.

  • Prepare a list of questions you might ask the eyewitness for further information about the events and people.


Linking with the Old Testament - Lot's Wife  

James Tissot, Noli Me Tangere (Do not touch me)

Noli Me Tangere (Do not touch me), 
James Tissot 

1.  Read the whole of Genesis 19 thoroughly, trying to get a grasp on the characters and their actions - why they do what they do. 

2.  Concentrate on Lot's wife and try to imagine you are her - what would you be thinking, feeling, etc. Maybe jot down a few thoughts she might have had. Why does she look back? 
See information about this story at
Bible Bad Women 

3.  Link her story with the story of Mary Magdalene in the garden outside the tomb, where she meets the resurrected Jesus and he says to her 'don't hold on to me' - which can be interpreted as 'don't hold onto the past'. 

Link this gospel event with the story of Lot's wife by drawing out the message of Jesus, that we are not to hold onto that which is past, or look back as Lot's wife did.

And a Good Friday was had by all

Bruce Dawe

You men there, keep those women back
and God Almighty he laid down
on the crossed timber and old Silenus
my off-sider looked at me as if to say
nice work for soldiers, your mind's not your own
once you sign that dotted line Ave Caesar
and all that malarkey Imperator Rex

well this Nazarene
didn't make it any easier
really - not like the ones
who kick up a fuss so you can
do your block and take it out on them

Silenus held the spikes steady and I let fly
with the sledge-hammer, not looking
on the downswing trying hard not to hear
over the women's wailing the bones give way
the iron shocking the dumb wood.

Orders is orders, I said after it was over
nothing personal you understand - we had a 
drill-sergeant once thought he was God but he wasn't
at patch on you

then we hauled on the ropes
and he rose in the hot air
like a diver just leaving the springboard, arms spread
so it seemed
over the whole damned creation
over the big men who must have had it in for him
and the curious ones who'll watch anything if it's free
with only the usual women caring anywhere
and a blind man in tears.


You can simply read this beautiful poem, or use it as a focus for meditation.


Crucifixion, Matthias Grunewald, Isenheim Altarpiece

Crucifixion, Matthias Grunewald, Isenheim Altarpiece


Focus Questions for the gospel passages

1. What are the most interesting moments in Mary Magdalene's story? 
2. In the story, who speaks and who listens? Who acts? If you were in the story, which person would you want to be friends with? 
3. The narrator/editor has chosen to tell some things and leave other things out. What has been left out of the story that you would like to know?
4. You might like to compare characters and elements in the story with your experience of the modern world. Mary is a central witness of the Resurrection, yet is not at first believed. The women followers of Jesus are given very little space in the gospel accounts. Do women in your community experience the same side-lining? How is the story relevant to modern life, especially your own?

Famous Quotes from Mary's Story

'He is not here.' (Matthew 28:6, Luke 24:5)

'I have seen the Lord.' (John 20:18)

Taken by themselves, these two quotes could be said to sum up the unbeliever's, and the believer's, point of view. 

What is the best way of living your faith in God, so that others can experience the Christian message of love, faith and hope?  

Christ Appears to the Holy Women, James Tissot

Christ Appears to the Holy Women, James Tissot


Was Mary Magdalene married to Jesus, or his lover?  See  The Da Vinci Code

                      Bible Stories: People of the New Testament - Bible Study Resource:  Mary Magdalene and Jesus 


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