The most the New Testament tells us about Mary Magdalene’s biography is found in the first three verses of Luke 8:
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
Mary’s last name wasn’t Magdalene; that was a reference to where she was from, a small fishing village called Magdala on the Sea of Galilee. She was Mary of Magdala, just like Jesus of Nazareth was sometimes called the Nazarene.
These verses in Luke are important for several reasons, explains Bruce Chiltona religion professor at Bard College and author of “Mary Magdalene: A Biography.” For starters, it’s the only time in the gospels that we learn that Jesus’ entourage included women, Mary Magdalene first among them. And here is where we also learn a key detail about Mary Magdalene, that she was exorcised of “seven demons.”
“The way she is identified in that passage is really quite fascinating,” says Chilton. “She’s the only person named within the whole of the New Testament who is involved with Jesus’ exorcisms.”
Other people have demons cast out in the Bible, but none of them are named. Since Mary Magdalene was included in Jesus’ inner circle, she presumably used that firsthand knowledge of being exorcised to testify of this healing experience to others as they traveled and taught.
Chilton also thinks the mention of the “seven demons” might also answer one of the lingering questions about Mary Magdalene: Why was she not married or attached to any family members?
“If she needed to be the recipient of exorcism, that’s not surprising,” says Chilton. “She might well have been shunned by her family.”
Other than this introduction in Luke and the Easter morning accounts at the tomb, the only other time that Mary Magdalene is mentioned by name in the Bible is at Jesus’ crucifixion, where three of the four gospels specifically say that Mary Magdalene witnessed Christ’s suffering along with other women, including Mary the mother of Jesus in one account. The Twelve, meanwhile, had fled Jerusalem fearing arrest.