Famous people who may never have existed

Mary Magdalene

For seemingly forever, much of mankind has celebrated three major Marys: the Virgin, the Poppins, and the Magdalene.  The first birthed a divine baby. The second brandished a magical umbrella. And the third knew men biblically for pay. Or did she? Most people know Mary Magdalene as the penitent prostitute who came to Jesus and atoned for her fleshly indiscretions. But as the BBC observed, there is zero scriptural justification for that belief.

The Bible never described Magdalene as a sinner, let alone a play-for-pay pal. As far as the Good Book is concerned, she was a good woman who did Christ a solid by washing his feet. Plus, she saw his resurrection, which sounds pretty important. The Independent, on the other hand, raised a more radical possibility: that Magdalene married Jesus. A 1,500-year-old text called “The Lost Gospel” claimed that Jesus and his favorite foot-cleanser actually became Mr. and Mrs. Christ and had a kid together. In this alternate history, the Virgin Mary is Mary Magdalene and not Jesus’s mom. (Wait, the Madonna might have been the Mary that was labeled a prostitute? What a complex idea.)

So how did the apparent mix-up happen? The BBC posited that Magdalene got conflated with a different biblical Mary (the sister of Martha) and an unnamed prostitute. Smithsonian Magazine similarly postulated that the Bible’s five different Marys and three carnally wayward women (who are all nameless) caused confusion. Mary Poppins thankfully doesn’t have that problem.