Annotated Bibliography on Mary Magdalene

The following is arranged by date of publication to give the reader a sense of the evolution of Magdalene literature. It is by no means a complete list – simply my personal favorites.

The Scholarship

--Venus in Sackcloth, The Magdalen’s Origins and Metamorphoses by Marjorie M. Malvern, 1975, Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Ill. An early study looking at the complexity of the mythical Magdalene in literature and art. Important chapter on her pre-Christian link to the ancient goddesses of love.

--The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels, 1979, Random House, NY, NY. This was the groundbreaking book that introduced the Gnostic material - and a very different Mary Magdalene - to the world. Elaine Pagels was part of the team that translated the original Coptic texts found at the Egyptian archeological site of Nag Hammadi. Very readable.

--Mary Magdalen, Myth and Metaphor by Susan Haskins, 1993, Riverhead Books, NY, NY. Comprehensive and thorough investigation of the Magdalene in history, legend, literature and art. Particularly helpful in separating out all the many Marys. Dense - but for those seriously interested, it functions as the Magdalene encyclopedia.

--In Search of Mary Magdalene: Images and Traditions by Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, 2002, American Bible Society, NY, NY. Catalogue accompanying the exhibit at The Gallery at the American Bible Society. Essays and images elucidating the Magdalene’s traditional roles as Sinner, Penitent, Witness, Contemplative and Muse. Lovely and informative, clearly revealing that “the Magdalene has exhibited a flexibility in image and definition unknown by other Christian saints.”

--The Making of the Magdalen, Preaching and Popular Devotion in the Later Middle Ages by Katherine Ludwig Jansen, 2000, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. A remarkable study using previously unexplored sources shedding much light on the period of time when the cult of Mary Magdalene was at its height. Traces the use of the Magdalene by the royal family of Anjou to protect Provence, the journey of the cult to Italy, the identification of the mendicant preachers with the Magdalene and the very creative interaction (like we are seeing today) between lay people and the mythic persona of the Magdalene.

--The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene, Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament by Jane Schaberg, 2002, Continuum, NY. A powerful feminist analysis of all the above written as an ongoing conversation with Virginia Woolf. At first this literary device was confusing but in the end I felt it added tremendously to this work of imagination and scholarship. I loved the book ­ but it is dense and not for those wanting a little light reading.

--Mary Magdalene, The First Apostle, The Struggle for Authority by Ann Graham Brock, 2003, Harvard Theological Studies, Cambridge, MA. An important examination of the primary texts showing among other things, the extent to which the Gospel of Luke modified the earlier traditions to enhance the status of Peter and diminish the role of Mary Magdalene, and how different versions of the Acts of Philip and other texts replace the important role of Mary Magdalene with Peter and sometimes Mary the Mother. Brock argues that these choices were not arbitrary but politically motivated ­ a deliberate “strategy for eliminating the competition.” 

--The Gospel of Mary of Magdala, Jesus and the First Woman Apostle by Karen King, 2003, Polebridge Press, Santa Rosa, CA. King’s translation of The Gospel of Mary, with an analysis and interpretation of its historical context, the time and place out of which it was written. Information about the esoteric tradition of Christianity, which is very hard to find. Very readable ­ very important book.

--The Gospels of Mary, The Secret Tradition of Mary Magdalene, the Companion of Jesus, edited by Marvin Meyer with Esther A. De Boer, 2004, HarperSanFrancisco, HarperCollinsPublishers, NY. In one book Meyer has put together all the New Testament and Gnostic episodes that refer to Mary Magdalene. He also includes additional episodes about the other women who became part of the composite Magdalene figure so popular in the Middle Ages.

--Mariam, the Magdalen and the Mother, edited by Deirdre Good, 2005, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN. Very interesting collection of essays, several of which make parallels between the prophetic leadership of the Old Testament figure of Miriam and Mary Magdalene. One essay by Swedish scholar Antti Marjanen discusses the term “beloved disciple” and the possibility (or not) of sexual relations between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

--The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Mary Magdalene by Lesa Bellevie, 2005, Alpha Books, Peguin Group, NY, NY. The title belies the excellence of this book. For those not interested or able to read history, Bellevie has written a thorough and comprehensive text of all things Magdalene, including a review of contemporary theories about the Holy Grail and the Lost Feminine.


--The Moon Under Her Feet, Clysta Kinstler, 1989, HarperSanFrancisco. A novel that sets the Jesus story in the context of the ancient Goddess traditions. Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother are priestesses of Ashera and Jesus is the consort/King who must be slain. Terrific reading.

--I Remember Union, The Story of Mary Magdalena, Flo Calhoun, 1992, All Worlds Publishing. Very beautiful and inspirational piece of poetic writing that describes the journey of the group of souls who incarnated to create the Jesus story. Suggests that it would take 2000 years for the teaching of Jesus to be fully understood.

--The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, Mary Magdalen and the Holy Grail by Margaret Starbird, 1993, Bear & Company, Rochester, Vt.

--The Goddess in the Gospels, Reclaiming the Sacred Feminine by Margaret Starbird, 1998, Bear & Company, Santa Fe, NM.

--Magdalene’s Lost Legacy, Symbolic Numbers and the Sacred Union in Christianity by Margaret Starbird, 2003, Bear & Company, Rochester, Vt.

--Mary Magdalene: Bride in Exile by Margaret Starbird, 2005, Bear & Company, Rochester, Vt

Margaret Starbird is a deeply spiritual and intuitive thinker and her books have been profoundly influential in the rediscovery of Mary Magdalene in popular culture. I have come to different conclusions about Mary Magdalene as the bride but I am enormously appreciative of Starbird’s work to celebrate the sacred union and to re-integrate sexuality and spirituality.

--Daughter of the Shining Isles, Magdalen Trilogy, Vol I, Elizabeth Cunningham, 2000, Barrytown Limited. Delicious novel setting up Ms Magdalene as a feisty Celtic girl named Maeve who is raised in the Land of Women. She studies at the local Druid college where she meets Jesus who is there on his so-called lost years.

--The Magdalen Manuscript by Tom Kenyon and Judi Sion, 2002, ORB Communications, Orcas, WA. A channeled piece of writing by a renowned sound healer and his partner portraying the Magdalene as an initiate of the Isis Cult, specializing in Sexual Magic. In the introduction, Kenyon expresses his own ambivalence about channeled material but adds that the information about internal sexual alchemy stands on its own. I would agree, and on those terms quite interesting.

--Secrets of the Code, the Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind The Da Vinci Code edited by Dan Burstein, 2004, CDS Books, NY. The best of the post Da Vinci Code books - a collection of essays by scholars and alternative thinkers. Includes Margaret Starbird, Karen King, Elaine Pagels, Esther de Boer, Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, Riane Eisler and many others.


Other Resources

--Jesus, Mary and Da Vinci, ABC Frontline special (2003) can be purchased from A great overview of the material inspired by The DaVinci Code and couch travel to France, Italy and Israel. Comes out against the secret marriage but affirms the love relationship of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

--Mary Magdalene, The Hidden Apostle, A&E History Channel Special (2000) can be purchased from The focus is on debunking Mary Magdalene’s prostitute status and showing her as Jesus’ closest friend and a woman of means who helped finance the movement. Fascinating description of the Egyptian archeological find.