Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th Century was well aware that you can destroy a woman by calling her a whore. Mary Magdalene was the “Apostle to the Apostles” and one of the very few to see the risen Christ, but Peter was the head of the Church. To affirm the sexed hierarchy of leadership within the Catholic Church, the reputation of Mary Magdalene was attacked. She was called the penitent whore without a shred of evidence.
There’s a lot of truth in that. Sex workers are real but “whores” and “sluts” are mostly a figment of patriarchy. I mean this in the sense that the term is an ideological container for the dissonance sexual attraction creates inside of misogyny. Pope Gregory had no intention of elevating Mary Magdalene and following a thread about the corporeal nature of Christ and the necessity of reproductive labor and salvation. Pope Gregory was neither the first nor the last person to conclude or project prostitution narrative onto Mary of Magdala. Mary Magdalene is the #1 pornstar at the Vatican for the abundance of reverentially erotic images produced of her over the centuries. She cultivates devotion precisely because of her presumed background in the sex trade. She is the perfect compliment to Virgin Mary, Mother of God. The Madonna and The Whore fit seamlessly onto the story of the redeemer of humanity.
There is a strong push within feminist theology to counter the idea that Mary Magdalene was a whore, to remind people that the accusation is without solid biblical evidence. There is nothing in the text to ‘prove’ that Mary Magdalene was even in the sex trade and there are so many Mary’s in the book that it’s easy to confuse one with another. These refutations seem superficial when reframed: what is lost if Mary Magdalene is associated with prostitution and what is gained? Does the story of Jesus Christ lose its power if his closest and most loyal confidante who remained to bear witness to the execution and received his brutalized corpse was or was perceived to be a prostitute?