Is Magdala in Bethany?

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Key Takeaways:

  • Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany are sometimes thought to be the same person, but there are differences between them.
  • Mary of Bethany is known to have lived in the village of Bethany near Jerusalem.
  • Mary Magdalene is often associated with the town of Magdala in Galilee.
  • It is unclear if Magdala refers to the same place as Bethany.
  • Scholars have differing views on whether Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany were the same person.


The question of whether Magdala is located in Bethany is an interesting one for Biblical scholars and readers of the New Testament. Magdala and Bethany are both places associated with important figures in the Gospels, namely Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany. Untangling their possible connection provides insight into the world of Jesus’ followers. This article will comprehensively evaluate the available evidence regarding Magdala and Bethany. Are they separate places or one and the same? Is there definitive proof linking or separating Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany? By the end, readers will better understand the ambiguity around this question and the scholarly debate regarding these two notable women.

Determining if Magdala is in Bethany requires examining the limited information provided in the Gospels about each location and associated figure. The depth of this scriptural and historical analysis will uncover the complex relationship between place names, individuals, and events in the New Testament. Readers will gain critical knowledge regarding Magdala, Bethany, Mary Magdalene, and Mary of Bethany. This understanding may assist in Biblical study, inspire further research, and provide context for discussions of early Christianity. With an open and investigative approach, this article will thoroughly probe the tantalizing question: Is Magdala in Bethany?

Where Was Bethany?

Bethany was the home of Mary of Bethany. The Gospels directly state that Bethany was the town where she lived with her sister Martha and brother Lazarus. When describing events in the life of Jesus, the Gospel writers frequently mention Bethany as a location. But where exactly was the village of Bethany located in Judea during Jesus’ time?

What Do the Gospels Say About Bethany’s Location?

The Gospel of John provides the clearest description of Bethany’s proximity to Jerusalem:

  • John 11:18 – “Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem…”

This establishes that Bethany was a short distance from Jerusalem to the east, likely at the base of the Mount of Olives. Other Gospel references reinforce this general area:

  • Mark 11:1 – Jesus approaches Jerusalem from Bethany and the Mount of Olives.
  • Luke 24:50 – Jesus leads his disciples out toward Bethany before his ascension.

Does Archaeology Confirm Bethany’s Location?

Modern archaeological findings support the Gospel descriptions of Bethany’s location. Excavations have uncovered a small agricultural village on the southeast slope of the Mount of Olives that dates back to the time of Jesus. This is the widely accepted site of biblical Bethany. Today, the Palestinian town of al-Eizariya sits amid these ancient ruins.

What Do We Know About Bethany from the Gospels?

The Gospels present Bethany as a devout Jewish village and place of respite for Jesus:

  • Home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, whom Jesus loved (John 11:5).
  • Site of Lazarus’ resurrection by Jesus (John 11:1-44).
  • Location of Simon the Leper’s house, where Mary anointed Jesus (Matthew 26:6).
  • Place from which Jesus ascended to heaven (Luke 24:50-51).

So Bethany was certainly a town of great significance in Jesus’ final days and linked to his devoted followers.

Who Was Mary of Bethany?

Mary of Bethany appears by name only in the Gospel of John, identified as “Mary who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair” (John 11:2). She is widely thought to be the unnamed woman in anointing accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke set in Bethany. Looking closely at the Gospel descriptions reveals key biographical details about Mary of Bethany:

Mary Was the Sister of Martha and Lazarus

  • She lived in Bethany with her siblings (John 11:1).
  • Martha prepared a meal while Mary sat with Jesus (Luke 10:38-42).
  • Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44).

Mary Anointed Jesus Before His Death

  • She anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume and wiped them with her hair (John 11:2).
  • This occurred six days before Passover in Bethany (John 12:1-3).
  • Judas objected to the waste of expensive perfume (Matthew 26:6-13).

Mary Was a Devoted Follower

  • Jesus said Mary chose the better part by sitting with him (Luke 10:38-42).
  • Mary’s anointing prepares Jesus for his burial (Matthew 26:12).
  • Jesus calls her act of devotion beautiful (Matthew 26:10).

So Mary of Bethany was undoubtedly a beloved friend and disciple of Jesus hailing from the village of Bethany near Jerusalem.

Where Was Magdala?

Magdala was likely the hometown of Mary Magdalene before she followed Jesus. The precise location of Magdala is uncertain, but there are clues regarding the general region:

Magdala Was Probably a Town on the Sea of Galilee

  • Mary Magdalene is called “Mary of Magdala” to distinguish her (Luke 8:2).
  • Magdala means “tower” in Aramaic.
  • Archaeologists found a fishing town called “Taricheae” or “Magdala” on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Magdala Was Located in Galilee

  • Jesus meets Mary Magdalene in Galilee early in his ministry (Luke 8:2).
  • Galilee was Jesus’ childhood home and center of his ministry.

So the Gospels point to Magdala being near the Sea of Galilee, in the region of Galilee where Jesus first gathered disciples. The exact site awaits definitive archaeological evidence.

Who Was Mary Magdalene?

Mary Magdalene emerges as a prominent follower of Jesus in the Gospels, especially as a witness to his crucifixion and resurrection. Her characterization reveals her identity and importance:

She Was a Faithful Disciple Who Supported Jesus’ Ministry

  • Mary traveled with Jesus and the Twelve (Luke 8:1-3).
  • She helped provide for Jesus’ material needs (Mark 15:41; Luke 8:3).

Mary Witnessed the Crucifixion

  • She watched the cross with other women (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40).
  • Mary saw where Jesus was buried (Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:47).

She Was the First to See the Risen Christ

  • Jesus appeared first to Mary after his resurrection (John 20:11-18).
  • She told the disciples of the empty tomb (John 20:18).

Jesus Had Cast Out Her Demons

  • She was called Magdalene because Jesus expelled 7 demons from her (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9).

So Mary Magdalene was a dedicated follower who supported Jesus’ preaching work and witnessed his death and resurrection.

Are Bethany and Magdala the Same Place?

With the background on Bethany and Magdala in place, what does the evidence indicate about their relationship? Are the gospel references to these places talking about the same location? Or do they refer to two distinct towns? Several key points suggest Bethany and Magdala are separate places:

Bethany and Magdala Are in Different Regions

  • Bethany is situated near Jerusalem in Judea.
  • Magdala seems to be located around Galilee and the Sea of Galilee.
  • Jesus traveled between these far apart areas.

They Appear Independently in the Gospels

  • Bethany and Magdala are both mentioned but not equivalated.
  • Events in each town are kept separate.

Linguistic Origins Differ

  • Magdala likely derives from the Aramaic word for “tower.”
  • Bethany is probably based on the Hebrew for “house of figs.”

No Clear Statement Links the Two

  • If Bethany and Magdala were one town, the Gospels do not make this identification.
  • The Gospel writers keep the place names distinct.

So the textual clues treating Bethany and Magdala independently, without geographic cross-reference, imply they were separate towns. But a slight possibility of connection remains.

Were Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany the Same Person?

A key question is whether Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany refer to the same woman. Could Magdala and Bethany be linked by virtue of Mary Magdalene actually being Mary of Bethany? This has been an ongoing debate among scholars.

Reasons Some Equate Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany

  • Both were devoted followers of Jesus.
  • Mary Magdalene’s demons may link to sinful past like Mary of Bethany’s.
  • Eastertime association: anointing (Bethany) and resurrection (Magdala).
  • Single “composite” woman theory.

Reasons Others Separate Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany

  • Different place names suggest different women.
  • Gospels keep Magdalene and Bethany episodes distinct.
  • Mary was a very common name.
  • Association with Martha and Lazarus unique to Bethany.

No Consensus on Singular Identity

  • Early Church traditions conflict on this point.
  • Many modern scholars reject a singular Mary identity.
  • Question remains open with reasonable doubt on both sides.

So a definitive answer remains elusive, with scholarly opinions split on equating Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany. Their possible identity can’t fully link Magdala with Bethany.


The intriguing question of whether Magdala is located in Bethany sheds light on key figures and places in the New Testament while raising complex issues of Scriptural analysis. On available evidence, these appear to be separate towns associated with different female followers of Jesus. Bethany lay just east of Jerusalem in Judea, home to Mary of Bethany. Magdala was probably a Galilean town on the Sea of Galilee, origin of Mary Magdalene. The exact relationship between Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany resists conclusion, with no consensus on their possible identity. This uncertainty, plus the distinction maintained between Magdala and Bethany in the Gospels, suggests they were separate places. But some ambiguity endures, as often occurs in Biblical geography and analysis of Scripture from limited sources. This evaluation of Magdala and Bethany provides useful insight but cannot produce a definitive answer to the question at hand. The search for greater understanding will continue regarding the towns of Bethany and Magdala and their associated faithful women in the story of Jesus and early Christianity

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