In all four gospels Mary Magdalene was primary witness to the empty tomb and the first appearance of the risen Jesus. So the gospel reading on Sunday in most churches will feature Mary. Also Mary Magdalene stands first in every list of Jesus’ female disciples (Mark 15:40-41, 47; 16;1; Matt. 27:55-56, 61; 28:1; Luke 8:2-3; 24:10). Mary probably was the leader among them. Lots of myths and speculations have sprung up around Mary. She had been a prostitute. She was the beloved disciple. She was Jesus’ girlfriend or wife. Maybe. But probably none of these.
Her name mostly just appears in lists or in the drama in John 20:1-18. The most historically useful passage seems to be Luke 8:2-3. There the women who travel with Jesus and the disciples owe Jesus a debt of gratitude because he has healed them. Mary has been freed from possession by demons. Some of these women have some wealth. They are a source of funding for Jesus’ ministry.
“The twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and disabilities: Mary (called Magdalene), from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Cuza (Herod’s household manager), Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their own resources” (NET Bible).
Demons do not figure in what we call the Old Testament, but they do in the Enoch literature, which was apparently popular in Galilee at the time of Jesus. In the Enoch literature demons are the lost souls of the drowned generation of Noah. They have become evil spirits who haunt and possess people. In popular understanding they were behind various ailments of the body and mind. Remember no one had any knowledge of germs, brain chemistry or much else that might account for symptoms. So, just as in some cultures today, a theory of evil spirits substituted for medical knowledge.
I would argue that this is not totally invalid. One New Testament way of seeing the devil is as one who holds the power of death (Hebrews 2:14-15). So diseases as demons or agents of the power behind death makes sense. I certainly demonize cancer.
Jesus had healed Mary of some disabling condition. And Mary had become leader of other grateful women who followed Jesus. Also, these women seem not to have had family responsibilities. So they may have been widows or displaced persons of some kind.
Paul left Mary out of the resurrection witnesses in I Corinthians 15. This is because Paul is reporting on the tradition that existed in the Jerusalem church three years after his call (Galatians 1:18-19). Peter and James had left her out. With our sensitivity to women’s issues, it is now usually assumed that this was because of her sex. They needed men as witnesses. But it might have been because of her former ailment. It might have been both, that is, her sex plus her former condition might have combined to make her open to the charge of being an unstable woman.
But it is impressive that when Mark and the others began trying to produce a narrative about the resurrection, they all began with the witness of Mary. The women went to the tomb and were confused by what they found. They soon concluded, however, that Jesus was alive. Mary became their spokeswoman.