Updated: Aug 14
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Out of all the characters adapted in The Chosen, Mary Magdalene seems to be a clear favorite among fans. Perhaps it's the vulnerability and humanity that Elizabeth Tabish brings to Mary's depiction. Perhaps it's because of how enigmatic the depiction of Mary in the Gospels is. Or perhaps it's because the powerful way we see Jesus show up in Mary's life during episode 1 of The Chosen, saving her from her tormented existence as "Lilith." For whatever reason, the depiction of Mary Magdalene has captured the hearts of thousands of fans who have viewed the first season of The Chosen.
Unfortunately, fans who are excited to see the next chapter in Mary's life, when she joins Jesus and the other disciples in going forth to preach the gospel to the surrounding towns and villages, will have to wait a bit longer than expected. Season 2 of The Chosen was filming in Texas when the recent winter storms came hurtling through, forcing a very costly shutdown to production for a few days. That likely means that we'll face delays for at least some of season two - just pray that this won't have a long term impact on the financial health of the rest of The Chosen.
If our wait for season two drags on and you find yourself longing for some more on screen depictions of Mary Magdalene, be not afraid! The Chosen is not the first screen adaptation to take interest in the first witness to Jesus' resurrection. Below I've listed four excellent and intriguing adaptations of Mary Magdalene to the silver screen, as well as a special outlier that I just had to include.
The Passion of the Christ
As controversial as The Passion of the Christ might have been (especially because of Mel Gibson), I still find it to be a beautiful and moving adaptation of the final hours of Jesus' life. While the Gospel accounts themselves don't mention anything explicitly about Mary Magdalene's presence during these events until the crucifixion itself (unless you buy into the Mary=Beloved Disciple theory), the Passion places her right in the thick of things, as a faithful companion of Jesus' mother, Mary. The interactions between Jesus (Jim Caviezel) and Mary Magdalene (Monica Bellucci) convey a powerful connection, while not dipping into the more fanciful inventions of DaVinci Code-inspired revisionists.
The King of Kings (1927)
Like The Chosen, The King of Kings begins by following Mary Magdalene so that we can first encounter Jesus from her perspective, when he conducts her exorcism. Yet, though the initial premise may sound similar, the ways Mary is actually depicted in these two films defer significantly. In The Chosen, Mary Magdalene is an oppressed, traumatized outcast who is on the edge of suicide when Jesus shows up out of nowhere and saves her from demonic and social victimization. In The King of Kings, Mary Magdalene (Jacqueline Logan) is a socially-connected, zebra-chariot-driving, upper class prostitute who actively seeks out Jesus (H.B. Warner) because he's stealing her clients (i.e. Judas) only to have him suddenly exorcise the seven deadly sins out of her. If that sounds a little crazy, it's because it is. And yet it's also a surprisingly well-constructed and artistic piece of historic cinema. If you enjoy checking out older films and aren't deterred by the idea of watching a pre-Talkie, it's worth a view. Even if you're not a film connoisseur, you may still want to watch and compare The King of Kings to The Chosen and consider how far the gender politics of 1927 are from today.
The Gospel Collection (Lumo Project)
Whereas The Chosen freely alters and adds to the Gospel narratives in order to create an engaging story in its genre, the Lumo Project aims for very strict fidelity to the original Gospels. Rather than creating a composite of Jesus life by harmonizing stories from the various Gospels, Lumo adapts each Gospel in isolation from the others and dubs the entire reading of the Gospel word for word over what's taking place. Honestly, it's not an approach that I generally favor, but there is one major advantage: it preserves the tie between the meaning of an event and the purpose it serves in the context of its Gospel source.
When it comes to viewing the character of Mary Magdalene, Lumo's dedication to the integrity of each Gospel forces us to disambiguate the portraits of Mary found in each Gospel. The only Gospel that mentions her demons is Luke. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all mention her near the cross and as a witness to the resurrection, but John gives us a little more detailed description of her. Seeing these differences is useful in actually trying to understand Mary's role in Jesus' ministry.
Disclaimer: This depiction of Mary Magdalene is not strictly following the canonical Gospels and may have some gnostic influences. This is not The Last Temptation of Christ or the DaVinci Code - no attempts to do something racy and sensational with the relationship between Mary and Jesus - but there is a "the other apostles didn't really get Jesus but Mary did" kind of vibe. To be clear, I don't think that's a faithful representation of Mary's story based on the most reliable sources that we have. Even so, it's interesting to compare how Mary Magdalene portrays Mary to how The Chosen portrays her. They both emphasize the importance of her role among the disciples and seem to give her a little more wisdom than Peter and the other disciples - perhaps seeking to correct the historical marginalization of Mary Magdalene's significance in the Gospels. Fortunately, The Chosen doesn't feel a need to pit Mary against Peter - but there are some interesting narrative possibilities opened up by the characterization in Mary Magdalene.
The Chosen: I Have Called You By Name (Novelization)
What better way to wait for next season of The Chosen, an adaptation of the Gospels onto the screen, than to read The Chosen: I Have Called You By Name, an adaptation of the first season of The Chosen into a novel? While not a visual adaptation like the others, I had to include this novelization of The Chosen for those of you who are hardcore fans.
It wasn't until seeing this book that I realized the connection between Dallas Jenkins, creator of The Chosen, and Jerry B. Jenkins, writer of the novelization - and the Left Behind books that were super popular around the turn of the Millennium. After making that connection, the resonance between the work of the father and the son immediately stuck out to me. Left Behind is itself a kind of speculative adaptation of Revelation, just as The Chosen adapts the Gospels. Like The Chosen, Left Behind follows religious outsiders who become model "seekers," demonstrating for non-Christian readers the way to examine Jesus - a path that climaxes in a sudden, emotional conversion moment. While I believe Dallas has ultimately surpassed his father's enterprise, I appreciate this collaboration between the two, which has the potential to expand the story Dallas has been telling.
With regard to Mary Magdalene, having a novelization is particularly helpful. The show gives us cryptic hints here and there regarding her past and her experience of demonization as Lilith, but the novelization can give us a bit more details. Moreover, the novel as a genre is better at capturing interiority than on screens mediums, which means The Chosen: IHCYBN can go a bit deeper into Mary Magdalene's fears, despair, and relief.
There you go! Five adaptations of Mary Magdalene that should hopefully tide you over while you wait for The Chosen Season 2. I'm curious to hear other suggestions though! Do you have any other adaptations of the Gospels that include Mary Magdalene that you've enjoyed? Comment below.
Have these posts about The Chosen helped you understand The Chosen or explore it with your ministry or family? Would you consider giving a few bucks to support my work as a writer? It's really simple to do using my account on Buy Me a Coffee. Thanks so much!
If you liked this post, I've done several other posts on The Chosen that you might want to check out, including explorations of how the show adapts key biblical characters and guides on how to lead your youth group in discussing each episode of The Chosen Seasons 1 & 2. You may also be interested in some of my other content on adaptation and youth ministry.
Adapting Biblical Characters Series
Judas in The Chosen ***Season 2***
James & John in The Chosen ***Season 2***
Mary Magdalene in The Chosen ***Season 2 Update***
Simon and Andrew in The Chosen ***Season 2 Update***
Exploring the Chosen with Youth [Guides for Youth Leaders]
Season 2 Reflection P1: What is The Chosen Season 2 about?
Season 2 Reflection P2: What was The Chosen Season 2 about? (Plots & Theme)
Episode 1 Guide: The Beloved Disciple
Episode 2 Guide: Philip, Nathanael, & Matthew
Episode 3 Guide: Life Among the Disciples of Jesus
Episode 4 Guide: Simon the Zealot & the Man at the Bethesda Pool
Episode 5 Guide: Mary's Demons & the Destiny of John the Baptist
Episode 6 Guide: Mercy and Not Sacrifice
Episode 7 Guide: Quintus Returns
Episode 8 Guide: Judas, Matthew, & the Sermon on the Mount
Episode 1 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Lilith, and the Redeemer
Episode 2 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, and Shabbat
Episode 3 Guide: Depicting Jesus in Art, Film, and TV
Episode 4 Guide: When Jesus Met Simon (Peter)
Episode 5 Guide: Mary, Mother of Jesus
Episode 6 Guide: Jesus, Shmuel, & the Pharisees
Episode 7 Guide: Did Nicodemus Follow Jesus?
Episode 8 Guide: The Woman at the Well, Eden, & Zohara
Posts on the Nature of Adaptation
Youth Ministry and the Arts