PW: Your new book, Mad Mary: A Bad Girl from Magdala Transformed at His Appearing, is a bit of a departure from Bad Girls of the Bible and Really Bad Girls of the Bible.
Higgs: When I wrote Bad Girls, I started out with a list of 20 bad girls. Quickly, after I wrote the first chapter, I realized that 20 wouldn't fit in the book. So I did 10, and put aside 10 that needed more research. After Bad Girls came out, I went to the publisher with the idea for Really Bad Girls, and I thought that surely this time, I would cover all 10. But Bathsheba and Tamar both took more word count, so that left this one woman, Mary Magdalene, who by this point I was realizing would need a great deal more than just one chapter. So I called WaterBrook and said, "I know you're looking for a novel from me, and you'll get that later—but please let me do this book about Mary Magdalene." And they're a wonderful house. They care about an author's passion.
PW: You argue in the book that Mary Magdalene was a "mad girl," not a bad girl. In fact, she was not even a prostitute.
Higgs: The scholars I consulted absolutely agreed that Mary Magdalene was not a bad girl. She is mentioned 14 times in the New Testament, more than any other woman except Mary the mother of Jesus. And not once in all those 14 times is she ever called a prostitute. When she's introduced (Mark 16:9) she is a woman whom Jesus had delivered of seven demons. So she was not a bad girl, but a mad girl. She's the only demoniac in the Bible who is named and whose demons are numbered.
PW: What else do we know about Mary Magdalene?
Higgs: She supports Jesus financially, also something that slips right by people. When she appears in Luke 8:2, she's among a group of women "who were supporting Jesus and the discipes out of their private means." This is fascinating, because it gives us a very different picture of these women. It was scandalous for women to travel with a rabbi. Maybe in part this explains why Mary began to get a "bad girl" reputation.
PW: Why do you think that the harlot image of Mary has persisted?
Higgs: We in our culture have this Jesus Christ Superstar image of Mary as Jesus' love interest. But we have to do a little math. Mary the mother of Jesus is, at the time of his crucifixion, a minimum of 47 years old, and Mary of Magdala is almost always listed ahead of her in the Bible, meaning that she was probably older than Jesus' mother. So I am saying that she is probably a midlife woman. She would have been in her late 40s or early 50s, and could have been even older. That knowledge instantly changes our image of this voluptuous young Mary throwing herself at Jesus' feet.
PW: Your book is unusual in that it is half fiction, half non-fiction.
Higgs: The way I tell the story is to fictionalize it first, allowing us to enter the story viscerally and emotionally. The Bible doesn't always give us the descriptive details or the emotional subtext. The book opens with Mary Margaret Delaney, an Irish Catholic woman from Chicago. (I chose Chicago because of the Sears Tower—Magdala means tower, so it's a pun.) I went to Chicago to do research—to see where she walked, where she ate, the little storefront church that would serve as Calvary Fellowship.
PW: In the book you argue that one of the most significant, and overlooked, facts about Mary Magdalene is that she was the first post-Resurrection witness.
Higgs: I love the fact that the very first word that the risen Lord said is "woman." The fact is that he chose Mary, a former demoniac, and not one of the disciples, to see him first. Because she was faithful. Because she was still there, when all the disciples had left! Mary is called the apostolorum apostolos: the apostle to the apostles. What a transformation. Mary goes from being a woman who had been possessed by demons to a woman who was chosen to proclaim Jesus to the world. I think it's an incredible statement for women, to be encouraged that they are worthy messengers—that Christ entrusts them to speak his word.