Within a faith tradition, historical personas help to define, or at the very least provide a general understanding of acceptable and intolerable behavior within that tradition. Such illustrious figures may seem palpable in our day-to-day lives because their legacies have endured throughout the ages and remained very much germane to modern religious dialogue. Since their corporeal existence, however, these personas have been subjected to a multitude of interpretations, necessitating the circumspection with which one must attempt to perceive their true natures and standings within a faith tradition. This analysis will focus on certain distinguished women of the Christian and Islamic faith traditions. Cynthia Bourgeault's opus, "The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity," offers a provocative study of the life of Mary Magdalene and her relationship with the prophet Jesus of Nazareth. Similarly, in her biographical exploration, "Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of 'A'isha Bint Abi Bakr," D.A. Spellberg presents a holistic approach to understanding and interpreting the legacy of Islamic prophet Muhammad's third wife, 'A'isha Bint Abi Bakr. Two major themes emerge from the study of these brilliant books and the lives of the women they feature: controversial events in the lives of each woman created a sharp divide among the members of each faith tradition; and their alleged adulterous backgrounds originated from and were crystallized by fearful male-dominated hierarchical societies. The analysis of each theme will consist of side-by-side individual evaluations.
Mary Magdalene has been both dubbed "apostle to the apostles" and slandered "penitent whore." These conflicting characterizations are rooted in certain features of Mary's persona, namely, her witness to Jesus' resurrection and the seven demons of which Jesus freed her.