Stephen Goranson, whose name should be familiar around these parts (cf. this post), sent me an e-mail about his researches into the word madeleine; I have added italics, links, and some material in brackets:

OED (online) madeleine, n. was most recently modified in December, 2021 [but most recently updated in March 2000 — LH]. The Etymology section states “the reason for the designation is unknown” and mentions a proposed source, a cook, Madeleine Paulnier or Paumier (also elsewhere given as Paulmier; refs. in Wartburg, Französisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, 2. 20, n. 2), but “whose existence is dubious,” correcting a 1989 OED assessment as “prob. F. name of Madeleine Paulmier, 19th-c. French pastry-cook.”

OED’s earliest bracketed French use is from 1767 [B. Clermont tr. Menon Art Mod. Cookery Displayed II. 410 Gâteaux à la Madeleine. Common small Cakes]. At Hathi Trust and Gallica is a 1755 use, Gâteaux à la Madeleine, in Les soupers de la cour….tome III, p. 282. OED’s earliest English use is from 1829 [L. E. Ude French Cook (ed. 10) xxvii. 406 (heading) Madeleine Cake] (and bracketed French/English, 1827 [A. B. Beauvilliers Art of French Cookery (ed. 3) 231 Cake Madeleine.—gateau a la Madeleine]). At is an 1824 English translation of a French cookbook by Beauvilliers, The Art of French Cookery; in the index, “Madeleine cake,” though perhaps OED would bracket it too.

I am warming up to attempt comment on Elizabeth Schrader and Joan E. Taylor, The Meaning of “Magdalene”: A Review of Literary Evidence, Journal of Biblical Literature, 140.4, December, 2021, 751-773.

I asked him about his thoughts on Schrader and Taylor, and he responded with this post, which begins:

An erudite article in the December issue of Journal of Biblical Literature (v. 140 [2021], 751-773) raises some interesting questions: Elizabeth Schrader and Joan E. Taylor, The Meaning of “Magdalene”: A Review of Literary Evidence. The article is also available at Given such availability, my comments here will not include much quotation or paraphrase from their extensive and important presentation; I assume familiarity. They argue that this Mary has been largely misunderstood. (Mariam was the most common female name according to Tal Ilan, Lexicon of Jewish Names in late Antiquity, Part I [2002] 57.) Specifically, that (a) Mary may not have been from Tarichaea by the Sea of Galilee located south of Capernaum and (b) the name Magdalene may mean “the magnified one” or “tower-ess” and (c) she may have been from Bethany.

My merely provisional assessment, in contrast, is that this Mary probably was from Magdala/Migdal/Tarichaea (so not from Bethany) and that though her name Magdalene did take on symbolic meaning, such may have occurred after New Testament gospels were written. Schrader and Taylor wrote against the view that Mary’s second name was only a gentilic, geographic; but the opposite view, that it was only symbolic, seems to me far to seek.

Lots of interesting material there, and I’ll be curious to see what knowledgeable Hatters make of it.


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    An erudite article

    “Not available for free online reading”, alas.
    Stephan Goranson’s remarks seem pretty sensible, though.

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    Stephen. I beg his pardon. (This is what comes from thinking in Latin too much.)

  3. Retrojection of a non-gentilic interpretation of the name Magdalene, from Origen and later writers to the time of Jesus, is one way I would characterize the Schrader and Taylor proposal. FWIW I informed them that comments here are open.

  4. Good, I hope they drop by! I expected this post to get more attention.

  5. John Cowan says

    (from Stephen’s article)

    Tarichaea was a prosperous fish-processing town. It had a tower

    For a while I wondered what role towers play in the processing of fish.

Speak Your Mind