"I Don't Know How to Love Him" might be the most popular song from Jesus Christ Superstar, but it is hardly the first song which implied an erotically ambiguous connection between Mary Magdalene and her teacher. The composer Jules Massanet (best known for Manon and Thais) first came to prominence in the late nineteenth century with his oratorio Marie Magdeleine, which views the last three days of Jesus's life from her perspective. The work was considered controversial in its time for the intimacy that was suggested by the powerful love duet between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. An early fan of the oratorio was Peter Tchaikovsky, who waxed eloquent in his appreciation in a letter to his patroness Nadezhda von Meck :
"In the evening I studied a work by Massenet which was new to me: Marie-Magdeleine. I opened the score with a certain apprehension. It seemed to me far too audacious an idea to have Christ singing arias and duets, but, as it turned out, this work is full of excellent qualities, gracefulness, and charm. The duet between Jesus and Mary Magdalene touched me to the quick and even caused me to shed tears".
The great sculptor Auguste Rodin, carving at almost the same time Massanet was writing his oratorio, also brought out the erotic possibilities between the two figures in this powerful sculpture - a copy of which resides in the Legion of Honor museum in San Francisco. Both works underscore the theme of the Song of Solomon:, a mystic sacred text long associated with Mary Magdalene: love is more powerful than death.