The Secret Magdalene


Mariamne and her father’s ward, Salome, are raised in wealthy comfort in Roman Jerusalem. Her father is a member of the Sanhedrin, Josephus of Arimathaea. So begins the tale that promises, under a glowing quote from Elaine Pagels of the Gnostic Gospels, to bring to life what The Da Vinci Code only hinted at: the secret life of Mary Magdalene, Mariamne of Magdal-Eder. As quickly as possible, our heroines make a Shakespearean switch to “breeches” and the personae of John the Less (which I found an inspired connection) and Simon Magnus (less so). They find their way to Alexandria, where they soak up mystery religions and neo-Platonic philosophy under, among others, Philo Judaeus. The pair return to uneasy Palestine and find their soul mates in Yehoshua the Nazorean and his cousin, John the Baptizer.

The “greatest story ever told” plays out from there, with mixed success. Often our heroine’s wanderings have more to do with stretching the new fabric to fit old forms than to motivation or believability. Sometimes the real issues are shied away from. Ironically like chunks of Archon darkness weighing down true slivers of Gnostic light, the chunks of philosophy and convoluted connections keep the story from soaring. Many characters are called to be more than themselves, and by names Greek, English and Hebrew – until we’re delivered from confusion at the very end. At that point, Gethsemane in particular is indeed “beautiful,” and it’s well worth adding this book to your alternate New Testament shelf.

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