The Secret Gospel of Mary Magdalene

Written by Michèle Roberts
Review by Eileen Charbonneau

Originally published in England in 1984 under the title The Wild Girl, this is what has almost become a genre unto itself since—a hidden gospel story. This fifth gospel is written by Mary Magdalene herself, whose unusual life circumstances make her a fitting consort to a Jesus who embraces both the equality and spirituality of women.

From the start, Mary’s childhood visions set her apart from other dutiful Jewish girls of her town whose “God was mediated to me by father, brother, home, village, priest and rulers.” She escapes early, to Egypt, where her education is broadened for four years by Sibylla, a hetaera, lover of rich and powerful Romans. But Mary rejects that path for her life and returns home just in time to meet a new friend of her brother Lazarus: Jesus of Nazareth. They quickly become both lovers and heart friends over the years of Jesus’s preaching.

Many of the most well known of gospel miracles seem to have stemmed from the knowledge and wit of the Magdalene herself. But Mary’s interpretation of Jesus’s words differs from his male disciples and apostles, although she has a strong ally in his mother. Her vision of the resurrected Christ is denied by that champion denier, Simon Peter, and her different experience of revelation is eventually not tolerated in the early Christian community. She is exiled with a daughter and the time to set down her gospel.

Roberts paints a feisty, difficult Mary Magdalene, at war with both her time and herself, and finding acceptance only within the arms of Christ. What was highly original and daring in 1984 may now seem a bit hashed over and of its written time.