Mary, Called Magdalene [NOOK Book]

Overview

The New York Times-bestselling author of Elizabeth I brilliantly reimagines the story of the most mysterious woman in the Bible

Was Mary Magdalene a prostitute, a female divinity figure, a church leader, or all of those? Biblical references to her are tantalizingly brief, but we do know that she was the first person to whom the risen Christ appeared—and the one commissioned to tell others the good news, earning her the ancient honorific, ...
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Mary, Called Magdalene

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Overview

The New York Times-bestselling author of Elizabeth I brilliantly reimagines the story of the most mysterious woman in the Bible

Was Mary Magdalene a prostitute, a female divinity figure, a church leader, or all of those? Biblical references to her are tantalizingly brief, but we do know that she was the first person to whom the risen Christ appeared—and the one commissioned to tell others the good news, earning her the ancient honorific, "Apostle to the Apostles." Today, Mary continues to spark controversy, curiosity, and veneration. In a vivid re-creation of Mary Magdalene's life story, Margaret George convincingly captures this renowned woman's voice as she moves from girlhood to womanhood, becomes part of the circle of disciples, and comes to grips with the divine. Grounded in biblical scholarship and secular research, this fascinating historical novel is also, ultimately, "the diary of a soul."
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Biblical references to Mary Magdalene are brief and sometimes ambiguous, but interest in this "other Mary" has been strong almost since the inception of Christianity. Margaret George, who has previously assayed the lives of Mary, Queen of Scots, Henry VIII, and Cleopatra, now re-creates this veiled enigma who moved in Jesus' inner circle. Was she a prostitute, a temple priestess, or just an average woman ensnared by seven demons?
Publishers Weekly
George, whose niche is historical and biographical novels, begins this one ploddingly with suspenseless reportage on Mary Magdalene's pleasant, middle-class childhood in a prosperous fishing village. Scattered references to the idol/demon that will eventually possess Mary are intended as fateful omens, but her slow road to madness gets much less play than her conventional and uninteresting life. The novel improves considerably when Mary finds herself possessed by one demon, and then, helplessly, by six more. Her valiant efforts to first hide her possession and then find a cure are masterfully described. When a prophet named Jesus finally casts out her demons, she celebrates, only to realize that she must make a heartrending choice between following the prophet or going back to her husband, baby and extended family. At this point, George's novel becomes a safe, though readable, retelling of the gospels. Her main deviation from orthodoxy is her insistence that there were 16 disciples 12 men and four women who were equal in Jesus' eyes. Additionally, George emphasizes Mary's prophetic visions and Jesus' celebration of them, and in doing so gives credence to gnostic accounts of mysticism among the disciples. While some may compare this novel with Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, it bears a much stronger resemblance to Walter Wangerin's biographical novel about the apostle Paul. Like Wangerin's work, this imagines nothing seriously objectionable to even the most devout Christians. As such, it lacks the transgressive power of The Red Tent, but is still a well-researched and thought-provoking book. (June) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
George sets herself the challenging task of re-creating the life of Mary Magdalene from scant biblical references. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
George (Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles) again brings a historical figure to life, this time in a low-key but persuasively feminist take on the early disciple who found Christ's empty tomb. Though actual documentation of the life of Mary, the woman from Magdala on the Sea of Galilee, is scanty, George has done enough homework to make her role in early Christianity credible. Her Mary is not only the woman of the Gospels but also a preacher, healer, and confidante of Jesus, with whom she shares her troubling prophetic dreams. From her early childhood, when the story begins, Mary is bright and thoughtful but subject to strange dreams. Intimations of her future begin when, at seven, she goes with her family to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks. She picks up a carved ivory figure from the ground where the family is camping and hides it among her possessions. On this same expedition, she also meets and is impressed by the young Jesus and his mother Mary, also attending the festival. Mary Magdalene grows up, still haunted by dreams, but as she nears marriageable age, she is increasingly troubled by voices, skin lesions, and odd movements in her room. Being wed to Joel doesn't help, and, frightened that the hidden idol is responsible, she confesses her fears to him. When none of the prescribed cures work, the young woman, despairing, heads to the desert, and there, listening to John the Baptist, meets Jesus. He exorcises the demons and the story goes on to tell how she joins Jesus (after being expelled by her family) and begins healing and preaching with the disciples. In relating the events leading to the Crucifixion, and the years afterward, George suggests that Maryloved Jesus not only as the Messiah but also as a man. Engaging and intelligent fiction that celebrates one of Christianity's great women.
From the Publisher
"Colorful and involving... [George] is a powerful writer." —The Washington Post"A novel of great imagination." —San Jose Mercury News"Engaging and intelligent fiction that celebrates one of Christianity's great women." —Kirkus Reviews

"The premise of Ms. George's novel is intriguing...with rigorous research, [she] paints the landscape and rituals of Judea and makes 'educated guesses' about her mysterious subject." —The New York Times

"An expansive, thoughtful novel." —San Francisco Chronicle

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781440650307
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/27/2003
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 656
  • Sales rank: 108,484
  • File size: 740 KB

Meet the Author

Margaret George
Margaret George is the author of the bestselling Autobiography of Henry VIII; Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles; The Memoirs of Cleopatra; Mary, Called Magdalene, and her latest New York Times bestseller, Elizabeth I.
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Read an Excerpt

Mary, Called Magdalene


By MARGARET GEORGE

Viking

Copyright © 2002 Margaret George.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0-670-03096-1


She was carried to a place she had never been. It was much more vivid than a dream, it had a depth and a color to it, and exquisite detail that made it seem more real than the time with her mother in the courtyard, more real than the dreamy hours she spent sometimes looking out at the great lake of Magdala, the one so grand they called it a sea: the Sea of Galilee.

She was elevated, put on a high pillar or a platform, she could not tell which. And all around her were people, gathering at the base of it, looking up at her. She turned her head to the side and saw that other pillars had other people on them, that there was a whole row of them, stretching as far as she could see. The sky was a yellowish color, the color she had only seen once, when there was a sandstorm. The sun was blotted out, but there was still light, diffuse golden light.

Then someone came to her—were they flying, was it an angel how did they get there?—and took her hand and said, "Will you come? Will you come with us?"

She felt the hand holding hers, and it was smooth like a piece of marble, not cold, not hot, not sweaty, but perfect. She wanted to squeeze it but dared not.

"Yes," she finally said.

And then the figure—she still did not know who it was, she dared not look at the face, only at the feet in golden sandals—lifted her up and took her away, and the journey was so dizzying that she lost herbalance and began to fall to plummet, and it was very dark beneath her.

She sat up with a jolt. The oil lamp had burned out. Outside she could hear the gentle sound of the water of the great lake, not far from her window, as it lapped the shore.

She held out her hand, felt it. It was moist. Was that why the being had let her go, had dropped it? She rubbed it hard.

No, let me cleanse my hand! she cried out, silently. Don't abandon me! I can wipe it off!

"Come back," she whispered.

But the only answer was the stillness of the room and the sound of the water.

She rushed into her mother and father's room. They were sleeping soundly; they did not need a lamp, they slept in darkness.

"Mother!" she cried, grabbing her shoulder. "Mother!" Without permission, she climbed into the bed and huddled under the warm covers next to her mother.

"What ... what is it?" Her mother struggled to form words. "Mary?"

"I have had such a strange dream," she cried. "I was taken up ... into some heaven, I don't know where, I only know it was not of this world, it had angels, I think, or ... I don't know what ..." She paused, gasping for breath. "I think I was ... I was called. Called to join them, called to become part of their company ..." But it had been frightening, and she had not been sure she wanted to join them.

Now her father sat up. "What's this?" he said. "A dream? A dream about being called?"

"Nathan—" Mary's mother reached out and tried to restrain him, by touching his shoulder.

"I don't know if I was being called," Mary said in a small voice. "But there was this dream, and people up on high places, and—"

"High places!" cried her father. "That is where the ancient heathen idols were. In the high places!"

"But not up on pedestals," Mary said. "This was different. The people being honored were standing upon them, and they were people, not statues...."

"And you think you've been called?" her father asked. "Why?"

"They asked if I would join them. They said, `Will you come with us?'" Even as she recited it, she could hear the sweet voices.

"You must know, daughter, that all prophecy has ceased in our land," her father finally said. "There has been no word uttered by a prophet since Malachi, and that was four hundred years ago. God does not speak to us that way any longer. He speaks only through his holy Law. And that is sufficient for us."

But Mary knew what she had seen, the transcendent glory and warmth of it. "But, Father," she said, "the message, and the invitation, were so clear." She kept her voice low and respectful. But she was still shaking.

"Dear daughter, you have been misled. It was but a dream, brought on by our preparations for Jerusalem. God would not call you. Now return to your own bed."

She clung to her mother, but her mother thrust her aside. "Do as your father says," she ordered.

Mary returned to her room, the majesty of the dream still enveloping her. It had been real. She knew it had been real.

And if it was real, then her father was wrong.

In the hours just before the sky would lighten, the household made ready for its pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks. Mary had been excited, because all the adults were so eager for the trip, and because all Jews were supposed to long for Jerusalem. But she had most looked forward to the journey itself, for the seven-year-old had never been outside Magdala, and there were sure to be adventures on the way. Her father had hinted at them when he told her, "We will be traveling to Jerusalem by the short route, through Samaria, so it will take us only three days instead of four. But it is dangerous. There have been attacks on pilgrims going to Jerusalem." He shook his head. "The Samaritans even still have idols, I have heard. Oh, not so openly any longer, not by the roadside, but ..."

"What kind of idol? I've never seen an idol!" she asked eagerly.

"Pray that you never do!"

"But how will I know an idol if I see one?"

"You'll know," her father said. "And you must shun it!"

"But—"

"That's enough!"

Now Mary remembered this, but all her earlier curiosity about Jerusalem was eclipsed by the dream, still so vivid to her in the darkness.

Busying herself with the final preparations, Mary's mother, Zebidah, had suddenly broken off measuring grain into the travel sacks and bent down to her daughter. She did not mention the dream. Instead she said, "Now, as for this trip, you must not mingle with any of the other families coming, except for the few I tell you are acceptable. So many people do not keep the Law and only want to go to Jerusalem—and even the Temple I—as some sort of holiday. Stay with the other observant families. Do you understand me?" She looked hard at Mary. In that instant her pretty face was not pretty but forbidding.

"Yes, Mother," she said.

"We keep the Law zealously, and so it must be," her mother continued. "Let all those other ... transgressors look to themselves. It is not our duty to save them from their negligence. And mixing with them will contaminate us."

"Like mixing milk and meat?" Mary asked. She knew this was absolutely forbidden, so much so that anything pertaining to them must be separated.

"Just so," her mother answered. "And worse, because their influence does not fade away after a day or so, like that of the milk and meat. It stays with you, corrupting and corrupting."

They were ready. The six families making the journey together waited, donkeys loaded, packs slung over their shoulders, on the road above Magdala for the larger groups from the nearby towns to join them for the trip to Jerusalem. Mary would start out riding a donkey: the youngest traveler in the family, she did not have the stamina to walk long distances. Perhaps on the return journey she would be so toughened that she would not have to ride at all. That was her hope.

The dry season had begun, and already the sun felt hot on Mary's face. It hung brazenly over the Sea of Galilee, where it had risen earlier from behind the mountains. At dawn those mountains across the lake had been the color of tender grapes; now they showed their true colors of dust and stone. They were quite bare, and looked, Mary thought, malevolent. But perhaps that was because the land of the old Ammonites had such a bad reputation as Israel's ancient enemy.

What was it the Ammonites had done that was so bad? King David had had trouble with them. But, then, he had trouble with everyone. And there was also that evil god they worshiped, although Mary could not at first remember his name. He made the Ammonites sacrifice their children to him, putting them into the flames. Mo ... Mol ... Molech. Yes, that was his name.

She held up her hand and squinted across the lake. She certainly could not see any temples of Molech from here.

She gave a shudder, even in the warm sun. I won't think any more about Molech, she told herself sternly. The lake, gleaming in the sun, seemed to agree. It was too beautiful for its blue waters to be stained with thoughts of a blood-dripping god; it was probably the most beautiful place in all Israel, Mary firmly believed. No matter what was claimed for Jerusalem, how could anything be lovelier that this oval body of water, bright blue, surrounded by hills cupping it protectively?

She could see fishing boats out on the waters; there were a great many of them. It was fish that her town of Magdala was famous for—here they were salted, dried, traded, and shipped all over the world. Magdala fish were a presence on tables as far away as Damascus or Alexandria. And a presence in Mary's own home, for her father, Nathan, was a leading processor of the fish hauled into his warehouse, and her oldest brother, Samuel—although he had taken to calling himself the Greek name Silvanus for trading purposes—was the business manager, dealing with both local people and foreigners to arrange sales. Thus the big mosaic of a fishing boat that decorated their entrance hall indicated the source of their wealth. Every day as they stepped across it they could be reminded and give thanks for their good fortune and God's multitude of fish in their sea.

An east wind struck the waters of the lake and made the surface of the water tremble; she could see the ripples of water that did indeed look like harp strings. The old, poetic name for the lake was Lake Kinneret, Lake Harp, because of its shape and also because of the pattern of the wind on the water. Mary could almost hear the fine sound of plucked strings, singing to her across the water.

"Here they come!" Mary's father was gesturing to her to urge her donkey back toward the others. Down the dusty road she could see a very large caravan approaching, with even a camel or two besides donkeys and the mass of walkers.

"They must have celebrated the Sabbath too long yesterday," said Mary's mother, tartly. She was frowning; the late start was a nuisance. What was the point of delaying the departure until after the Sabbath if they were to lose a half-day anyway? No one ever started a journey the day before the Sabbath, or even the day before that, if it was a long journey. The rabbinical law forbidding walking more than about a Roman mile on the Sabbath meant that would waste a day—as far as travel was concerned.

"The Sabbath is such an excuse to waste time," said Mary's brother Silvanus loudly. "This insistence on strict observance of the Sabbath is crippling us in the foreign trade; the Greeks and Phoenicians don't take one day off out of every seven!"

"Yes, we know about your pagan sympathies, Samuel," said Mary's other older brother, Eli. "I suppose next you'll be running naked in the gymnasium with all your Greek friends."

Silvanus—alias Samuel—just glared at him. "I haven't time," he said coldly. "I am too busy helping Father run the business. It's you, with all your spare time studying scripture and consulting with rabbis, who have the leisure to go to the gymnasium or any other place of amusement you want to."

Eli flared, as Silvanus knew he would. The younger man had a hot temper, despite all his efforts in studying the ways and whys of Yahweh. With his fine, straight-nosed profile and noble bearing, he could pass for Greek, thought Silvanus. Whereas he—he almost laughed—looked more like the little scholars who were always bent over the Torah in the beth ha-Midrash, the House of Learning. Yahweh must have a mighty sense of humor.

"The study of Torah is the most important thing a man can do," Eli said stiffly. "It supersedes all other activity in moral worth."

"Yes, and in your case it precludes all other activity."

Eli snorted and turned away, pulling his donkey with him, so that its hindside was facing Silvanus, who merely laughed.

Mary was used to hearing this exchange, in various forms, between her twenty-one-year-old and eighteen-year-old brothers. It was never resolved and it never even progressed. Mary's family was deeply observant, adhering to all the rituals and religious strictures; only Silvanus seemed restless in what her father referred to as "the perfect Law of the Lord."

Mary wished she could study that Law at the little school attached to their synagogue, the beth ha-sefer, and see for herself. Or that she could steal the knowledge that Silvanus, who did not seem to want it, had acquired from his Torah schooling. But girls could not attend the school, since they could have no official place in religion. Her father had sternly repeated the rabbinical dictum, "It would be better to see the Torah burnt than to hear its words upon the lips of women."

"You should learn Greek so you can read the Iliad," Silvanus had once suggested to Mary, with a laugh. Naturally Eli had countered with a shocked blast. But Silvanus had replied, "If someone is shut out of her own literature and knowledge by stupid rulings, is she not then forced to turn to another?"

Silvanus had a point; the Greeks welcomed others into their culture, whereas the Jews guarded theirs like a secret. Each action was the result of thinking theirs was superior: the Greeks thought that one taste of Greek culture would instantly win anyone over, whereas the Jews felt theirs was so precious it could be desecrated by offering it to any and all passersby. Naturally this made Mary all the more curious about both of them. She would learn to read, she promised herself, and then she could tap into the magic and mystery of the holy writings herself.

The two traveling parties met and merged on the fork of the road up from Magdala—there were now about twenty-five families to make the journey. Many were related, distantly or otherwise, so large numbers of third, fourth, fifth, and sixth cousins would meet and play en route. Mary's family was traveling only alongside other very observant families. As they regrouped to form the procession, Eli could not resist one aside to Silvanus. "I don't know why you are making this journey at all," he said, "since you have no sympathy with our way of thought. Why go to Jerusalem?"

Instead of a sharp retort, Silvanus said thoughtfully, "For the history, Eli, for the history. I love the stones of Jerusalem, each of which tells a story—and tells it clearer and finer than the words in the scrolls."

Eli ignored his brother's solemnity. "It's a story you wouldn't even know if it wasn't written in the very scriptures you scorn! It isn't stones who talk and tell us their tales, it's scribes who record it for posterity."

"I'm sorry that you credit only yourself with the finer feelings," Silvanus finally said. He halted and fell back into another group; he would not be traveling close to his brother on this journey.

Mary did not know which one to keep near, so she went over to her parents. They were walking resolutely, their faces set for Jerusalem. The sun beat down, its brightness causing them to squint and shield their eyes.

Clouds of dust were blowing. The startling green of the Galilean spring grass had begun to fade, replaced by a dun mat; the jewel-colored wildflowers that had dotted the hillsides had wilted and disappeared. From now until next spring, the landscape would become progressively browner, the glorious burst of nature's love merely a memory. Galilee was the lushest part of the country, the nearest thing to a Persian garden paradise in the land of Israel.

The branches of the fruit trees were laden with new apples and pomegranates; the bright-green early figs were peeking from under their leaves. People were gathering them; new figs never remained on the trees long.

* * *

The unwieldy group lumbered up over the crest of the hills surrounding the lake, where Mary could glimpse it one last time before it disappeared from sight.

Farewell, Lake Harp! she sang to herself. There was no pang of goodbye, only anticipation of what lay ahead. They were on their way, the road was calling them, and soon all the hills Mary had seen from her earliest-remembered days would vanish, to be replaced by things she had never seen. How wonderful it would be, like getting an extraordinary present, opening a box filled with glittering new objects.

(Continues...)


Excerpted from Mary, Called Magdalene by MARGARET GEORGE. Copyright © 2002 by Margaret George. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION
Weaving together hints from the New Testament, Gnostic gospels, and other ancient texts, Mary, Called Magdalene portrays the life of the mysterious figure of Mary Magdalene, "Apostle to the Apostles," and companion to Jesus. Here Margaret George creates a new portrait of one of the most controversial figures in biblical scholarship: a strong, independent woman, given to visions and endowed with a unique faith in Jesus and his message.

The daughter of a successful fish processor, Mary is raised in a religiously observant family in the town of Magdala on the Sea of Galilee. As a girl, she finds an idol made of ivory, an image with half closed eyes and sensual lips. Though it is against the strict Jewish teachings against graven images, she cannot resist its power and takes it with her, hiding it from her family. The idol turns out to be a demon, who begins speaking to Mary and then possesses her.

Though she marries and has a baby girl, the demons that haunt her persist and multiply, until finally she is near death from madness. Seeking a cure, she leaves her family and small daughter. After a powerful rabbi is unable to heal her, she travels into the desert alone, determined either to be killed by the spirits that possess her, or to mount a final struggle and be rid of them forever. Soon after their victory over her, she comes upon a crowd of people gathered around a wild-looking man preaching repentance: John the Baptist. It is here that she meets Jesus. When he commands the evil spirits to leave her, they do, and through this healing she is initiated as his disciple.

The book's depiction of Jesus's travels throughout the region—with Mary and his disciples at his side—will be familiar to those acquainted with the gospels of the New Testament. Just as in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the Jesus of Mary, Called Magdalene performs miracles such as curing blindness, lameness, and leprosy. George's interpretation of the message that Jesus has come to share with the world is simple and compelling: The kingdom of God is at hand, and to be prepared one must love God with all one's heart, worship sincerely rather than just for show, and love one's neighbors and enemies alike.

Assuming her family will rejoice at the good news of her cure, Mary is devastated to learn on her return to Magdala that her family has cast her out and has no interest in Jesus's message. Now fully in the realm of fiction—the New Testament offers no details of Mary's personal life—George's depiction of Mary's family's reaction mirrors the Biblical reaction of Jesus's own family when he first returns home. Through these domestic conflicts George explores the themes of earthly versus heavenly family and the necessity of sacrifice in any hero's journey.

Early legends depicted Mary Magdalene as a reformed sinner or prostitute; recently some have speculated that she was Jesus's wife. Neither has any scholarly validity. George avoids both of these images, depicting Mary as a spiritual seeker and bereaved mother and widow, whose feelings for Jesus inevitably heighten over the course of their companionship, as she struggles with her desire for his love as a man, not just as a messenger of God. That Jesus is unable to offer her the earthly love she seeks compounds her suffering and sacrifice.

George portrays Mary and the other disciples not as evolved beings like Jesus, but as mere humans suddenly faced with the opportunity to live a most unordinary life. Though Mary has the gift of prophesy, she fears her visions and the way they set her apart. Her gift—and her closeness to Jesus—inspires some jealousy among the disciples, who, despite their faith, continue to struggle with their own pettiness and prejudices about the proper role of women. It is clear that often even Mary would trade it all—her visions and her special relationship to Jesus—to be the simple wife and mother she imagined she would be.

Jesus, of course, is betrayed, executed, resurrected, and ascends to heaven, leaving Mary and his disciples to face the challenge of spreading the message without the messenger. Mary spends her life tending to the persecuted believers, always expecting Jesus's return. For the rest of her days, she struggles with the loss of her family and daughter.

A gripping story of one woman's deepest despair and journey of faith, Mary, Called Magdalene explores themes of dedication and deliverance, the tension between romantic love and love of God, and the necessity of suffering and persecution to test the heart. Torn between her belief in Jesus's message, and the love for her family, her love of Jesus as a man and her love for him as God, Mary bravely and painfully remains faithful to her heart's calling to the truth. Through her example, George calls on us to consider life's biggest questions: what it means to be called by God, and how each of us might answer.

ABOUT MARGARET GEORGE

Margaret George, a tenth-generation American, is the author of the bestselling The Autobiography of Henry VIII, Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles, and The Memoirs of Cleopatra. She travels to places such as Egypt, Israel, Rome, and England to research her novels and lives with her husband in Madison, Wisconsin.

AN INTERVIEW WITH MARGARET GEORGE

The Bible hardly mentions Mary Magdalene. What other primary sources did you turn to for information on this historical figure? How much did you rely on the Gnostic Gospels, specifically the Gospel of Mary?

Scanty though they are, the four canonical gospels remain our main source of information about Mary Magdalene. They recount her early possession by demons, her cure by Jesus, the fact that she was financially able to support Jesus's ministry, that she remained with him during the crucifixion, and, in coming to the tomb on Easter morning, became the first to see the risen Christ.

The Gospel of Mary, discovered in 1896, does not add any biographical information about her; it does stress her spiritual and visionary wisdom, her primacy among the disciples, and her closeness to Jesus. I wanted to bring these elements into the novel. They explain why she became so "famous" among the early Christians, which she certainly was.

Further details about her life appear in apocryphal writings in the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries, but some of those facts are unreliable. She is also mentioned by church fathers in the early church, such as Irenaeus of Lyons, Tertullian, Origen, Pseudo-Clement of Rome, Augustine of Hippo, and Pope Gregory the Great.

How did you research the historical times in which this novel is set? Did you travel to the Middle East? If so, what was your experience there? Do you draw any parallels from the current violence in the Middle East to the conflict between the Romans and Jews at the time of Jesus?

Many excellent studies on the first-century world are available, and, in addition, I also did seven years of Bible study that covered sixty of the sixty-six books of the Bible.

I have traveled in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Turkey. I lived in Israel as a child in the 1950s and have returned six times since then. The last visit in 1999 was specifically to retrace all of Mary's footsteps as best I could. I found it a challenge to identify all the sites, and Magdala, Mary's hometown, was particularly hard to find. It was a calm period then, when there was a brief hope of peace. I feel a great similarity between what is happening now in the Middle East and what happened in Jesus's time: desperate people without leaders who can help them, despair, and fanatics and extremists driving each side further apart, with mounting bloodshed and violence. You can understand how the people put such hope in Jesus, wanting him only to be an earthly deliverer.

What drew you to Mary Magdalene as a historical figure? How did the experience of writing about Mary Magdalene differ from the subjects of your other historical novels? Do you personally relate to Mary Magdalene?

As poorly documented as Mary Magdalene is, she is more "historical" than many other characters in the New Testament, in that more details are cited about her life, personality, and behavior. Many of the disciples are simply names, with no attending facts. Still, compared to my other subjects, she presented much more empty space that had to be filled in by intelligent detective- and guesswork.

Yes, I do personally relate to Mary Magdalene, both as a spiritual seeker who must often choose between two mutually exclusive goals and as a strong, courageous woman I admire.

Past Church fathers have portrayed Mary Magdalene as a reformed prostitute; more recent feminist scholars have portrayed her as a female divinity figure, church leader, and even the wife of Christ. How did you decide on the role you gave her here—neither whore nor bride but beloved friend to Jesus?

Modern scholarship has given us new access into the world of the first century, and we are much better at deciphering the meaning behind customs and words than earlier ages. The recent claims that Mary Magdalene was a church leader, based on what we now know about the early church, seemed persuasive to me. Also, there is the fact that, as one scholar says, "she was famous"—but famous for what? It seems that the Gospel of Mary, as well as some of the other apocryphal, Gnostic gospels, have preserved a hint of what made her so special: spiritual gifts that Jesus respected and that made her close to him. It is not necessary to assert that she was actually his wife. Nowhere in any writings is there any indication that Jesus was married.

As for the prostitute label, that did not arise until the sixth century, and it was formally refuted by the Vatican in 1969. So any novel taking that route now would definitely be historically incorrect.

The female divinity figure is an interesting perspective, because in spite of thunderings by the Biblical prophets against the rites of Astarte and the Queen of Heaven, people longed for a goddess and missed the female half of creativity. The goddess is a powerful figure who refuses to go away—and one that we honor in many ways as she is being rediscovered today. I wanted to bring that out with Mary's relationship to the goddess idol she found, which was forbidden but no less compelling. Mary herself is sometimes seen as a Christian version of the goddess, the earthly side representing sexuality and joy, whereas the Virgin Mary represents the ethereal. Perhaps in a twisted way that is why Mary Magdalene was saddled with the prostitute label—the early church had a hard time dealing with sexuality, so any female figure associated with it had to be a prostitute: the origins of the Whore/Madonna split.

What is your own spiritual background?

A long pilgrimage that has led me from my family background as a Baptist, to the traditions of the Episcopal and Catholic churches, married to a Jew, and now discovering New Age spirituality.

Where does Mary's longing for Jesus as a husband come from? Is it a residual effect of her demonic possession or rather the understandable cravings of a woman who has lost her husband?

I think it is really neither, it is a response to the magnetism of Jesus himself. One commentator has said that Jesus's greatest temptation could have been the doors his own charm opened to him; everyone wanted him to come to dinner. In such an unusual (for those times) close relationship between a man and a woman, as equals, it would be surprising if someone as human and lonely as Mary did not feel an attraction to Jesus and a wish to have him always with her as a husband.

Why did you have Judas propose to Mary? Are you implying that Mary's rejection of him had anything to do with his later betrayal of Jesus?

I tried to portray Judas as an intellectual who was never able to overcome his cynicism, which in the end doomed his attempt to follow Jesus. I thought of Judas as the type of person who tries everything to find fulfillment: in his artwork, in his knowledge and learning, in his sophistication. One last remedy had not been tried: marriage and commitment. He reached out to the one other disciple he felt was similar to himself, to whom he also was attracted. Perhaps if she had accepted him, he might have posed for awhile as a church worker alongside her, but it would not have lasted. No, I did not mean to imply that her rejection made him reject Jesus; she was just the last branch he tried to grasp before his final fall.

Until the very end, even after the crucifixion, Mary doubts. It is not until he is resurrected that she fully believes. Is her lack of complete faith until that moment meant to be understood as a weakness? Or is it an understandable human response to a profoundly complex individual?

None of the disciples understood what Jesus was about, nor anticipated Easter morning. This is not weakness but common sense, as the resurrection was beyond expectation. Jesus was also mysterious in what he predicted, speaking in parables and strange wordings. I think the last sentence above describes it perfectly: an understandable human response to a profoundly complex individual.

Are there other women in the Bible you are drawn to or have considered writing about?

I always sympathized with Leah, the unwanted wife who had to share her husband Jacob with her younger sister Rachel. (This is in the Book of Genesis.) In competition with Rachel, who was the beloved one, she nonetheless gave Jacob six sons and a daughter—half the Twelve Tribes of Israel. I think the psychological tension in her life must have been phenomenal.

I also like the story of Tamar, David's daughter. Her brother Amnon's passion for her ignited the civil war between David and his son Absalom, her other brother who avenged her honor (II Samuel 13-19:33). For sheer operatic drama, it is hard to top this story, ending in the famous cry, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!"

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • Jesus's family rejects him when they learn his intention to travel and preach rather than run the family business. Mary's family casts her out when she joins with Jesus. What does this say about the nature of family? Is it possible to find one's true family outside of blood-ties?
     
  • The people of Jesus's hometown of Nazareth do not welcome him or wish to hear his message. Why would the people he grew up with reject him? Why would it be easier to preach to strangers than to long-time family and friends?
     
  • Compare Judas's conversion (finding Jesus's answers to be "rational" and "persuasive") to that of the other disciples. What is the difference between believing with your head and believing with your heart? Does it make a difference?
     
  • Mary is unhappy that she has the gift of visions and says she would rather be ordinary. What does it mean to live an ordinary life? Given the choice, would she have chosen an ordinary life?
     
  • Why does Jesus reject Mary's proclamation of love? Do you think Jesus loved her in the same way as she loved him but felt unable to act on it, or do you think he was truly only interested in her as a spiritual companion? Could Jesus have done what he did had he had a wife?
     
  • Jesus is persecuted by the Romans and suffers in death on the cross. Mary is also persecuted, by opponents of Jesus and also by her own family. She suffers her entire life over her separation from her daughter. Is it necessary to suffer? Is that the only way humans are able to deepen spiritually? Could Jesus have spread his message without suffering? Compare his life to the life of Mohammed, who lived to be an old man, and died peacefully.
     
  • Does a person's commitment to the truth necessarily mean that he or she will be persecuted by society?
     
  • There is a desire among Jesus's followers to make him the King of Israel who will throw out the Romans. Why are the crowds more interested in Jesus as a secular king than a heavenly one? How does this compare to the current struggle for power in the Middle East?
     
  • The Bible mentions very little about Mary Magdalene. Why would the Bible not mention her more? Throughout Mary, Called Magdalene there is resistance to Mary's spiritual leadership because she is a woman. Why would men not want women in positions of spiritual leadership? What is it that women threaten?
     
  • Mary Magdalene, in the novel, is forced to choose between her commitment to Jesus and her commitment to her daughter. How do you think a mother could go about that choice? How hard would it be?
     
  • People who have visions are discounted as crazy in our culture. If you began having visions, would you believe them? What would it take for you to believe them? Would you give up your own life, your spouse, and your child, if you felt you were being called by God to spread the truth?
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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 46 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2007

    Strong Lady

    Plowing down through six hundred plus pages is a lot of novel. It is obvious that Ms. George spent unlimited hours to research and write about the era that Mary lived and later knew Jesus. Many incidents in the novel are very intense, including, the crucifixtion of Jesus. Seeing Mary through George's eyes, she is a very strong person that endured much.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2007

    A truly life changing book

    This book made me look at things with new eyes, it has helped me discover God, and it did so in an understandable, fun way! I highly recomend for people of all backgrounds to try this book. Although some consider this book to be 'daring', you can tell the author did her research, but keep in mind the book is an opinion, it is not the Bible.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2004

    Wonderful, engaging, insightful

    I read this book to help me find the feminine perspective of the Christian faith. I recently lost my brother at age 34 to cancer and a sister was murdered ten years ago. My faith has been shaken and it's been hard to reconcile what I have always been taught about God, Jesus and life itself. This book took me thro Mary's life and how she dealt with her own personal questions about faith. In that journey I was also able to rediscover my own faith. An excellent book for those interested in the day-to-day life details in the early first century or for those wanting to learn more about what life may have been like for the founders of the Christian religion. And to think I almost put it back on the shelf!! MamaJ

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2003

    The author's research shows...

    A child's curiousity opens the door to a lifetime's worth of regret when the young Mary of Magdala finds an Ashara idol on the way to Jerusalem with her family. Knowing she shoud throw it away, the girl still keeps it, thinking the goddess to beautiful to cause harm. Besides, only Yahweh is God, surely an idol could have no power. She does not realize that her disobedience opens the door for a demon to take hold of her heart. .............. The journey to Jerusalem is not completely filled with ill tidings. Mary also makes a friend who will defy custom and teach her to read and write, and meets the man who will change her life forever in years to come, Jesus of Nazareth. ................ As the years pass, Mary continues to hide her secret. From time to time, she hears a voice that she learns belongs to the idol, and finds herself compelled to obey it. Seeking to escape, she marries, but not even that brings her peace. Time marches on, bringing with it a child, and more demons. Tormented, Mary confesses her sin, and seeks every known means of deliverance, to no avail. Finally, she is driven to seek refuge in the desert and there will attempt to end her life. Before that can happen though, she meets Jesus once again. By now, He is also grown and beginning His mission. With a few words, He gives her peace and a new life. She joins Him and the disciples as their equal after she attempts to return home, only to be cast out as a whore. ............... The years ahead of Mary are ones filled with her greatest joys and sorrows. She learns at the feet of the Master, and is able to bring deliverance to those afflicted as she once was. Then, it all seems to be over when Christ is crucified. Or is it only beginning? ................. **** Ms. George's hours of research add historical accuracy and depth to a compelling story. New light is shed on one of the most mysterious figures in the Bible. Even from a purely secular standpoint, this is a magnetic tale. Passion and sorrow heighten the moments of joy. Whether you are Christian or not, this novel will engage your full mind and heart. ****

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A Must Read

    I was given this book by a friend and tried several times to read it. Third time was a charm and it is one of the best books I have read in a long time. Read this whether you are religious or not. It is a fabulous story about the significance of a woman (and women) in the life of Christ and in Christianity. A great read!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 7, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Fascinating Creation of a Biblical Character into a believable human

    I purchased this book because it was listed as a NYTimes bestseller. I tried picking it up several times but failed for lack of interest. Finally I decided to give it a go and get past the first ten pages or so. I am a non-practising Catholic. Well, I am very glad I persevered and read this amazing, engrossing story about a woman who apparently existed and was very much vilified in her time. She was demonized, LITERALLY, for several reasons. To her family she became a shameful outcast, and later akin to a prostitute because she followed John the Baptist and later Jesus Christ with a group of men--a woman leaving her family, and CHILD, was severely ostracized in those times. Mary of Magdalene was a Jew who became fascinated by an Idol at a time when religious Jews were very much at odds with the pagans and idol worshippers. As a result she became possessed by several very powerful demons. She went through some severe and traumatic exorcism rites at the hands of local rabbis but did not improve--but rather became worse. She was "cured" by Jesus and this lead to her following him. This novel fleshes out details of Mary's role as one of the Apostles (actually called "the Apostle to the Apostles" because of her significant role in spreading Jesus' word after his resurrection. This is a BEAUTIFULLY written book and may possibly make a believer out of a non-practising religious person. I highly recommend this book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 23, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    I enjoyed reading this book. It's a novelization of Mary Magdale

    I enjoyed reading this book. It's a novelization of Mary Magdalene's life -- it's possible that her life happened this way. There is historical basis in the story, but a lot of writer's imagination. I enjoyed the characters a lot - she put a lot into them. I recommend this book - there was nothing in here that would offend anyone.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2005

    Read with caution!!!

    I couldn't put the book down (it was awesome) until I had to. Although wonderfully written and captured)Margaret George puts detailed descriptions of named demons intering Mary's body. I began having horrific demonic nightmares and had to stop reading the book after getting 3/4 of the way through. The nightmares stopped immediatly when I quit reading the book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2002

    Questionable Research

    I found the book enjoyable as a fiction. In the past all her books have been well researched I would love to know what research she used to base her concept of Jesus's mother, Mary, having had so many children and the family being angry at Jesus's wishing to preach versus running the family business. I was disappointed in her take on the Holy Family

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2013

    Not her best

    This is a bit of a silly book.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2012

    A great book

    I've not yet read a book by Margaret George that I've been able to put down. I hate to see them end!

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  • Posted April 20, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Food for thought

    A welcome perspective for an interesting and elusive character. The story is touching and frustrating, while it allows the reader to believe you are finally learning something concrete about Mary Magdalene. Although it is the author's interpreatation, it is an interesting storyline that makes you want to believe it may have happened the way it is written.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2006

    obsessive reader

    Mary of Magdelan should have been an interesting character, involved with interesting people, but she is developed as an insipid woman who just seemed to go with the flow. George has written much better heroines.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2004

    great historical novel

    I came across this book and thought that in all the fever of the movie The Passion of the Christ, it would be interesting to know more about Maria. I was not dissappointed at all. Its interesting to learn about her life, her family and how christianism came to be. Her narrative is fast paced and yet she gives lots of details that actually transport you to that era. Im glad I read it and I highly recommend it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2004

    Outstanding

    This is a great book. If you are intrested in biblical history or are just curious as to who mary magdalen is, pick this book up. You will not regret it. It takes you through Mary's whole life: her struggles, her discipleship with Jesus, Jesus's crucifixion, the news that Jesus is still alive, and the growth of the religion.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2002

    Mary, Called Magdalene is inspiring

    Margaret George has again outdone herself. This compelling and inspiring novel calls one to ponder on history and the distortions placed upon it. I have finished this novel but cannot stop thinking about its contents. One would be fortunate to read and enjoy the story that Margaret George has woven.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2002

    Disappointingly dull and implausible

    Mary Magdalene does everything but walk on water in this unbelievably puffed up version of her life, while Jesus Himself is little more than the object of her devotion. Nothing here rings true--from the amazing achievements of Mary to the depiction of Biblical times, where everyone talks like a character from an old B-movie.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2002

    Intriguing

    Honestly, I remember a different Mary from the Bible...maybe because there are so many. This exceptional book takes a different mythology for Mary of Magadalene, one which is highly plausible. At times the modern dialogue is disconcerting, but adds to the readability of this novel. Margaret George is one of the best historical fiction writers around.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2002

    Excellent historical novel

    Margaret George has done an excellent job in her discription of the characters. The dialogue would sometimes act to pull you from the time and place but she sure was able to show Mary of Magdalene as a very passionate and complex as well as strong person. Well done.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2002

    A compelling biography

    This was a story of one woman's journey through darkness into light, a journey into faith, of finding her true calling. The reader experiences his or her own journey as well, and will find meaning personal to them at the time they read this book. It was an emotional and beautiful illustration of the times and the life the desciples and apostles lead. It made what seems to so many (and myself prior to reading this) a fantastical place in time, tangible and real. It will set the soul aflame, inspire the mind, and bring tears to your eyes. Truly, this is an experience not to be missed.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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