This novel is such a treat that it's a reader's joy and a reviewer's problem: for me, it was so gripping, absolutely fascinating and at the same time very romantic that I couldn't put it down. And in order not to spoil this reading pleasure for anyone, I'd prefer to just leave you to explore its imaginative depth and see for yourself what happens. More and more books about Mary Magdalene are currently flooding the book market – fiction, poetry and often very imaginative texts that claim to be scholarly, a claim that is problematic for me as a literary and cultural scholar, since the only thing we definitely know about Mary Magdalene is that we don't know much! Was Mary Magdalene the most beloved disciple of Jesus? Were they married? Did they even have a child together? We will never know. But Mary Magdalene seems to make a perfect projection screen for a different conception of Christianity and a revised – and of course revalued – role of women. Magdala poses new and outrageous questions: What if Jesus' mission to bring peace to the world by loving everyone, enemies and friends alike, was actually initiated by Mary? What if Jesus' healing powers were only ignited by Mary's healing abilities she was gifted with by coming from a long line of priestesses? What if the love Jesus preached and lived was only sparked by the divine love experienced by him in the Sacred Marriage with Mary Magdalene? And what if the central story we have to imagine is Mary's development from a dutiful priestess to a spiritual leader in her own right?
The story is told on two time levels: it opens after Jesus' "death" when Mary Magdalene creates an amulet to heal her lover back from death. While she puts all her prayers into it, she recounts the whole story that set this divine love in motion. In retrospect, we get to know all she remembers about her childhood, her growing up as a Priestess of an ancient line, her natural healing abilities and her meeting with Jesus. The depiction of the changing times when Herodes' soldiers ravage the land and King Joshua had forbidden the worship of the Goddess Astarte who had been venerated together with Yahweh makes for a breathless and emotional read. The descriptions of Mary's childhood and education in Magdala impressed me most, because with the minute description of the passions, the envy, the sisterhood and the quarrels of the priestesses, who each play their part in the story of keeping up the worship of the Goddess and at the same time adjusting to great political and spiritual changes, the book reminded me of The Mists of Avalon. Even if Magdala does not have the epic length of Zimmer Bradley's reclaiming of the divine feminine, in my opinion it easily bears comparison with it.
According to an ancient oracle, Mary and Jesus are the ones who, by their Sacred Marriage, become the Queen and the King to restore peace to the occupied land of Israel. But while Mary is taught the ancient ways of the Priestesses of Magdala, she more and more questions the often rigid "Law" the Priestesses live by and embody. Why should it be unclean to care for and to touch the dead? Why do Priestesses have to die when blood is shed that "defiles" the sacred ground in Magdala? Why are there inflexible and arbitrary laws about what is the right time of the day for Mary as a Priestess to heal the people who come to her and why is she not allowed to heal those in need just because the sun is setting? Mary questions the "Law" which results in a crisis of faith – with all these arbitrary restraints how can she heal and love wholeheartedly? Jesus undergoes a parallel development questioning the need to be eternally at war. After these experiences, both refuse the roles assigned to them according to the oracle. Instead of becoming Queen and King and perpetuating the political and religious system, they travel through the lands and share their vision of love and peace. Against all threats, they refuse to be puppets in a never-ending war, but instead envision a peace that goes beyond every border, every race and every faith. It is Mary who has the central vision of this universal love while she saves a Roman soldier with her healing powers – a soldier who has just murdered Magdala's High Priestess. What if love instead of revenge governed all human relationships? What if a revolution could indeed be peaceful? What if peace is the only solution? Needless to say, these questions are all the more relevant today and for our future. And needless to say, it is the reclaiming of the sacred power of women that is the beginning of a vision of true peace on earth.
Magdala is published by Shoshanna Publishing and can be obtained from Amazon.