Raised like sisters, Mariamne and Salome are indulged with riches, position, and learning-a rare thing for females in Jerusalem. But Mariamne has a further gift: an illness has left her with visions; she has the power of prophecy. It is her prophesying that drives the two girls to flee to Egypt, where they study philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy in the Great Library of Alexandria.
After seven years they return to a Judaea where many now believe John the Baptizer is the messiah. Salome too begins to believe, but Mariamne, now called Magdalene, is drawn to his cousin, Yeshu'a, a man touched by the divine in the same way she was during her days of illness. Together they speak of sharing their direct experience of God; but Yeshu'a unexpectedly gains a reputation as a healer, and as the ill and the troubled flock to him, he and Magdalene are forced to make a terrible decision.
This radical retelling of the greatest story ever told brings Mary Magdalene to life-not as a prostitute or demon-possessed-but as an educated woman who was truly the "apostle to the apostles."
From the Hardcover edition.
Vermont novelist Longfellow (China Blues; Chasing Women) places Mary Magdalene at the center of the origin of Christian thought. As this vividly imagined novel opens, "Mariamne," the daughter of a wealthy Jewish aristocrat, is a gifted child with a love of learning who hears prophetic voices. Because privileged girls in Jerusalem are not raised to be scholars, Mariamne must indulge her passion in secret, accompanied by her slave, Tata, and her father's ward, Salome. Mariamne and Salome eventually run away to Alexandria, where they study in the great library, and into the wilderness, where Salome devotes herself to John the Baptizer. Meanwhile, Mariamne is drawn to Yeshu (Jesus), with whom she shares a brief earthly love and prolonged discussions of gnosis--the experience of direct personal insight into the divine. Together, they envision the events that lead to the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Reimagining such famous episodes as the healing of Lazarus, the wedding at Cana and Judas's betrayal, Longfellow sees Yeshu and his apostles from a feminist perspective. Longfellow (who first published this novel in 2005 at a small startup press named for Mariamne's donkey, Eio) is more passionate about research and philosophy than plot or character. Readers looking for a fast-paced thriller will be disappointed. (Mar.)
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March 25, 2007
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