|The Magdala Trilogy and The Da Vinci Code
The Da Vinci Code and Peter Longley's Magdala Trilogy
Peter Longley, controversial Theologian, introduces his MAGDALA TRILOGY against the backdrop of controversy over The Da Vinci Code.
A STAR'S LEGACY, BEYOND THE OLIVE GROVE and THE MIST OF GOD
Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code draws on much of the same source material for the backdrop to his murder mystery as I do in my new set of three novels that make up The Magdala Trilogy. Our motives and conclusions are somewhat different but our interested readership is similar. Mary Magdalene is a hot topic, first fired up by Nikos Kazantzakis in The Last Temptation and continued in the acclaimed international best seller Holy Blood, Holy Grail through to Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. Discussion groups nationwide have brought themselves to examine the sacred feminine, what was the role of women in Jesus' world, and what is the true meaning of divinity and Christ consciousness if Jesus was a mortal subject to normal human relationships. Scholars are also being forced to examine the importance of the Nag Hammadi texts, from which much of this speculation is drawn.
Biblically, almost nothing is known of Mary Magdalene. Her name appears just a handful of times in the canonical gospels. Never is she described by name as a prostitute, although a sinner, not named, is found anointing Jesus with precious oils (St. Luke 7:37-38), a story that in a different gospel version of the anointing (St. John 11:2) refers not to Mary Magdalene but to Mary the sister of Jesus' close friend Lazarus. In just one verse (St. Luke 8:2), Jesus is described as casting seven devils from one named Mary Magdalene. Unquestionably, Mary Magdalene's main significance in the four canonical gospels is found in her presence at the crucifixion of Jesus when all the apostles had fled. This fact leads many to suspect that Mary Magdalene was either a 'groupie' of the condemned man or that there must have been a special bond between them, possibly a love relationship. In the post-Constantine era and strongly in the Middle Ages, Christianity put out the legend of prostitution to tarnish the Magdala, as the Church could not, in its settled doctrine of Jesus the Divine son of God, allow for any sexual love relationship between the Christ and a mortal. Nor, from Constantine until the Twentieth Century can it be said that there was a serious place for women and femininity in the Christian Church, which doctrinally and dogmatically was male-dominated, as also was secular society.
In the realm of legend, speculation, and non-canonical scriptures, however, Mary Magdalene receives considerable press, something that was almost certainly suppressed at the time of Constantine, but is now being seriously re-examined by theologians, scholars, historians, and spiritual seekers. Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code concentrates on one of these areas of legend—the Holy Grail. He uses the genuine historical background of the secret societies of the Knights Templar, the Freemasons and the Priory of Sion, to unfold the ancient legend that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married and had a child who was born after the crucifixion in the Jewish community in Marseilles in the south of France. The legend maintains that Mary Magdalene went to Marseilles with the wealthy merchant Joseph of Arimathea, whose only Biblical significance was that he provided the sepulchre for Jesus' body after the crucifixion. This legend goes on to claim that descendents of this union of Mary Magdalene and Jesus became the Merovingian kings of France, founded Paris, and have survived in secret even to this day.
Other legends arise in Egypt, where a number of second century writings of the Coptic church speak extensively of the lives of both the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene and include the now famous text from the Gospel of Philip stating that Jesus kissed Mary Magdalene "often on her mouth," something that upset Andrew and the other apostles who felt that Jesus "loved her more than them."
There is a strong legend that can be researched with considerable fact, that a man named Yeshua, the Aramaic for Jesus, died in Kashmir in the First Century AD. Some have suggested that maybe Jesus survived the crucifixion and that he lived a life with Mary Magdalene that ended in India.
Finally, there has been considerable speculation in more scholastic circles in recent years, that Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary might have been the authors of an early eyewitness account of Jesus' ministry that was the basis for the later Gospel of St. John, the official gospel of the Ephesian church. Some have even suggested that Mary Magdalene might be the beloved disciple of St. John's Gospel rather than the traditional belief that this was John the Apostle, son of Zebedee.
In setting my novels in the First Century AD, I explore all of the above legends, but within the framework of the known Biblical, Egyptian and Roman accounts. Whereas Dan Brown used the legend of Mary Magdalene as a backdrop for a contemporary murder mystery, I am trying to create a bridge from what is familiar in Christianity to what may be today more acceptable in spirituality. Those readers who pick up the subtle and sometimes obvious challenges to Christianity in Dan Brown's novels are the very same religiously skeptical persons who will love the challenges in my Magdala Trilogy. Judging by the phenomenal success of The Da Vinci Code it can be assumed that despite objections from religious fundamentalists, this is a considerable readership today.
Mary Magdalene is the heroine of my novels. The hero is a fictitious Roman named Linus Flavian. Jesus, referred to as Joshua, is the catalyst. After all, he is dead by the end of the Second Volume, Beyond the Olive Grove. Each volume is in two parts. Volume One, A Star's Legacy opens with Star of Wonder. In this part, Joshua, Linus and Maria of Magdala are born, but at this stage in the series they are not the principal characters. Star of Wonder gives an alternative view of the Christmas story that gives us a more realistic view of Judea in the time of Herod the Great to that found in the gospel accounts—a world of superstition, greed, political intrigue, uncertainty, and ambition. The self contained novel reads like an action packed mystery, but subtly provides answers to questions as to who were the three kings? Why gold, frankincense and myrrh? Was Jesus of Royal blood? And, who really might have been his earthly father? A Roman story intertwines with the Biblical story making the history of the times come to life in a refreshing new way. Children of Destiny, the second part of Volume One in the trilogy published in July 2009 (iUniverse Publishing Co.), deals with what has become another area of deep interest to both scholars and religious skeptics—the missing years of Jesus. What was Jesus doing from the time of his birth until his ministry, a period generally considered to be about thirty years? The Bible tells of only one event during this period—Jesus' appearance in the Temple at the age of twelve when he astounded the learned men with his knowledge. Where did he acquire this knowledge, and what did he do for the next twenty years? Was he married? Did he meet Mary Magdalene at this time? Was he a carpenter, or did he have other professions? Although A Star's Legacy is a novel, my speculation on these years is well researched and plausible, and it is made all the more real because this novel gives equal time to the speculative birth, childhood, adolescence, and early adult life of Joshua (Jesus), Linus Flavian and Maria of Magdala (Mary Magdalene).
Volume Two, Beyond the Olive Grove, deals with Jesus' ministry. The first part, Pickled Fish takes its title from the fishing industry of Magdala and Capernaum and describes Joshua's spiritual development through association with the Essenes, his life as a rabbi, his involvement in the fishing industry and the formation of his ministerial team. The second part, The Judas Triangle explains the difficulties that arise for the team through the relationship between Joshua and Maria of Magdala. Rarely is a satisfactory reason given for Judas to betray The Master other than the weak Biblical argument of a High-Priestly bribe. In The Judas Triangle, Iscariot is seen to be the leader of Joshua's group, the administrator and financial boss, in many ways more Joshua's right hand man than either Cephas, Janus, or Jonas, the Biblical Peter, James, and John. Judas sees Maria of Magdala as Joshua's downfall. He represents the male-dominated world of the times, and it is this clash over Maria that leads to him betraying The Master. Christianity, of course, sees Judas as a vital part of God's scheme, a necessary evil to set up the crucifixion of the Son of God to create the sacrifice that could give mankind salvation from sin, confirmed in the miracle of the Resurrection—a superstition steeped in the Jewish traditions of the Temple. I give a bold and different interpretation of these events.
It is in the third volume, The Mist of God, that I explore the legend of the Holy Grail, or that bloodline of the descendents of Maria and Joshua's union so central to The Da Vinci Code. I do not pay too much attention to the French legend, however. In the novel, I acknowledge that Mary Magdalene flees to Gaul in the aftermath of Jesus' death, the Apostles not truly accepting her, which certainly explains why she is not found in the post resurrection stories of the early Jerusalem church in the Biblical book of The Acts of the Apostles. Joseph of Arimathea also mysteriously disappears in the Biblical account and so it would seem logical to give some credence to the legend that they traveled together. Traveling with them, I incorporate my interpretation of Marcus, the young boy who writes himself into the latter part of The Gospel of St. Mark (St. Mark 14:51-52). In Children of Destiny, Marcus was born to Maria after an adolescent tryst with Linus Flavian, which is why Maria gives him a Roman name. Marcus joins Joseph of Arimathea's trading empire, and at one point travels with Joseph to England, then the Roman Province of Britannia, that incorporates another part of the legend of the Holy Grail. His half brother, Ben Joshua, Jesus' fictitious but plausible son, conceived just before Jesus' crucifixion, is born in Marseilles in part one of The Mist of God—The Magdala. Later, in the second part, Apocalypse, we find Ben Joshua, as one of the heirs of Joseph of Arimathea's trading empire, traveling to India with the Apostle Thomas. There he fuses what his mother has imparted to him as Jesus' message of individual Christ consciousness with Hindu and Buddhist mysticism, creating the blend of Eastern and Western thought that is the ultimate spiritual goal of my series of novels—the bridge from conventional Christianity to spirituality as many now seek it today. But, because Ben Joshua ultimately dies in Kashmir following the legend of Yeshua in India well researched in Holger Kersten's Jesus lived in India, a plausible alternative interpretation of Jesus' teaching becomes lost.
After the Claudian persecution of the Jews, I create the scenario whereby Mary Magdalene is forced to leave Marseilles and she ends up in Ephesus in Asia Minor where she is reunited with the Virgin Mary before the Virgin Mary's death. Together, in the latter part of The Magdala and early section of Apocalypse they establish a feminist church on their eyewitness account of Joshua's ministry and beliefs that clashes somewhat with St. Paul's interpretation. The basis for this is found in the current scholastic attempts to create a case for an earlier version of The Gospel of St. John that might account for the most loved and hopefully most accurate sayings of Jesus to have ended up in the last of the four canonical gospels of the Bible to be written. The clash between the feminist church and the Paulist church eventually leads to a factual schism in the Ephesus church about the time of the Neronian persecutions, but not before in my novel. Linus Flavian, who has had an interesting and diverse life in the Roman world spread throughout The Magdala Trilogy, becomes reunited with Mary Magdalene in Ephesus. The last part of Apocalypse sees Linus Flavian and Maria of Magdala fleeing Ephesus for Egypt, where Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary's recollections of Jesus' life and message resurface in the later second century writings of the Egyptian Coptic Church. These scriptures, however, were completely shut out at the time of Constantine, and remained buried until they were discovered as part of the Nag Hammadi texts. Apocalyse also explains the true meaning of the Apocalyptic writings of the Bible that center on the reality of the fall of Jerusalem to the might of Rome in 70 AD after a Jewish revolt that led to the Roman destruction of the Temple, and barring the resistance at Masada and Bar Cochba's rebellion half a century later, ended any concept of the Jewish state until its twentieth century revival.
The Magdala Trilogy is an interesting blend of accepted history, speculation, theological revelation and exciting story-telling that should appeal to the same readers that found excitement in the challenges of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. I take my readers from what is familiar in the Biblical account of early Christianity to what is plausible in the light of today's challenges to conventional Christianity. I take us from Religion to Spirituality.
A Star's Legacy (iUniverse Publishing Co. 2009 — ISBN 978-1-4401-4256-7) is now available in bookstores nationwide and has created renewed interest in my earlier metaphysical and philosophical novel Two Thousand Years Later (Hovenden Press 1997 — ISBN 0-9666770-0-5) that is an introductory novel to the entire Magdala Trilogy. iUniverse Publishing Company will be bringing out the other two volumes in The Magdala Trilogy over the next year. Each novel can be read as a self-contained story revealing alternative views of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and their times.)
Two Thousand Years Later can be purchased by contacting the author at email@example.com
Peter Longley is a highly respected author and sought after speaker. He graduated in theology from Cambridge University in England and was for many years a cruise director culminating in his career as Cruise Director of the famous ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 2. He has served as a lay preacher in the Episcopal church, but prefers now to express his views in writing.
In 1993, he married internationally well known solo flautist Bettine Clemen, and they established a retreat center on a small farm in the Ozarks in Missouri. Now divorced, Peter lives in Springfield, Missouri with his present partner, Nicole Marie Glenn.