How this book fell into my hands, I don’t recall now. It made a strong impression on me several years ago, memorable enough to be read again recently.
I have long been drawn to the Divine Feminine. She comes in so many guises, as Sophia, Shechinah, Mother God, and the Virgin Mary. In India, she has multiple aspects in the goddesses Shakti, Kali, Sarasvati, Lakshmi, and Durga. Greek mythology offers us Hera, Demeter, Aphrodite, and Athena. We have Kwan Yin and the White Tara.
I grew up culturally Jewish, if not the child of religiously observant parents. I had negligible familiarity with the New Testament. So when I picked up The Expected One, I started out on a new and wild ride through early Christianity. And I met up with the controversy over Mary Magdalene.
Back in 325 A.D. at the Council of Nicaea, Roman Emperor Constantine I and church bishops chose which gospels and doctrines would be the official documents of the Catholic Church. They rejected some existing gospels, which resulted in a specific viewpoint. The chosen books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John painted Mary Magdalene as a prostitute, a woman possessed by seven demons. One part of the story, though, couldn’t be eliminated: that Mary Magdalene was the first of the apostles to see the resurrected Jesus.
Other ancient documents came to light hundreds of years later. These told a different story, one that challenged the traditional Christian theology. In these writings, Mary Magdalene had a close relationship with Jesus. He chose her to continue his teaching. Joseph of Arimathea brought her safely to Alexandria, and from there, she traveled to southwestern France where she taught The Way. Her followers were known as Cathars, and their descendants live on in that part of France.
That’s one layer of the story. But the region’s folklore goes further, stating that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’s wife. They had children, whose descendants can trace their line back to one of the offspring. And this is the story McGowan tells in The Expected One.
This novel offers the fascinating and surprising journey of Maureen Paschal, writer and professor, who gets swept up in a quest for the gospel written by Mary Magdalene. If you choose to read the book, be sure to read the Afterword as well, in which the author includes parts of the Magdalene gospel she couldn’t fit into the novel.
I was so intrigued by this information that I bought The Gospel of Mary Magdalene by Jean-Yves Leloup.
Two more books by McGowan that continue the story are The Book of Love and The Poet Prince.