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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Expected One by Kathleen McGowan

The Expected One (Book One of the Magdalene Line) by Kathleen McGowan. New York: Touchstone (Simon & Schuster), 2006. ISBN: 978-0-7432-9942-8

Ever since Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code made its enormous splash in the popular fiction realm, there has been a proliferation of more along those same lines: Mary Magdalene books and novels. I don't know how many there have been, nor will I make any attempt to find out, or list them. But I will probably read at least some of them, like this one.

The scary thing about Kathleen McGowan is that, if you can trust the prefatory and post-story material in her book, she actually believes this stuff. She dedicates the book to, among others, “Mary Magdalene, my muse, my ancestor.” And in the “Afterword,” she writes about her personal lineage as folows:

Nearly two decades after their passing, I discovered that my conservative and highly traditional paternal grandparents—my sweet southern belle grandmother and her devoted Southern Baptist husband—had been deeply involved in Freemasonry and secret society activity. I learned that my grandmother was related in blood to some of the oldest families of France, a fact that would change the course of not only my research, but my life. The ultimate shock came with the revelation that my own birth date was the subject of a prophecy related to Mary Magdalene and her descendants—the Orval Prophecy as spoken by Bérenger Sinclair. These personal “coincidences” became the skeleton key to unlock doors that had been barred to researchers who preceded me.

She further writes:

I began to experience a series of haunting, recurring dreams that centered on the events and characters of the Passion. Unexplainable occurrences, like those that Maureen (the novel's primary protagonist) experiences, led me to investigative research leads surrounding the legends of Mary Magdalene . . .

Like other writers, McGowan isn't content to refer to Jesus by that name, but has to have her own unique name for him, in this case: Easa. I'm no etymologist, so I'm not competent to explicate this name, or its authenticity, but it does seem to be used in some other languages, and may be close to the Quran's name for Jesus, also perhaps the Aramaic version of his name. It's strange, then, that she uses the modern version of Mary's name, rather than its Aramaic equivalent, something more like Miryai.

The book naturally assumes that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, that Mary fled to southern France after events recorded in the gospels, and that many people today, including the author herself, are descended from their union. She also posits a bitter and even deadly rivalry between the followers of John, known as the Baptist, and those of Jesus. She even has a secret society still in existence today, that worships and believes in John as the Messiah, not Jesus. These fanatical men are capable of anything, even murder, to protect their way of belief, and to attack those who claim to be the descendants of Jesus and Mary.

Then there's the other secret society, the one that reveres Mary Magdalene. And because of the date of her birth, both the author, and her fictional character, are, believe it or not, “The Expected One,” the prophesied descendant, the “woman who,” according to a cover blurb, “is destined to bring Mary Magdalene's gospel to the world.” That gospel, whether fictional or real, is quoted throughout the book, with an extended retelling of the events of 33 A.D. that are based on the newly discovered gospel, if we are to believe the author's “Afterword.” Here are her words again:

I must be circumspect about the primary source of the new information presented here for reasons of security, but I will say this: The content of the gospel of Mary Magdalene as I interpret it here is taken from previously undisclosed source material. It has never been released to the public before. I have taken poetic license in the interpretation to make it more accessible to a twenty-first-century audience, but I believe that the story it tells is genuine, and entirely her own.

So there you have it: an author who writes fiction, but then turns around and claims that it is a true story, really! at least mostly, and that she has had access to a hidden gospel by Mary Magdalene, which no reputable scholar has been allowed to authenticate. Now if this were truly the case, it would be such an earth-shattering event as to turn Christendom upside down. None of the existing gospels were written down by the actual men who knew Jesus, but at best by their followers a few decades later.

So now we're supposed to believe that Mary Magdalene actually wrote her own gospel? And that Kathleen McGowan is “The Expected One,” whose mystical ties with her purported ancestor allowed her to uncover the secret of this document? Well, maybe that part is fictional, and is only supposed to have happened to Maureen, her fictional double. Who knows?

That's the problem: what is fiction, and what is real? And if any of this is really real, why write it as fiction? I'm the perennial skeptic, and I'm afraid I'd need a lot more proof than the ideas expressed in this book to make me believe, and most certainly a lot more than the grandiose claims the author makes in her “Afterword.”

Nevertheless, it all makes for a good story, and a good read. Recommended for anyone who enjoyed The Da Vinci Code, and wants more along the same lines. And of course, this book claims right up front to be only “Book One of the Magdalene Line,” so we can expect more to come at some point in the future.

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