Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review: Mary of Magdala

"You stand alone, Mary of Magdala. You were beloved of the Lord and your honour is your own, not to be shared with anyone else."

Daughter of Jerusalem by Joan Wolf tells of the story of a woman who would become one of the most infamous women of history - Mary Magdalene.  Whilst the title might be considered a little misleading by some, Wolf enlightens us by revealing that Mary spent a considerable amount of time in this most holy of cities, especially at the time of the Jewish Passover.

Part I - Young Mary leaves her home in Judea to live with her Aunt Leah in Magdala. Her childhood has not been easy, but her cousin Daniel is the shining light in her new life - that and her love of the Scriptures as recited by him. Aged 14yo Mary is of marriageable age - Daniel and Mary are betrothed before the family depart for Passover in Jerusalem. Mary visits her father and half-siblings (Lazarus & Martha) in Bethany before returning to Galilee and bad news - her betrothal to Daniel is not going ahead - Lord Benjamin (brother-in-law of her Aunt Leah and head of the household) has other plans.  Young Mary is to marry the elderly (and wealthy) Aaron bar David and move to Sepphoris - she will have to do what all women have do - make the best of it.

Part II - Daniel has left to join the Essenes at Qumran.  Mary, resigned to a life married to a rich old man, meets an important influence in her life - one Julia Tiberia, widow of the former Roman Governor of Sepphoris.  Mary enters Roman society which assists her husband's business prospects.  Julia has taken Mary under her wing - she can now read and write in Latin - and she now knows that when her wealthy husband dies, she will inherit his wealth - and gain her freedom.  Enter one Marcus Novius Claudius - Legatus.  Mary's husband wants her to engage in a sexual relationship with Marcus - one which everyone else assumes is ongoing - in the hopes of gaining a child and thus an heir.  Mary is shocked by her husband's decision to use her so.  

Mary is branded a whore by her own people - the Zealots/Essenes have all but cast her out of Jewish society.  Mary and Marcus are in love - but she is also pregnant and this cannot go unobserved by her husband.  Aaron is dead - an accident - though Marcus' words are ringing in Mary's ears.  Mary flees Marcus to escape the thought of his involvement in her husband's death.  In doing so, she stumbles and miscarries.  Marcus departs - there is no marriage between them now - Mary plans to leave Sepphorus for Bethany.

Part III - Mary spends a year with her siblings in Bethany before deciding to live on her on in Capernaum.  Mary's re-entry into Jewish life is not easy - the Pharasee Ezra bar Matthias is her enemy and denigrates her at every opportunity, and her independence has marked her out as being different.  

It is also in this final part that the story of Jesus of Nazareth comes to dominate and we are slowly being introduced to those who feature strongly in the story of Jesus - Simon Peter the Fisherman and John the Baptiser.  An old friend from Mary's past is now Governor of Caprenaum - Fulvius Petrus - and he tells of John's arrest by Herod Antipas  

Jesus of Nazareth arrives in Capernaum.  Jesus is gathering his disciples - Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and the brothers James and John are the first.  We meet the rest of the disciples when Jesus returns to Capernaum - Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, another James, Thaddeus, Simon and the Zealot Judas.  John the Baptist has been executed and Jesus' fame as a miracle worker, healer and teacher is spreading.  

Mary is joined by one Mary of Nazareth - mother of Jesus - and her sons, James and Joses.  Mary gathers about her a group of women who will aid Jesus and his disciples - financially. they are Susanna, Mary, Clopas, Ruth, Salome, Rebecca and Joanna.  

In Jerusalem Mary is reunited with Daniel - it has been 10 years since their parting - much has changed and Daniel is not the young man she first fell in love with.  Many miracles follow including Lazarus being raised from the dead.  

Jesus has been arrested in the garden of Gethsemane - Lazarus has escaped to Capernaum whilst Mary remains behind in Jerusalem.  Jesus has been condemned by Pilate and will be executed by crucifixion on Golgotha.  We follow the traditional story of the Crucifixion and Resurrection.  Mary leaves for Sepphorus to preach the word of Jesus.

Thus Wolf provides us with the clues as to Mary's status as a fallen women possessed by seven evils and why she is deemed a whore and harlot by her own people. She also portrays Mary as the half-sister of Martha and Lazarus.  We also gain an insight into Mary's role in Jesus' early ministry. There are many other versions of Mary's early life - this could be one of the most plausible (see below for others).  

Some other books on Mary Magdalene:
Mary, Called Magdalene by Margaret George
"Margaret George convincingly captures this renowned woman's voice as she moves from girlhood to womanhood, becomes part of the circle of disciples, and comes to grips with the divine."

Mary Magdalene by Diana Wallis Taylor
"Long maligned as a prostitute or a woman of questionable reputation, Mary Magdalene's murky story seems lost to the sands of time."

Mary Magdalene: a Biography by Bruce D Chilton
"After two thousand years of flawed history, here at last is a magnificent new biography of Mary Magdalene that draws her out of the shadows of history and restores her to her rightful place of importance in Christianity."

Mary Magdalene: A Woman Who Loved
" looks behind the scenes at a woman who is seduced into committing adultery and used to test Jesus, and brings them all together beneath the cross of Jesus Christ."

Poisoned Honey: A Story of Mary Magdalene
".. one of the most misunderstood and controversial Biblical figures is the story of a young girl’s path through manipulation and possession, madness and healing, to a man who will change the world forever."

Unholy Grail - The Story of Judas Iscariot & Mary Magdalene 
"Beginning with the stories of Judas Iscariot and Mary Magdalene, the Unholy Grail story culminates in their contemporary heir, who becomes the Anti-Christ of the Apocalypse." - I have read this one but cannot quite reconcile myself with this role designated to Mary - Book II may enlighten.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

New Arrivals To The Library

Over the past few months, I have been adding to my already overcrowded bookcases.  So here are the latest new arrivals to my own personal library:

  • The Merovingian Kingdoms 450 - 751 by Ian Wood
  • Warwick the Kingmaker by Michael Hicks
  • Edward IV by Michael Hicks
  • King Stephen by Edmund King
  • The Varangians of Byzantium by Benedict Benedikz
  • The Hammer and the Cross by Robert Ferguson
  • Eleanor de Montfort by Louise Wilkinson
  • A New History of the Picts by Stuart McHardy
  • The Last King of Wales by Michael Davies
  • The Valois by RJ Knecht
  • The Italian Crusades by Norman Housely
  • Strongholds of the Picts by Angus Konstam
  • The Despotate of Epiros 1267 - 1479 by Donald M Nicol
  • Samurai Women 1184 - 1877 by Stephen Turnbull
  • Matilda by Tracey Borman
  • The Hanged Man by Robert Bartlett
  • The Kingdom of Cyprus and the Crusades, 1191-1374  by Peter Edbury
  • The Godwins by Frank Barlow
  • Conquest by Jack Ludlow (finishes of my de Hauteville trilogy)
  • The Secret History of the Mongol Queens by Jack Weatherford
  • Melisende of Jerusalem by Margaret Tranovich
  • The Sicilian Vespers by Steven Runciman

Already working on my Christmas book list!   And this does not include the large number of e-books that I have added for this last month.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review: Freud's Sister by Goce Smilevski

“The goal of all life is death” – and death was to feature so predominantly in the lives of Freud and his family in the years to come.

We begin the story with the last year or so that Freud spent in Vienna prior to his escape from the Nazi’s.  He took a select group with him – his in-laws, his doctor, his housekeeper, and his dog – leaving behind his four elderly sisters to their own fate.  On 29th June 1942, the four sister are forced to leave their apartment for the death camps – the first stop being Terezin. After being moved to another camp, the sisters reach their ultimate fate – the gas chambers.

We then return to Adolfina who recounts her life to us with recollections of her early childhood illnesses, her fragile relationship with her mother, and her growing distant relationship with her once close brother, Sigmund.  Through her painting, we are introduced to key people in Adolfina’s early adulthood: Bertha and Sarah Auerbach, Klara and Gustav Klimt, and Ranier Richter. 

Following the death of Sarah, Klara Klimt retreats into her own world after spending her time promoting womens' rights and looking to the welfare of women and children.  Klara is admitted to the Nest and psychiatric clinic. 

Adolfina reconnects with Ranier Richter from her childhood and a relationship develops.  Her brother and sisters have married and she moves in with Ranier.  Following the death of his mother, Ranier submits to his lifelong depression and commits suicide – Adolfina discovers that she is pregnant – Sigmund helps her to arrange for a abortion.   After a family gathering to celebrate their mother’s birthday, Adolfina, aged 34yo leaves her home to join Klara at the Nest in Vienna.

We are told lots of tales about the inmates of the Nest and Dr Goethe; of her brother's leanings towards all things Germanic and his work.  Rather unnecessary in my mind - and this only bogs down the reader with a history lesson and psychiatry and psychoanalysis of the early 19th and 20th Century.

Seven years later, Adolfina and Klara leave the Nest – a year of the conclusion of the Great War (World War I), Gustav Klimt is dead and his sister Klara returns to the Nest – Adolfina takes over the care of Gustav’s many sons, previously under the care of Klara.  That same year saw the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the formation of Austria. 

In the suceeding three years, tragedy upon tragedy befalls Freud and his family – death, illness and suicide.  Sigmund himself is not immune and is developing as yet un-diagnosed cancer.  Adolfina is left to care for her dying mother (1930) – and her lifelong friend Klara Klmit escapes from the Nest – albeit briefly.

February 1933 - Germany has a new leader – one Adolf Hitler.  All the sisters are reunited in Vienna.   And it is here we catch up with the fate of the elderly quartet as Sigmund leaves for London when Austria is taken over.  The sisters are moved from camp to camp, and finally to their deaths.  Why did Sigmund not save his sisters from their fate will remain forever unknown.


Goce Smilevski website: "Goce Smilevski was born in 1975 in Skopje, Macedonia. He was educated at Charles University in Prague, Central European University in Budapest, and Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje. He is author of several novels and theater plays. His novel Freud's Sister won the European Union Prize for Literature and is being published in more than thirty languages."

Article in the Jewish Daily Forward: Sigmund Freud's Sister Complex
Wikipedia: Freud's Family
Jewish Virtual Library - Terezin (Teresienstadt)