The character of Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ most famous disciples, has been the subject of considerate scholarship and debate of late. Some contemporary scholars say that her reputation as a penitent prostitute is inaccurate; that Jesus healed her from illness, not sin. In any case, Mary is famous for being the first person to see Jesus after the resurrection.
In the first-person novel The Secret Magdalene, Ki Longfellow portrays “Mariamne Magdel-eder” as a philosopher, seer, and beloved companion and confidante of Yeshu (Yehoshua, or Jesus).
Mariamne (the name is based on gnostic material found in Egypt in 1945) is 10 years old when the book opens, the daughter of a widowed member of the Jewish Sanhedrin. A serious illness has left her with the ability to hear prophetic voices. She and her father’s ward, Salome, have a love of learning that they run away to Alexandria to indulge disguised as the boys John the Less and Simon. Returning years later, they meet John the Baptizer, who most everyone believes is the awaited Jewish messiah. Mariamne (still posing as John the Less) senses, however, that it’s the Baptist’s cousin, a Galilean named Yehoshua, who is the special one. John the Less, later revealed to be Mariamne, becomes the most beloved of Jesus’ companions, accompanying him on his teaching journeys throughout Cana, Galilee, and Judea and standing at the foot of the cross.
Longfellow based her book on extensive scholarship about Jesus and first-century Palestine and wove incidents and people from the Bible into her plot. The Secret Magdalene, however, is an original interpretation of the biblical events and of the characters of both Mary Magdalene and Jesus. Jesus’ nature is debatable; he has a twin brother who plays a critical role in the crucifixion story; and biblical incidents have nonmiraculous explanations. Mary Magdalene is not a cipher but a full-fledged human being who was at the center of Christianity’s origins, where, according to the gnostic writings, she deserves to be. Longfellow has said that her desire was to write a novel about gnosis — the direct experience of the godhead within. She presents Mary Magdalene and Jesus as gnostics who had direct, personal experience of divine consciousness and who wanted to tell the rest of humanity that gnosis is there for all at any time, that the kingdom of God already exists and isn’t dependent on the coming of a messiah.
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