Book Review: The Magdalene Gospel: Meeting the Women who Followed Jesus
Updated: May 16, 2022
Media Review: I am reflecting on some of the books and media I have reviewed as part of my research into the various views of the life and times of Jesus and his followers.
The Magdalene Gospel: Meeting the Women who Followed Jesus
Author: Mary Ellen Ashcroft
Published: Augsburg Books 1995
Genre: Women's spirituality, biblical meditations, women's studies
112 pages including 91-page narrative story, 8 pages of biblical references, and 11 pages of questions for discussion
Reflections of the women who followed Jesus as they comfort each other after Good Friday and before Easter morning. The six chapters tell a series of anecdotes, and can each stand alone. Brief paragraphs by the author with historical interpretation are written in plain type interspersed with imagined monologues and supportive conversations of the women written in italics. Each woman relates her fictional story of encountering Jesus, how she was changed, and when she knew Jesus would die. The book touches theology only slightly, not explaining religious themes or terms, not re-telling Bible stories, and not challenging the role of women. The women who tell their stories include: the woman with the hemorrhage (here named Lydia), the woman bent crooked (here named Rhoda), Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Susannah, Joanna, Salome, Mary and Martha of Bethany. Mary of Clopas is referred to as being the sister of Mary the mother of Jesus, but she does not tell her story and is a minor character.
Regarding The Magadalene Gospel and follow up book Spirited Women, the author states her conviction “that women have felt as if they were on the outside of the story of Jesus and the early church for far too long; my hope and prayer is that these books will help women claim their place as followers of Jesus.” (preface xi)
“Jesus encouraged the women to follow him, teaching them, asking them serious theological questions, demanding a response from the mind and heart” page 42
“These women, who have followed a religious teacher, travelled in mixed company, left their families to follow Jesus – for them there is no going back. With the death of the teacher, a door of freedom and meaning has slammed shut”. P. 48
Pros: Good resource for meditation, reflection, and group discussion. The imagined reminiscing of these women resonates with the healing and encounters with Christ of women today.
Cons: No real plot or suspense; Since it is written in third person omniscient point of view, readers gain an understanding of multiple characters but are not drawn into character development. Sometimes unclear what is biblical, historical, interpretation, or fiction. Constant flipping to the Notes and Biblical references is almost required to understand the story.