Book Review: The Passion of Mary Magdalen by Elizabeth Cunningham

If you’ve been reading my posts here on Sexy Romance Stories, you know I have an insatiable curiosity about all things Biblical. So when a dear friend recommended THE PASSION OF MARY MAGDALEN by Elizabeth Cunningham, I promptly bought it in February, 2011, looked at the beautiful cover of this 620 page book and told myself to get back to work. Now I’m kicking myself for waiting so long to read it.  Then again, perhaps things really do happen for a reason. But I digress.

WARNING: If you are offended by feminist interpretations of the Bible, do not read on.

Elizabeth Cunningham, descendant of nine (9) generations of Episcopal priests, knows whereof she speaks in all things biblical. My impression of this author is that she literally ate, drank, slept and breathed Bible stories from birth—no from conception. And, rather than hew to the party line, so to speak, she listened for the voice of the women in these tales and found them missing. In THE PASSION OF MARY MAGDALEN, Ms. Cunningham gave Mary Magdalen and the other two Marys of the New Testament, not only voices, but brains, bodies, spirituality and backstories.

This is the second in the Maeve Chronicles, but you do not have to read the books in order. The author provides an excellent summary of the first book in a non-intrusive manner. She gives the reader enough information to understand where we are as the story begins and weaves in more later. I never felt lost reading the story. I felt as if I was firmly anchored in Mary’s point of view throughout the book, in large part because of the author’s skillful use of the first person.

We know from the New Testament that Mary Magdalen was a prostitute; what we don’t know is where she came from, why she was in that occupation, and what her relationship was to Yeshua, aka Jesus. The first half of this book tells us about Mary’s life as a prostitute and takes place in Rome. Born a Celt named Maeve, she escaped certain death in her home country, only to be captured by a tribe intent on using her as a breeding vessel. She escapes again, only to be drugged by the sea captain. The book opens with her in an open air market in Rome where her captor is extolling her wares. Stripped, poked and prodded in the public setting, she maintains her Celtic backbone and lives up to her bright red hair by cursing the man in three different languages. Amused by her antics and intrigued by her body and brain, the brothel owner and madam knows a good value when she sees one and buys Maeve.

Maeve becomes a craftsman at her trade, taking pride in her work as a whore. Sought after by generals, senators and wealthy land holders, she becomes a favorite of the patrons and the other women in the brothel. The only problem is she isn’t just a worker bee; she’s also a priestess of Isis and strange, supernatural things happen around her at inexplicable times. It is a bawdy, fun, gripping read and the details of daily life in 1st Century Rome are seamlessly woven in without becoming a history lecture. I felt as if I was there at the feasts and in the Temple of Isis. Throughout it all, Maeve never forgets the young man she fell in love with in her home country: Esus.

The second half of the book takes place in Jerusalem, Israel, where Maeve has taken up residence after a series of misadventures in Rome and being bought, sold and finally released into the wild. Setting up a Temple of Isis in a Jewish country occupied by Romans is not an easy affair. While she has financial backing from Joseph of Arimathea, support from some of her fellow whores from the Roman brothel, and a flair for finding hidden sacred springs, she still has to stay under the radar of the religious and Roman dictators. True to her profession and her calling, her temple is offers healing and sexual services, for men and barren women. Between cleaning up an old estate and vineyards, she visits the Temple searching for any sign, any word of Esus. Here the author excels in providing the reader with insights into the people of the day, including the larger than life figures in the New Testament. She also gives us a window into the era’s religious practices, including animal sacrifices, and gives us an idea of how power can corrupt all, even those who claim to act on behalf of Yahweh. Everyone has an agenda in Jerusalem, and the only ones in charge with swords and spears are the Romans.

I won’t spoil the story for you, let me just say that if you want to see, smell, taste, hear and touch that era from the eyes of a very important woman in our collective history, I highly recommend this book.

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