Monday, February 23, 2009
For the last couple weeks, I've been enjoying reading The Expected One by Kathleen McGowan, an intriguing cross between Dan Brown and Elaine Pagels. McGowan's story has obvious similarities to The Da Vinci Code, dealing with the mysteries of a secret society dedicated to protecting the suppressed knowledge that Mary Magdalene was really the wife of Jesus Christ, and that there are blood line descendants even today. Like the Da Vinci Code, there are many secrets hidden in famous European works of art. If you enjoyed the Da Vinci Code, particularly if you enjoyed the exposition of how potentially explosive secrets have been hidden through history, then you should enjoy this book too. But while another Da Vinci Code would be fun, what really distinguishes The Expected One is the book within the book. I don't think I'm giving too much away to say that the "holy grail" in McGowan's story is not just the existence of the blood line, but the discovery of a whole new gospel, written by Mary Magdalene herself. While this new gospel doesn't explicitly contradict anything in the traditional gospels, it shines a whole new light on various aspects of Biblical characters and events, and very creatively fills in much of the untold back story. McGowan's reimagining of the machinations that could well have occurred between the Pharisees, the Essenes, the Zealots, and the Nazarenes, as well as King Herod and Pontius Pilate, leading up the crucifixion, were fascinating and thought-provoking. While her narrative does not challenge any core Christian beliefs, it will certainly challenge many people's conventional understanding of specific events, such as Pilate's fateful decision, and the role of Judas, as well as suggest a surprising back story involving the Marys, Pilate's wife, and Salome. (She even explains the vexing mystery of why nearly every named woman in Jesus's life is named Mary.) And in places where this new gospel parallels the existing ones, it sheds some intriguing new light. One point gives a great example of how the translation of a particular word can have huge implications. This gospel also adds some great Christian examples of faith and forgiveness worthy of a gospel. The outer modern story was engaging, and expounded some fascinating little-known history about a group called the Cathars in the middle ages, but it's the inner story that really makes this book worth reading.