July 5th, 2009


When is a goddess not a goddess?

So, there I was, with a book that I needed to get from Amazon, and a good ways to go before I made it to the "free shipping" promised land. And, flipping through the suggestions, I notice a title that was familiar, and clicked on it. It was the right (discounted) price, and my order was good-to-go. Yep, that's the extent of the fore-thought and planning involved on my picking up Margaret Starbird's The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalen and the Holy Grail ... recognized the title from being referenced in other books of the "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" genre. I guess it's featured in The DaVinci Code as well (as the big starburst on the cover points out), but I've not gotten far enough from my "no fiction" ban to have been tempted to read anything that mass-market!

Personally, I found the most interesting thing about this book is its "backstory", of how the author, a one-time good Catholic girl (indeed, a RC theologian and university instructor), discovered the Baigent, Leigh, & Lincoln books and thought that they just HAD to be wrong, and set off to disprove the whole Jesus/Magdalen bloodline thing. And what happened? She found out that the canonical story was full of holes, that there was solid historical traces supporting the heretical version, and she suddenly is a major voice in the "goddess" movement, albeit in a quasi-Christian corner of it focusing on the Sarah (daughter of Jesus and Mary M.) lineage. It's mild sort of Schadenfreude, but I'll take it.

For those who have read widely in the genre, however, there isn't that much "new" in here, except, perhaps a deeper look into symbols in art and iconography which the author suggests are hidden signs of the Magdalen cult. Some of these seem a bit tenuous (i.e. any red X being a marker for the faith, no matter in what context), and some seem a bit stretched (almost anything appearing in a watermark: lions, unicorns, grapes, castles, crowns, etc., etc., etc.) ... here's a bit of a snippet along these lines:
We have already established that the southern part of France was a seedbed for the Grail heresy and for the flowering of arts and letters during the twelfth century. The watermarks from Bayley's research throw a great deal of light on the faith of the heretics, who seem to have believed that Jesus was an earthen vessel for the spirit of God and that his teachings would lead them to personal enlightenment and transformation. Many also believed that Jesus was married and that his bloodline still flowed in the veins of certain of their Provençal families. Some of the watermarks were mystical, referring to the way of personal holiness, purification, and service to others outlined in the Gospels. Yet even these were heretical teachings because they bypassed the liturgies and sacraments of the established Church of Rome. Other watermarks wee heretical because they indicated a belief in a married Jesus who was the royal heir of David.
Again, this whole "watermark" thing seems a bit thin, but as "symbols" you can see where it played into Dan Brown's project. You can also see why the Church came down so hard on this region, perhaps being more blood-thirsty against the Cathars than they were against the Mohammedans!

There are bits and pieces in here which are fascinating, such as a famed 12th-century Magdalen painting hanging in Ariel's Grotto in the Disney version of The Little Mermaid (echoing themes of the Mediterranean coast of France, where mermaids can symbolize Mary/Sarah coming from the water), and traces of what could still be an organized movement (in fact, some threads in here weave in with parts of The Sion Revelation in a rather unexpected way). Starbird also dusts off her theological credentials and has a go at some rather substantial "reinterpretation" of chunks of the New Testament's Jesus stories, such as suggesting that "Mary and Joseph's flight into Egypt" was not Jesus' parents, but his wife, Mary Magdalen, accompanied by Joseph of Arimathea, who would later bring Mary and the young Sarah to France.

Of course, the underlying assumption here, that Jesus was married has certainly lost its shock value as book after book, looking into the culture of 1st century Palestine, point to the fact that any male of Jesus' age, and certainly one with "royal blood", would have been married from his late teens, if for nothing else than religious requirement. It was the emasculating of the Jewish Jesus by the Pauline Church that made it such a focus for the author, and that the figure of the Magdalen had survived the abuses of the Pauline re-boot is seen here as proof of her central role in the Jesus cult.

Anyway ... if you're a "babe in the woods" Christian and would like to have your eyes opened to some stuff that you might find amazing, The Woman with the Alabaster Jar is almost a "must-read" for you. For those more familiar with the concepts here, it adds some material, but is not as strong a statement as one might like. This is available via the Amazon new/used guys for as little as a penny (plus $3.99 shipping, of course) for a "very good" copy, so if you feel like spending a few bucks on an interesting read, by all means do pick up one!

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