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More Fantasies and Fictions:
Mary Magdalene and an Epic of Scholarly Sleight-of-Hand

Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Laurence Gardner
The Magdalene Legacy:  The Jesus and Mary Bloodline Conspiracy
(London:  Element (HarperCollins), 2005. 395p.)

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The author probes deeper historical and legendary backgrounds of the superstitions and legends related to Mary of Magdalene and a bloodline of Jesus, providing "revelations beyond The DaVinci Code."

Gardner advocates the idea that Jesus did not actually die from his crucifixion, but revived and married Mary Magdalene, or they were already married during his lifetime.  He also reports alternative traditions such as the one that Mary Magdalene lived an ascetic life in the desert for 30 years after Jesus' ascension into the heavens.

Gardner provides some excellent historical information and comparative information from various other scholars and historical sources.  Originally something gave me the idea Gardner was a journalist.  I can't find any specific comment to that effect anywhere now.

Historical Fantasy
But in fact, he is apparently an actual historian, and has won awards and recognitions of various kinds for his work.  This really surprised me, because in fact, I was amazed at his cavalier attitude to the facts and details of the many subjects he deals with and connects in this extensive piece of literature.  In fact, the feeling I got was that he was manipulating the facts of various situations to make them fit his esoteric scenario, which seems to be a historical fantasy, not a real objective picture of history.  This volume is excellent science fiction, but he seems to be presenting it as serious historical research.

Gardner provides fascinating facts, bits of historiana, and cultural information.  He connects them, however, in unexpected ways, without clear documentation.  So when I re-read the cover information on the author, I was surprised to learn that he does seem to have some academic credentials.  He is even styled as a (British) constitutional historian.

But despite these recognitions, the writing style is journalistic.  Not investigative journalism, but tabloid, entertaining journalism.  He appears to write for a popular audience on this topic. He apparently is not directing his work to scholars, who could rip him to shreds on numerous grounds.  His breezy style makes for easy reading, but hides the levels of complexity he has glossed over.

Gardner has previously developed a full genealogy of the bloodline of Jesus, from his children by Mary Magdalene.  In The Magdalene Legacy Gardner has drawn together many recent threads of such thought from various recent authors, expanding and tying together the stories of the various historical figures he has included in the full genealogy of the bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

Fast and Loose
His sweeping scenario often ignores anomalies and contradictions, as he claims to clarify the ones in the New Testament and official Roman Catholic traditions.  I notice, however, that he sometimes plays fast and loose with the facts, stating as definitive declarations some variation or interpretation of a less-than-clear point.  He is not consistent in the way he refers to and draws his support from various sources or clues.

Gardner includes a lot of good detail of names, places and dates, related to the various ethnic dynasty lines of Europe.  I enjoyed reviewing these ethnic heritages.  I sometimes got a little confused on how these were all intertwined, even after reading European history for three decades.

He often states as a clear absolute fact some conclusion that is only one slightly possible interpretation or conclusion among others that could be critically derived from some of the vague and contradictory sources.  By the time he finishes his epic, he has almost every line of royalty in Europe descended from Jesus and Mary's children.  He even pulls in the Irish and British Celts, in addition to the Gauls of France, and somehow includes the Frankish Merovingian line.

Karnak in Qumran
Oh, and another amazing thing:  he alleges that the Egyptian priesthood of Karnak moved to Qumran to join the Essene community!  Wow!  This is great science fiction.  It is connections like this that we enjpoy in the universe of Stargate SG-1.

In regard to Jesus and Qumran, the fact that he includes Jesus as a member of the Essenes is not particularly surprising.  This seems possible.  Scholar Carsten Peter Thiede even reports that in his study of the Qumran documents (The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity) he finds fragments of two New Testament books, though this is denied by other scholars.  (See my review of Thiede's book.)

But Gardner makes very free interpretations of Qumran documents, in order to extend the associations and "extract" codes to interpret the real meaning of Jesus and his Nazarene movement and the true meaning of the Kingdom of God.  Fascinating, but not very convincing, since I could not even find references to some of the things he mentions from documents of the Qumran collection.  Perhaps I have the wrong translations.

Even if this were conceivable, the "bloodline" gets awfully thin early in history, with all this spreading and mixing.  I have no trouble even thinking of Jesus as married.  And it is basically irrelevant.  But you'd think his intimate colleagues would have made at least some offhand reference to it in their writings.  The Gospels just do not comment on the issue.  The clues Gardner uses to put this together are insufficient by any common standard of evidence.

Overlooked Gospel Information
Gardner does, however, provide some good probing persepctives from analysis of several Gospel passages.  He goes to some length to counter some of the popular Catholic myths or dogmas that arose around popular devotional ideas that seem to directly contradict information provided in the Gospels or other contemporary sources.  Ironically, however, he seems to swallow whole some of these same Catholic myths.  Does he just pick and choose whichever ones seems to fit the scenario he prefers?  (This is how you write a novel.)

An example of his creditable myth debunking, for instance, is his detailed discussion of the family of Jesus, analyzing the various Gospel references to the brothers and sisters of Jesus.  It is stimulating reading.  And this is good, serious textual exegesis.  Why can't he be this careful and responsible all the way thourgh?

I found myself making extensive comments in the margins, sometimes affirming, sometimes disagreeing and arguing with his conclusions.  I would get frustrated at the cavalier manner in which he throws out some comment or glosses over some unclear detail or draws some sweeping conclusion from some minor clue.

Sometimes I was commending him for discovering and pointing out some easily overlooked point in a Gospel passage or historical source.  For instance, many of our common standard views on biblical themes or scenes are superficial.  The Fourth Gospel account of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, for instance, indicates that Jesus was crucified in a garden, and in that same garden there was a tomb, in which he was buried (John 19:38-41).  

The popular romantic idea of a deserted hill high on the horizon is a cultural fiction, a stylization in our cultural history based on some other references (like all four gospels naming the place as the Place of the Skull, e.g., Luke 23:33 and Mark 15:22).

Correcting the Da Vinci Fiction
One thing he does is comment on various aspects or claims in Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code.  He "corrects" several claims Brown makes, and provides the "true" picture.  That is fine, and it is important for readers to be reminded that the Da Vinci Code that it is just fiction.  The odd thing is, Gardner seems to treat Da Vinci as though it was a real historical work.  Yet his book is written in the same vein as Brown's historical sci fi thriller.

I found that while Gardner gives the appearance of being a serious researcher and scholar, in actual fact most of his footnotes are just citing the reference he basically plagiarizes from someone else's book.  For instance, I found great segments virtually word for word from Margaret Starbird's The Goddess of the Gospels.

Skewing the Data
Further, Gardner plays fast and loose with terminology and translations.  He does not often actually include quotation marks.  I checked a few of the references he makes to New Testament Greek phrases in explaining his allegorical coding system.  And note here that this coding system is just a restatement of Barbara Thiering's rewrite of the New Testament around her esoteric allegorical "insights" from the universe out there somewhere.

In many cases, what he states in English is not what the Greek says.  He rewrites it, or reorganzies the words of a sentence, in order to make the words fit the view he wants to present.

For example, he reiterates the claim that the term "Word of God" in the New Testament always means Jesus himself or that Jesus is present in the event.  Thus when the word of God is mentioned in Paul's missionary tours, for instance, it means Jesus was actually with Paul when he preached on Cyprus.  One example of misquoting is when he cites one reference in the Gospels to Jesus preaching by the lake, when Jesus gets into the boat in order to address the crowd.

He quotes from Luke 5:1 as "When the word of God was by the Lake."  What the Greek actually says is "When he was near the Lake, the people pressed near to hear the word of God."  Quite a difference, no?  In a similar manner, he makes outlandish connections between alternative names of people and places.

Snowing the Inexperienced Reader
Readers will not have the time to look up all the textual, historical and scriptural claims he makes, and it wouldn't likely occur to most that they should.  Gardner has a confident style that leads him to state flat-out as a definitive fact a claim that in real scholarship would at best be qualified with "It could possibly be that" or "If we grant all these uncertain interpretations and tenuous connection, it might then appear that" or "It might appear thatů."

The reader inexperienced in reading critical scholarly topics can easily be snowed by the hidden levels of conclusion and supposition behind virtually everything Gardner has in this book!  Most readers will not realize the need for caution in considering these fantastic claims.

They won't realize Gardner might be duping them, but will take his skillful, flowing style and confident claims as reliable scholarship, and thereby be misled.  And I am not even talking about whether the matter actually is credible.  I am just addressing his unscholarly disregard for the realities and complexities he is dealing with.

Just Another Novel
I can see no evidence of any critical evaluation or analysis of the various sources.  If he expressed some modicum of real research and indicated he really evaluated any facts, I might see value in the thesis he presents.  But this work, even if Gardner is a historian, is basically a novel.  Yet he quotes other writers whose pieces he uses for his grand romantic fantasy epic.

Making up His Own Derivations
He makes up his own derivations of common English words so they will represent his ideas, no matter how incorrect these are when compared with the actual facts of the matter.  For instance, to make the connections between Mary Magdalene and other local figures in England, he connects the two English words "merry" and "marry."

He states that the verb marry came from the adjective "merrie," which in turn he associates with the personal name Mary.  He uses Robin Hood and his "merrie men" to connect Maid Marian and Mary Madgdalene.  One way he draws this scenario is to state that the word "merrie" is where we get the word "marry."  This is a hilarious fantasy, and as a scholarly spoof, would be very entertaining.  In reality these are two totally separate words, from wholly different sources in history.

The word "merry" (or "merrie" in older spelling) is a native English word meaning happy, carefree, jovial.  It originally meant brief or short, in the Old English form merge (probably pronounced similar to "mare-geh").  In Middle English it was myrge.  This is an ancient Germanic word, also found in Old High German murg.

Meanwhile, the word "marry" is a fairly late word for English, which was borrowed from French, coming originally from Latin, meaning what it does in modern French and English, to marry.  The Latin word was maritare, which actually came from the past participle maritus (meaning "married"), from an older verb apparently in the form marare.  Middle English used this word in the form marien (to marry), from the French verb marier with the same meaning.

When you consider the personal name Mary, again we find a separate origin.  This does, of course, directly connect to the name Mary, but not specifically to the name of Mary of Magdala.  The name is an ancient Hebrew name, in the common form Miriam (like Moses' sister).  Many forms of this name occur in European and other languages around the world, as Mary, Marie, Maria, the original Miriam, Mariamu, etc.

Even today the separate orgins of these three words is shown in that, in some English dialects, they are still pronounced differently, each with a different vowel.

Unverified Connections
He strings together lots of these facile, outlandish and unverified connections, without regard to any real linguistic or historical facts.  This is an amazing literary work, it just cannot be trusted as a credible source for even the references he gives, let alone what he does with them, and the amazing flights of fantasy he exercises to draw his scintillating conclusions!  If he would just be honest and, like Dan Brown, tell us this is only a novel!

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[TXT] Fantasies and Fictions:  Mary Magdalene as the Gaulic Christian Goddess
[TXT] Jesus and Egytian Judaism
[review] Maturing Dead Sea Scrolls Scholarship

See this book on Amazon.com.
Gardner: Bloodline of the Holy Grail: The Hidden Lineage of Jesus Revealed
Thiede: The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity
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See my reading lists
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First written and posted on Thoughts and Resources 24 October 2006
Revised 22 January 2007
Reviewed on Amazon 3 March 2009
Rewritten 15 December 2011

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2006 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
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