Mary, Called Magdalene by Margaret George


Mary, called Magdalene by Margaret George (Viking, 2002)


The remarkable thing in Margaret George's historical novel, Mary, called Magdalene, is how George molds the character of a minor presence in the New Testament, that of Mary of Magdalene, and paints her in a contemporary light. Biblical characters almost always fade into the dust of antiquity, but in Mary's movements as a young mother and wife, her daily preparations and devotions, she is easy to relate to and seems so much like us, despite 2000 years of history that have come in-between.

Margaret George has tackled a number of impressive female characters in other historical novels, including Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Elizabeth I, Helen of Troy, and Cleopatra. By doing her homework thorough intensive research, George combines what has been noted by historians about these famous figures with an ability to probe psychologically the reasoning processes as well as the emotions that make the portrayals of such icons sympathetic and believable. Of her choice of writing material, George has stated that historical figures, “Provide me with something unique to build on. You inherit an existing curiosity about the characters, especially the more iconic ones, but very little detail. With what you might call the 'celebrities' like Mary Magdalene, you just have this outline of her life and the drama in it, even if it is shadowy, tantalisingly brief and potentially misleading.” (Stanford, Peter (April 6,2003), “Saints and Sensibility” for Today's Novelists)

Sign Up for E-News

Of course, writing about the imagined life of an original disciple of Jesus is treading on ground that could make some readers uncomfortable. However, knowing very little about the enigmatic and tormented Mary Magdalene, the novel provoked sufficient questions for me to engage in fascinating conversations with my family and friends, who were raised Catholic. and are more familiar with the stories of the gospels, from which some of what is known about Mary is drawn. The true blessing of a rich read is the desire to share it with others, receive a spark of intellectual curiosity to learn more about the time and period of the characters, and relish in the glow of good writing. George achieves that in this beautiful story.

In George's tale Mary of Magdalene is born into a successful fishing family in the Galilee. She grows up in comfort and strong Jewish faith, observing holidays with her families, including a pilgrimage to Jerusalem when she was a child. On that journey two remarkable things happened. The first was that she found a tiny idol carved of ivory, a beguiling doll-like figure that she knew she should toss away, but somehow could not bring herself to destroy. Instead, she hid the idol for years, which allowed the spirit of the goddess to enter her soul and take possession of it. Later, through that portal, six other demons join the goddess, making domestic life impossible for Mary and her husband, Joel. The second remarkable thing is that she spent an evening with another family which was traveling, a family including an intense boy of about twelve years whose name is Jesus. These are the two incidents that set the plot of Mary's journey into orbit.

When the demons became so great that Mary can no longer care for her beloved child, Elisheba, she and her husband, Joel, seek help from the greatest rabbis to exorcise the ravaging voices. Ultimately, Mary's torment leads her to the desert, where she finds Jesus, teaching among the people who are seeking John the Baptist. In this moment, the intense, dark-haired young man lays his hands on Mary's head and casts out the demons that have overwhelmed Mary for so long. And when her soul is finally quiet, Mary resolves to follow Jesus, even if it means abandoning her family, to spread the word of his teachings.

The novel follows the wanderings of Jesus and his small troop of believers as they travel into the hills, teaching and healing the sick and the poor. Like each of the disciples, Jesus has a way of making Mary Magdalene feel special, and in one intense scene she misinterprets his feelings for her. As they approach the city of Jerusalem for the Passover celebration, Mary reveals to Jesus that she has had a vision in which she sees the body of Jesus beaten and broken. He confirms that he has seen the same. “It was Jerusalem. I know that. And I will die there.”

Jesus continues to predict other horrors to her. “The Temple and its corrupt priesthood have been rejected by God. In a few years, not one stone of it will stand on another.” He foresees that the present age is coming to a close rapidly as they stand on the precipice of a new time for mankind.

Mary misunderstands the revelation of Jesus as his profession of human love for her. She thinks, “He recognized whatever it was that bound them. He was acknowledging it, even thanking God for it. She could not name what it was, it was too special for any name, it just was, and oh! God had led her here and created her just for this. When the words did come to her mind, “Jesus is mine!” was the form they took.

But Jesus gently tries to explain to Mary that she is misunderstands his meaning. “Mary, not that way . . . do not listen to Satan.”

This scene is one of the major turning points in George's story because in it Mary suffers an unbearable personal humiliation of perceiving a kind of love that is not returned in the way that she thinks. But as the story moves towards its painful climax, Mary learns of the depth of Jesus' true love for her in the revelation of the resurrection following his death at the hands of the Romans. It is to Mary that Jesus reveals himself first after leaving the cave in which he had been entombed, and it is Mary who brings the joyful noise to the mourners that Jesus has risen from the dead.

The final part of the novel was especially fascinating in that it details the establishment of Christianity and the Church or The Way as early Christians referred to it. In George's story Mary lives for many years after the death of Jesus, continuing to provoke the wrath of the Romans who wanted to squash the new faith and being arrested on several occasions. The last portion of the book deals with Mary's attempts to reunite with her daughter, Elisheba, who has been raised to see her mother as a lunatic, and her compulsion to spread the teachings of Jesus. As the numbers of converts grows, Mary assumes a new role, one in which she is revered herself for having walked with Jesus, for having heard his words. Although she remains modest and realistic about her role in a remarkable time in history, she stays faithful to her beliefs that Jesus was as he once revealed to a Samaritan woman, the Messiah.

Mary Called Magdalene is one of those books that haunts the reader long after finishing it. George's prose is lilting and rich to read. Her ability to portray Jesus so that he is seen as both human and divine takes a rare talent. If you are looking for an historical novel in which to get lost and wander through the paths of unique individuals who are helped to carve the future world, enjoy the work of Margaret George.




Beth Moroney, former English teacher and administrator in the Edison Public School District, specialized in teaching Creative Writing and Journalism. Recently Moroney published Significant Anniversaries of Holocaust/Genocide Education and Human/Civil Rights, available through the New Jersey Commission on the Holocaust. A passionate reader, Moroney is known for recommending literature to students, teachers, parents, and the general public for over forty years. Moroney can be contacted at

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


Morristown Happenings: Things to Do in Morristown This Weekend; July 13 - 15

July 13, 2018

MORRISTOWN, NJ - Jump for's the weekend! Don't let Friday the 13th scare you away, there are lots of fun things to do in and around town this weekend! Have a great weekend everyone!


Friday July 13

Spirit Animals Glassblowing Class; Morris County School of Glass; 9am - 11am

Mini Summer Camp: Woodsy Walkers; Great Swamp (Chatham); 10am - 11:30am

Tyke ...

Sparta Kiwanis Helps Fund Quinlan's Hero Club Endowment for Child Grief Counseling

July 21, 2018

SPARTA, NJ — The Hero Club at the Joseph T. Quinlan Bereavement Center is one step closer to reality having received a donation from the Sparta Kiwanis. John Quinlan, Director of the Karen Ann Quinlan Hospice foundation, presented the program to the club at their meeting at Homers restaurant. 

Kiwanis member Frank Cannistra introduced Quinlan and Diane Sebzda, Director of ...

Morristown Medical Center Health Pavilion Recognized with 2018 New Good Neighbor Award by the NJBIA

July 20, 2018

Atlantic Health System’s Morristown Medical Center Health Pavilion in Rockaway, New Jersey was recognized with the 2018 New Good Neighbor Award by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association on Tuesday.

The New Good Neighbor Award recognizes the companies, architects, builders and financial entities whose redevelopment projects have benefited their communities and improved New ...

Upcoming Events

Tue, July 24, 7:00 PM

Kinnelon Public Library, Kinnelon

Northern NJ Libertarian Party Monthly Meeting


Wed, July 25, 7:30 PM

Chatham United Methodist Church, Chatham

Masterwork’s Summer Sings Conclude with Verdi ...

Arts & Entertainment


Sat, July 28, 2:00 PM

Montville Animal Shelter, Montville

Summer Adoption Event at the Montville Animal ...

Home & Garden Other

To Our Current and Future Representatives

July 17, 2018

To Our Current and Future Representatives - Wherever They May Be:

We can never forget we are a nation of immigrants. 

We cannot fall prey to fear, ignorance and anger when we  have been historically driven by freedom and justice. 

We must have the courage and will to fight hate, bigotry and prejudice. 

We must not wake up to what we hoped was a bad dream and ...


AtlantiCast: Episode 18

On this week’s AtlantiCast, you’ll find out how accessing care at Atlantic Health System is now easier, more affordable and closer to home than ever, learn which item from the produce aisle could be the newest weapon against cancer, see what Atlantic Health System, the New York Times and Instagram all have in common and much more.



People I've Known and Been: Little by Little by Rich Little

People I've Known and Been: Little by Little by Rich Little (Dog Ear Publishing, 2015)


Rich Little is a national treasure; a living encyclopedia of movie stars, comedians, and former presidents all wrapped into one dynamic package. Recently, my husband and I had the good fortune to see Little perform at the Tropicana in Las Vegas, where he has been doing his uncanny ...

Lucia, Lucia by Adriani Trigiani

Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani (Ballentine Books, 2003)


If a summer romance novel is what you are craving to read as you sit by the pool or beach, Adriana Trigiani's Lucia, Lucia is a perfect choice. Set in 1950 New York City, the novel is about a young woman, Lucia Sartori, who is determined to have a career and be able to support herself, an unusual choice for a girl who was ...

Crowdfunding Options for Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses

Source: Many small start-up businesses and tech ventures in search of capital turn to popular online platforms for crowd fundraising of financial resources to get their concept off the ground and launched into market. Indiegogo, Kickstarter, and GoFundMe, to name a few, offer solutions in generating cash to fund new ideas. How do you get people to contribute to your cause?  Sam Burlum ...