People of the Books, January 2016: The Secret Magdalene: A Novel by Ki Longfellow


Welcome to the January 2016 People of the Books! This month we are reading The Secret Magdalene: A Novel, a novel about Mary Magdalene (Mariamne in the book). We will meet on Saturday, January 16, 10:00 AM at Kaldi’s Coffee in Kirkwood, MO (add this event to your calendar).

Get the book at WorldcatAmazon, Kobo, or Google Books.

Plot Summary:

From “Raised like sisters, Mariamne and Salome are indulged with riches, position, and learning-a rare thing for females in Jerusalem. But Mariamne has a further gift: an illness has left her with visions; she has the power of prophecy. It is her prophesying that drives the two girls to flee to Egypt, where they study philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy in the Great Library of Alexandria.

After seven years they return to a Judaea where many now believe John the Baptizer is the messiah. Salome too begins to believe, but Mariamne, now called Magdalene, is drawn to his cousin, Yeshu’a, a man touched by the divine in the same way she was during her days of illness. Together they speak of sharing their direct experience of God; but Yeshu’a unexpectedly gains a reputation as a healer, and as the ill and the troubled flock to him, he and Magdalene are forced to make a terrible decision.

This radical retelling of the greatest story ever told brings Mary Magdalene to life – not as a prostitute or demon-possessed – but as an educated woman who was truly the ‘apostle to the apostles.'”

Contextual supplemental materials:

“Philo Judaeus: Jewish Philosopher.” Encyclopedia Britannica, October 19, 2015.

Biblical Archaeology Society Staff. “Was Mary Magdalene Wife of Jesus? Was Mary Magdalene a Prostitute?” Bible History Daily, September 25, 2015.

Carroll, James. “Who Was Mary Magdalene?” Smithsonian Magazine, June 2006.

Discussion questions:

  1. How does this book inform, add to, or otherwise develop faith in myself and others?
  2. What are the ways in which this book may enhance intellectual understanding of faith in the broader theological world, my faith community, and my own life?
  3. Does this book inform your understanding of your call to do God’s work in the world in terms of activism, advocacy, and/or some other form of mission? If so, how?
  4. Where are the specific places in the book that you see the above things?
  5. What was your perception of Mary Magdalene previously? Has it changed after reading the book? If so, how?
  6. Does the plot of this book differ from your understanding of Mary Magdalene, Jesus, and the disciples? If so, how?
  7. Does the plot of this book differ from what you know about the Bible and its history? If so, how?
  8. What is gnosis?
  9. Why do you think that Ms. Longfellow included a bibliography at the end of her book?
  10. How or how not is religion changed by the stories we tell about it? Do you believe that current retellings of ancient events enhance our understanding and experience of religion? Why or why not?
  11. Sometimes fiction may contain as much truth as non-fiction. Are there any truths you encountered as you read this novel?
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Rebecca is a theological librarian (M.Div., Eden Theological Seminary; M.A., I.S.L.T., University of Missouri - Columbia) from St. Louis, MO with an interest in the intersection of theological and religious literacies and metaliteracy in the lives of all people, especially those of faith. Some of her Big Life Questions are "How do people of faith explore their faith questions; how can I support that exploration with proven and emerging educational strategies, research processes, and quality resources; and so informed, decisively act as disciples of Jesus in the real world in which we live?"

2 thoughts on “People of the Books, January 2016: The Secret Magdalene: A Novel by Ki Longfellow

  1. I love your page and am interested in the book club. I’m not sure if I can make it this coming Saturday. What book have you chosen for next month? I want to get started.