of God : The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam
by Karen Armstrong
Armstrong, a British journalist and former nun, guides us along
one of the most elusive and fascinating quests of all time--the
search for God. Like all beloved historians, Armstrong entertains
us with deft storytelling, astounding research, and makes us feel
a greater appreciation for the present because we better understand
our past. Be warned: A History of God is not a tidy linear history.
Rather, we learn that the definition of God is constantly being
repeated, altered, discarded, and resurrected through the ages,
responding to its followers' practical concerns rather than to mystical
mandates. Armstrong also shows us how Judaism, Christianity, and
Islam have overlapped and influenced one another, gently challenging
the secularist history of each of these religions. --Gail Hudson
this book: A History of God
The Hebrew Goddess
by Ralph Patai
The Bible gives the impression that all ancient Jews shared a
common belief system ... with only an occasional group straying
from the fold. But the evidence paints a different picture. As Dr.
Patai states, "... it would be strange if the Hebrew-Jewish religion,
which flourished for centuries in a region of intensive goddess
cults, had remained immune to them." Archaeologists have uncovered
Hebrew settlements where the goddesses Asherah and Astarte-Anath
were routinely worshipped. And in fact, we find that for about 3,000
years, the Hebrews worshipped female deities which were later eradicated
only by extreme pressure of the male-dominated priesthood.
And then there's the matter of the Cherubim that sat atop the
Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. Fashioned by Phoenician
craftsmen for Solomon and Ahab, an ivory tablet shows two winged
females facing each other. And one tablet shows male and female
members of the Cherubim embracing in an explicitly sexual position
that embarrassed later Jewish historians ... and even the pagans
were shocked when they saw it for the first time.
This cult of the feminine goddess, though often repressed, remained
a part of the faith of the Jewish people. Goddesses answered the
need for mother, lover, queen, intercessor ... and even today, lingers
cryptically in the traditional Hebrew Sabbath invocation.
Reviewer: utnapishtim from St. Mary's
County, Maryland, USA
Order this book: The Hebrew Goddess
Called Magdalene, a novel by Margaret George
Due to the popularity of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, all things
Magdalene have recently seen a resurgence. This book, written in
2002, is no exception. Because George ignores the "Magdalene was
a prostitute" hypothesis, I decided to check it out. But within
the first few pages, I was disappointed.
George has decided to focus on certain legends of the Magdalene,
with some guesses as to her life as based on the Bible and an understanding
of Jewish customs of the time. In the process, she misses the opportunity
to disclose more esoteric information. Of course, she also avoids
George's version of the Magdalene's life starts with her life
in Magdala, on the Sea of Galilee. She makes some questionable historical
assertions in the process: she claims the Ammonites lived in the
area of Magdala (most historians believe they stayed east of the
Jordan River); that Mary Magdalene (to whom I will refer from here
as MM) was of the tribe of Naphtali, which was one of the lost tribes
(about 750 years earlier!). The town of Nazareth was said to exist
(actually it wasn't founded until after Jesus' death), and George
consistently mixes up the phrases "Nazarene"--from Nazareth--and
"Nazarean"--part of the sect of the Nazareans. (To George's defense,
this was probably a difficulty for even the writers of the New Testament,
which is why Nazareth is said to exist at the time of Jesus.) MM
was shown as a young wife and mother from a strictly observant Jewish
family who was possessed by demons after finding a statue called
Ashara (obviously a reference to the goddess Asherah). Pagans will
obviously object to the idea that a statue causes demonic possession;
Jungians would say that the demons are expressions of our own unconscious
fears (in this case caused by the strict adherence to the Law, which
claims that those who own idols will suffer terribly).
Jesus cures MM of the demonic possession, and she becomes one
of his disciples. Her family disowns her, and she loses contact
with her daughter. George reconstructs the synoptic gospels with
irregularity, sometimes sticking with a general chronology, sometimes
changing things around to fit the story (for example, she places
the Beatitudes toward the end of Jesus' ministry). In the process
a few rather silly things are invented. Judas proposes to MM. An
unnamed woman anoints Jesus. MM and Joanna (another disciple of
Jesus whose husband was one of Herod's stewards) spy on Judas when
he goes to meet with Sanhedrin officials to betray Jesus. Later,
MM was supposedly flogged by the Sanhedrin, at the same time as
One problem in reconstructing the life of MM is that she is not
mentioned in the book of Acts. So is this because of Luke's misogyny,
or because she wasn't in Jerusalem at all? Luke has a very positive
attitude toward Mary Theotokos, and claims in the book of Acts that
the daughters of Philip could prophesy. So he wasn't a thorough-going
misogynist. The other option is that MM had left the scene completely.
George doesn't seem to like this theory, and so doesn't follow up
on any of the many legends leading to France. She instead leaves
her in Jerusalem until the Roman armies were at the doorstep, then
fleeing with other believers to Pella (where she is one of the leaders).
Finally she ends up in Ephesus with John, and dies there. There
is a legend that MM was buried in Ephesus, which George followed.
I can't totally knock this book. George does aptly describe the
plight of women in Judaism, and especially the difficulties encountered
by MM as a leading apostle (and a female). There is some indication
of esoteric wisdom as well. She quotes Jesus as saying, "Now you
have become a different way" (page 272). MM says, "Our baptism is
of initiation, not repentance" (page 593). George also has MM mentioning
catechumens (with an "s" on the end).
On a personal level, I can relate to George's description of MM
leaving her family behind to follow Jesus. I have wondered if I
will have to leave my daughter behind, to be in the primary custody
of my husband in case of a divorce. (He has threatened to sue for
custody if I file for divorce, so I have to keep my beliefs secret
to keep him from doing that.) Reading George's version of MM's life
has helped me work through some of those fears.
In conclusion, the historical difficulties and George's choice
of which legends to follow make this a disappointing read for those
with an esoteric bent.
written by initiate Lady Deborah R+C
Home | Site
Directory | Back to
me with a book review for this page.