I don't think that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were husband and wife. However, I was intrigued by June's question about what their marriage would mean to my faith. Readers may think of other stories of Jesus' marriage and family - such as Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code - which may have left them, as they did me, unconvinced and feeling let down. But I enjoyed reading this book. I was particularly intrigued by how June depicted the Gospel characters and the relationships among them, from Simon Peter to Zacchaeus. I'm grateful to June for posing the question and for taking the time for an interview about the novel.
Rabboni, My Love is available in ebook format for any device/distributor (e.g., Kindle and Kobo) and in print from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or by request in bookstores world wide. June can be visited at her website, Google+ and Facebook.
How were you inspired to write Rabboni, My Love?
On a New Year's Eve with Christmas carols and greeting card messages of "Peace on Earth"...amid news of conflicts in every country throughout the world, with the church in disarray over sexual issues and scandals, I had an overwhelming feeling of sadness as I almost heard Jesus say, "All I ever wanted was to bring peace on earth..."
Did you do Biblical research to prepare for writing the novel?
I have studied the Bible with diverse teachers all of my life... and it only intensified as I began to write. With various translations, I poured through all of the gospels again and again, the early letters of Paul, the Book of Acts, and of course the Books of Moses, The Prophets, the Psalms and wisdom books.
You depict Jesus as a well-off, established rabbi and member of the Sanhedrin, who counts among his friends Caiaphas the High Priest and even Pontius Pilate. Robert Graves is the only other "Jesus novelist" I can think of who has a Jesus so tied to the establishment. What led you to make this choice for your Jesus character?
I looked at the evidence in each of the Gospels. In Matthew, Jesus is given rich gifts at his birth; in Luke, his pregnant mother was wealthy enough to travel from Galilee to Judea to spend several months with her close cousin (of a priestly line) Elizabeth and her husband, Zachariah (a priest). At twelve (the age for a Jewish boy to "bar mitzvah,"and become a man) Jesus is found comfortable in dialogue with rabbis in the temple school. In two gospels, Mark and John, Jesus is addressed, "Rabboni" which was the most honored title in the temple rabbinic school, reserved for a very few, the "rabbi's rabbi". Two gospels, Mathew and Mark have unnamed men who are offended at Jesus' teaching, ask if he isn't the son of the "technon", a Greek word which is familiar as the root of many English words today, but not at the time of the King James translation. It in turn may have been based on the Hebrew conflation of "wise-hearted/wisdom" with craftsman's skill/insight/understanding (see Robert Alter's note on Exodus 28:3 in his translation of The Five Books of Moses). In this case, the comment may have been another complaint about Jesus' teaching the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law as his father did/ brought him up to do. While I remembered the picture of Jesus at a carpenter's bench in my childhood Bible Story book, none of Jesus' parables or stories seem to grow out of years of carpentry, but many out of acquaintance with wealthy landowners and agricultural endeavors. He is repeatedly sought out and questioned by scribes and scholars of both major rabbinic schools (Hillel and Shimei), Pharisees and Sadducees who find him important enough to travel from Jerusalem to Galilee to question him.
According to John, Jesus was anointed for his sacrificial mission with oil worth a year's wages for a labourer. How could Mary afford it and he accept it? What was Joseph of Arimethea's relationship to Jesus that would entitle him to ask for Jesus' body, and what was his relationship to Pilate to have access to Pilate, and ask for an exception to normal procedure which would have been to throw crucified bodies in a common grave? What were Jesus' and Joseph's relationships to Nicodemus to involve him in the retrieval and care of Jesus' body when all of his male disciples were hiding in fear? To answer all of these clues and questions, I felt comfortable beginning the story with Jesus (Joshua) an honoured rabbi, part of a large, extended, wealthy family. The question for me then was what could have happened to Jesus to cause him to leave this "heavenly/privileged" life to teach and care for the poor?
You call Jesus "Joshua" in your book, and of course in Hebrew and Aramaic he and the hero of the Old Testament in fact have the same name - "Jesus" is simply its hellenized form. What do you think we miss when it's not clear that he and Joshua of Exodus and Conquest fame share the same name?
I think we miss so much if we don't understand the allusion to Joshua's role in Exodus when in the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph was directed by an angel to give his promised son the famous name. In Exodus, Joshua is the young man who accompanies Moses up the mountain to meet the God who simply "Is" without shape, almost beyond imagination, but powerful, omnipresent, limiting, communicating, caring, loving, and saving. Joshua did not play a significant role in the Exodus journey other than to support Moses until Moses led the people to the edge of the "Promised Land" and then he became the leader. Moses could "see" the Promised Land but could not enter it due to an incident on the way in which he gave himself credit, rather than acknowledging God, for supplying life-giving water to the people. God told him he wouldn’t be able to enter the Promised Land, and then chose Joshua to lead the former slaves (the children of God) into the "Promised Land"... and Joshua did.
In the Gospels and Rabboni, My Love, we see Joshua (Jesus) playing a similar role. He was a faithful, observant, teacher and follower of the law given through Moses. When the institution of the Temple (priests and rabbis), representing Moses in the Exodus story, took control of releasing God’s love and forgiveness (the water of life) for a price in order to increase their own glory, importance, and power (as Moses had done) while the people languished in oppression and conflict, the Temple could not lead the people into the “Promised Land.” Joshua (Jesus) was “chosen”. He saw, with the prophets, that mercy and justice were what God desired: love (the water of life) and forgiveness (God's gifts, not the Temple's) which would sustain people on the way to the land flowing with milk and honey, abundance...enough to share with everyone.. and ultimately to peace. Joshua (Jesus) was chosen, (anointed) to lead the children of God, formerly slaves to the fear of power (Empire and Temple) into the "Promised Land"... and Joshua (Jesus) did.
Any novel about Jesus can never be "just" a work of fiction, as it will always be read with the eyes of faith. What do you think your portrayal of Jesus as a husband and father brings to the orthodox Christian understanding of him? How does it challenge? How does it illuminate?
I think Jesus, as he is portrayed in Rabboni, My Love, a husband and father, adds to our orthodox view that he was a country teacher opposed to the establishment who was sacrificed for us, by suggesting more facets to his life with which we can identify. It suggests motivations and connections to some of the stories which make them flow with more understanding of their purpose and how they fit into the whole picture of where he was heading and what an enormous cost it was to sacrifice himself for others.
When we see a fully developed Jesus, in loving partnership with his wife, Mary, asking us to follow him, we are challenged to follow in the midst of our intimate relationships... neither leaving them behind nor finding in them excuses for not following the way of peace... forgiving, sharing whatever we can, loving those who come into our lives.
Rabboni, My Love illuminates this fuller understanding as we see Jesus in the context of a functioning, supportive family not withdrawing into the comfort of that life, but willing to fully engage in public life as well. Jesus maintains his relationships with the elite, beggars, and everyone in between, both men and women, foreigners and Jews, those he agrees with and those he disagrees with, all while loving and blessing his wife and children. He embraces both public and private life as he shows us the way to live mercifully and justly with our family and our neighbors, and even those we perceive as our enemies.
Your description of Mary Magdalene's actions and emotions on Easter morning is very vivid. How do you understand the Resurrection of Jesus?
I understand the resurrection of Jesus as it is portrayed in the Gospels... in a body that was recognizable at times and not at others, touchable, "feed-able", capable of speaking and communicating and doing tasks...and also capable of appearing and disappearing at will. This does not describe a four dimensional (three dimensions + time) body as we know it... not an example of a "near death experience" or "being brought back to a four dimensional body/life" as was the case with Lazarus who lived for many years after his resurrection in what is now Marseilles in the south of France according to tradition there.
For approaching these reported phenomena, I turn for a glimmer of understanding (or reinforced faith) to higher mathematics where open minded seekers of truth have discovered the possibilities of higher dimensions beyond the four of our normal awareness... and seek to describe the effects/affects of the higher dimensions. I can hardly wait to hear more of their new discoveries... but in the meantime, I remind myself that Jesus promised to "come again"... and that if I give even a cup of water to someone in need, I give it to Him. It makes me wonder how certain I can be of the true "identity" of those I encounter.
Thank you, June.
Thanks, Dan. Your questions have been thought provoking for me and I hope they will be for others, as well.