Kathleen McGowan discusses her novel about Jesus and Mary Magdalene--and clarifies reports that she's from their bloodline.
BY: Interview by Michael Kress
In the wake of the success of "The Da Vinci Code," a rash of novels have been published offering their own fictional speculation on the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene and the fate of offspring they may have had. Among them, Kathleen McGowan's "The Expected One" stands out for the author's claim that the main character, a journalist who uncovers the truth about Mary Magdalene, is based on her own experiences--including the discovery that her family is connected with the bloodline of Jesus and Mary. In an interview with Beliefnet, McGowan clarifies that claim about her ancestry, describes the spiritual implications of believing Jesus was a father, and discusses her fascination with Mary Magdalene.
Why you think so many people are so interested in Mary Magdalene?
I think that there are two reasons. The first is what Mary Magdalene can teach us about Jesus. I think there’s an intense curiosity about this idea because if this is true, what insight does this give us into who Jesus really was? When you think about it, there’s so little that we have definitively about who Jesus really was. And so, I think this idea of who Mary Magdalene could have been in his life really makes everyone start asking a lot of "what if?" questions: What does this tell us about Jesus, and does this change anything about what we believe about him? Does it enhance it, which is what I certainly believe, or not?
The other piece of it, which I think is also extremely important, is who Mary Magdalene is and what she can mean to all of us. For me, Mary Magdalene became unequivocally my hero. If we look at these things as true, which, of course, I certainly do, and believe with all my heart that she was married to Jesus, that she was his legal wife, that she was his partner spiritually and the mother of his children--then what does that tell us about her as a woman, what she had to go through during this period of time, a woman who watched her husband murdered, a woman who then had to raise children on her own.
She’s the iconic spiritual single mother. A lot of what this book is about is this idea that Mary Magdalene landed in France and really formed the first Christian communities in Western Europe. And that, to me, just turns her into this incredible female heroic figure.
And I think a lot of women, specifically, are identifying with this, that Mary Magdalene represents this idea that women have been powerful forces in the spiritual world for thousands of years and it’s time to remember that and to let them come back into the light because they were kept in the darkness for such a long time.
What does all this teach us about Jesus? You said it raises the question of "does it change anything?"--does it?
Where my book is unique from the other Magdalene literature out there is I take the point of view that if Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, it doesn’t change anything in terms of how we think of him today. There has been a trend in Magdalene scholarship and literature that if you believe that Mary Magdalene may have been married to Jesus, then you also believe that Jesus was just a man and, therefore, that Jesus survived the crucifixion. Those theories have tended to go together.
But I want to say emphatically that I do not believe that. I believe that Jesus is all of these things that we celebrate in terms of Lord and Savior. I believe that Jesus performed miracles, and I certainly believe and celebrate in the book the power and the importance of the resurrection.
So for me, this idea of Jesus being committed and in love with someone who is his partner and a loving father just enhances everything that we know about him. And the same is true for my very Catholic husband. And I’ve had some very interesting conversations with Catholic men recently when I was in Ireland about this idea and they all said this idea that Jesus may have been as committed to his wife and his family as they are makes him more acceptable to them and they don’t believe it in any way threatens their faith.
So, you’re presenting a very different, a different take on it than what Dan Brown offered.
A very different take. I believe I am the first person to ever say in writing that Jesus was married, Jesus had children, and yet, Jesus is still Jesus, and, he still died on the cross and he still was resurrected. And the basic premises of Christianity are completely intact within this story.
Why present the story as a novel as opposed to as history? To what extent is it fiction?
In 1997 I wrote a book proposal to present this book as non-fiction and people literally laughed at me in the publishing world and said, first of all, no one is ever going to publish a book about the idea that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus. Which, of course, now is kind of funny. And two, the only way you’re ever going to get a book like this published as non-fiction by any reputable publisher is if you are lecturing at a university or you have a doctorate after your name.
But the interesting thing about this, and the poetic irony in all of it, is once I made a decision to write it as fiction, I had so much more freedom to tell the truth, because there were things that I could include in fiction that I could never include in non-fiction.
Such as what?
When you’re writing non-fiction, you have to say, well, this is this source and this came from here. And there are certain things that I can’t reveal in terms of where I got them. There are certain sources that I have to this day that I’m still working with that are still providing important information for me in Europe that I can’t reveal.
Because this information is still very, very dangerous for some of these people. So, it gave me the freedom to include that information in the telling of the story, which made the story far more complete than I ever could have done with non-fiction.
But, also, as my own story became more and more fascinating and these extraordinary things happened to me, I realized that I needed to tell my story at the same time that I was telling Mary Magdalene’s story. And doing it as fiction gave me the freedom to do that and to weave those two stories together because my journey has been amazing.
And so, in the book, my heroine has a lot of extraordinary experiences--psychic experiences, dreams, visions, unexplained supernatural events. And all of those things happened to me and I wanted to include them, which was a very risky thing and still is. To even talk about the fact that you have dreams or visions in the academic world is to immediately be labeled as a kook and as someone who is not credible.
How long have you been having these experiences?
The first one that I can remember happened about 1993, and I remember because it was right around my 30th birthday. It was what ultimately led me to make the decision that I needed to really focus on Mary Magdalene because there was just this sort of intensity building in my belief system that I had, you know, I had an obligation to tell her story. And the more I had these experiences, the more clear that became to me.
And that’s one of the things that kept me going through some very tough times. There’s a lot of sacrifice along this path. This kind of research is expensive, it’s time consuming, it’s exhausting. And at the same time while this is happening, I’m raising a family. I have three kids. I was working full-time up until 1996 and some of the times in between because, you know, you have to survive along the way, and, you know, doing everything. We sold a car and I sold my shoes and my clothes on eBay. I went on a game show to win enough money to go back to Jerusalem because I couldn’t afford to continue my research. What keeps you going is your absolute faith that you have to do this. And that’s what happened to me.
That's a good segue to talking about your own ancestral connection to Jesus and Mary. Obviously it is, to say the least, a difficult thing for people to understand.
The most important thing I need to say is that the critics of my book are the people who have not read it. Once people read it and they realize I’m not saying any of those things and it’s a very spiritual book, people tend to have a very different point of view of me and of the book.
What I’m saying is this: If there is a bloodline and there were children--which is absolutely what I believe--that, given 2,000 years of population, there would be millions of descendants. And that is what I think is interesting. I think this idea that anybody reading this or listening to this or out there that you pass on the street, whether it’s the homeless guy on the corner or the person in the grocery store, any of those people could be descendants.
That’s what I think is interesting. And that’s one of the things that I think is worth exploring because, again, that’s a "what if?" question. If that’s true, what does it mean? Does it change anything? Does it affect the way we treat each other? If you think that the guy who cut you off on the freeway might be descended from Jesus, does it alter the way you feel about that person, or not?
In terms of my own family connection, what I did discover--and I had no idea until I was deeply immersed in this, because I came from a very strong Irish traditional family and I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the fact that I have French blood on one side--but, I discovered that my grandmother’s maiden name, Pascal, which is also the name that I use for my character, has a very fascinating family connection to the bloodline.
And as I researched, I was told stories of the Pascal lineage and I incorporated that into the book because it was so interesting.
The idea of bloodline connection is a traditional one. There are a lot of families in Europe--and now certainly in America--that are associated with this idea of descent and bloodline tradition. But it’s not a question of, "Oh, I have a genealogy that dates back to Jesus." Such a thing never exists. It’s impossible to do that because those kinds of records weren’t kept in the early part of our history.
Anyone who says that they can definitively prove their genealogy back to this lineage is lying. It can’t be done. But, what we can do is we can say, we know that these family names have had associations for hundreds or even more years and that’s a starting point.
What do you mean by saying the Pascal family name has an association with the bloodline?
It’s related to the Cather heresies of the 13th century and the people who survived that. The church launched a crusade against the Cather people at the end of the 12th century and into the 13th century. It’s the only time in history that the church actually launched a crusade against other Christians and they massacred almost a million people over nearly a century of time. It was a complete genocide. It was an absolute attempt to eradicate this heresy in France.
And the heresy was these people believed and could prove that they were descended from Jesus and Mary Magdalene and that they carried on the pure teachings of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. And that’s why a million people were wiped out and people don’t even know that this happened, even though it’s extremely well-documented.
So, there are families who survived this massacre and who went and settled in other parts of Europe and carried on the tradition. And, ultimately, I discovered what some of those family names were, and my family was one of those, the Pascal family.
How does this information make you look at people differently?
Ultimately, the idea of being a descendant of Jesus and Mary Magdalene has nothing to do with biology. It’s not about genetics. It’s not about family. It’s not about the blood. It’s about the spirit. And I believe that anyone who can embrace what these people were teaching together, which is love and faith and charity and family and commitment and tolerance. Tolerance is the big one, right? No judgment and that the Kingdom of God belongs to everybody.
If you can believe in those principles, then you are a descendant of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, no matter what your bloodline is.
Could you tell me a little bit about your own faith life?
There was a period in my teens when I would have never considered myself a Christian on any level. I wasn’t even sure I believed in God. So, this process has changed me dramatically. I would call myself a devoted Christian, although I’m not a traditional one by any means, because I do believe these things are not considered traditional.
And it’s been very interesting for me being married to a devout Catholic. My husband’s from a small farming community in Ireland where the church is the focal point of everyone’s life and you attend mass actually more than once a week. I’ve always celebrated his Catholic traditions with him. We were married in the church, and our kids were baptized, and we go to Mass on holy days. We used to go a lot more frequently, although, I will say that as my research has intensified over the last few years, that's become increasingly hard for me to do, as I hear things--I hear Mass being used for political purposes far more often than spiritual purposes, and that has become a very difficult thing for me to accept.
So, it’s harder for me now to attend a Catholic service than it used to be because I hear a lot of things that don’t ring true to me. You can go to any church, any Catholic church in the world, and still hear a sermon about Mary Magdalene being a prostitute and a fallen woman, despite the fact that the Vatican recanted that in 1969. So, those are all things that I find difficult.
Most of all, I would say that Jesus and Mary Magdalene remain my spiritual icons and my teachers and who I hope to learn from and just taking their basic principles of love and faith and forgiveness and commitment. That’s what I try to hang on to.
Do you have a favorite prayer?
The funny thing is that, for me, and the Cather people, the people who believe that they were descended from Jesus and Mary Magdalene, had only one tenet in their entire doctrine, and that was the Lord’s Prayer. And they said it with just an absolute commitment every day, and it wasn’t something that was said by rote. It was something that they practiced every line of it, and specifically, the line, "on earth as it is in heaven." So, that is the prayer that I would definitely say.
But, the Lord’s Prayer is definitely, for me, the center point. We know that Jesus taught it. We know that he taught it to the masses, and I really believe that there’s so much to it that in that very simple, beautiful, extraordinary prayer, he gave us the keys to everything we need to be happy. You know, forgive us our trespasses and forgive others and create life on earth as it is in heaven, and I think that’s a beautiful thing.