This is a very strong work, looking at the evolution of the legendary figure of Mary Magdalene over the centuries. From on the enigmatic disciple who features as the discoverer of Christ's tomb in the New Testament, the account moves through the medieval icon of the sinner saint, to the Magdalene's place in popular culture (not including the Da Vinci Code craze which was yet to come at the time of publicatin). It covers the subject in some depth, is well illustrated and well researched. It is heavy on substance and avoids conjecture or conspiracy theories.
The book has two flaws: firstly it takes for granted that Pope Gregory the Great was in error in identifying, or, as Haskins presumes, 'conflating' the character of Mary Magdalene with the penitent sinner from Luke's Gospel chapter 7 and the Mary of Bethany from John 11, both of whom were said to have anointed Christ's feet and wiped them with her hair. (I think this matter should still be treat as an open question. I have yet to find any ancient text placing Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany in the same place at the same time). Secondly the book dwells too heavily - and repetitively - on the Church's historical chauvinism. Haskins expresses the rather extremist view, that the Penitent Magdalene figure as promoted by the clergy, was a propaganda instrument, cynically used against her own gender. (Just how exactly does it advantage cynical men to encourage women to suppress their sexuality? One has to wonder.) It also seems rather inconsistent to refute the idea that the Magdalene could ever have been unchaste, and yet to embrace her as an archetype for sexually active yet still virtuous womanhood.
The author's work is overtly polemical and she becomes guilty of exploiting the Magdalene as propaganda in her own cause, the ordination of women in the modern Catholic Church. One may very well agree that this would be a positive development, but the book would function better as a history if it was less steeped in ideology. These things aside, this has to be one of the best books on the whole history of Magdalenian devotion, and is the essential history for anyone with an interest in the subject.
Incidentally it's ironic that the book discusses the controversy on whether there was one `Mary Magdalene' or three different women: there is only one book but it seems to have three titles! On the cover it is called `Mary Magdalen: The Essential History', whereas inside it is subtitled `Myth and Metaphor', and here on Amazon it is `Truth and Myth.' Odd.
I really wanted to read this book to devour all the knowledge hidden in this book. However , I found the writing style so heavy, boring and repetitive that I only got to a third of way through. Then I gave the book a scholarly friend of mine. I hope she manages to read the whole book...... I would like to read the book with all the info, however I think this book needs serious editing. please recommend similar books for me that are readable if you wish.