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A Controversial Look at Some Unsung Women - an Editorial Review of "Acts of the Women"

Author Bio:

Patrick W. Andersen enjoyed an award-winning career as a journalist and editor. His debut novel, Second Born, garnered critical acclaim for its reimagining of the early life of Jesus. He and his wife Marina live in San Francisco, California.

Editorial Review:

DISCLAIMER: This book does not reflect the thoughts and opinions of The Historical Fiction Company, and was judged on the standard points as set out in the review guidelines ONLY. Please be advised that this is a controversial book to many who uphold Biblical beliefs and was not reviewed by the CEO of The Historical Fiction Company. For fans of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” or Colm Toibin’s “The Testament of Mary”, this follows the same sort of premise.

Biblical scholars and general readers alike are able to read their fill of the Christian Message and the various Acts of the Apostles contained in the New Testament in full and detailed descriptions. It is fair to say that references to women in the early Christian Church, on the other hand, are more often sparse and somewhat fleeting. In his often controversial ''Acts of the Women'' Patrick Andersen provokes criticism by firstly stressing the 'human' rather than the Divine nature of Jesus and, central to this novel of the early Christian Church and its diaspora of ideas and influences far beyond the place of its creation in the Middle East to India and France, Greece and the islands of Great Britain, the overwhelming influence of the largely unsung women involved. And these are strong and extraordinary women indeed!

Pious and consoling, strong and determined, even manipulative, Andersen presents these women in the first person throughout the often confusing and lengthy weaving of his tale in a complex tapestry of events at which they themselves are present and which they themselves narrate. As a word of caution to the reader, Andersen has provided a principal 'who's who' list of the major characters of the book and their relationship, one unto the other, in the story and it is very prudent to acquaint oneself with this before embarking upon this provoking journey. Certainly, Andersen's biblical and intensely loyal women are given free rein to reveal their often volatile and colourful personalities. Others are cool, thoughtful and appraising. One, refreshingly, is an out and out 'gold digger'. They are all, in their different ways, strong; and they all shape and influence events!

This aspect of the book becomes obvious from the very start. Jesus is the second oldest of the four sons of Joseph and Miriam, who also have two daughters. Jesus has been seized, beaten and seemingly executed by Roman soldiers and, understandably, the other members of the family are in a state of utter shock and grief. It is Mary, called 'The Migdal', the wife of Judas, the third son, who steps forward to take command - Mary, who is more commonly known to us as Mary 'Magdalene':

When I married her son Judas, she [Miriam, the mother of Jesus] taught me how to hold my own against men. ''Look them straight in the eye and never waiver,'' she had told me. ''No matter what they say or how loudly they yell, never lower your eyes."

In fact, there are frequent, often exhilarating, examples of this "girl power" throughout the book. The women are always, in one form or another, one step above and one step ahead of the men. Be they patronising, loving and supportive, condescending and amusingly tolerant, or downright rude and aggressive, they are undeniably one step above and one step ahead of the men. Here is that same Mary, on the inability of men to ask for travelling directions:

"I had heard him and other men spout this sort of nonsense countless times before, so I knew better than to object. Heaven forbid that they should ever ask for directions."

These observations are both fresh and refreshing; and here is Susanna [the second daughter of Miriam], speaking of the need to dominate at all times: "Mom had always taught us girls to remain aloof around men no matter how much we admired them; because that was the basis for our control of them later. Make them come begging, and then grant them only a fraction of what they want so they keep begging. And make them fear that you will take away even that small fraction if they don't submit to you."

The text is peppered with such comments and beliefs throughout, and is all the better for it.

Andersen, besides revealing distinctly feminist sympathies, also reveals a clear knowledge and understanding of the history and the various doctrinal controversies of the early Christian Church. He expresses a keen interest in and urges a reader to explore in detail the very nature of the Christ. This argument - the 'divinity' or the 'humanity' of Christ - has kept theologians happily [and not so happily] occupied for centuries past and thousands have died or been persecuted for taking views contrary to the prevailing official belief for the same period of time. Andersen, who will doubtless come in for a great deal of criticism, takes great pains to display the very 'humanity' of Jesus rather than his 'divinity'. Susanna speaks of this aspect of Jesus: "Just standing next to this presence, I felt I was gazing into a bottomless well of vast intelligence and compassion. I felt like this was my father and Mother and all of my nation holding me. It sounds so huge, but like I said, even these words are inadequate. It was much bigger than that."

Mary, ''the Migdal'' makes much the same point, preaching to a packed amphitheatre in Alexandria: ''Do not honour me. For I am a lowly maid. And though they are heroes, do not honour my husband [Judas] and his brothers, for they are merely men. Rather, honour the Father, who works through us to gather you to himself.''

Andersen makes this point of humanity frequently, occasionally provocatively, but always with humour. Yes, Jesus has a mysterious power. He is gifted beyond the comprehension of ordinary men [and this, after all, is why people follow him first in their hundreds and then in their thousands] but, Andersen stresses, he is nonetheless human. Indeed, Andersen takes great pains to emphasize this.

This is a reason why this reviewer, for one, finds the book interesting. In particular, we are drawn to the fascinating figure of Saul the tentmaker, better known to us as Saint Paul of Tarsus; the rigid, single minded and highly dogmatic architect of much of the subsequent theological architecture of Christianity. While we are told that Jesus could be highly irritating, it is the extremely antipathetic figure of Paul who stresses the Divine. It is this very theme that is central to the book. So, as Jesus and his kin, and all those strong and supportive and very determined women fan out and spread ''the Way'' and their simple 'Christian Faith' in their Christian diaspora to India, to France and beyond, here is the doctrinaire Paul preaching and writing to non Jewish 'gentiles' in the settled Imperial world, even at the moment of his death, stressing the divine. He has only met Jesus once [and then, unknowingly] and he is rabidly dogmatic about this. Jesus is Divine.

Paul and the immediate followers and relatives of Jesus could not be more at variance with each other. Paul's teachings could not be more categoric: "The man you know as Jesus was revealed to me in a vision as the Eternal Son of God. He is the Anointed One. Or, as the Greeks call him, the Christos. And my followers call themselves Christians in his honour.

James, the 'Righteous', Jesus' own brother, is quite naturally a little perplexed by this, stating: "Paul says he [Jesus] is the Son of God. Sometimes he seems to say my brother was God himself. That's funny, because I remember wrestling and calling him (some names) quite a few times when we were boys growing up. So, if he's God, I'm in big trouble."

As the book progresses and as the small 'Christian' communities, wherever they be, begin to grow and prosper under the direction of their strong and forceful women, dogmas grow, dogmas clash, and form into a subtle blend of highly differing schools of thought, inherited and believed in by people who never knew Jesus the man. "Acts of the Women" covers a great deal of territory, geographically, and in points of faith.

It will certainly not be to everybody's taste, and is very controversial; however, the writing, research, and technical aspect merit garners four stars from The Historical Fiction Company.


Patrick Andersen
Patrick Andersen
Jul 31, 2022

Forgive this author for commenting on the thoughtful review above. Jonathan Poletti has written an insightful essay on the woman we know as Mary Magadelene. He also suggests she was the Migdal, or the Tower, and that her position as the leading apostle has been mostly erased from Christianity for 2,000 years. A link is below.

--Patrick W. Andersen


Good review of a book that threatens to let some fresh air into the Bible Story tradition. Mazel tov.

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