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Authors: Beatrice Gormley

Tags: #Young Adult, #Historical

Poisoned Honey: A Story of Mary Magdalene

BOOK: Poisoned Honey: A Story of Mary Magdalene
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I would like to thank Daniel Ullucci, the scholar who read and commented on
Poisoned Honey
in manuscript
.

I also thank Sasha Helper, M.D., for pointing me to valuable information about hallucinations in childhood
.

To Jeanie

PROLOGUE
WHAT IS MY MISSION?

I was possessed. Possessed “with seven demons,” as they say. That means as possessed as you can possibly be. Possessed, body and soul.

Now I am healed. Instead of being chained in some lonely place like a wild beast, I’m back in my family’s house, fully clothed and in my right mind. I’m grateful for each simple blessing. Thanks be for the taste of bread dipped in olive oil at suppertime! Thanks be for the sound of voices—
human
voices—in the house at daybreak!

But what now? What about the mission that was revealed to me?

In the moment of my healing, when the rabbi drove the demons from my body, I caught a glimpse of the kingdom of
heaven on earth. Rabbi Yeshua looked at me with eyes of love, and I understood that the Lord loves each person that way. I thought the whole world was transformed.

But the world was not transformed. My brother had not glimpsed the heavenly kingdom. He wasn’t even interested in hearing about it. Neither was my mother or, of course, my uncle. They’re relieved that I’m healed, but now they expect me to take up my part in their household without further fuss. And they expect me to leave quietly, before long, for the household of whatever husband they find for me.

Am I to follow the path trod by my mother, my grandmother, my cousins, my sister—by every woman I know? Could it be that this ordinary path of women is itself the “high purpose” hinted at in my visions and dreams? Was it for this that my soul soared on eagle’s wings, and that the prophet Miryam appeared to me?

No. No!

I am bewildered. And I am afraid. The demons aren’t really gone. I don’t hear their voices … yet. But I sense them lurking silently. If I abandon my mission, will that be the signal for them to move back in?

I don’t know what to do. If Rabbi Yeshua were here, I would plead again, “Help me.”

ONE
A SPARROW FALLS

The first “voice” I heard was a sparrow’s. So I’ll begin my story with a sparrow falling—with the murder of a friend.

I was nine years old, growing up in the town of Magdala, where Mount Arbel casts its shadow onto Lake Gennesaret. When I was a young girl, Herod Antipas had been ruler of Galilee for many years. My family, though, had been in the sardine-packing business for generations. We were known for high-quality salted fish long before Antipas’s father, Herod the Great, became king of Greater Judea, and even long before the Roman armies tramped into our land.

My name was Mariamne, which is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Miryam, and my family called me Mari. I lived with my father, Tobias; my mother, Tabitha; my
widowed grandmother, Abigail; my older brother, Alexandros; and my younger sister, Chloe. We had our own house, but we shared the walled courtyard with my uncle and his family. As my grandmother’s elder son, my father was head of the family group.

One morning, as the sun was coming up across the lake and my father was saying morning prayers on the roof terrace, I took grain to the courtyard to feed the chickens. It was important to give them just the right amount of grain. If we didn’t give them enough, they’d try to escape to find food somewhere else. If we gave them too much, they wouldn’t search for the bugs we wanted them to eat.

I tried to give each chicken its fair share, although that wasn’t easy. There was one hen that the others pushed aside, for no reason that I could see. There was a sore on her neck where the others had pecked her. After I gave the flock their grain, I dropped a handful right in front of the pecked hen.

As the chickens gathered clucking around my feet, a sparrow flew into the courtyard. He stayed just out of reach of the chickens, several times his size. He was a neat, pert little bird, and his bold stare made me smile.
Give me some, too
, he seemed to say.
I’m hungry
. I threw a few seeds his way, and he gobbled them up before the chickens could run over to them.
Many thanks!
he seemed to say.

“You’re welcome, sparrow,” I said. I was so charmed by the little fellow that I didn’t notice my brother, Alexandros, on the stairs behind me with his slingshot. I heard a whirr, then a sickening thump as a pebble struck the sparrow. The pebble clattered on the courtyard flagstones, and my sparrow fell lifeless.

“Got him, the little thief!” exclaimed my brother.

I screamed at him; I ran to Imma, our mother, with the sparrow’s broken body. “Look what Alexandros did! On purpose! He’s a
murderer.”

Alexandros ran after me to tell his side of the story. “But Mari was feeding the chickens’ grain to the sparrows!”

Of course, our mother took Alexandros’s side. She scolded me for giving good food to a wild bird, and she told me it was ridiculous to call the death of a sparrow murder. “If we grieved every time a sparrow falls,” she said sternly, “we’d be in sackcloth all the time.”

I saw that it was no use, and I hated Alexandros so much, I couldn’t stand to look at him. So I went back to the courtyard.

Later that day, I talked Yael, our serving woman, into taking me down to the shore. On the rocky beach, I made a sort of tomb out of stones and laid the sparrow in it. “That’s quite a fine sepulcher for a bird,” Yael remarked. “In fact, it’s finer than the one they’ll lay me in.”

BOOK: Poisoned Honey: A Story of Mary Magdalene
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