What is the Pope’s political agenda in coming to Israel?
And don’t tell me he doesn’t have one.
The papal political targets crowd the historical timeline.
The Papal See’s official spiritual stand shouldn’t be treated lightly:
No pope wishes to enter the celestial spheres without leaving his imprint on world history.
And now it's time to get to know "God's Elect"
A newly elected Pope makes a historic decision in the wake of the world’s worst terrorist outrage. He will share the Vatican’s oldest secret with Israel’s Chief Rabbi. On Jerusalem’s Temple Mount masses demonstrate for the rebuilding of Solomon’s Temple. What could stop them if the Temple Treasures, looted two thousand years ago by Rome’s triumphant Roman general Titus, really have come to light? Yet nothing is as it seems. Behind this new Pope’s statesmanlike gesture lies a sinister plot hatched by a fanatical sect. Unsuspected and seemingly unstoppable, this sect worms its way into the heart of Christendom determined to change the fate of the world. Behind these events stands a clash of civilizations now teetering on the brink of war. Menaced on all sides by hostile Islamic states and in fear of nuclear attack, Israel has to decide whether to co-operate with the papacy – even as suspicions mount that each side is as diabolical and deceptive as the other.
Eve and Mary: the Search for Lost Beauty and Sensuality
To be released June 27
An exciting voyage of historical and cultural discovery that steps into the stream of familiar legends and myths as well as other unusual and surprising events, seeking, exploring and making sense of the stigmatization of sexual pleasure and the vanishing of beauty in the Early Middle Ages in Europe.
How I came to write Eve and Mary:
Writing this book was my journey back in time to the Early Middle Ages. It brought me face to face with a bizarre phenomenon: I found that our Western heritage of art and in particular the concept of beauty, as handed down to us from the early Greeks, was wiped out of existence for some five hundred years! In my attempt to answer the question ‘why’ I was led to the issue of female beauty and the phenomenon of Mary Magdalene.
As a historian my interest in the subject was first evoked by one single incident. I had read somewhere that a rather unusual sculpture of the biblical Eve existed in a church in Eastern France. Believing in personal experience, I made the journey to Vézelay in Burgundy and ascended a hill overlooking the township in order to enter the abbey church known as the Basilica of Mary Magdalene. However, once inside the church I came up against immense difficulty in actually finding and viewing the sculpture. The nude Eve was positioned high up on a second row of marble columns and kept well out of sight from any prying eyes.
The question which piqued my historical curiosity and propelled me on the Eve-Mary track was – why on the one hand to publicly display the sculpture yet on the other, hide it from view?
To realize just how unusual this specific sculpted church capital is, all you have to do is go into any medieval church in Europe and view all those flat, unrealistic, semi-human morbid looking sculptures and paintings and you’ll know what I mean. This artistic provocative realism of Eve was an exception to this art work. And the more I pondered it the more it acted as a lynch pin pointing forward to the future breakthrough in art in the Renaissance; and simultaneously looking over its shoulder at what had been lost for five hundred years, namely the western heritage – a thousand year tradition of realistic three-dimensional art, which claimed that the pinnacle of beauty was to be found in the splendor of nature and in the human body.
But my medieval journey had hardly begun. On walking away from the Basilica of Vézelay and descending the picturesque winding cobbled road of the old medieval town my historical ponderings reflected on why the sculpture was set in this Basilica, a church dedicated to Mary Magdalene of all places. Was there some link between Eve and Mary? If so, I was determined to discover it. And this question became my springboard for an astonishing journey into Burgundy and Provence in the footsteps of Mary Magdalene. I viewed her alleged habitat, relics, death mask, skull, grave and sepulcher and more to the point her more probable biography. And as strange as it may seem I found that the entire phenomenon of the Eve sculpture interlocked with the assorted images and legends of Mary Magdalene.
The Gnostic Gospels and in particular the Gospel of Mary Magdalene became one of my chief sources. I was impressed by Mary’s personal intimacy with Christ as well as the latter’s friendship with other women disciples. And it was this egalitarian (and feministic) approach by the early Church to the sexes that escapes us, as Jesus made no bones about gender issues. In fact, it transpired that Mary Magdalene was the most central figure in the Jesus drama and as such was certainly most fitting to be the first pope of Rome. So what when wrong?
At first the Church exploited Mary Magdalene in marketing its new approach to divine love in its battle against paganism and the adulation of Venus. But the backlash came in the sixth century when the totalitarian Pope Gregory the Great found her image and status threatening to the patriarchal church hierarchy. In a Stalin-like manner he eliminated her from her central place in the Christian matrix.
The Church claimed that sensuality and physical beauty – particularly of the female form, were inextricably locked in sin. The Christian establishment attempted with considerable success to suppress the Greco-Roman ideals of beauty, femininity and sexuality. And here I found myself returning full circle to Eve: the temptation of Eve, the Church preached, had damned the entire human race - and ever since, humanity has been tarnished with the evil of original sin.
Taking pleasure in beautiful things and enjoying sensuality was surely an intuitive part of our human nature. How was the Church going to instill the message of original sin into the minds of both simple folk and powerful aristocracy when nearly all of them were illiterate? They found the answer in the power of a new art form. Artistic creations now had a new purpose – not to provide pleasure by delighting the eye but to be used solely in the service of the Church as a didactic tool for divine inspiration.
Mary Magdalene became my guide as I stepped back and forth in time. The image of the biblical Mary Magdalene is never far from the tug of war between the classical and Christian struggle over the mastery of artistic expression. I found this voyage of historical and cultural discovery not only enriching but also very exciting.
My discovery of the virtually hidden medieval sculpture of "Eve in the Garden of Eden" on a church capital in the Basilica of Mary Magdalene at Vézelay, Burgundy, eastern France sets the scene. This Eve sculpture evolves into a springboard for exploring in depth a number of significant historical and cultural themes. The sculpture itself is unique for its time as it displays an unexpected three dimensional realism in art and is...
I have occasionally been asked why I, as a historian, chose to write fiction rather than continue to write factual history. I can give you four personal reasons why I chose this path.
First, I’m not sure whether many historians are not occasionally stricken by the yearning to bend the facts of history, but if this does happen I presume the pricking of a guilty conscience immediately calls them to order. Playing according to scholastic rules means writing history as objectively as possible and that kind of approach conjures up a kind of straightjacket. This objectivity rejecting any personal slant is the norm of any historian. Tempting your fingers to type out a subjective historical interpretation would obviously mean betraying the ethical code of professional conduct. While writing my previous two history books I occasionally felt those twinges to slightly play down historical objectivity at certain dubious points but nevertheless I made a constant effort to demand the hallowed objectivity of myself when donning my historian’s hat. However, I promised myself that one day I would indulge and enter the channel of historical fiction.
Oh, to create a historical novel – some kind of counterfactual history.
My second reason for writing a historical novel is what I call the ‘black hole of history’. Allow me to explain. What bothers me about history is what we don’t know; I’m specifically referring to the black holes of knowledge. Being a historian I’m constantly aware of the fact that the sources we do have available do not tell the whole tale. Take the history of the Middle Ages, is it really all about the tug-of-war between royalty, aristocracy and church? Where are the masses, what did they really think and prioritorise? Were they as religious as we’re made to believe by the sources describing the rise of the Gothic churches. After all, we certainly know who wrote this information or disinformation: it was a wafer-thin stratum of highly motivated literate churchmen who had the monopoly on the media and a definite agenda. In the seventh century, the largest and greatest repository of human knowledge – the library at Alexandria – was burnt down. The ashes of those scrolls contained virtually the entire repository of extant sources of human knowledge till that time. The flames devoured most of everything known to those times – unimaginable assets of information written on parchment and vellum scrolls which had no backup or microfilms. This example of what I call the ‘black hole of knowledge’ leads me to the conclusion that how ever much we may read and assess from sources about the world leading up to the seventh century, we can never get anywhere near the real picture. Hence, in steps the writer of historical fiction: imagination and fictitious writing might well fill these black holes with plausible historical suppositions.
My third reason for writing historical fiction concerns the priority or hierarchy of the importance of information. For instance, not too many people are aware of the fact that between the years 1918 to 1920, the pandemic of influenza wiped out close to fifty million people across the globe. Very little has been written about this extraordinary catastrophe – why? The answer is simple: the Great War, the First World War, overshadowed all else. Another instance of the ordering of events: editors of newspapers and other media receiving thousands of bits (and don’t forget the bites) of info each day; they – human beings – decide what is considered newsworthy, what we, the reading public, should imbibe and not read, and more to the point, in what order of preference and importance we should make our acquaintance with the information. Needless to say, the overriding mass of accumulated information is, of course, thrown into the dustbin – indeed, the dustbin of history. But what has been thrown into the dustbin of history? That is only left to the imagination. Hence, why shouldn’t I play my part by endeavoring to pick up some of those scraps and process them into a novel? I hope you’ve caught my drift.
My fourth and last reason for writing historical fiction relates to my sense of historical awareness. I tend to read news and assess events in a historical framework. I consider and weigh up the impact of contemporary events and fit them into a strategically geo-political framework. I don’t automatically accept the editor’s priortisation and intuitively see the tapestry of contemporary history unfolding before my eyes. Genocide in Darfur, ethnic clashes in India, the rising temperature at the polar caps, the clashes in the Middle East, Basque terrorism, radical Islam, speeches by the Pope – are all equally important at first, only gradually, with foresight and hindsight, perspective and moderation can anyone fit the pieces of human interaction in any digestible formation. What we see, hear, and perceive is the very stuff of history. And so this personal experience provides me with facts and imaginary scenarios that can be wielded into a thousand stories.
So these are the four points constantly swimming around in the aquarium of my historical mind: the yen to bend history, how to relate to the black hole of missing information, the dictated information hierarchy and agenda, and taking into account my acute awareness of living history. These elements are the building stones for my historical alibi to burst the seams of the straightjacket of historical objectivity and write my novel, God’s Elect.