This interview with Tosca Lenci was conducted in the summer of 2008. The questions are in bold type while Tosca’s answers are in plain type.
I understand that by Thanksgiving this year your one-woman publishing company will upload its third edition of History of the Daughters.
Yes! I’m ecstatic, because this last edition will add an extensive Index that exponentially increases its reference capacity.
It’s a unique breed in genre—an historical compilation that tracks ancient mother bloods, instead of patriarchal. But the subtitle requires a deep breath: “A Compendium of the Epoch 1935 b.c/b.c.e. to 44 a.d./c.e., as reported by primary ecclesiastic and secular writings of Old Testament scribers, Herodotus, Xenophon, Apocrypha scribers, Josephus, and New Testament scribers, supplemented by classic Greek and Roman historians.”
Can you give us a simpler description for a general reader?
I’d say, “A chronological account of ancient history, of peoples centered in the Mid-East, as reported in humankind’s oldest related writings.” While the subtitle sounds formidable and the book does look like a textbook, it has an easily followed Table of Contents, and the segments are full of interesting stories not commonly known.
What compelled 20-plus years of research, assembly, and composition?
God aside, there are two schools at the extremes of whether Biblical scripture reports any reliable human data—Minimalist or Maximalist. I belong to the latter.
History of the Daughters traces the joined histories of people, flesh-and-blood persons living in their world as it was, with relatively little of the precious collective knowledge thus far attained and subject to all of then natural individual and collective forces.
I have felt it strongly, that the bibles haven’t had adequate common literary attention. Over the entire epoch of eons or eons of epics, at least as many daughters as sons were born, of which thus far by name are known but a few.
But to answer your question, I had no clue what I was embarking upon at the outset!
No way! Youth’s aspiration to write was arrested when I married at 18 and became a mother the next year. Not until my 40’s did I find time for it again, and I began with what I thought was to be just a little article about Mary Magdalene: how there was absolutely nothing on record to support the lascivious reputation she’d borne for 2000 years—a fact well-known in scholarly circles but not common.
At the time I was working for a law firm, and a Hebrew attorney asked to read it. When he returned it with a couple of questions about sources, I proceeded to do what I thought would be just a bit more research. Well, that was in 1982. Binders of research and much, much typing ensued to complete History of the Daughters, which I consider the main contribution of my writer’s life.
Why did you decide to and how did you manage to publish it free online?
Obviously there were considerable costs along the way—printouts, Xeroxing, webmaster services. Financially you could say it was a philanthropic family effort to offer it as widely as possible. Costs came out of the household budget (and still do). Money for producing and marketing a print edition was out of the question, but a handful of printed copies, bound, were produced for Copyright, Library of Congress, and company record purposes, with one shelved in the Reference Section of Sonoma County Library.
Besides History of the Daughters, you’ve collected other works that can be downloaded free at the LP Publications website. Looking over the body of work, one can’t help but contemplate the struggle for women of yours and my era and its society, when work outside of and inside of home left no time for art. You may be a retired grandmother now, but for the most part you were a full-time working wife and mother besides answering the inborn muse. History of the Daughters alone is a veritable tome—some 1,000 pages! Why not try to get an established print publisher for the work?
I sequestered the writer in me totally during the 12-year hiatus from marriage, when I did the major research, study, and considerable drafting. I first had to get the stuff down. Then, when I did get to a point of submitting a manuscript, I discovered how overwhelmed the publishing industry then was with submissions, computer word processing having unleashed an avalanche of writings. And I was without credentials, even, to support authorship of such a work.
I stopped trying to gain attention for the manuscript, after a few futile attempts. On reaching the seventh decade, establishing my own company and the website was fuel, and still is, for continuing to work.
Was it personal animus—being a woman of your particular history—that decided History of the Daughters cherchez le femme?
Surprisingly not. It was interesting how that format came about. I absolutely didn’t plan it but, as research accumulated, the secretary-in-me collected it in different labeled folders. Gradually the material accumulated self-emergingly, as if naturally, into the final pattern of eras, That outcome ultimately gave rise to the thought, how differently might have progressive territorial borders (wall-cities, city-states, kingdoms to empires) been drawn if, over time, they’d been determined through mother-blood rather than father-blood? I can’t watch any supposedly Biblically-based movies anymore—perceptually sensationalized; so much only-conjecture; so much of the realities missing.
Care to give some examples?
First that comes to mind, King David’s acquisition of important regional women during his rise to power over Saul. Royal mothers and their children were part of a leader’s or King’s chief properties. Besides personal preferences, the harem’s makeup mirrored political and military alliances and resources. Abigail of Carmel apparently tried to save her husband, and a woman can imagine many reasons why Abigail nobly would have given over to David. There’s the simple statement, using strict English interlinear wordings of the Hebrew and Greek—not as reconstituted loosely, in common testament renditions: that “Ahinoam [Saul’s wife) had David taken… and they even both of them [Abigail included] to him [David] wives.”
You see, very different conclusions can be drawn from the record when processed through female consciousnesses. Women can imagine good reason why Saul’s daughter, Michal, as another David wife, exhibited disgust. Five of her father Saul’s grandchildren were turned over to Saul’s enemies and killed. Michal, by the way, then was the last-mentioned female in descendancy of Neri—a post-Babylon exile name in Luke’s Jesus’ lineage line, potentially Zerubbabel’s grandfather.
Bath-Sheba, too, invites consideration when it comes to female possession of both priestly and royal bloodlines (such as would be claimed of the mother of Jesus—daughter of Aaron and David; interesting!—the differences after Zerubbabel, between the two lineages of Jesus that exist, Luke’s and Matthew’s).
It gets really hairy in and around the second century B.C. with all the Cleopatras—Syrian as well as Egyptian princesses and queens.—Egypt’s famous Cleopatra being a seventh Cleo. Some of the women (remember, they became mothers very young; Jesus’ mother appears to have been 14 or so) wound up with and had sons by successive conquering men, the half-siblings later competing for succession (Absalom and Solomon come to mind), and all too frequently outrightly warring (e.g. post-Alexander-the Great’s contenders).
At risk of sounding heretical, one can go all the way back to Elisheba, and speculate why her first two sons met disaster, and whether—given the way text is worded Miriam wasn’t Moses’ and Aaron’s half-sister. Moving on through time, Herod the Great is infamous when it came to protecting his claim to the throne, killing his own sons by Miriam of the Hasmonean bloodline. And then there was his intent to rid himself of John (he known as the baptizer) and Jesus, both of whom people regionally of The Law would know as lineally legitimate contenders under it). If the apocryphal Protevanglion is believed, the Great’s henchmen actually killed high priest Zechariah, John’s father, when he resisted divulging the infants’ whereabouts.
But History of the Daughters eschews subjective conclusions. Neither I nor it claim any final authority. All data is reported neutrally, fully referenced from a core bibliography and open to any and all review, provable corrections, and warranted additions.
The Protevanglion bit was included in your 1999 paperback, Beloved Disciple, Daughter of Logos. What was it like trying to market it?
An in-depth lesson, to be sure. Income received was the proverbial drop-in-the-bucket, while total production costs (text formatting, cover work, and a print run of 1,100) were around five thousand. But it was a very nice package. Not a religious book, it’s a realistic fictionalization—quite different from usual versions—of the last four years of Jesus’ life, told purely against the recorded religious and secular history and politics of his time. I had finished the bulk of the History of the Daughters research, which provided all the background material; and it mattered much to me, to see my account about that remarkable historical man, the embodiment of Christianity’s symbolization of The Word, crying out for giving truth to words.
Secondly (one might say, feministically) I was presenting Mary of Magdala as, per the record, she most deductively was: a middle-aged woman with the mothers supporting Jesus’ band. And, based on a accurate grammatical rendition of the New Testament Greek text, Mary was the disciple/student to whom Jesus, from his impalement, committed his mother’s care.
Have you considered yourself a feminist?
Again, quite the contrary. Another work, Journey With JC, underscores neutralization of male/female differences. For true friendship between genders, Betty Friedan summarized that what we’re seeing is “a rise of something larger than the first women’s movement—men in it, too, who’ve been harassed by a no-win definition of masculinity; a human liberation from polarization of sex roles.”
I’d like to take it farther; that consciousness apart from body is genderless; that sexual nature obtained depends on the body into which it is born, but not the form, the material constitution which determines how mind, or consciousness, develops the concept of Self against stereotypical impositions, expectations, and labeling based on form.
Sounds as if you don’t believe in free will?
True—but that’s a subject I won’t argue.
Why is that?
The same with politics or religion. A person can’t change the life she or he has lived, and people live their entire lives according to their beliefs. To try to change a mind’s fundament is to propose that one may have lived all of one’s life wrong. I think it cruel as well as a waste of time to try to alter entrenched opinions.
I won’t ask you to convince me then, but what’s your private take on free will?
I see our existence in a closed system, where there’s no such thing as empty space—not a new idea, by any means, but a certainty back toward which quantum physics seems to be leading. The way I like seeing it, everything has preceding causes, including one’s Self’s state of being.
It might seem that I have choices in a given situation, but the choice I make will be according to my developed fixed nature, which I didn’t create freely.
Another of my works, A Child’s Book of Light, dances with physics and perception—the armchair scientist drawing a material reality she can live with.
So which do you think science or religion will win the creation/evolution battle?
Another debate I avoid. First of all, I would not disparage all the good works done by religious groups and individuals who do homage to a personified god. However, like with free will, I would expect no one to try to budge me from my life concepts any more than I should theirs. I heartily do believe, though, that we all would be much, much better off if we abandoned trying to own a before and an after to this existence and took full responsibility ourselves for the here and now.
What books would you say most influenced your life?
That’s difficult to answer, because different books attract us at different stages and in different circumstances. I can say, Baum and Stevenson from earliest years; Poe, Eliot, Doyle, Christie, Bradbury from teens; Ashley Montague, Chaucer, Saroyan, recallable from young motherhood/wifehood; Tey, Asimov, Sayers, Dante, in the middle.
Then, during the mid-life change, Rammurti Mishra’s Fundamentals of Yoga comes to mind first—that, and a work by a swami named Svatmarama, because of the great salvation yoga afforded me at that psychologically critical time, the beginning of my Journey.
Wilhelm Reich and C. J. Jung were other beloved advisers. As to authors for either general literal enlightenment or recreation, authors that come to mind are Chekov, Remarque, Hemingway, Haggard, Tolstoy, more Doyle; Leon, and finally, most recently, Alexander McCall Smith, Colin Dexter, and O. Henry. I only wish I could remember a thousandth of what I’ve read.
What’s hardest about being a writer?
It’s difficult thinking that one is a writer no matter how much one has written, because being a writer connotes public recognition as one. Ultimately, though, I saw the Writer as an anonymous entity, writing per se simply something one did with one’s hands, putting words on paper, which is what I did for a long time by pen, pencil, typewriter, and finally word processor. If I’d been born in another age, it could have been a stylus on clay.
The initial creation part is enjoyable, Psyche luxuriatingly freely spitting out its words, journal keeping of a sort. It’s the assembly/editing/final production that’s killing, when Mind must take over through great effort, ever-fending off the Witness—that Doubter of which words (or any!) are worth keeping, ultimately utilizable.
The hardest thing for this aged writer was coming to grips with one never knowing the full value of the dream forced through one. But I think about living to see the analyses and interpretations done in coming decades by women in the related fields of my interests.
What really grabs me is how everything that a person born to write studies and writes about is dictated by the individual life—one specific consciousness against specific life circumstances. If I’d been born to affluence—raised in a different culture, completed a path of formal education, and independently followed youthful goals—I may have worked in the publication industry instead of as a frustrated secretary. But then the writer in me would not have written what later has been written; and I’m happy with that.