Mary of Nazareth

Written by Marek Halter
Review by Susan Higginbotham

When Herod’s mercenaries make one of their nighttime raids on Nazareth, quick-thinking young Miriam—later renamed Mary by census officials—helps the young rebel Barabbas hide from his pursuers. Years later, Miriam’s father, pushed to the limits of his endurance, assaults a tax collector. Knowing the grim fate—crucifixion—awaiting her father, Miriam goes in search of Barabbas, the one person with the resources and daring who can help her rescue him. Her journey, physical and spiritual, culminates in Miriam’s being chosen to bear the Son of God, an act that Miriam is confident will deliver the people of Israel from their Roman oppressors.

Writing historical fiction about biblical figures must be an enormously daunting task: an author who lets his imagination run wild runs the risk of being offensive, while an author who errs on the side of caution runs the risk of boring the reader by rehashing Sunday School stories. Halter chooses a middle ground, creating a pure but not flawless Miriam who’s even allowed a chaste love with one of Barabbas’s followers. Miriam’s interactions with her family, friends, and fellow villagers are homey and natural, especially in the scenes when Miriam breaks the news of her pregnancy to her friends and family, who at first are skeptical of her story, to say the least. Familiar Gospel figures like Mariamne, the future Mary Magdalene (here the lively young daughter of a learned widow with whom Miriam stays for a while), also make an appearance.

Setting his story in the context of Jewish resistance to the Romans, and reminding the reader of modern-day parallels to the Jewish resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto, Halter has created a memorable and appealing heroine.