four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
11-July-Aug-2004
user_rating: 
0

A-MaryMary is the most celebrated mother in history, but we know little about her life. Melding facts and fiction, Hazleton reworks our assumptions about the Virgin Mother. "I knew that the simplicity of asking who she was … was deceptive," she writes, and would "challenge deeply held beliefs." Hazleton unveils the "real" Middle Eastern story, in which the swarthy peasant Mary (Maryam) lived in Nazareth, spoke Aramaic, gave birth to Jesus at age 13, and rebelled against King Herod. Hazleton also asks provocative questions: Was Mary raped? Was she a healer who passed on her gifts to Jesus? Did Joseph even exist? And, most important, have our modern sensibilities obscured what it meant to be a "virginal" woman 2,000 years ago?
Bloomsbury. 288 pages. $24.94.

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[Hazleton] weaves historical facts with empathy and imagination to construct a plausible, visceral version of this celebrated woman. ... Readers who believe in the literal truth of the iconic Mary may have trouble with some of the more imaginative elements of Hazleton’s narrative but will find fascinating the historical and earthly aspects she explores." Bernadette Murphy

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"This is an original, contrary view, with something to challenge everyone who picks it up. … As Hazleton discovered, the provocative pastime of coming to see Mary as a real, flesh-and-blood individual is heady and relevant stuff indeed." Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Her fictional accounts run sometimes too seamlessly into historical facts, but Hazleton’s historical grasp of the Middle East over 2,000 years and her willingness to imagine details of the life of a mortal woman-made-goddess make ‘Mary’ a tremendous accomplishment." Wingate Packard

Critical Summary

Neither straight biography nor fiction, Mary offers an "intellectual, fanciful, respectful, and impious" glimpse into the life of the most famous mother in history (Portland Oregonian). With a feminist viewpoint that resembles Anita Diamant’s tack in The Red Tent, Hazleton, a Jew who attended convent school and worked in the Middle East, argues that Maryam’s revolutionary culture influenced Jesus’ teachings and life. Readers unfamiliar with the gospels might mistake Mary for either myth or history; those who cling to the Mary canon may consider the book’s fictionalized details blasphemous or reactionary. Either way, there’s no doubt that Hazleton offers a masterful and original portrait of an earthly woman—one who barely resembles her fair, beatific, and virginal representations today.

Supplementary Reading

A-BeyondBelief.epsBeyond Belief The Secret Gospel of Thomas | Elaine H. Pagels (2003): 4 of 5 Stars Selection Sept/Oct 2003. Arguing that Christianity might have developed differently had its canon included Gnostic texts, Beyond Belief takes a hard look at the Gospel of Thomas, which second century Church fathers denounced for its idea that all people possessed God’s divine spark.

A-GodsSecretaries.epsGod’s Secretaries The Making of the King James Bible | Adam Nicolson (2003): 4 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2003. Reviewers argue that the King James Bible is "the greatest work in prose ever written in English." How could such brilliance have been created by committee?