Synopses & Reviews
The ancient world and its politics come to life through the eyes of a young Jewish woman, Mary of Nazareth
Miriam-also known as Mary-was born into a Palestine oppressed by Herod the Great; she is accustomed to living with uncertainty and unrest. But when her beloved father is wrongly imprisoned by the Romans, she takes action. She calls upon a well-known rebel by the name of Barabbas, and together they set out to save her father. A daring escape is accomplished and, against staggering odds, Miriam's father is saved from crucifixion.
Barabbas, flush with the success of the rescue, is intent on leading a full-scale rebellion against Herod and the Romans. Along with Mary and her father, he speaks before Jewish leaders who have gathered from various communities. Miriam feels great frustration as the men endlessly debate morality, the wisdom of rebellion, and the nature of God's will. Having almost lost her father, and knowing she will be ostracized, she nevertheless speaks out against the use of violence. And to her surprise, one man, Joseph, listens. He offers to take her to Magdala, where she will be allowed to study in the company of intelligent, well-read women. This rare opportunity sets into motion a series of events that will change Miriam's life-and the history of the Jewish people-forever.
Based on extensive historical and biblical scholarship, Mary of Nazareth is a revealing, utterly captivating portrait of a woman whose story we only thought we knew.
From the Hardcover edition.
The ancient world through the eyes of a young Jewish woman—Mary of Nazareth.
Mary was born into a Palestine oppressed by Herod the Great; she is accustomed to living with uncertainty and unrest. But when her beloved father is wrongly imprisoned by the Romans, she takes action. She calls upon a well-known rebel by the name of Barabbas, and together they set out to save her father. A daring escape is planned. And against staggering odds, Marys father is saved from crucifixion.
Barabbas—flush with his success—is intent on leading a full-scale rebellion against Herod and the Romans. But as he speaks before Jewish leaders, Mary feels great frustration as the men endlessly debate morality, rebellion, and God's will. She has almost lost her father, but she is nevertheless compelled to speak out against violence.
To her surprise, one man listens: Joseph. He makes Mary an offer that will change her life—and the history of the Jewish people—forever.
About the Author
MAREK HALTER was born in Poland in 1936. During World War II, his family escaped the Warsaw ghetto and settled in France. He is the author of several critically acclaimed, internationally bestselling novels, including the Canaan Trilogy: Sarah; Zipporah, Wife of Moses
; and Lilah
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. Mary of Nazareth is widely known as the virgin mother who gave birth in a stable, however, Marek Halter brings the reader into an entirely different world: the youth of Miriam of Nazareth. What did you expect before you read this book? How did you feel about Halters portrayal of Miriam? Is it similar to how youd imaged her? Why or why not?
2. Within minutes of meeting Barabbas, Miriam “did not need to know any more to guess that he was someone who did exactly what he wanted” (p. 6). How does her initial reaction to Barabbas affect his character throughout the novel? What other characters share this same quality?
3. What did Joachim do that caused him to be crucified? Who was he trying to save? What did you feel when you read what the Roman soldiers were doing? How would you have reacted had you been Joachim?
4. When Miriam decides she must ask Barabbas for help to free her father, only two others believe in her decision. Who are they? Why are they so supportive of her decision to find Barabbas? How does this reflect on how they each behave later in the novel?
5. Obadiah was an am haaretz. What does this mean? How did it affect him both in his life and after his passing? How did you feel about the prejudice against the am haaretz? Can you think of similar prejudice that is prevalent today?
6. Barabbas thinks “How long would these poor people, who were being bled dry by Herod, wait for a Messiah to come and deliver them, instead of delivering themselves?” (p.72—73). What does this tell you about Barabbass need for change? How does this speak to the religious sentiment at the time? What modern echoes do you see today?
7. Consider parental relationships in Mary of Nazareth. How are each of the characters affected by the actions of their parents: Miriam with her parents, Mariamne with Rachel, and later Yeshua with Miriam?
8. After Joachim is rescued from the cross, he promises Obadiah something. What does he promise? What does that tell you about education and literacy at the time?
9. When Barabbas calls a meeting of powerful men at Yossefs house, what do they discuss? What was their final decision? What resonated for you in those debates? Were they similar to political debates of today? Miriam says, “You all love words, but you dont know how to use them” (p. 121). How is she correct?
10. Throughout the novel the word “Messiah” is spoken by so many. Why is everyone waiting for the Messiah? People believe that Joseph of Arimathea has a healing power and they cry “miracle” outside of the Essene house because they are so desperate for a miracle. Why? Can you think of any religious parallels today?
11. From what you know of the conception of Jesus, how did you feel about Halters description? How does each of the main male characters react when Miriam tells them? Were you surprised by any of their reactions? For a girl of “around twenty” without a husband, what would the reaction be today?
12. Discuss Miriams relationship with Barabbas. What did you know about him before reading this novel? How did you feel about the way he was portrayed here? How did you feel about his fate in the end?
13. What was your reaction to the Gospel of Mary? How did you feel about her impatience with Yeshua? Did you sympathize with her frustration? Why or why not?
14. We learn from the Gospel of Mary that Mariamne becomes Mary of Magdalene. Were you surprised to read that Mary of Nazareth was expecting this gospel to be taught by Mary Magdalene? Can you image what may have been written in the missing parts of the gospel?
15. In Warsaw, Marek Halter, as a character within the novel, meets a woman named Maria who saved thousands of Jewish children during the war. What is her connection to the Gospel of Mary? What did you think about the name of her son, and his fate?