Mary speaks out, dispelling rumors that she’s a wimp, in Halter’s latest Bible-based historical novel (Lilah, 2006, etc.).
Young Miriam of Nazareth is thrust into activism when she hides Barabbas, leader of the resistance against tyrannical madman King Herod, in her carpenter father Joachim’s house. Later, Joachim is captured and sentenced to be crucified outside Herod’s stronghold at Tarichea. Mary enlists the help of Barabbas and his gang of street urchins from Israel’s despised underclass, the am-ha-aretz. One of these, Obadiah, becomes her platonic soul mate after he climbs up to free Joachim from the cross during a daring rescue mission. When an all-male parley, including Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus the Pharisee and Barabbas, can’t agree on what to do about Herod and his Roman backers, Mary defies convention and injects her opinion. Sent to study with Rachel, founder of a feminist enclave in Magdala, Mary learns Latin and Greek and grows even more adept at bucking male authority. She befriends Rachel’s daughter Mariamne (the future Mary Magdalene). When Barabbas and a gravely wounded Obadiah appear on Rachel’s doorstep, Miriam insists they consult Joseph of Arimathea, a famous healer. But Obadiah dies en route to the Essene community where Joseph lives. Miriam confounds this ascetic order of celibate men by staying outside the compound walls night after night, mourning Obadiah at his pauper’s grave. When her mother, Hannah, is murdered by Herod’s mercenaries, Miriam returns to Joachim, who has taken refuge with his apprentice Yossef (Joseph). After rebuffing a marriage proposal from Barabbas, Miriam announces that she is pregnant, but her avowals of virginity incite mostly shock and skepticism. Yossef sticks by her and it’s off to Bethlehem for a certain census. A faux—but convincingly worded—“Gospel of Mary” explains certain mysteries, including the Resurrection, but not the virgin birth.
Despite such digressive longueurs as Miriam’s extended stay with the Essenes, and spotty character development—Miriam’s hysteria occasionally undermines her modernity—a lively re-imagining of the New Testament.