It is as an orthodox Jewess, firmly believing in the Law and deeply troubled by her son’s unorthodox teachings that Mary Borden depicts the simple Galilean mother of Christ in “Mary of Nazareth”, a readable and absorbing portrayal of the Virgin Mary and her times.
Mrs. Borden has gone to the four gospels, the New Testament and an imposing list of authorities for the incidents on which she builds her story, and to fill the gaps left, has used the novelist’s prerogative to reconstruct. The result is a fascinating study of the life of the times and a very human picture ordinary and her son Jesus.
Joseph, husband of Mary, had been “a true Pharisee, frugal, sober, hard-working and devoutly obedient to the teachings of the rabbis. And he had brought up his children to keep the Law and honor their mother, because he loved God with all his heart and he loved his wife and children with a deep, strong, tribal love and his neighbor as himself….
“The family observed very reverently all the customs of their people, with just this difference: that they carried out their observance, not grudgingly or thoughtlessly, but with a natural earnestness that came from their hearts.”
The mother in this God-fearing home had been hurt when her son violated the Sabbath to aid an injured child and was deeply pained when he refused to see wrong in this act and was critical of the teachings of the rabbis.
“If he was persuaded that the people were lost in sin and the rabbis ignorant of God, why did he not set himself to study and become a teacher?” the mother wanted to know. Why would he not prepare for ordination and become himself a great rabbi who would teach the truth? His reasons for choosing another course and his teachings were never entirely understood by this mother who fasted and did penance so that his sins would not be visited upon her first-born.
“Was he really her son?” she wondered later when she saw him surrounded by his followers. “There were moments when she could scarcely believe it, and others when she knew it with agony. When he spoke to the people he had seemed to her like some glorious prince far removed from her little world; but afterwards at supper the lines on his face had made her wince with pain and she had remembered with all her body how she had borne him in her arms and comforted him when as a little child, he fell and hurt himself.”
While Jesus high up in “the awful lonely mountain,” resolved to die that his teachings might be perpetrated, “far to the south in a town that hated him, a woman was praying to the God of Israel to keep him safe. She didn’t know where he was. She didn’t believe in his gospel. During his short period of triumph she had been persuaded that he was out of his mind. But now that all the world had turned against him, she knew that she must be with him, for he was flesh of her flesh and bone of her bone.”
The key to Mrs. Borden’s “Mary of Nazareth” lies in her recounting of the failure of Jesus to win his own townsmen, “a tragic business… inevitable from the beginning.” Not many like to recall, she says, how the brothers of Jesus “were ashamed of him and jealous, or how his mother was torn and racked between her sons and could not believe in him in face of their belief. For she became known as the Mother of God, and shrines were built to her all over the world, and many candles, millions and millions of candles, still burn day and night in her many shrines. But the people who kneel before her image do not think of her as she was, a poor woman, like other poor women, a devout Jewess who hated idolatry, but who would have been glad at this time to light candles in her little house at a feast of welcome for her dear son, yet could not.”
It is of this Mary, “as she was, a poor woman, like other poor women, a devout Jewess who hated idolatry”, that Mrs. Borden writes in this sensitive and unusual book.
V. M. B.