Sunday, November 03, 2013

The Testament of Mariam

Several years ago I read a review of The Testament of Mariam, by Ann Swinfen, and then an interview with the author on Fly High.  Afterwards, I was offered a copy of book by the author, and I accepted and then let it sit on the shelf until it made it to this year's TBR Pile Challenge list.

This is easily one of the best books I've read in 2013.  It is the story of Jesus as told by his sister, Mariam.  It is one of those historical novels that absolutely feels right--the tone, the level of detail, the dialogue, the themes, and the perspectives all ring true.  I loved reading about the life in a Jewish village in Gallilee, circa 2000 years ago.  And the story was fresh and interesting, being told from a woman's perspective and a sibling's perspective.

Yeshûa is the oldest in a large family, and Mariam is twelve years younger.  She adores her older brother, and struggles to understand how his "mission" must take him away from her and her family and their village.  It was lovely to read scenes that I know from the Bible being presented in a very natural, non-stilted way. 

The story is told by Mariam when she is an old woman, living with her children and grandchildren in Massilia (modern Marseilles), where she fled after her brother was killed.  She had been part of his inner circle, and he had made preparations for her to leave the region after he was arrested.


It took me until mid-way through to realize that YehûdâMariam's betrothed and Yeshûa's best and oldest friend, was Judas Iscariot--I hadn't remembered this part of the review/interview.  Once I realized this, the entire novel took on an even more melancholy but even deeper tone.  I did a little internet reading about the Gospel of Judas, and that made the novel make even more sense to me.

I absolutely loved reading this book--it is extremely well-written, well-researched, and balanced. It never felt preachy, but it conveyed perfectly for me the idea of Jesus's messsage of love and hope, reverence for God and nature, and compassion and community.

Regardless of your religious beliefs or lack thereof, it is a marvelous historical novel with a strong, believable heroine whose choices and sacrifices are both heart-breaking and ennobling.

If your are curious about the book, I encourage you to read her interview here.


  1. his one sounds very good. I find that these new takes on the Gospels to be fascinating. The original stories have had such a profound effect upon civilization that new takes upon then tend to say a lot.

  2. This is not the kind of book I normally pick up, but reading how much you liked it makes me want to give it a try. Thanks for the review! I'm writing this book and author down.