Read: In Quest of the Jewish Mary

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Article Reviews

By Mary Christine Athans (Orbis, 2013)

This scholarly study is a valuable contribution to the body of works aimed at finding Miriam of Nazareth—“Mary” to us, and “Mother” to Jesus—beneath the titles and embellishments which, over time, have rendered her more goddess than human. Author Mary Christine Athans pictures a fully Jewish woman and mother before her “extreme makeover” into Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, renaissance Madonna, et al. Only in her native identity can we know anything at all about Mary’s spirituality and the religious practices she must have faithfully observed.

Athans travels historically forward through church teachings, devotional practices, and art—all of which were influenced by the succession of mostly European cultural developments. She then reels the narrative back to the first-century Mary of Nazareth, mother of Jesus. Situated in the same environment wherein has been located the “Jesus of history,” Athans portrays Mary in her authentic ethnicity and first-century Hebrew community. She accomplishes this by hewing to the gospel narratives and reflecting on what they reveal about Jesus. Readers will find some surprises in her conclusions.

The text is saturated with Jewish scriptures, themes, culture, midrash, and liturgies. The author is in comfortable territory when she writes about the religious practices which would surely have been part of Jesus and Mary’s life. Happily for readers, she provides some of the common prayers in both Jewish phonetics and English translations. They are beautiful and fully appropriate for any Christian’s use today.

With academic expertise, Athans has deftly organized and condensed theological, historical, and cultural materials into this simple, user-friendly study. It contains a mother lode of resource materials—with “tastings” from many of them smoothly blended into the text. Readers should find it educational, inspirational, and ecumenical.

This article appeared in the July 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 7, page 43).