If the world was saved by the death of Jesus, was it worth all the effort?
Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary (see review here and here) is the latest in long line of English literature based on material from the Bible. It follows in the tradition of Lew Wallace, Robert Graves, Jenny Diski, Norman Mailer and others who have reworked Bible stories. What emerges is not necessarily the Church’s teaching. The material is explored as human experience rather than divine dictat.
Tóibín’s Testament tells the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus. It is both a novella and a play. In the latter, recently finishing its season at London’s Barbican (see review here) actress Fiona Shaw plays a Mary half-crazed with grief and severely critical of the position that she has been placed in by her son and his followers.
Tóibín’s is clear about his intention. Unlike the New Testament authors, he gives Mary a voice. He visualises her living in exile resenting the custody of her ‘guardians’. He tells her version of the events of the last few days of Jesus, using mainly material from John’s gospel and, in particular, the story of Lazarus, the man Jesus raised from the dead.