This month, as Christians set up their creches and assemble in churches to hear the story of the Nativity, one line, from Luke 2:19, speaks particularly to women: "But Mary treasured all these things, and pondered them in her heart."
This Mary — silent, obedient, observant — has echoed down two millennia, cementing a potent ideal in the Western imagination. Now the masterful Irish writer Colm Toibin puts a jackhammer to the cozy, safe, Christmas-card version in The Testament of Mary.
He imagines the mother of Jesus many years after the Crucifixion, living alone in the ancient Asia Minor town of Ephesus, where two of the Gospel writers supply her with food and shelter. They come to her with regularity. She is not cooperating.