Patty Froese Ntihemuka’s second Biblical novel brings to life the two sisters from Bethany, Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet and Martha who stayed busy — and resentful — in the kitchen. In fleshing out the few scriptural references to these women and their brother Lazarus, the author has also drawn on the tradition that identifies Mary of Bethany with the woman taken in adultery, portraying Mary, as many writers have done, as a prostitute whose life is changed by an encounter with Jesus.
Ntihemuka also weaves in a storyline inspired by Ellen White’s Desire of Ages, in which Simon the Pharisee (at whose feast Mary anoints Jesus’ feet) becomes a powerful but hypocritical kinsman whose sexual abuse of Mary when she is still a child leads her into a life of sin and shame.
All these threads are woven into a rich and complex story that moves back and forth in time and shifts between several points of view, although Martha is the story’s central character and probably the most sympathetic. (And, for all those hard-working women who’ve wished that the story of Jesus, Mary and Martha had a slightly different ending — yes, in this version Jesus DOES come and help Martha in the kitchen!)
Having written about these characters and this story myself in a modern setting back when I wrote The Man from Lancer Avenue, I was very interested to see how Ntihemuka treated them and was pleasantly surprised to see that she had made some of the same choices I did in portraying Mary, Martha and Lazarus. They’re fascinating characters and certainly worthy of more exploration.
The story clearly shows evidence of the author’s meticulous research and seems deeply grounded in the culture and thinking of the Biblical era. If I had one criticism it was that the book is too short for such a complex story, and that many scenes that I would like to have seen developed more fully were given rather short shrift as the story flew by.
Insider sources tell me the Ntihemuka’s upcoming projects include a novel about Mary, the mother of Jesus and one about the Roman centurion who declared, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!” So there’s plenty to look forward to from this author, and I’ll keep cherishing the hope that future books will be longer.