A book review of Mary’s Lament, by Joseph C. Nyce
More than two thousand years ago a young Jewish rabbi’s teachings and healings attracted huge crowds and ignited a messianic revolt. This uprising so threatened the rulers, both political and religious, that they reacted quickly and violently. To crush the insurrection, the authorities condemned this upstart carpenter from Galilee as a religious heretic an imposter. They hung him from a Roman cross.
That man, Jesus of Nazareth, gave the world a living legacy. But it was not the legacy we are most familiar with. Beneath the emerging orthodoxy was a different message conveyed by the lives of those who knew him best and loved him most dearly.
Mary’s Lament tells the story of Jesus’ mother Mary’ his brother Simon, and his sister Salome, and the lives they led in the aftermath of the crucifixion. Set in Jerusalem during the turbulent days of 62CE Palestine, and under the fist of an incensed Roman oppressor, the narrative explores the personal struggles between those who claimed Jesus as the Messiah, those who called him the Christ, and those who knew him as a man of flesh and blood. Squeezed by determined insurgents, ambitious disciples, and ruthless Roman gendarmes, Mary, Simon, and Salome struggled to preserve an embattled memory of their son and brother. In so doing, they forge new loves, sacrifice other lives, flee their home in Jerusalem and are forced to journey the by-ways of a Palestine in upheaval.
Along the way, new figures join the family. Jesus’ message, embodied in the daily activity of his family members, disrupts a Roman soldier’s fast-tract to a great martial career in Rome. This legionnaire becomes one of the first converts, and gives his life for Simon. Meanwhile, Mary and Salome, two fleeing Jewish women, meet Barnabas in Caesarea. A disillusioned colleague of the apostle Paul, Barnabas is inspired and touched by mother and daughter; like the legionnaire, he sees a different truth. It is a truth revealed in the living and dying, romance and fear, of Jesus’ surviving family and the power of humility.
This book is a novel because there are no eye witness accounts of the events in the story. It reconstructs what might have been through what we know once was, with added characters and plot twists to render a story of the living afterlife at the dawn of Christendom – and how things could have followed a very different path. If only . . . Everything is surmised from the historical and scriptural records we have of those chaotic days. In fact, it is the gaps and contradictions in these records that allow the creation of this story. The obvious efforts in scripture to downplay Jesus’ humanness and the deliberate erasure of Jesus’ family by early Christianity provoke the question of why that was necessary. How, when and why did all those Jewish disciples of Jesus become Christians? The questions escalate and the story unfolds.
Yet, this story is more than fiction. It is the life struggle of its author, Joe Nyce, and it speaks directly to the many searching readers, who are more concerned with living a life of integrity than being assured of eternal life. Born and raised in a very religious Mennonite family, Joe’s struggle has taken many roads. The spiritual road began early as music was a central part of his childhood. The language of the soul has never lacked nourishment. Joe Nyce has ridden the waves of business cycles, played with the porpoises and swam with the sharks. He’s been a craftsman, while plumbing the depths of scholarship about civil engineering and earning a PhD in theology. Yet no road led him to a place of real comfort with Christianity.
Spiritual violence and arrogance have always shadowed his quest, as it has many others, appalled by intolerance and dismayed by hypocrisy.
Yet, haunting him, prodding him, even exciting him is the life and message of Jesus, a Jesus we never knew because his message was obscured, his family forgotten: the religious packaging after the crucifixion contorted by our confusion between faith and beliefs. Oh, but it is persistent! And so, Mary’s Lament, written under a faith that God is love, follows the forgotten and scorned legacy of a Jew who preached love. It is a novel written to uncover a hidden road, as blazed and traveled by a mother, a brother, and a sister, the people they met and the lives they changed.
About the Author
Joseph C. Nyce grew up in a Christian home in Eastern Pennsylvania, and after earning his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Lafayette College, he settled down in the family business manufacturing concrete and blocks. Yet Joseph felt God’s call, uprooted his wife and two young children, and enrolled at the Princeton Theology Seminary, where he would go on to earn his master of divinity and PhD degrees. While there he established a general contracting business in the Princeton area. He also sang and conducted adult Bible studies for St. Luke’s Methodist Church in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, where touching and soul-searching discussions inspired him to write Mary’s Lament.