This should really be described as a fictional biography, if only for the very reason that the history of the Virgin Mary (and just about all women from that time in history) has been just about completely wiped out. I thought often of The Red Tent, while reading this. I think Diamant had a much better approach than Lesley Hazleton does in Mary. Diamant fully embraces the history and research, but adds her own fictional writing gifts to create a powerful and potentially historically accurate tale of women's life in biblical time. Hazleton could have done that easily with this book and had a bestseller on her hands, but instead, she chooses to call it a biography that "blends imagination and fact." If the subject matter wasn't such a hot topic and so controversial, she might even have been able to pull it off, but when she makes huge leaps about what Mary is thinking and feeling it feels hollow and inaccurate. It just doesn't work to be reading the fascinating and totally factual political history of Palestine and then to read that Mary was trained as a midwife by her legendary grandmother, Salome, which is based on nothing but Hazleton's imagination. It's jarring and takes away from the wonderful experience of reading this book.It's a shame that Hazleton made this writing choice, because she does use exhaustive and fascinating research that is incredibly valuable to anyone interested in the "real" life of Mary, the "Mother of God." The book works much better when she steps back from her fantasy imagination of Mary's life and talks to the actual facts - like her wonderful discussion of when Jesus was actually born and how old he actually was when he was crucified. I also appreciate her chapter on Mary's "virginity" and what that could have really meant, which includes a fascinating breaking down of the original Aramaic which tells us that a "Virgin" of that time was any woman who was not married. So a pregnant virgin is any woman who was raped or had sex out of wed-lock (and quite an interesting thought that Mary may have been raped and birthed the Son of God - which Hazleton very delicately steps around).It's a great undertaking by Hazleton and for that I have nothing but respect. If you can get past the "fantasy biography" (or "Christian Haggadah," as she calls it) feeling of this book, it is a wonderful and fascinating read.