Star Over Bethlehem And Other Stories, by Agatha Christie
This book is a collection of short stories that is titled after its first story, which looks at an imaginary temptation of Mary at the birth of Jesus Christ that is imagined by the author as a companion to the temptation of Christ recorded in the Gospels. By and large, all of these stories are interconnected by their Catholic mindset. And that is an important thing to take into account, that these stories are so strikingly Catholic. So it is that we have a story in this book that looks at a donkey blessed with insight that he would carry the holy family into Egypt and then he decides to cease pondering into mysteries and simply accept the will of God. Still other stories look at the promotion of beings who are already in heaven to higher ranks and titles. There is also a story that looks at saints and their behavior as the place where these saints have been honored is about to find itself replaced by a more modern building that obliterates the historical memory, while one story gives an interesting account of a woman’s encounter with a disguised theophany of Christ as well as another story which features an encounter between someone and Mary, who is labeled as the “Queen of Heaven.”
I went into this story without any sort of expectations about its contents. I am familiar with Agatha Christie as a mystery writer, and this book deals with other aspects of mystery, namely mystery religion, instead of her usual focus on solving mysteries. Indeed, aspects of this book cut against the author’s general approach which encourages readers to exercise their God-given sense of reason to solve mysteries to various murders in other more familiar novels, especially in the story about the donkey that voluntarily gives up his spiritual insight in order to live at peace and to trust God. Similarly, Mary has an encounter with Satan disguised as an angel of light who seeks to deceive her with a spin on the truth that fails to lead her to contradict the will of God, thus seeking to demonstrate Mary is a second Eve that reverses the curse of the first Eve even as the Bible itself presents Jesus Christ as a Second Adam to reverse the curse of sin and death from the first Adam. This unbiblical idea seem to be wrapped up in the Catholic mindset of the author and demonstrates the wide gulf that exists between scripture and tradition.
And one’s opinions about this book are likely to be heavily influenced by what one expects from this book as well as how familiar one is with the author’s Catholicity. As a reader, I found much that I disagreed with concerning the author’s specific creative speculations based on her Catholic mindset. Yet while my own stories about these subjects would be very different based on my own worldview, I still found much to appreciate about this book because it revealed the author’s thinking very strongly. Indeed, a great many of these stories revolve around one of a small set of themes. For one, there is the imaginative creativity of the author’s view of Jesus Christ and the circumstances of his birth and early childhood. The author is clearly aware of the larger biblical and generally religious symbolism that she is playing with, and there is some respect for that, even where one does consider it to be correct. Similarly, the author’s reflection on saints and the kingdom of heaven is also interesting, even if this is not a biblical worldview either. This book does a good job at presenting a somewhat alien ground of religious writing that helps to deepen one’s appreciation of Agatha Christie’s writing in general.