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The Gospel According to the Son Paperback – 1997

3.6 out of 5 stars 80 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 242 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679457836
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679457831
  • ASIN: B001WBQV9U
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,007,420 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By James R. Mccall on August 21, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Hmm. Norman Mailer has imagined himself into a fundamentalist Jew in Roman-controlled Palestine, a small-town carpenter who believes himself to be the son of God. Right away, we must believe him, as the point of view is established as first-person omniscient. Not everyone is going to enjoy a story that puts words in Christ's mouth and thoughts in His head, and that takes issue with the Gospels.
But everyone is curious about Jesus; he was, after all, a great man. Mailer seems to have read much that allows him to invest his story with details of life and culture that bring it down to earth, as it were. In spite of that, the whole tone is "spiritual": his Jesus seems to be rather a stiff. He is painfully serious, with his eyes on the Lord Above at all times. Remember, though, that he was raised in the Essenes, a very strict group of ascetic fundamentalists. Still, Mailer carries you right along, as his chapters are short and his prose rhythmic and simple. Yet you get no sense of release out of this book, no sense of joy: Christ was in the grip of a tragic necessity, as was His Father.
Anyway, this is a nice corrective to the usual universalist reading of Christ's life: he was, after all, a Jew and preaching in a contemporary tradition, though his message would undermine it. (He claimed to respect the Law, yet viewed the Sabbath as optional, for example.) He wished to talk to those influential Pharisees who controlled religious life, and who thought punctilious observance of a mass of regulations would get them into...heaven(?). His was a mystical corrective to a mechanical accounting system (reminds one of Luther, in a way).
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Format: Hardcover
Norman Mailer's novelized story of the life of Jesus is one that, not surprisingly, stresses His human side -- and as such, it is understandably going to be received with misgiving and even derision from certain groups of the faithful. Nikos Kazantzakis' beautiful novel THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST was ridiculed by fundamentalist Christians as well.
The Jesus depicted in these pages is not the idealized image seen in the paintings that hang in Sunday School classrooms all over America. His hands are rough and often dirty; he doesn't always go about in shining, spotless garments; his disciples are rough, uneducated men, 'ugly and misshapen of body; some were misshapen of nose; the hands of many were thick and broken; the legs of others were crooked.' In Mailer's story, Jesus is often plagued by doubts -- doubts about His own divinity, doubts about His ability to complete His mission, doubts even about the nature of His mission. He is wracked from time to time by temptation as well -- and not just during His 40 days in the wilderness, when He is tempted by Satan. There are even times when He feels separated from His Father.
These are but a few of the aspects of this story that will likely anger and offend those whose belief is so literal and norrow that it is confined to the printed word of the Bible. If the book is read with an open mind and heart, however, it is easy to see that Mailer is not casting doubts upon the divinity of Jesus -- he is merely allowing us to get closer to the human side, which in turn can bring us closer to an understanding of Jesus the man.
The Gospels were written many years after the Crucifixion, by men who did not know Jesus personally.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a remarkable feat of scholarship, especially in its ablility to remain highly readable despite its scholarship. We find here a very human portrayal of a man struggling to literally embody God, and, despite the scope of such circumstances, we are oddly able to empathize with Jesus. He confronts his extraordinary situation, paradoxically, as an ordinary man.

The spareness of the biblical style helps us forget the author and the complex theological and historical weight that the story carries. We are able to focus on the personal, day-to-day, hour-by-hour inner life of Jesus, the man.

If you expect quirks and controversy, forget it. If you expect either a born-again, hysterical excitement or a ponderous intellectual examination, take a pass. But, if you are looking for an intimate look at the plausible humanity beneath the religeous and emotional furvor, then read this book.

Mailer's account is particularly comprehensible to the 90's mind in that he allows us to see Jesus coping consciously with the dangers his "celebrity" as a miracle worker begin to pose. In our celebrity conscious, media saturated time, we are perhaps more ready to appreciate the "crowd-control" aspects of the story of Christ, and the practical and psychological impact that those factors must have had on Jesus' day-to-day decisions.

So how can a jewish author in the 1990's create a plain spoken text in biblical dialects that becomes an exciting "page turner" even though we all know from page one exactly how it is going to turn out in the end? No matter how unlikely, Mr. Mailer has accomplished that feat. Read it with an open mind and your mind will open still further.
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