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on January 9, 2013
This re-telling of the incidents around the Nativity, the life of Jesus, and the state of very early Christianity, is unlike any other version of the New Testament I have ever read. The setting of the novel integrates a startling and heady recreation of Palestine at the time: the pagans with their Olympian gods; the older Mediterranean/Semitic Palestinian tribes with their mysterious gods; the orthodox Jewish society; those Jews whose beliefs straddled both the Jewish and the Graeco-Roman world; the Essenes; the Samaritans and many others. The book orchestrates how each of these groups interacted with resignation and suspicion to share in some power and belief. It is a rich, provocative and explosive mix. Each of these strands of society influence the young...and clearly not divine...young man born to Mary, who exhibits a religious genius and charismatic humanity that finally entangle and torment him until he is killed by these external forces, perhaps even sacrificed by them. There are several implausible incidents, but the brisk writing, the astounding backround of cultures and the sheer originality of this book are always compelling. Beware. This is not a book for traditional Christian believers. Nevertheless, it is a reverent but unorthodox take on the origins of Christianity and how it developed. Graves is a genius, with some unusual ideas that he uses well to illuminate and bring down to earth a series of events that has been scrubbed and idealized and overthought for centuries. While no one can know if Graves is close to the truth, he is always compelling and ingenious. Stay with this one. You will remember it.
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on November 30, 2015
This is an "alternative" gospel, Jesus story, and historical novel which presents a fairly coherent narrative based on "what if Jesus really was king of the Jews?" Readers should keep in mind that the book was written in the atmosphere of the post WW II 1950s and the author had experiences on the battlefield in World War I that one could call spiritually transformative. The book is part of a genre designed to place the human Jesus in a better perspective, taking him down off the pedestal that frequently makes him unreachable for many. In addition, the author seeks to present Jesus as fully Jewish, an important theme for the time. Some readers may find this "Jesus" excessively human and disturbing.
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on June 5, 2013
Robert Graves is a brilliant and courageous multi language researcher into the roots of European and American Christian culture. This book is an amazing look at contemporary facts that helps explain why our "Jesus" was more than just another important Pharisee - but the inspiration for the renewal of Judaism into the Nazarene or Christian religion that is for European civilization what Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism are for China.
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on December 27, 2014
The most honest view of Jesus as a warrior for a new form of Judaism that I have ever read. But you gotta love Robert Graves, no matter what he writes. The only writer who comes close to his understanding of history is Gore Vidal. If only Mr. Graves was as amusing as Gore Vidal, this would have been even better, but it's great for what it is.
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on July 25, 2003
King Jesus is pure historical romance, a prose masterpiece, a poetically allegorical phenomenon. Blow away the pussywillow's outer flowering and what you hold is the wish granting root and stem; eliminate the metaphor and symbol from the central principle of "King Jesus" and what you find is the actual entity of this heroic figure in Western art, philosophy and religion. I must admit I am a "Johnny come lately" to the wonders that is Jesus Christ. I am a Buddhist by faith, with a kind of theosophical attitude towards all religions; I have tried to appreciate the meaning and significance of Jesus over the years, reading Renan, Schweitzer, Steiner, and most recently A.N. Wilson. Robert Graves has existed in my pantheon of great writers since the late sixties. I read his translation of Apulieus, his poetry, and puzzled over the White Goddess for years. They say timing is everything when it comes to appreciating great literature or works of art. Now the time has come for me to recommend this exceptional literary gem. Anyone familiar enough with the author must note the liturgical thread running throughout his writings: Graves, the poet priest, so to speak, of the Goddess Isis. Here, in this novel, you get our savior, the Christ or "Chrestman," in all the sacrificial and cocksure glory of Frazer, projected out of a chilling virtual reality, paying the ultimate price for all psychic sins and one sided human development. In this nightmare vision to the well known and often told tale, resplendent with a fervent reality beyond the dream within a dream, I find a most endearing and honorable person of rare and supremely authentic quality. Like one of those "prophetic birds" written of in The White Goddess, (c.f., P. 26), whose plumage is said to line her nest containing the "jawbones and entrails of poets," King Jesus is an awesomely important tale to read and hear; as imperative, one could say, as the Mariner's recollection to the Wedding Guest in Coleridge's "Rime." I hope you will find the time to read what this story has to say about the life and death of Western tradition's most important religious icon, King Jesus.
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on February 29, 2016
A fascinating and entertaining treatment of the times and persons by one who is thoroughly educated in mythological context.
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on March 7, 2014
As indicated in the headline, Robert Graves describes the historical Jesus and his cultural background, thus explaining what kind of a man he was and why he went to such extremes. This is not the traditional Gentle Jesus Meek And Mild but an extremely intelligent and charismatic man who is also very harsh and uncompromising, partly because he is caught in his own [somewhat creepy] culture. He is cold towards women to the extent that he rejects his own wife as well as all personal ties, demanding that his disciples do the same in order to follow fanatically what he perceives to be the truth. To modern minds, the man is incomprehensible, but he is beautifully drawn and the description of his life and accomplishments are backed up by impeccable research. It is a great book and I wish I could give more than five stars!
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on June 13, 2016
An okay read. Has some interesting perspectives.
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on April 29, 2016
Perhaps the most interesting book I've read.
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on July 12, 2009
Robert Graves always did considerable research for his historical novels, and this one is no exception. He had clearly read deeply about the religious traditions of the ancient world, not just Judaism, and it shows here. The result is an interesting version of the story of Jesus, which stresses his Jewishness, and explains his philosophy entirely in the context of Jewish belief. There is also a back story on his parentage which puts the title "King of the Jews" in a very different light.

Our fictional narrator is one "Agabus the Decapolitan", writing ca 90 A.D., who briefly met Jesus, when he, Agabus,was a child, and has been fascinated with him ever since. Historically, this was a time when Christian doctrine was very unsettled, somewhat exacerbated by those gentiles who wanted to become Christians without being subject to Jewish law. Agabus has some critical comments about "Gentile Chrestians" (sic), and the ways in which they distort the teachings of Jesus.

There's something here to offend everybody who is inclined to take offense at a discussion of ideas. Believing Christians may well object to the demystification of many of Jesus's actions, the natural explanations for such occurrences as the miracle of the loaves and fishes, for example. They may also object to the narrowness of his mission, since he is clearly concerned primarily with the Jews, not with all mankind.

On the other hand, resolute non-believers may lose patience with the failure to provide a natural explanation for other supposed miracles, and the implication that there are some actual supernatural goings on. Of course, one could point out that the narrator does not claim to have witnessed most of the story himself, but is relying on the best information he has been able to get from others.

Some Jews, Christians, and for all I know, Muslims, may take exception to the way Judaism is tied to earlier pagan beliefs, and pagan remnants are found in Jewish practice.

There is, then, the material here for an interesting take on the foundation of one of the "great" religions. Unfortunately, it does get rather tedious at times, with extended discussions on mythology, religious traditions, and mysticism. Although I did not take offense at anything, there were lengthy passages that I found rather a hard slog. The philosophical maundering might be easier to take if I could convince myself that anything of actual importance was being said.

Recommended then, mostly for those who have enjoyed Graves' other work, and want to see what he's done with this story. Probably not the best book of his to start with.
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