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Unorthodox, but somehow reverent and compelling
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.