John the Baptizer: A Novel

Overview

A vivid, moving, and unprecedented biographical saga of John the Baptist.
Traditionally, John the Baptist is seen as little more than an opening act—“the voice crying in the wilderness”—in the great Christian drama. In presenting the epic of John’s life, novelist Brooks Hansen draws on an extraordinary array of inspirations, from the works of Caravaggio, Bach, and Oscar Wilde to the histories of Josephus, the canonical gospels, the Gnostic gospels, and the sacred texts of those ...

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John the Baptizer: A Novel

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Overview

A vivid, moving, and unprecedented biographical saga of John the Baptist.
Traditionally, John the Baptist is seen as little more than an opening act—“the voice crying in the wilderness”—in the great Christian drama. In presenting the epic of John’s life, novelist Brooks Hansen draws on an extraordinary array of inspirations, from the works of Caravaggio, Bach, and Oscar Wilde to the histories of Josephus, the canonical gospels, the Gnostic gospels, and the sacred texts of those followers of John who never accepted Jesus as Messiah: the Mandeans.Gripping as literary historical fiction, and fascinating as a diligent exploration of ancient and modern sources, this book brings to eye-opening life the richly textured world—populated by the magnificently sordid, calculating, and reckless Herods, their families, and their courts—into which both John and Jesus were born. John the Baptizer is a captivating tapestry of power and dissent, ambition and self-sacrifice, worldly and otherworldly desire, faith, and doubt.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In fictionalizing the life of John the Baptist, Hansen (The Brotherhood of Joseph) reveals the messy humanity behind the saint. Even readers with a passing knowledge of Christianity will find John's fate laid out on the first page-his head is brought to King Herod upon a platter. Hansen's meticulously researched narrative sets John's life in a wide context, omitting little, for better or for worse: from John's childhood lessons to his emergence as a prophet and his capture and execution, readers find themselves immersed in the biblical world. The visceral descriptions of suffering, such as the death of Herod's father or the cistern in which John is held captive, bring religious figures into the gritty realm of the grotesque. Yet Hansen still retains a sense of wonder in his subjects: when John's mother gives birth after a lifetime of barrenness, or when John baptizes his Messiah-cousin, the flesh-and-blood characters step back into their familiar stained-glass poses and become larger than life. The juxtaposition of stark realism and religious loftiness has its perplexing moments, but it's precisely what will keep the pages turning. (June)

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Kirkus Reviews
John the Baptist is an inspiring spiritual leader but a less-than-riveting protagonist in this fictional treatment from Hansen (The Monsters of St. Helena, 2003, etc.). John's parents, a cousin of the Virgin Mary and a priest of the Jerusalem Temple, despair of having children, but at an advanced age Elizabeth becomes pregnant. (An author's note explains that Hansen was drawn to this subject by his own experiences with infertility, chronicled in The Brotherhood of Joseph, 2008.) Young John escapes Herod the Great's slaughter of innocents to embark on his spiritual path. First he encounters the Nasurai, a monotheistic sect related to Zoroastrianism; later he joins the Essenes, an all-male enclave of celibate, vegetarian, teetotalling ascetics. Appalled by the corruption of Judaism, as evidenced by the Temple's brisk trade in sacrificial lambs, John retreats to the wilderness, where he attracts disciples with his regimen of baptism and purification. While Christian doctrine depicts John as merely a forerunner of Christ, Hansen's portrait is strongly influenced by the Gnostic teachings of a John-centered sect called the Mandeans, who view the Baptizer as superior in rigor and restraint to Jesus with his messy miracles and winemaking prowess. Hewing closely to this reverential assessment, the chapters on John read at times like screeds by Paulo Coelho (albeit much better written); they are outpaced by alternating scenes starring that thoroughly un-ascetic bunch, the semi-pagan Herod clan. A tempestuous, incestuous convergence of two royal Israelite dynasties produces Herod the Great, whose lingering death is recounted in lurid detail, and his son Herod Antipas, who schemes his way to thethrone. Antipas' niece Herodias beguiles him into marrying her, making a dangerous enemy of his first wife's father, a neighboring king. Hansen downplays Antipas' bond with the Baptist, dissipating some of the conflict surrounding his decision to deliver John's head to his stepdaughter, pretty, passive-aggressive pawn Salome. A curious melange of the sacred and profane, but always captivating when the sinners are onstage.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393069471
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/24/2009
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 1,447,720
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Brooks Hansen is the critically acclaimed author of The Chess Garden and, most recently, The Brotherhood of Joseph. He lives with his family in Carpinteria, California.

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