A historical novel about Jesus and Judas that delves into both men’s early days.
Readers familiar with the Christian Gospels will encounter a startling scene at the start of this biblically inspired tale. A young boy named Judas Iscariot, traveling on the road with his parents, sees another boy being bullied and beaten by a group of three other kids. He rushes over to intervene and saves the child from further harm. The boy’s name is Yeshua, and he’s the son of Yosef and Mary of Nazareth. When the two families meet, it turns out that Judas’ father, Simon, is the brother of Mary’s mother, Anne, making Yeshua and Judas cousins. The two become fast friends, and, as a result, Judas has a front-row seat for Yeshua’s rise from a provincial carpenter’s apprentice to a combative young man who increasingly dreams of overthrowing Roman rule. Readers see a well-known story through a very different lens as Yeshua’s disciples, led by Judas, become “captains” dedicated to building an insurrectionist army. There are inspirational movements woven throughout the narrative—Yeshua and his followers are very much aware of Yokhanan the Baptizer’s religious activities, for instance—but, interestingly, there are virtually no supernatural moments. Yeshua is a healer, true, but one who uses herbs and other substances; in the book’s version of a familiar incident from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, in which Jesus heals a Roman centurion’s servant, he goes to the man’s house to apply medicines rather than working a miracle. These realistic scenes seem written with an eye toward research rather than drama; the text explains everything from Palestinian politics to Roman fish sauce in laborious detail that is too seldom counterbalanced by more evocative, personal moments, as when Yosef wearily says of his quarrelsome son, “Yeshua will debate with the donkey.” However, fans of Anthony Burgess’ 1979 novel, Man of Nazareth, will likely enjoy this exploration of similar territory.
A well-researched, if somewhat staid, spin on biblical events.