Sunday, December 14, 2014


2. This retelling of the story of Jesus from the point of view of his nephew is unorthodox. The narrator denies the virgin birth; the narrator denies Jesus is the Son of God (or a part of the Holy Trinity); the narrator denies the physical Resurrection; the narrator disagrees with Pauline theology. Is it your purpose to bash the Church?

Not at all. If I have an agenda at all as an author--beyond telling an interesting story--it's to try to cut through all the theology we're all so familiar with and focus instead on the message of Jesus. So often the actual message gets lost behind all the dogma.

The earliest Christians--although they weren't then called "Christians"--Bart Erhman would say the "proto-Orthodox" while other scholars say the Jesus Movement--were much more diverse a crowd than most people think. They all believed different things, had different gospels, letters, and writings, and there was such a mix of stories and beliefs that, ultimately, when the Emperor Constantine converted, he ordered fifty copies of a standardized Bible to be put together for his Church, which was the beginning of a series of decisions made over what was canonical and what wasn't.  I'm oversimplifying the matter, of course, but the point is that this was some 300 years after the death of Jesus. Were the books that got thrown out any less inspired or valid or authentic? And there were a dazzling number of them.

So, I asked myself the question, if anybody knew the true story of Jesus, who would it be? The easy answer: his family. So, I then asked myself the question, what would the story of Jesus possibly look like if a member of Jesus' family had written a gospel? 

So many people don't even know Jesus had a family, beyond his parents, Joseph and Mary. But yes, indeed, he had brothers and sisters. Some people don't even realize Jesus was Jewish--(I've been asked that. "Was Jesus a Jew?" Of course he was.) His siblings were James, Joses, Jude, Simon, Mary, and Salome. It seems that Jude had three sons, so I invented one named Joseph (named after his grandfather), and I rolled with it, setting out to answer my own "what ifs?"

What's unfortunate is that the brothers and sisters of Jesus got buried by the later Church--especially James the Just, because he was actually the leader of the very first church in Jerusalem--because, I surmise, they became simply inconvenient. If Mary was a perpetual virgin, then Jesus couldn't have brothers and sisters. So, they morphed into half-siblings from an earlier marriage of his father, Joseph, or got turned ito his cousins. But historically, it seems pretty clear they were full-blooded relatives because a later Roman Emperor, Domitian, had the grandsons of Jude put to death lest they, too, claim some lineage making them the legitimate "Kings of the Jews."

The earliest "Jewish Christians," for lack of a better way to put it, were known as the Ebionites, so I made Joseph an Ebionite. As devout Jews, they were in conflict with Paul because they believed Jesus had not intended the Law to be overthrown, only for prophecy to be fulfilled. They rejected the virgin birth and the divinity of Christ also because they were Jews: God is One. But they fully believed Jesus was the Messiah. "Messiah" doesn't mean "God": it means "anointed one." Like King David, they saw Jesus as a chosen one of God. You can think of it as an adopted son of god. They did deny a literal, physical Resurrection, but they certainly did believe in a spiritual Resurrection. My book, then, imaginatively presents the story of Jesus from this perspective.

Yes, then, it's unorthodox, but I don't intend it in a disrespectful way at all. I certainly don't intend it to be taken as a literal gospel. It is a work of fiction. But, it's grounded in history and research as any historical novel ought to be, although, as with any work of fiction, I had to take some liberties here and there for the sake of readability, or conflate a few things: but I will say this. There is very little in this book that doesn't have a real tradition or some sort of recorded history behind it. But the focus is very much on how Jesus wanted us to act and not on what we should or shouldn't believe about him.

Jesus said the yoke he offered was easy and the burden light. He offered a simple way for how to live life free of worry, free from a troubled mind, and with a heart full of love and joy. That message is so timeless and so especially relevant today.

No comments: