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Monday, 23 March 2015

Acts of the Assassins and Jesus Novels

Philip Hensher's review for The Guardian of Acts of the Assassins by Richard Beard is interesting for three reasons. First, he understands the significance of the use made in the Bible of multiple narratives:

"Christianity is unusual among religions in being founded on different ways of telling the same story. As early as the late second century, theologians were denouncing Christians who tried to limit the story of Christ to a single telling, and by the fifth century, the canonical account had been reduced to four accounts and no fewer. The lives of the four evangelists, with their different emphases, were surrounded by different non-canonical accounts, such as the second-century Gospel of Judas, that anyone with a sense of curiosity can investigate without a sense of impiety."

Second, he provides a helpful summary of the best of recent Jesus novels:

"In recent years, novelists have seized on this narrative multiplicity to tell the story in their own way ... we have seen novels such as Jim Crace’s Quarantine, Naomi Alderman’s The Liars’ Gospel, Philip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, CK Stead’s My Name Was Judas and Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary. There are very many more of much less compelling quality than these, the best of the bunch ... Most of the Jesus-centred new fiction retells the familiar story of Christ from an unrecorded viewpoint, whether Mary, Mary Magdalene, Judas (very often) or Jesus himself."

Third, he senses that the novel's narrative and style ultimately views the resurrection as being a story that we cannot simply explain away:

"Beard ... embarks upon the gloriously futile project of telling the story of Jesus’s death and resurrection, and the subsequent martyrdom of all the disciples, one by one, in the manner of a police procedural, with a hapless gumshoe trying to track down the killer before he gets any further down the list of victims.

This is, of course, extraordinarily funny ... Applying the rational genre of the crime thriller to the magical defiance of the gospel narratives results in some alternative possibilities ... as the novel goes on, it becomes touching, futile, thoughtful. What is the mystery of Christ’s resurrection and the joyful walk towards martyrdom but a narrative that we can only gaze at and realise the inadequacies of our tools for explanation?"


Lauryn Hill - The Passion.

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