Friday, November 30, 2012

Review ~ "The Five Books of Jesus" by James Goldberg

The Five Books of Jesus by James Goldberg

Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Reviewer:  Lee Ann Setzer
Genre: Biblical fiction

Book Description from AmazonIt starts in the desert. John the prophet lowers Jesus under the Jordan’s muddy waters and pulls him up, just as a bird swoops down to skim the river’s surface. It spreads next to Galilee, where some welcome Jesus as a disciple of John and others grow wary of his rising influence—fishermen are leaving their nets, tax collectors their offices, and students their masters to listen to this new saint. After abandoning his nets, Andrew ties knots in the threads of his shirt to remember Jesus’ teachings. After escaping his slum, Judas waits for Jesus to call down the legions of angels who can end a broken world. But just as Jesus’ movement in the north is gaining strength, he turns south toward the Temple and a fate his followers will struggle to understand. The Five Books of Jesus, James Goldberg’s lyrical novelization of Jesus’ ministry, tells the story of the gospels as Jesus' followers might have experienced it: without knowing what would happen next or how to make sense of events as they unfold.

Lee Ann's Thoughts:  Lisa may or may not get any special benefit from living next-door to an author (me J), but I love living next-door to Lisa, for a variety of reasons, including her gracious offer to let me review books on her blog whenever I want. I am excited to share this wonderful book with you!

I first read portions of The Five Books of Jesus with a group of fellow Christians. We all consider ourselves conversant with the Bible, and acquainted with the Savior. But as we read, by far the most common reaction was, “Wow. I felt like this really happened.”

The book’s prose has a lyrical tone, informed by Indian poetry. The author deftly weaves in Old Testament prophecies to point up the depth and meaning of Jesus’ teachings and stories. It’s an excellent read on either of those levels, but for me, its real genius was the way the stories grabbed me and made me feel like I was there in the hot, dirty press of the crowd; or walking all night, listening to Jesus tell homely stories infused with layers of meaning; or inside the head of a new, confused, sometimes terrified disciple. The point of view flits from character to character, lingering lovingly on the women’s experiences. The only head we don’t enter is Jesus’ own: like the people in the Bible, we are left with the example, the lessons, and the tremendous sacrifice, to draw our own conclusions.

Where the Bible doesn’t give details, Goldberg occasionally freewheels his own, generally giving a more generous interpretation than I’d thought of before. We’re clearly not meant to take his re-telling as “gospel.” Rather, the book invites the reader to consider that all the old stories happened to real people, in real situations—just like the rest of us.

The betrayer Judas receives an especially careful characterization. I’d never stopped to think of him as a friend not just to Jesus, but to the other apostles, who must have worked as hard, and felt as deeply as the others. Or that somehow his betrayal might have made a terrible sort of sense to him. Again, Goldberg’s interpretation may or may not be the true one—but it reminded me that, whatever his story, Judas was a real person, with a story and a past and a set of compelling motivations. Just like the rest of us.

It’s beyond tempting to quote the entirety of the passage about Jairus’ daughter. And the one about Mary and Martha. And Peter walking on the sea. 

But it's just time for everyone to go read this book! (Makes a great Christmas gift).

If you are interested in Lee Ann's books ~ Here's her goodreads Link.

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