The New Testament--a cat's cradle of stylistic, cultural, and theological tag ends and beginnings--often tempts the novelist of philosophical bent to pry out a brick or two and bring down the house. Here Pekic, a Yugoslav writer, presents a damning view of Christian dogma in a witty if too hortatory reduction of the miracle stories. Beginning with the water-turned-wine at Cana, polite and compliant Jesus, directed by Judas, performs unasked-for miracles. A leper woman, cured, is cast out by both her clean husband and unclean lover; a blind man restored to sight, is so sickened by what he sees that he puts out his eyes; two lunatics bereft of their ""devils"" lose their visions of gardens and their love for one another; Mary Magdalene curses the ""dirty miracle"" which left her a lusting virgin; poor old Lazarus keeps tunneling up from the grave in despair. But Judas, old ""it-is-written,"" will be punished, when Jesus, reluctant to die, chooses Judas to betray him and again fulfill Scripture and of course hang. The man who dies on the cross is not Jesus, but Simon the cross-bearer, hanging for himself ""in place of God and man."" He delivers up his secret--that the world is not saved: ""How can man replace God, and how can man in return for sacrifice put. . . rainwater in place of oil?"" Pekic strips the Christian message to desert and barbed wire, yet this is a passionate and essentially spiritual statement.