A fictional revision of Jesus’ life focuses on the years before his ministry began.
The span of Yeshua’s life—Jesus is referred to here by the Hebrew version of his name—between the ages of 12 and 30 is historically obscure and therefore ripe for novelistic invention. Mathews (Vicarious Nobel Prize, 2017, etc.) builds a rich construction of those years around the question of Yeshua’s impressive wisdom. How did Yeshua, who came from a family of modest means, acquire his remarkable education? Instead of imagining his knowledge is a revelatory gift, the author explores the possibility that Yeshua is not the son of God but a mere mortal and so, like everyone else, devotes years to laborious study. An intelligent youth whose inquisitiveness flirts with blasphemy, Yeshua attends a Scripture school in Jerusalem on a kind of scholarship and not only studies the authoritative Judaic texts, but also learns Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin. He then travels east to Taxila University and studies Buddhism under Guru Acharya Shantideva as well as Hinduism and medical science. Yeshua spends a decade in intense research but longs to return to Jerusalem to see his family and commence his mission, which is to present a less legalistic, more spiritual version of traditional Judaic law. Mathews’ hypothetical vision of Yeshua’s early life—both erudite and provocative—is an exceedingly human rendering. Yeshua falls in love with a girl, and instead of working miracles, he heals the sick with plant-based medicine. (This requires less intractable illnesses—instead of the blind, he cures people who have eye infections.) The author is at his best discussing the intricacies of religious doctrine, especially the theological amalgam he postulates is Yeshua’s reinvented Judaism. But this is closer to a novelistic textbook than a fictional drama—long, aridly composed lectures about religion go on for pages at a time. And when Mathews turns his attention to the personal dimension of Yeshua’s life, he resorts awkwardly to clichés: “This is the first time he has touched me, thought Shakuntala. Let this magic moment last forever.”
An intriguing scholarly hypothesis dryly presented in novelistic form.