CHRIST ACTUALLY by James Carroll


The Son of God for the Secular Age
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To understand Jesus today, writes novelist and religion expert Carroll (Warburg in Rome, 2014, etc.), he must first be understood as a Jew.

The author takes as his muse Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s World War II–era statement: “What is bothering me incessantly is the question—Who Christ actually is for us today?” Looking at Jesus through the lenses of the Holocaust and the atomic bomb, Carroll discerns a different image than much of Christian history has before. Above all else, he asserts, Christ must be seen as and understood as a Jew. Though a seemingly obvious statement, the author explains at length how Christians have failed to recognize Christ’s Jewishness through time—or at least not taken it seriously. Exploring the Gospels as storytelling, not as history, Carroll describes a man who was seen by many as the fulfillment of Jewish hopes in his own time, while he was recorded as breaking with Jewish intransigence in later Scripture. The author explains that the Jesus Christ of Christendom was remembered in the wake of two grand disappointments: the lack of his immediate return and the destruction of the Temple. Given this, his followers adapted, seeing him as the embodiment of a new temple and his church as the kingdom of God on Earth. As usual, Carroll’s writing is highly erudite; reading him is an educational experience in itself. Traditionalists will balk at his acceptance of some modernist theories, however. For instance, he finds it plausible that Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist and goes on to argue that, like other people, Jesus was “defined by…the moral lapses that would have made real the need for repentance that brought him to John.” Even the author’s conclusion that “we are here less to believe in Jesus than to imitate him” will raise some eyebrows.

An in-depth, thought-provoking challenge to two millennia of Christian interpretation.

Pub Date: Nov. 18th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0670786039
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2014


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