In this intriguing debut novel the author imagines the life of Jesus, recast as a woman.
Partially inspired by Elaine Pagels’ scholarly The Gnostic Gospels, Wolf creates an alternative understanding of Jesus, as a non-deity healer who espouses a spiritual connection to a feminine earth. The novel opens with Anna as a tomboy devoted to her mother Mari and frightened of her father Yoseph, a tyrannical adherent to the new religion. The old religion (Mari was a follower) promoted gender equality and valued the role of women as regenerators of life. Few are left who practice the old ways, but those who do, like Nazareth’s Zahra, are both revered for their ability to heal, and shunned. When tragedy befalls Mari, and Zahra is stoned to death, Joseph disguises Anna as a boy and sells her to a passing band of shepherds. But this is no ordinary group of men; it is led by Solomon (Zahra’s son, who was told of a special child) and Judas, Guardians of The Way. It is Solomon and Judas’ duty to one day take their new shepherd to the Sisters. Meanwhile, Anna, who knows nothing of The Way or Solomon’s connection to Zahra, renames herself Jesus and lives quite happily as a boy, with her new best friend Peter. As Jesus grows older and stronger, he becomes a skilled shepherd. Solomon sends him on a journey, knowing he will be “captured” by the Sisters. Anna is among them for years where they live a monastic life recording spiritual and medical knowledge, practicing a kind of telepathic communication and preparing the chosen few to become Awakeners, women who dangerously set out to spread The Way. But the times are hostile to women and a massacre destroys their whole society, save Anna and two others. The three venture out, now with Anna as the man Jesus, who has a message for the world.
Wolf cleverly uses the story of Jesus to create an alternate ending to the Crucifixion, in which the Sister’s message of peace is perverted, but her insertion of a kind of New Age philosophy somewhat diminishes an otherwise fascinating idea.