In Canter’s (Second Nature, 2011, etc.) latest novel, a paleographer discovers an ancient text recounting Jesus’ missing years.
Jude Hunter is an expert in authenticating antiquarian books, and his former student, now a Greek Orthodox monk, asks Hunter’s opinion on the age of a statue of Mary Magdalene. Hunter discovers that the sculpture was made by Leonardo da Vinci and has a hidden compartment containing a manuscript that could change the world: a chronicle of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, written in Jesus’ own hand. The ancient text tells the story of a young outcast, punished by his culture for being born out of wedlock, who abandons his home and family to join the Roman army. Unable to become a legionnaire because he is not a Roman citizen, he attaches himself to the cavalry in hopes of one day moving up the ranks. He takes the Latin name Martis and travels with several others: an African stableboy named Owiti, who becomes like a brother to him; Maurus, an African intellectual and one of the most fearsome warriors in the cavalry; and Magdalene, a slave girl he knows he’s destined to love. While stationed in Germania, Martis learns knife-fighting from a native warrior woman and becomes an apprentice to the medicus (physician), balancing the dual sides of his nature: killer and healer. After the legion is defeated by native German tribes, Martis begins to believe that if he follows the example of Germania’s oppressed people, he could become the messiah—and free his own people from the thumb of Rome. While Canter never loses sight of Jesus the man, his tale is more about historical Rome and its expansion efforts, and he brings those vividly to life. He uses solid research to place Jesus in the context of his era and to create a wide-ranging, vibrant world. He also weaves Hebrew scripture and New Testament references throughout the narrative, while also connecting Jesus’ teachings to Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism; he draws on ancient Greek philosophy for good measure.
A compelling what-if story about an approachable, human Jesus.