Jesus embarks on youthful adventures and deals with family expectations before discovering his divine mission in this debut novel.
Joseph is a wealthy builder living north of Jerusalem in the first century, accustomed to making necessary compromises as a Jew living under the Roman occupation of Israel. But he has high hopes that his first-born son, James, will one day become an important holy man, even the high priest of the Temple, and help re-establish Israel’s spiritual independence from its oppressors. Meanwhile, Joseph intends for his second-born son, Jesus, a rambunctiously mischievous 12-year-old at the start of the story, to eventually take over the family business and marry. Andersen imaginatively conjures a dramatic chronicle of Jesus’ upbringing before his ministry, a gradual process that follows his youthful introduction to Buddhist meditation and a fateful communication from God after he encounters his cousin John boldly baptizing new disciples. While being baptized himself, Jesus is finally given his divine assignment from God, a continuation of the work of John: “John has reminded the people to fear me. That is an important first step, and his name will be remembered for countless generations as one of my prophets. Now for the next step, I want you to remind them to love me.” But as Jesus’ teaching attracts greater attention and disciples, Roman leaders pursue the man who proposes an authority even greater than their own. In addition, violence threatens to erupt and swallow the Jewish population whole as radical insurgents intent on overthrowing Roman rule plan to strike.
Andersen vividly depicts the political and theological cleavages in Jerusalem created by Roman tyranny—a Jewish people turned against themselves. The author is particularly strong dramatizing the religious devastation wrought by despotism—James considers his most dangerous adversaries to be the Sadducees, members of a sect that sacrificed its spiritual integrity by bribing its tormentors for political gain. Jesus’ preaching is intelligently situated within this historical context with notable narrative subtlety and scholarly authenticity, a primarily spiritual program with significant political ramifications. The highlight of Andersen’s fictional rendering, though, is the reconstruction of Jesus’ family life, a provocative departure from the more traditional scriptural version. In this retelling, James is the one whose divinely ordained future is foretold by prophecy, while the story of Jesus’ beginnings in Immaculate Conception is exchanged for a more quotidian, mortal birth. In fact, Jesus seems an unlikely choice as a child to become a historically significant martyr—he evinces no shortage of boldness but also a great deficit of both gravity and prudence. Considering the son of God as an impetuous adolescent who is regularly bailed out of jams by his affluent father takes not only deep reserves of fictional creativity, but also authorial courage. Andersen’s prose is unfailingly clear—if sometimes bloodless and earnest. The entire story is presented as a series of shifting perspectives—readers are treated to not only Jesus’ evolving understanding of himself, but also the interpretations of his family members, a kaleidoscopic narrative artfully consolidated into a coherent whole.
An inventive and gripping work of historical fiction focusing on Jesus.