Marchitelli (In the Land of the Birds, 2012) offers a novel about Jesus Christ and, particularly, his relationship with Mary Magdalene.
The life of Jesus, as depicted in the New Testament, still holds many questions and possibilities. For example, is it possible that Jesus had a biological father? What was his childhood like? What was Jesus’ true relationship with such figures as John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene? This novel ambitiously investigates these and other inquiries, following Jesus from his days as a youth to his eventual death and resurrection. It includes many famous events (such as the raising of Lazarus), as well as various new twists. Marchitelli’s Jesus, for instance, does have a biological father and is John the Baptist’s half brother. Although Jesus and John were raised separately, the two are familiar with each other when they meet on the banks of the Jordan River. John initially looks down on his half brother, as do many others during Jesus’ youth, as he considers Jesus’ parentage illegitimate. As difficult as things get for the young savior, however, he eventually marries a loving woman: Mary Magdalene. Mary, who handles most of the story’s narration, is concerned when her husband embarks on his journey of preaching and miracles. What is a wife to do when her husband decides to go to the desert and fast for 40 days? The book treats Jesus more as a human than as a divine figure, presenting readers with a very different side of Christ. Humble yet focused, he’s a Messiah that understands that his mission will be difficult on his family and close friends. In Mary’s eyes, however, he’s her husband first, and it takes time for her to understand his mission. These kinds of considerations, while simple, make Christ a complex character. The story is stunted by obvious dialogue in parts, as when one character expresses his opinion of the Messiah: “I have many doubts. Though you seem honest and sincere, we don’t know you at all, and I really don’t understand what you want in the end.” Nevertheless, it will leave many readers wondering what they might not know about Jesus and his interactions with his inner circle.
A book that presents alternatives to the traditional story of the Gospels and that may open up new possibilities for curious readers.