THE LOST DISCIPLE: The Book of Demas by

THE LOST DISCIPLE: The Book of Demas

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Whitten trades his customary cloak and dagger (A Day Without Sunshine, A Killing Pace, etc.) for a penitential robe in this saga of the disciple Demas, a figure mentioned only briefly as ""in love with this present world"" in Paul's Epistles. Unlike Paul, whose asceticism and condemnation of fleshly sins left an indelible mark on the Church, Demas is worldly even at his most ardent in spreading the gospel of love. Half-Jewish son of a Roman tribune, he is brought to Jesus not so much by accepting his teachings as by imitating his life. As a boy, he is kidnapped by radical Pharisees and thrown down a well, from which he rises on the third day when a peasant hears his prayers. After vainly attempting to save the disciple Andrew first from a public scourging and then from a murderous attack by robbers, Demas goes to Jerusalem to report Andrew's death and finds himself drawn to the community there, especially to beautiful Deborah bas Sirach. Eventually, Demas leaves home, is baptized, and joins Deborah, arguing that nothing in his desire for her is forbidden by Jesus' teachings. After several years of muscular Christianity--Demas escapes death in the gladiators' ring by working an apparent miracle, finds himself crucified by enemies, and sets up living arrangements with Deborah, her husband Hoshea, and Hoshea's catamite--Demas begins preaching a gospel whose openness and accommodation (maybe Jesus didn't rise bodily from the grave; sexual sins are relatively minor) earn him Paul's enmity. The disciple Thomas gives Demas the idea of writing a gospel based on the testimony of eyewitnesses to Jesus' ministry, but Demas finds that ""there are as many Jesuses as there are people who knew him"" and retreats with Deborah to Thessalonica before Nero's persecution brings an unexpectedly sudden end to his ministry. Demas' barbaric adventures are compelling, his rewriting of the gospel less so. In humanizing the disciples (""James and Matthew. . .were mean in spirit. . .Peter. . .had whored. . .Andrew was a clown""), Whitten seems to be aiming at the level of The Last Temptation of Christ but ends by producing a more heterodox version of The Robe.

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 1989
Publisher: Atheneum