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A novel testament,
This review is from: The Last Temptation (Paperback)
Let me start by saying this is a really excellent story. I cannot know how it uses the new testament (as I've never read it - though I clearly do know the basic Christmas story). The style of language is riveting and detailed. I really enjoyed this novel, not least because I had recently read Resurrection by Tolstoy (a story about a guy making amends to a maid, who turns to prostitution, after he abused her) and the two seemed to work together. The book seems to be quite weighty, long and textured in its ideas building slowly to the finale. A lot happens in the story but the outline, as I see it, is as follows:
This is the story of a guy called Jesus and his anguished belief that he has a higher calling leading ultimately to his demise; it is based during the times of Roman occupation of Palestine around Galilee. The story details that he is a thirtysomething virgin (which might explain a lot!), having had a mental breakdown when he was about to get it on with a girl called Magdalene (who is so disturbed by this young man's actions and because she loved him, ends up as a prostitute). His father is a paraplegic having been struck down on his wedding day. Jesus is a carpenter who makes crosses for Roman crucifixions and is not popular as a result, since many a zealot or saviour is being dispatched by this means (locals are hoping that someone could free them from Roman occupation). He is plagued by a spirit (good or evil or his imagination?) that seems to stalk him and having failed to get answers at a monastery (and avoiding being murdered by Judas), spends a few days in a desert to think about things has an epiphany that is basically summarised as "God is Love" and eternal life; he finds the corpse of a goat, which had been symbolically loaded with the town's sins and sent into the desert to die, and he identifies himself with it. He seems to be looking for his own answers to his life condition. When he returns various friends, town folk, fishermen, tax collector, publican, rabbis and baptiser and particularly the poor etc start to hear his preaches and follow him; they are clearly in it for various selfish reasons (his apparent ability to even up the wealth, be his friend, his revolutionary guards, afterlife stuff etc).
One of his mates called Judas (and perhaps most interesting character), a red headed revolutionary (and local rough-boy leader), is both Jesus's engine and challenger. Another key character is Matthew who acts as Jesus biographer - he augments and dreams the childhood history of Jesus and writes this down as fact. Rich family heads are doubtful of Jesus's motives but wives, like Salome, challenge them. There are some modest suggestions of Jesus performing miracles but these don't feature prominently until, having built up a head of steam, he picks on a deceased man called Lazarus (not a noticeably worthy person for such a privilege in the story) to bring him back from the dead; Lazarus's rotting but alive corpse seems to represent to me the nature of "absolute power corrupting absolutely". Jesus now running out of sermonic ideas whilst getting more radical in his divine beliefs, decides to challenge the prevailing Jewish leaders (and law) in Jerusalem.. The self-centred motives of the religious leader's views, for the one person whom they seem to need, doesn't stop them from arranging that the Romans arrest and crucify Jesus. Judas is asked by Jesus to ensure he is captured and can fulfil his plan.
Other reviews give more detail of the ending, and not wishing to give too much detail, this now leads to the excellent finale of the book (last tenth of the 500 pages); all the deep ideas are brought to a focus, in essence Jesus dreaming or remonissing on missed opportunities(or is the whole story a dream?); the different life he could have had - the last temptation. He marrys and remarries and lives to old age in place of Lazarus. The powerful scenes when he meets his now old disciples particularly Judas, who ironically calls Jesus a traitor, are very thought provoking.
If I had criticism of the book it would be that I really didn't know what sort of Jesus Jesus was at the end. Did the author intend him to be human or divine? if he was human then the rotting alive Lazarus was misplaced contextually, but if he really had that power I don't think Jesus' inner-conflict (being all too human) would have been so contradictory for him.