The life of Jesus is the greatest story ever told. Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Jews who came to set his people free. In time, he would be revealed as the new Adam–the first person of the new humanity and the one who ushered in the Kingdom of God by his life, death and resurrection.
But if Jesus’ life is the greatest story ever told, the story of his boyhood may be the greatest story never told. Outside the nativity story and the visit of the magi when Jesus was a toddler, the only glimpse of the boy Jesus in the Bible is when he ditches his parents to discuss theology in the temple, confounding the religious leaders. When Mary confronts him with her worry, Jesus says, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I’d be in my Father’s house? (Luke 2:49)
In a novel exploring Jesus’s life from birth to Beatitudes, Alan W. C. Green attempts to lift the veil of what the boy Jesus was like (actually much of is Jesus as a young man before he started his ministry. The Silent Years denotes the period of Jesus’ life which we know little about. This is the story of Yeshua bar Joseph narrated by his maternal uncle, Benaiah bar Jabez, a Galilaen Pharisee who instructed Jesus in Torah when he was a little boy.
Green draws together biographical strands from the Synoptic Gospels and imaginatively reconstructs his vision of Jesus and the formative influences in his life. In some details Green is faithful to the gospel traditions: his vision of Jesus affirms the virgin birth and the adult Jesus is described as a healer. At other points he diverges from the traditional account: Mary and Joseph come to Bethlehem because of a vision of Mary’s and not because of a Roman census, the visit of the magi and the death of the Holy innocents is passed over without mention, nor is there any mention of Jesus’ sojourn in Egypt, The adult Jesus sets up a fish and wealth distrbution program with some Capernaum fishermen, and Jesus is clearly depicted as a holy man but does not seem to be the sinless Son of God (though God does give him the title of Son of Human).
Green’s Jesus is motivated by a series of crisis points. As a boy he is overcome at the sight of some crucified protesters. He rejects Benaiah as a teacher because the witness of peace in prophets (especially in Isaiah’s Servant Songs) while Benaiah holds out hope for God’s violent overthrow of Israel’s enemies. When Joseph dies, Jesus learns of the mysterious circumstances of his birth and resolves to serve God by patterning his life after Isaiah’s suffering servant. Another crisis point happens when he is beaten by some renegade Roman soliders and forced to watch his pupil Mary Magdalene get raped. Jesus has to face his own rage, especially when Simon and his fishermen friends avenge him by murdering the Roman soldiers. But his own encounter with God in the wilderness gives him purpose as he dedicates his life to sharing the good news of God’s kingdom and God’s great love.
In the end, the Jesus of Green’s novel looks a little too much like a twenty first century, humanist do-gooder. Jesus starts a redistribution center and with Mary Magdalene organizes a women’s literacy center. Certainly the inclusion of women and the poor were kingdom priorities to Jesus, and he challenged the traditions of his day, but I think Jesus’ was more than a proto-communist/feminist. These and other details (like Salome’s psychoanalysis on Mary Magdalene) seem anachronistic to me. I also found the story telling a little stilted. So while there are some interesting elements to this story I did not find this to be a compelling account.
But certainly it is fun to imagine what events shaped young Jesus and influenced his psychological development. He was God, but he was fully human. I liked the idea behind this novel better than the execution.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.