Sunday, December 04, 2011

book review: The Silent Years


The Silent Years: Jesus from Birth to Beatitude by Alan Green.  154 pages.  ebook version.

This book is advertised as a "progressive Christmas novel" and heralded by some learned readers (academics) as an "imaginative reconstruction" of the first thirty years of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  The author has concocted a tale told by Yeshua's uncle, Benaiah, by incorporating knowledge of the historical Mediterranean world (Green has a Ph.D. in History) and fusing this with loose interpretations of biblical passages.

I wanted to like the book.  I really did.  Having read Anne Rice's inspiring, fictionalized accounts of the early life of Jesus (Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt and Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana), I was expecting more of the same:  meticulous research, historical authenticity, believable narratives, insightful portrayal of biblical characters, and an invitation to lose oneself in a cohesive world imaginatively created by the author.  It was not to be. 

Just as a well-made garment does not draw attention to its seams, so a well-written book does not let its mechanics (whether they are brilliant or awkward) upstage the tale. While reading, I noticed a few typos, several grammatical errors, some inconsistent spelling of names (Maryam at times becomes Miryam), and some lack of consistency in the storyline.  One example of this inconsistency is in regard to Yeshua's Nazirite vow which does not allow him to come in contact with the dead.  Yeshua helps bury some unfortunate crucified protestors without much comment from the author.  However, Green writes in a huge outcry from the family when Yeshua wants to help prepare his recently deceased father for burial.  Did I miss something?  When I see small errors such as these, it alerts me that all might not be well. 

While some might appreciate the "progressive" nature of recasting Jesus as a revolutionary, underground quasi-political leader who organized the first fishermen's collective in order to better distribute food and wealth, it fell flat for me.  So much of the biblical narrative has been reworked that, in my opinion, it comes off as somewhat of a messy patchwork with no clear purpose.  Timelines are adjusted, entire scenarios omitted, characters reinvented, events rewritten, and a lot of stories mashed together to form a reinterpreted motivation for Yeshua's life.  I have no problem with Green doing all of this, but for what purpose?

Perhaps the most significant omission is the presence of divinity in the character of Yeshua.  He is human like everyone else, has faults like his followers, and admits to thinking murderous thoughts.  He undergoes a mystical experience with a mysterious Light which becomes his own point of  transformation and serves as a model for others to imitate. In fact, he becomes the model human for others to emulate.

The question I kept asking myself as I read was this: "Why is Green writing this story?"  My best guess is that he is trying to tell a first century story that will appeal to a 21st century audience.  In contrast to Rice's books which immerse the reader in a carefully crafted world of another time and place, Green's book seems to snap back and forth between his version of the New Testament world and modern sensibilities.  Mary Magdalene undergoes what appears to be a modern psychotherapy session of self-discovery.  Yeshua institutes a centre which fights for women's rights and in one scene, he serves as a mediator in a counseling session between two disciples who don't get along. The language leans toward 21st century spirituality with the Light, the Music, and the inner voice becoming driving forces for his ministry.   

Troublesome also are the extended monologues by Yeshua (41 pages) and Mary (21 pages) which prove to be cumbersome writing tools no doubt meant to deliver a lot of information to the reader in a short amount of time.  They pretty much defeat the first person voice the book began with.  Yeshua poses a question to his uncle in the middle of one of these lengthy speeches: "I've been going on for such a long time!  Are you tired?" (92).  I found myself replying Yes. Yes, I am.

Well, this review has turned out more negative than I meant it to be, so let me close with this.  Some of the historical settings and backgrounds are interesting and informative.  Thanks for those, Alan Green. 

the photo:  paper clips in my office, only a few feet away from where I read the book on my computer.

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