The Liar’s Gospel

The Liars’ Gospel
Naomi Alderman
Little, Brown and Company

The Liar’s Gospel is one of those books that challenge and provoke. Naomi Alderman gives an alternate telling of the time of Jesus, Yehoshuah in the Hebrew. Yehoshuah is Miryam’s eldest son, but he is a disappointment to his father Yosef. Miryam starts the telling of the story creating fiction that Gidon, one of Yehoshuah’s followers wants to hear.  Iehuda, Judas in the latin, picks up the tale, then Caiaphas, the High Priest and lastly Bar-Avo, Barrabas. For those who are looking for another uplifting story of Jesus, don’t pick up this book. Jesus is not a great man in this book. He is disturbed, perhaps a little mad. To be honest if you want an uplifting story at all, this is not the book for you.

The period was a time of oppression and degradation. There are no heroes in this book. Each of the people who tell the story are deeply flawed. It is these flaws that drives the narrative as each talks about how their lives intersected the mad-man Yehoshuah. Of all the narrators, only one ends with any sense of hope whatsoever, yet given the bloody nature of this period of history that isn’t surprising.

It is that feeling that we are being given a glimpse into history that makes this novel compelling. There are many other stories of this time that gloss over the brutality of the conflict between Rome and the Jews. Naomi puts us deep into the conflict and shows the brokenness of both sides. There are no heroes; there are no winners. The tone reminds me of another book in which the world ends while the characters bicker about who is at fault. This is a book that prizes realism over a happy ending.

To my mind the weakest part of the novel is the epilogue in which we step away from the personal narrative and are given a kind of apologia for the rise of Christianity. It comes across like Victorian children’s book that need to explain to the reader what they were supposed to have learned from reading this book.

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