The Liars’ Gospel by Naomi Alderman

Title: The Liars’ Gospel: A Novel
Author: Naomi Alderman
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Released: March 12, 2013
Source: publisher (NetGalley)

Synopsis:

An award-winning writer re-imagines the life of Jesus, from the points of view of four people closest to him before his death.

This is the story of Yehoshuah, who wandered Roman-occupied Judea giving sermons and healing the sick. Now, a year after his death, four people tell their stories. His mother grieves, his friend Iehuda loses his faith, the High Priest of the Temple tries to keep the peace, and a rebel named Bar-Avo strives to bring that peace tumbling down.

It was a time of political power-play and brutal tyranny. Men and women took to the streets to protest. Dictators put them down with iron force. In the midst of it all, one inconsequential preacher died. And either something miraculous happened, or someone lied.

Viscerally powerful in its depictions of the period – massacres and riots, animal sacrifice and human betrayal – The Liars’ Gospel makes the oldest story entirely new.

The Liars’ Gospel takes place around the life and death of Yehoshuah (Jesus), told from the perspectives of his mother Miryam (Mary), his friend and eventual betrayer Iehuda (Judas), the High Priest Caiaphas, and the rebel Bar-Avo (Barabbas).

I have to admit, I was a wee bit uncomfortable about jumping into a book I knew would be a fictionalized version of biblical events, and with such a provocative title at that (who’s being called a liar?!). But, since I’m not a biblical literalist, my curiosity easily won out.

First off, the language. Now, this isn’t something I usually comment on, or even care much about, but it occurred often enough that I feel the need to mention it. The f-word is used fairly often in the book, as well as some other offensive terms. Part of me understands why these words were used, but sometimes I found it distracting. Maybe because the novel is written in a biblical setting? I’m not sure. But if you are one who greatly dislikes profanity, just a heads up.

That aside, I found Alderman’s vivid storytelling incredible, giving readers deeper insight into the historical context of the Gospels. I personally discovered how woefully ignorant of this time period I am. At the end of the book, Alderman provides notes on her sources. I also stopped a number of times to look up “Judea as Roman province” or “prefect Pilate ancient Israel” to get my bearings. When we say in the Apostles’ Creed that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate,” from now on I’ll be reminded of the countless others who were also subjected to Pilate’s mercilessness.

The fictional details of the character’s personal lives also add to their depth and relatability. We are shown a very human side of Mary, with what I think are completely natural, motherly responses to Jesus’ actions. We also see Judas as more than simply “the betrayer.” My favorite scenes were the ones between Judas and Jesus: endless questioning, discussing, freedom to wonder and challenge everything. “This questioning is the wisdom I taught you… Use it always with me.”

Through The Liars’ Gospel, details of life and faith during early Roman rule of Judea become a rich and vibrant story. Alderman gives a unique Jewish perspective to this familiar Christian account, creating a story that prompts much thoughtful consideration.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.