Read: 25 June, 2009
If there was a historical figure of Jesus, who was he? Where did he come from and what did he really believe and preach? Ricci explores these questions by composing four new gospels. Although independent stories, and largely covering different points in Jesus’ life, there is some overlap and quite a few “ah ha! That explains it!” moments as events are told from different perspectives.
Testament imagines a human Jesus, a Jesus who is mythologized and divinized by followers who loved and depended on him and who were lost when he was suddenly ripped away from them. Jesus is also a presented as a complex individual who comes to mean different things to different people. Those around him struggle to understand him, to fit him into simplistic models, but of course these cannot accommodate real personalities (which tend to be multi-facetted and even contradictory).
I generally dislike books written from multiple perspectives. Invariably, the author’s own voice shows through, making each account too similar (minus the occasional superficial difference, such as the use of phonetic accenting). But in Testament, each narrator feels like a completely separate entity. They have their own interpretations of events and pay attention to only those details that are of interest to them. Mary’s story feels like a female, world-weary, and maternal narrator, while Mary Magdalene’s story feels like a love-struck, hero-worshipping young girl. The construction of psychically real characters is clearly Ricci’s strong suite.
Testament is a continuing story. By this I mean that while only four stories are actually told, there are many other characters throughout the novel who hint at having their own interesting perspective to talk about, their own stories. The book could easily have been far longer, but instead Ricci chose to merely hint at these other stories, to provide food for the reader’s imagination long after the novel itself has been finished.
A great deal of research clearly went into the writing of Testament. It was a fun little game for me to try to identify which theory Ricci was calling upon at any given moment. While I don’t personally agree with all of his choices, he did certainly manage to collate many diverse theories into a cohesive whole and, more importantly, a historically believable story.
I found this to be a very enjoyable read. Not only is in entertaining and interesting, it is also intellectual (as far as these things go). It is a book that feeds the brain without the reader even noticing and, as such, can easily be enjoyed on a number of different levels. It certainly ought to be required reading for all Atheists and doubters from a Christian tradition.
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