When Jesus was twelve years old, Luke tells us, he went with his parents to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. After his parents and the rest of their party set off to return to Galilee, Jesus remained three further days on his own in Jerusalem, spending time in the Temple and asking questions. Later, at the end of his life, Jesus also spent three days separated (this time by death) from his mother, his friends and his followers. This ingenious, engaging book is constructed around those two three-day Jerusalem Passover separations. It is written in the style of a novel, and much of the material is fictional, especially the account of the boyhood separation, where a mere seven verses in Luke are elaborated into 60 pages. It is striking, however, the way in which the author introduces into that account people who could very well have been among those whom Jesus met in Jerusalem (such as Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus and Caiaphas), and who were to reappear twenty years later in the second separation at the time of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion.
The author has clearly done extensive research and study both into the biblical sources and into the history, geography and archaeology of first century Palestine. This makes the account vivid and convincing. Even though the action of the book is at first sight confined to those two three-day periods in the life of Jesus (or Yeshua as he is called in the book), the author manages to include a remarkable amount of the gospel narrative by means of flashback and reminiscences exchanged by the various characters. There is also a Prologue set on a ship in 15 BC and an Epilogue in the form of a letter written from Cyrene 15 years after Jesus’ resurrection to complete the symmetry.
The book is written in a spirit of reverence and faithfulness to the text. The humanity of Jesus is emphasised at every turn, and to some this may come as a bit of a shock, although his divinity is stressed with increasing force as the narrative moves to its climax. The book helpfully obliges us to ask ourselves again what we really mean when we say that Jesus was fully human, “…in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin”. Probably the most unusual chapter is the one entitled Harrowing of Hell – Saturday. This begins, significantly, with a quotation from the beginning of Dante’s Inferno. The chapter recounts encounters of Jesus before his resurrection with Adam and Eve and Cain, as well as with some of the more unsavoury characters to whom we have been introduced in the story up to this point. Some may feel uncomfortable at this interpretation of verses like 1 Peter 4:6. But it makes fascinating reading. That could be said of the book as a whole. It will be particularly useful in schools as a means of introducing the gospel story to students in a manner that is well thought out, faithful to the biblical text and yet the very opposite of prudish.
by Hugh Bradby