santa dropped into town last weekend, retailers are painting the town red and green, and Christmas fans are saying, "Hydro bills be damned -- here come the lights."All of which would have completely freaked Jesus out, at least according to Nino Ricci. His fascinating Testament looks at the life of Jesus from the point of view of four people whose lives he touched: Yihuda, a political dissident, Miriam, aka Mary Magdalene, Jesus' mother, Mary, and the Syrian shepherd Simon.
Ricci makes Jesus, whom he calls Yeshua, brilliant, exasperating and entirely human -- we don't see a god, we see a man. His was not a virgin birth, but the result of Mary getting it on with a Roman legate when she was trying to avoid Joseph, her old man in more ways than one. Jesus' so-called miracles were not a magician's handiwork but the product of medical training as a youth in Alexandria.
And he was not a prophet in the Moses mould but, rather, a teacher whose role model was Socrates. All four characters are transformed by Jesus' teachings in ways that evoke his real genius and give the novel surprising emotional force. I don't know if Ricci is a church-goer, but he is without a doubt a believer. Not in the New Testament, but in Yeshua's intellect and charisma.
In this story, Yeshua is a radical in the ways he includes women in his community, something that's misconstrued by cynical contemporaries as lasciviousness. He is not betrayed by his fellow Jews but caught up, almost by mistake, in a political demonstration in Jerusalem's marketplace. Barabbas isn't a factor, Pontius Pilate is all but invisible and Jesus has no famous last words. He dies silently by a crucifixion Ricci describes in excruciating detail.
Write Books at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TESTAMENT by Nino Ricci (Doubleday), 456 pages, $35.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN