Next Year in Jerusalem – John Kolchak

A brutal re-imagining of the Gospel story, Next Year in Jerusalem follows the footsteps of Yeshua Bar-Yosif–an illiterate, epileptic, bastard son of a Roman soldier on his ill-fated life journey through a land racked by terror.

As first century Judea bleeds from the oppression of Roman rule and the violent uprisings against it, Yeshua, tormented by familial guilt for abandoning his mother, eventually forms his own family of travelers who preach for peace and compassion in the face of internecine savagery. Their wanderings lead to encounters with false prophets, assassins, and a rapidly growing movement of extremist rebels whose leader Bar-Abbas’ mission is to expel the Romans and establish an ethnocentric theocracy. Chance sends both Yeshua and Bar-Abbas to the court of Pontius Pilate–the dipsomaniac Governor obsessed with leaving a name for himself in the scrolls of history–and the outcome of that meeting seals the fate of the world for the next two millennia.

With urgent parallels to contemporary issues of religious war, this book is both a lament and a warning. It is also a story about the passage of time, the nature of memory, and of mankind’s inherent yearning for life everlasting.

When a HBO researcher gets in touch and asks if you want to review his book, it’s a no brainer so this week I have been spending my time back in Biblical days, enjoying an interesting alternative and to some controversial version of the Gospels which has plenty of interesting theories about those accounts and will certainly inspire plenty of debate.

There is much to intrigue the reader about this book, including plenty of subversion to the original biblical stories as well as a solid depiction of the brutal world of the time, a land torn with rival beliefs which will resonate with readers today as we still see the effects of those ripples all around us.

The main characters of Yeshua and Pilate get plenty of backstory, their memories, philosophies and motivations are established quickly and explored in-depth.  Yeshua is seen as vulnerable, conflicted and frequently unsure of himself and his beliefs, whilst Pilate – the more intriguing of the two character for me – is lost,all alone in his own existential nightmare.

Bar-Abbas warrants a mention too, a chilling terrorist mind inciting religious fervour and the perpetrator of chilling and indiscriminate atrocities on innocent people.  Without spoiling anything his story arc ends on an intriguing note as well.  Some people may still find the idea of Jews exhibiting an early form of terrorism as shocking but this is the way of fundamentalists and people craving power.  There are plenty of relevant issues of today’s world that have echoed through time and adding in such phrases as War on Terror  and mentions of Hitler really underline the point and perhaps allow us to adjust our view on how things were in ancient times and how little they have changed.

Throughout the land, bitter fruit borne of anger and indignation fell to the ground and sprouted from fertile soil.  Young shoots and medium sized stalks, nurtured by the blood that soaked the earth, grew tall and strong, fierce and proud, and had only one thing on their minds – the glory of death through murder and self-sacrifice.

The unbroken and unrelenting cycle of violence from conflicting ideas and beliefs as well as occupying forces, echoing through history will certainly provoke topical debate. This is a fresh and fascinating look at the gospels and raises questions, not least on how stories and events are presented, shaped and manipulated, it’s part retelling and part speculation on how things grow from usually innocuous roots.  The Bible is a fascinating document whether you believe or not and whilst this book could cause offence to some, it is nevertheless a rewarding read with engaging ideas that allow the reader to understand the past in a modern context, which is something that seems more important than ever these days.


21 Replies to “Next Year in Jerusalem – John Kolchak”

    1. The fervour of the modern day fundamentalist is intriguing when viewed in the context of the past and NYiJ certainly makes the similarities to religious extremists of all kinds, most notably at the moment the Islamic variety of cowardice.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I remember reading The Robe by Lloyd Douglas and Greatest Story Ever told etc. And then those Howard Fast heroic novels in the Judean desert. I think Monte Pythons Life of Brian was the best version.


    1. I haven’t read those books, but Life of Brian is certainly memorable film, there was a fascinating Borges short story about the crucifixion, the name escapes me but it is well worth a read if you fancy a bit of Mr B who is tremendous.


  2. Sounds interesting, Ste J. I’m not sure that I’d like it, having read the original gospels, but it sounds interesting nonetheless 😀


    1. It is an intriguing alternative reading, I think that in terms of the time, a lot of context is given to the ideas, a logical process is in evidence too. One thing is clear, anyone reading it will certainly have an opinion on its content.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am currently reading The Hostage’s Daughter by Sulome Anderson – a memoir by the daughter of Terry Anderson who was kidnapped during the Lebanese hostage crisis. Obviously completely different subject matter to NYIJ but it feels from your review as if there might be similarities in the reading, not least pushing into other worlds totally different from one’s own, but nevertheless strangely familiar. I am not religious but find ‘religion’ intriguing – NYIJ sounds like a fascinating prospect.


    1. I agree, religion is a fascinating topic, with still much to be discussed and thought through. I will add THD to the list, I need to get my read on with biographies, another genre under represented on this blog.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, I’m impressed with myself, Ste J, I know someone (you) who is commissioned by other artists to write reviews of their works! Actually, I’m very impressed with you! Congratulations, and thanks for the fine review.


    1. It is always really exciting to get the offer, it is always nice to be asked to read books, especially when that allows me to name drop casually into the review as well, haha!


  5. Is this the Pontius Pilate that sentenced Jesus to death?
    It seems not much has changed since biblical days. Yes. I know we have computers, cars and guns instead of scrolls, horses and swords, but the lingering sentiments of man’s lesser self drag on.
    I have read the bible. I was #1 in my religious classes at Catholic summer school, and I even studied the Bible as literature in college. I am not a believer, but I agree we need to read, and understand.
    Perhaps more Christians should read the Koran, and more Muslims read the bible?


    1. It is the very same Pilate. It would be interesting to see the divergences and agreements the three major religions have and what they make of each other. I think a lot of believers believe because their families do without really examining what it actually is that they believe, or at least that’s the impression I get from people I have spoken too.


  6. Fascinating, Ste J. I should love to read this book. Obviously being a believer and a Christian, I should love to test the waters about the similarities and the divergence. It should really be interesting. Of course my faith will certainly not be in doubt but it should be interesting, for I love such topics if only to remain grounded in my beliefs after the discourse. 🙂

    A fine review, as usual. 🙂


    1. It does make an interesting conversation about the interesting merits of the ideas. I think a continual challenging of one’s beliefs – whatever they may be – is rewarding. I hope to get an interview with the author soon so that may provide you with some more interesting reading.


      1. Ohhh you’re so sweet xx I’m working on a short story collection right now.. So perhaps the interview could be when the book comes out? Later this year, cross my fingers on timing xx Hope you’re doing well!


        1. I am doing well after a brief collapse of the ol’ body clock. I shall time my interview for when you are ready with your book, which I must say is exciting news!

          Liked by 1 person

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