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.