Critical Context

This is probably the most daring and imaginative treatment of Christian myth that contemporary fiction has to offer. It is destined to fascinate and possibly shock readers for many years to come. D. H. Lawrence’s defiant The Man Who Died (1931), which tried somewhat ineffectually to tie the crucified, but not dead, Jesus to a rejuvenation through sex with a priestess of Isis, pales in comparison with this complex novel so steeped in ancient lore of both pagan and Hebrew cults.

Even Graves’s more fantastic imaginings have some correlation to rumor or legends of the period. Graves and Joshua Podro in The Nazarene Gospel Restored (1953) suggest that the idea of Jesus being spiritually begotten by God would have been greeted with horror in Palestine by Jews and ridicule by worldly Romans and Greeks, who would conclude that Jesus was a bastard. Some, however, took the epithet “King of the Jews” literally as indicating that he was Antipater’s son.

One can hardly understand the dynamics of King Jesus without knowing something of Graves’s obsessive fascination with what he called the White Goddess of ancient preclassical myth and cult. Though Graves insisted that this goddess is the poet’s muse, the only appropriate object of the poet’s devotion, this novel shows her more relentless aspect as the source of man’s bondage to matter and the senses, and thus to sin and death. Jesus was in metaphysical revolt,...

(The entire section is 517 words.)