The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Although Graves takes unusual liberties with biblical texts, he does not trivialize Jesus, or entirely demythologize his significance. While his birth is explained in more naturalistic terms and his temptation in the desert as ancient ritual with the aged Simon taking the part of the Devil’s advocate, he is still the chosen sacred king, devoted to saving the world from sin and death. Some of his followers undoubtedly thought of this in political, revolutionary terms, casting the Romans as their adversaries, but Jesus is not interested in a secular kingdom.

The novel reveals both the high-minded dedication of Jesus as a man of innate vision trained by the austere Essenes and his essential humanity as a man of sorrows. The large gap in biblical records about his early life, for example, is partially explained as being the result of a psychic blow to his self-image. The elders of the synagogue discovered the discrepancy in time between his birth and Joseph’s paying the bride price. They came to the obvious, logical conclusion that he was illegitimate. Bastards, no matter how precocious in wisdom, were denied access to the inner temple. The introspective, sensitive Jesus does not reveal his predicament to his mother, for fear of hurting her. Much later, Mary explains to him the unusual circumstances of his birth, not realizing that he has needlessly suffered the eclipse of his youthful dreams. This accounts plausibly for his relatively late emergence as a...

(The entire section is 528 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Jesus, the “wonder-worker” of Palestine, the circumstances of whose birth, development, ministry, and death are chronicled by the narrator, Agabus. He is the son of Mary, the heiress of Michal (wife of King David), and Antipater, the eldest son of Herod, to whom Mary was married secretly. He is protected by Joseph, a retired timber merchant from Emmaus. Born in Bethlehem, Jesus is taken as an infant to Leontopolis, Egypt, where during his first twelve years he learns carpentry from Joseph and the Hebrew Scriptures from Simon. Later, he marries Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and also an heiress of Michal. By refusing to consummate the marriage, Jesus stands for a love untouched by “the act of death.” He preaches in the synagogues and in open places, always conscious of his destiny as priest, Messiah, and future king of Israel. Jesus’ healings, prophetic sayings, and bold challenges to conventional interpretations of the Hebrew Scriptures lead to his condemnation by both religious and political authorities and to his crucifixion as a false king of the Jews.


Mary, or Miriam, a beautiful temple virgin. She is secretly married to Antipater before his death; by him, she bears her only child, Jesus. With the elderly Joseph, who accepts her as his wife, she rears Jesus in Egypt and, later, in Nazareth. Puzzled by the way in which her son is working out his royal destiny, she is present at the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.


Simon, later called Simeon, an Alexandrian Levite Jew, a high priest. He convinces Antipater that his future title as king of Israel would be...

(The entire section is 683 words.)