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.)