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No stories are better known or fiercely treasured than those in the Bible. And the influence of the King James version of the Bible is so pervasive in the English-speaking world that not only can we be said to all know those stories in identical wording but the word choices and phrases therein, to a considerable extent, shaped the very language we all speak today. The writer then who undertakes a reverent novelization of the Gospels, or any Bible story really, must respond to a series of unique challenges. Among them, he must achieve a voice distinctive enough to stand comparison with his source. He must both remain true to that source and, at the same time, depart enough to justify our not just reading the original. And, perhaps hardest of all, he must write a few moments into his text that will move a reader as profoundly as the Gospels do, and manage this despite the fact that we obviously know what's coming. Given the immensity of these tasks it will be the rare author indeed who succeeds, but Walter Wangerin does so brilliantly in Jesus: a Novel.

It probably helps here that Mr. Wangerin's past novels include distinctive fantasies, like The Book of the Dun Cow. That great novel is told almost in the form of a Bible tale and in a rich language that is freighted with significance yet totally accessible. In a sense then, where Dun Cow is a fantasy influenced by the Bible, Jesus can almost be said to reverse the process, with fantasy influencing the Bible story. This makes the familiar stories seem fresh and the author's mastery of language and tone give his storytelling the mythic quality the undertaking requires. Where he really reached greatness in my eyes though was in the scene where he depicts the Last Supper. The narrator at one point says that the bread was so dry as to suck all moisture from the mouth and that His words left them breathless. Easy enough for an author to say, but as I reached the end of the episode I found my own mouth had dried out and I'd not been breathing. Such communion with an author's purposes is so rare that it was downright spooky, or, rather, a moment of transcendence. I obviously can't guarantee you the same, but for me, at least, reading this was itself a religious experience and a beautiful one.


Grade: (A+)


See also:

Walter Wangerin, Jr. (2 books reviewed)
Walter Wangerin, Jr. Links:

    -Walter Wangerin, Jr., Faculty: Walter Wangerin, Jr. (Valparaiso University)
    -AUTHOR SITE: Walter Wangerin, Jr.
    -AUTHOR SITE: Walter Wangerin, Jr. (Zondervan Books)
    -EXCERPT: The Defeat That Won The War: from Reliving the Passion by Walter Wangerin, Jr.
    -EXCERPT: And Grace My Fears Relieved: A picture of God���s terrible, wonderful love: from Little Lamb, Who Made Thee? by Walter Wangerin, Jr.
    -ESSAY: Small Beneath the Firmament: For my father-in-law, his place in the order of Creation was no diminishment, but the beginning of wisdom. (Walter Wangerin Jr., 3/2/01, Christianity Today)
    -ESSAY: Maundy Thursday: Part one of "The Great Reversal," a CT Classic article (Walter Wangerin, Jr., 4/20/00, Christianity Today)
    -ESSAY: Making Disciples by Sacred Story: Biblical storytelling conveys the realities of our faith better than almost any other form of communication. (Walter Wangerin Jr., 01/27/2004, Christianity Today)
    -ESSAY: The Ordination from Above: Becoming a Reverend took one night; experiencing God's power took much longer. (Walter Wangerin, October 1, 1983, Christianity Today)
    -ESSAY: "In Whom Will Jesus Rise Around You" (Walter Wangerin, Jr., Easter Sunday, April 16, 1995, The Chicago Sunday Evening Club)
    -ESSAY: "Honoring the Elderly" (Walter Wangerin, Jr., March 2, 1997, The Chicago Sunday Evening Club)
    -ESSAY: "Into The World, Not to Condemn the World" (Walter Wangerin, Jr., March 1, 1987, The Chicago Sunday Evening Club)
    -ESSAY: A Matter of Being, and a Matter of Being Right (Walter Wangerin, Jr., July 1-8, 1987, Christian Century)
    -ESSAY: Power in powerlessness: spiritual mentors (Walter Wangerin, Jr., March 17, 1993, Christian Century)
    -ESSAY: Water, come down (Walter Wangerin, Jr., November 1999, The Lutheran)
    -REVIEW: of DOES GOD HAVE A BIG TOE? Stories About Stories in the Bible by Marc Gellman (Walter Wangerin, Jr., NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: MARGARET OF THE IMPERFECTIONS By Lynda Sexson (Walter Wangerin, Jr., NY Times Book Review)
    -ARCHIVES: "wangerin" (Christianity Today)
    -ARCHIVES: Walter Wangerin (Find Articles)
    -AWARD: SCIENCE FICTION (PAPERBACK): The Book of the Dun Cow - Walter Wangerin, Jr. (National Book Award Winners, 1980)
    -BOOK LIST: Walter Wangerin, Jr., The Book of the Dun Cow (The Image Top 100 Books of the Century)
    -PROFILE: Walter Wangerin and the cosmic equation: myth and children's literature (Virginia Stem Owens, Dec 14, 1994, Christian Century)
    -INTERVIEW: The Dick Staub Interview: Walter Wangerin Finds God Everywhere: The author of The Book of God discusses his newest novel, an ancient story, yet relevant today (Dick Staub, 01/27/2004, Christianity Today)
    -INTERVIEW: Clearing the Air: Walter and Thanne Wangerin saw turn their despair into a lifetime of fresh starts (Annette LaPlaca, Fall 1996, Christianity Today)
    -INTERVIEW: Interview with Walter Wangerin Jr. (Zondervan Church Source)
    -INTERVIEW: with Walter Wangerin (Paul Holler, On Writing)
    -=INTERVIEW: INTERPRETING THE WORD: This is a week when Jews and Christians alike turn to scripture to explore the mysteries of their faith, but which version of the scriptures, which translation will be read? More than 40 versions are now available, the largest number in history. Elizabeth Farnsworth talks to four Biblical translators about their differing translations of the holy book. (Online Newshour, APRIL 4, 1996)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin, Jr. (Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Greenman Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of the Dun Cow (Eric Weeks)
    -REVIEW: of Book of the Dun Cow (Mary, Focus on Fiction)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of the Dun Cow (Steven Wu)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Sorrows By Walter Wangerin Jr. (Michael Malone, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Jesus: a Novel by Walter Wangerin, Jr. (Victoria James, The Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Jesus: a Novel (Charleston Post & Courier)
    -REVIEW: of Jesus (Cindy Crosby, Christianity Today)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of God: The Bible As a Novel by Walter Wangerin, Jr. (John Wilson, Christianity Today)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of God (The Independent)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of God (Christian Resources)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of God (Isabel Anders, A Closer Look)
    -REVIEW: of Mourning into Dancing by Walter Wangerin, Jr. (Edna H. Hong , Christian Century)
    -REVIEW: of Saint Julian by Walter Wangerin, Jr. (Robert Siegel, Books & Culture)
    -REVIEW: of Saint Julian (Cindy Crosby, Christianity Today)
    -REVIEW: of Saint Julian (Ed Block Jr., America)
    -REVIEW: of Paul: a Novel by Walter Wangerin, Jr. (Linda-Marie Delloff, The Lutheran)

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