King Jesus by Robert Graves
London: Arena, 1989 (original publication date 1946) ISBN 0099601109
There are many ways to describe this fascinating book: dense, evocative, learned, and certainly blasphemous. Robert Graves has written a life of Jesus that takes literally the claim that he was the King of the Jews and David's rightful heir, while at the same time not denying his holiness and power.
The story starts with King Herod and his murderous ways, and with Mary being secretly married to Herod Antipater, who leaves her with child before heading to Rome and execution. The child of this union is Jesus, and the rest of the book describes how he deliberately sets out to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament.
Graves has skillfully interwoven Biblical texts with practices and rumours of older gods to show that Jesus was indeed the fulfillment of many traditions. His encounters with priests of other gods confirm his and Jehovah's power, although many of the miracles documented in the Bible are explained away in natural terms, or ignored.
Graves has mastered many traditions in the writing of this book, and has cleverly woven Old Testament prophecy into his text. Jesus has come to end the world in this book, by destroying the power of the female, and ending the cycle of birth and death, and Judas is indeed a traitor, but not in the ways that traditional Biblical readings would have us think. Graves wrote a short afterword to King Jesus where he describes how he first came up with the idea of ascribing Jesus' birth to the line of Herod, and how he has used other contemporary texts to fill out other parts of the story. And of course some of it is made up - Graves makes no claims that King Jesus is anything other than a novel.
It is not light reading; Graves takes the reader deep into what is now obscure pre-Judaic theology, as well as Jewish religious factions such as the Essenes, Sadducees and Pharisees, which takes some following even with a bit of prior knowledge. However, the effort is worthwhile, as the story is fascinating, and fascinatingly different to the real one.
The blurb on the edition I read states that Graves wrote the book to reconcile his loss of faith with his continued respect for Jesus himself. Like all other attempts, King Jesus is at heart a sad book, as no man can truly fathom the workings of God, and to try is to fail. However, the book is still well worth reading, as a story in itself, and as a way back to the Bible and the teachings of Jesus.
Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell