by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, et al.
T he New Testament is unquestionably the book that everyone is talking about this Christmas, and for good reason. It has a bit of something for everybody: action, romance, sex, melodrama, violence, praying, deception, piety--even crucifixion!
Following the exciting and daring (yet ultimately kind of depressing) adventures of one Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the book begins with Jesus' parents, Joseph and Mary, engagedÉ until Joseph discovers that the supposedly virtuous Mary is already knocked up. While Joseph first intends to "dismiss her quietly," he has a dream in which he's told by an angel that Mary has been miraculously impregnated by (who else?) God.
So Joseph marries Mary, and Jesus is born. Jesus is a sweet kid, but, like Smallville's Clark Kent, he can live in quaint Nazareth for only so long before he has to split. After meeting a preaching vagrant, John, Jesus begins proclaiming that he's the Son of God, and, more importantly, he goes all Spider-Man, gaining extraordinary powers--he walks on water, he heals the sick, and he creates multiples of various food products. The significance of his works and words is where The New Testament spends much of its focus--until a shocking plot twist emerges, which is followed by an even more unpredictable conclusion. I won't give too much away, but I will say that one of Jesus' cohorts isn't as faithful as one could hopeÉ.
Indeed, faith is a major theme throughout The New Testament, and one of the book's glaring flaws is that all of its characters seem a little too eager to trust in Jesus (sure, there are those who doubt Jesus' grandiose claims--namely, the Jews, or any who aren't Jesus' followers, really--but they're dealt with in a simplistic, almost caricatured manner). Likewise, the authors themselves seem to be enamored by their main character; while they sometimes narrate Jesus' exploits in an objective, third-person perspective, portions are written in a wholly adulatory and--dare I say--an almost preachy style.
Therefore, never addressed is a potentially interesting topic: Is Jesus truly the Son of God, or is he just some crazy kid pulling an epic, Jackass-style stunt? Sure, there are the so-called "miracles," but the authors never really convince the reader that a leper has been cleansed, or that a mute boy has been made to speak. (Couldn't the leper have just, say, gotten better? Couldn't the boy have just been very, very shy?) If the authors had Jesus or his followers question Jesus' ostentatious assertion, The New Testament could have been the most notable addition to the genre of psychological fiction since Kafka's The Metamorphosis or Ellis' American Psycho.
The book also includes a scattered collection of letters to various churches and peoples, instructing them on how to follow Jesus' teachings. While some add new dimensions to the text, most of them feel like lightweight DVD extras, tossed in only to give the book more heft (which seems unnecessary, since The New Testament is currently available in a one volume set with its far more bulky and tedious prequel, which bears the decidedly uninspired title of The Old Testament).
Another consistent flaw is The New Testament's steadfast refusal to include humor. While the book's entertaining enough, what with the miracles and the crucifying and the unleavened bread and whatnot, there are precious few gut-busting laughs. Would it have been so hard for the authors to give Jesus a sidekick--in the vein of, say, Rob Schneider or Jamie Kennedy--smart-assing his way through miracles, wryly commenting upon sociological mores of the day, or making comical faces?
While it's impossible for The New Testament to justify its hype, it's still a moderately solid read. Its scope impresses, it has enough references to lineage, history, and creatures to do Tolkien proud, and it ends on an apocalyptic note that makes all other depictions of acid-induced fever dreams trifling. "The Revelations to John" is a surreal final chapter that forces the reader to wonder where else the authors can possibly go. With as much success as The New Testament has enjoyed, that's likely a question to be answered in a sequel, perhaps titled The Return of the Testament or The Newer Testament. ERIK HENRIKSEN