Adam Winn’s Killing a Messiah is a novel set in 1st century Judea that shows different perspectives before, during, and somewhat after Holy Week. The book follows several characters, invented or historical, as events swirl leading up to the Crucifixion.
Judah, a leader of a Jewish resistance group, is probably the driving force for action in the novel. Pilate has a much more prominent place than one might expect given the biblical narrative (more on that below). A shopkeeper, Caleb, attempts to avoid the major events taking place around him. Eleazar, the son of High Priest Caiaphas, has his own politically motivated agenda.
The novel introduces a number of factors that stirred conflict in Judea during this time, and Winn does a competent job showing how this may have impacted people at various levels in Israel’s hierarchy. I was surprised, however, at how little a voice was given to any female characters in the book. There are 4 main perspectives, none of which is a woman. Yet in the biblical narrative, we see women featuring hugely in the events. It feels a bit like a missed opportunity to not have a narrative perspective from someone like one of the women who helped fund Jesus’s ministry. What would she have been like? How would she have viewed the political turmoil happening around Jesus? Perhaps I’m just interested in parts of the narrative that did not interest Winn, but I, unfortunately, cannot help but feel a strong sense of “what might have been” throughout the novel.
What’s interesting is that Winn’s framing of the events throughout this period allow him to address several issues that don’t often come up in discussions of the biblical text. For one, he places Pilate directly in the midst of the events. While his use of fictional embellishments in the narrative underscore Pilate as being involved throughout the process, it also helps highlight the possibility that Pilate was intentionally being portrayed somewhat like a puppet for the Jewish leaders by the biblical authors. The theological possibilities of this aren’t drawn out by Winn.
Another point Winn makes (see author’s note, 228-229) is that Jesus was still popular with many of the people in Jerusalem and instead the events were brought about by the High Priest Caiaphas and other elites attempting to stop what was perceived as “illegal and seditious” activity by Jesus and his followers.
The author’s note, in my opinion, is one of the more interesting parts of the whole work. In fact, I almost wish that we’d simply gotten a lengthy exposition of the points Winn raises in the note than a historical fiction novel. The novel reads well enough, but it drags at times and seems to struggle to piece the characters into the narrative rather than having them drive the narrative.
Overall, Killing a Messiah is a good read, but one that will leave readers wanting more. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the tantalizing hints Winn gives in the narrative and note at the end will make readers want to learn more about the points he’s making.
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Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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