- Jesus Novel
Fans of Cooper's earlier novels (Hume's Fork ; Purple Jesus ) may be disappointed to learn that his latest work is not the third offering from the world of Legare Hume, Purvis Driggers, et al. What it is, however, is a far from disappointing, and deceptively facile, "Jesus novel" that, if it suffers from anything, will perhaps suffer from an inability to find the wide readership that it arguably merits.
The title is sufficiently indicative: The Gospel of the Twin is a gospel narrative, purportedly written, in the first person, five decades after the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, by one Judas Didymos Thomas—Jesus's twin brother. Unfolding in a "prologue" and thirty-four "chapters," consisting of between one and five "verses" each, the novel is an account the life of Jesus, as understood—or misunderstood—by his brother, interspersed with accounts of Thomas's successive wanderings and musings in the years following his brother's execution, as he attempts to figure out what, if anything, it all meant.
Comparisons with other "Jesus novels" are perhaps inevitable, as this particular sub-genre already includes well-known contributions by the likes of Lew Wallace (Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ ), George Moore (The Brook Kerith: A Syrian Story ), Sholem Asch (The Nazarene ), and Nikos Kazantzakis (The Last Temptation of Christ ). Contrasts, however, are perhaps more instructive in situating this novel for a contemporary readership. For, whatever else it might be deemed, The Gospel of the Twin is decidedly neither an irreverent, revisionist send-up played for laughs, à la Christopher Moore (Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal ), nor a devotional, fundamentalist tract provided to secure the faithful in the particulars of their faith, à la Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins (The Jesus Chronicles [2006, 2007, 2009, 2010]). Or, to situate it on a different but comparable axis, The Gospel of the Twin is neither an outsider's attempt to render the story of Jesus in the form of a novel while keeping to the official version of the story as recounted in the Gospels, à la Norman Mailer (The Gospel According to the Son ), nor a wildly inventive venture in speculative iconoclasm, à la Michael Moorcock (Behold the Man [1966, 1969]).
Like most of these works, Cooper's Gospel is what Theodore Ziolkowski (Fictional Transfigurations of Jesus ) would easily identify as a "fictionalizing biography." What sets Cooper's novel most obviously apart from the rest of the crowd, however, is the one liberty that Cooper allows himself, namely, the conceit of having the story ostensibly narrated by Jesus's twin brother. Such a conceit is almost certain to alienate readers who lean toward the LaHaye/Jenkins and/or Mailer positions, for whom any tinkering with the accepted narrative tradition as unfolded in the New Testament Gospels is anathema. But the conceit is far more tenable, and far more intelligent, than the kind favored by those who lean toward the Moore and/or Moorcock positions, as there is in fact a tradition in Christian theology, albeit a minority one, per which the "Thomas" named and numbered among the original disciples of Jesus was, in fact, his twin brother. What Cooper appears to be after here is a telling that is, at least philosophically, more plausible and more compelling than offerings from any of the afore-mentioned extremes.
As the narrator explains in the Prologue to his Gospel, "[he] would rather Jesus be completely forgotten than transformed into something he was not. Since I cannot erase the lies, I must try to combat them by offering truth." Writing some five decades after the crucifixion of his brother, however, Thomas also concedes that his own understanding of his brother was far from complete, or clear, and that his own re-telling of these events, so long after the fact, is as likely as any other to be or contain distortions of what philosophical realists would unproblematically refer to as "the...