Book - 2002
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Random House, Inc.
"My starting point was that this character was not divine."

From Governor General’s Award-winner Nino Ricci, one of Canada’s most highly acclaimed literary voices, Testament is a bold work of historical fiction. Set in a remote corner of the Roman Empire at a moment of political unrest and spiritual uncertainty, it re-tells the life of a holy man of enormous charisma who alters the course of human history. Grounded in extensive research, and written with the poetic sensibility that has earned Ricci an international reputation, Testament vividly recreates first-century Palestine in elegant but accessible prose to explore the story of the man we know as Jesus.

Testament at once distances us from the familiar accounts by using Hebrew and Aramaic names. Moreover, he offers the story of Yeshua (Jesus) through the eyes and testimony of four fictional followers, reminiscent of yet utterly different from the Gospels, giving fresh perspective and a captivating narrative to an age-old story.

- Yihuda of Qiryat (Judas Iscariot) is a rebel freedom fighter working for Rome’s overthrow, who sees Yeshua come in from the desert. He is drawn to him; and yet he is full of doubt, always an outsider, too intellectual to simply accept and be accepted. “Tell me your secret,” he thinks, “make me new.”

- Miryam of Migdal (Mary Magdalene), whose family make a living curing fish, is captivated by the way Jesus includes her among his followers, who he encourages to ask questions and challenge him. For this woman, kept back by society from intellectual stimulation, he “reached inside me with his words to touch the inmost part of me.”

- Yeshua’s mother Miryam tells us plainly that he was the result of a rape by a Roman legate; she was forced to marry an old man named Yehoceph, and give birth in his rough lodgings. Her eldest son quickly set himself apart from his siblings. She shows how he learned from different teachers, always quick to challenge received knowledge.

- Finally, we read the account of Simon of Gergesa, a Greek shepherd who sees Jesus with hundreds of followers on a hill across the lake, and comes to the shore to hear him. « This was strange enough, for a Jew, to come out in search of us Syrians and Greeks. » Simon, who finds great sense in Jesus’ teachings, relates to us the last days of the Jewish preacher.

Nino Ricci says: “From the outset I assumed that Jesus was somebody who, in whatever way, was greater than I was, someone I wasn’t going to get to the bottom of.” So he used the technique of circling around the subject, giving different facets, trying to show by suggestion something that cannot be simply explained. “You can’t describe the light and you can’t portray the light, but you know the light is there because it is casting shadows.” In these overlapping narratives with varying interpretations, each narrator seeing the holy man according to his or her needs, we also see how the story may have been transformed through countless retellings.

“I don’t think he saw himself as the Son of God. I think that was a later overlay.” Ricci is not the first novelist to approach this central figure of Western civilization : notable others include D.H. Lawrence, Nikos Kazantzakis (who aroused much anger with his Last Temptation of Christ), Anthony Burgess, Jose Saramago, Norman Mailer, recently Jim Crace. However, Ricci ignored the divine element, using naturalistic explanations for the Bible’s miraculous events. “I find it much more interesting to think of him as having been a real person…who tries to change things in a human way with only human powers.  To me that makes him a great man -- and a model.”

For research, Ricci travelled to Israel and Jordan to visit the Biblical sites; for an understanding of ancient Mediterranean peoples, he drew on knowledge of Italian folk culture and his experience with tribal peoples in Africa. He also read widely and deeply, from the Roman historian Josephus to contemporary academic works by a group of American scholars called the Jesus Seminar, especially John Dominic Crossan’s The Historical Jesus. Though controversial elements of the story drew some accusations of blasphemy, even the portrait of the virgin birth as a rape is grounded in research. Ricci did not expect true believers to be his readers, given the premise that Jesus was not divine.

“Canadians tend to be tolerant of other points of view,” however, says Ricci, and he finds controversy refreshing as long as it sparks analysis and discussion. The Jesus of Testament is a revolutionary teacher who continually challenges people and forces them to think for themselves. “Most writers feel it’s their job to stir up the pot a bit. If you’re not doing that, why bother?” The book has captivated many readers and provides much scope for debate with its bold depiction of Jesus. “Do I believe that it somehow represents the truth of who Jesus was? No. But I believe that it gives a way of understanding his character that sheds light on who he may have been.”

Publisher: Toronto : Doubleday Canada, c2002
Description: 457 p
ISBN: 9780385658546
Branch Call Number: Ricc


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Jan 25, 2011

Made the four characters very human. Another example of perspective - observers might not always have all the details to interpret the motives of the perpetrators. ei - things are not always as they seem.

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