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Jesus: a harrowing narrative

31 January 2014

Naomi Starkey on the filling-in of the gaps


Missing: Three days in Jerusalem
Sonia Falaschi-Ray
Matador £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9 (Use code CT877 )

RETELLING Bible stories remains a popular way of casting new light on familiar episodes. From the quirky vignettes of Trevor Dennis to the majestic tome that is Walter Wangerin's The Book of God, Christian writers continue to enjoy the challenge of bringing alive the people and places of scripture and bypassing "tea-towels-and-sandals" clichés.

Missing brings together the three days when 12-year-old Jesus (Yeshua) goes missing in Jerusalem with the events that take place between the night in Gethsemane and Easter morning. For the most part, the book aims at faithfully reproducing an ancient Near Eastern setting, including details of contemporaneous food, clothes, home furnishings, transport, and so on. The descriptions of flogging and crucifixion are harrowingly vivid.

We meet a large cast of individuals, some of whom are additions to the Gospel accounts (the parents of the Bethany family, for example), while others whose names we already know (such as Joseph of Arimathaea and Mary Magdalene) are given imaginative back-stories. The biblical sequence of events is preserved, but also creatively expanded to explore the might-have-beens. A Good Friday encounter between Peter and Judas is particularly thought-provoking.

The book also, however, includes a Harrowing of Hell chapter, with sneering devils, sulphur, branding irons, suffering souls - including children - and Yeshua sounding rather too much like Gandalf the White ("We meet again, Satan, or should I call you Lucifer, you fallen angel?"). Including such Dante-esque horror in an otherwise more-or-less historical narrative could have the unfortunate effect of implying that this is what most Christians believe.


Naomi Starkey is a commissioning editor for BRF, and edits and writes for New Daylight Bible-reading notes. She has also written Good Enough Mother (BRF, 2009) and The Recovery of Love (BRF, 2012).

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