Book Review: The Betrayal

The Betrayal: The Lost Life of Jesus: A Novel by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear

Recently the Israeli Education Ministry decided to ban books which simplified the Bible. The simplified book, the Ministry argued, would not encourage students to read original Hebrew. Besides that simplifying the Bible was “scandalous”. Reading this article, one blogger wrote a spoof as if the Southern Baptist Convention had decided to ban the New Living Translation and other easy-to-read translations of the Bible.

While banning certain versions of religious texts may look ridiculous now, this was a major accomplishment of Emperor Constantine in 325 CE. During that period hundreds of gospels were in circulation and various factions did not agree with each other. At the Council of Nicaea, certain gospels were canonized; others categorized as heretical.

The council had ordained the doctrine of resurrection and established that Miriam was a virgin even though Yeshua had four brothers and two sisters. Copies of the heretic gospels were burned, scribes were banned from copying them, and people who followed them given capital punishment.

This work of fiction is set during the period when Constantine’s minions were visiting monasteries destroying evidence. One such monastery was the Monastery of Saint Stephen the Martyr in Egypt where the library held a vast number of heretical documents. A visit from a Roman Bishop leaves everyone dead leaving four survivors – the scribe Barnabas, two monks, Zarathan and Cyrus and a washerwoman Kalay – to escape and journey to Jerusalem. Their goal: find the tomb of Jesus where his remains still – remain.

What follows is a Dan Brownesque adventure, with secret maps and unknown assassins. While that pattern, also used in books like The Last Cato or the Secret Supper is not new, the book gives a great introduction on how modern Christianity was created by a few bishops under the leadership of an emperor, solely for political reasons.

The book covers many facets of early Christianity which have been documented by historians. For instance Yeshua is mentioned as Yeshua ben Pantera (Yeshua, son of Pantera) referring to the fact that Yeshua’s father was the Roman archer Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera, something mentioned in Prof. James Tabor’s book, The Jesus Dynasty.

In this book Maryam is Yeshua’s companion who gets affectionate kisses from the Rabbi and is considered his close confidante. Along their travel, the monks and Kalay reach a tomb in Jerusalem where they find ossuaries containing bones of various people who seem to be the family members of Yeshua. This in fact is a reference to the Talpiot tomb which was the topic of a documentary and various heated debates.

While that forms the primary thread, alternate chapters describe the arrest and trial of Yeshua. That narration comes from the point of view of Joseph of Arimathea in whose tomb Yeshua was buried after crucifixion. Here the authors put the point of view that Yeshua’s body was not burried, but made to disappear by the Jewish council to make people believe he was the Messiah so that they don’t revolt and cause the Romans to destroy the temple.

In fact just this year Prof. Israel Knohl published the translation of a stone tablet pre-dating Jesus with inscriptions suggesting the resurrection of a suffering messiah and scholars believe that Yeshua’s story was made to conform to that pattern.

Nothing mentioned in the book is a surprise since it comes from biblical research. This is the only work of fiction I have read which has 21 pages of notes and four pages of bibliography. Besides this, there is an interview with the authors in which they explain how all this information was deliberately kept out by the church.

The point of the book is to spread the idea that the life of Yeshua as known today is not really history. The earliest Christians did not attribute any significance to the virgin birth or resurrection. They did not make up stories to enhance his divinity for they valued his words. The Church was involved in this re-writing and this book tells the alternate version.

11 thoughts on “Book Review: The Betrayal

  1. What do you make of Joseph Atwill’s hypothesis that Jesus was created by Caesar Titus as a messiah to give to the rebellious messianic jews? Titus’ campaign against the messianic jews has been written up as the ministry of this messiah. Most of the main events in the ministry of Jesus correspond chronologically to those in Titus’ campaign. This is explained online in teh Summary:

  2. JK.
    i am midway into another fascinating book Jesus lived in India by holger kersten.
    it is really interesting from a history perspective!!
    sort of destroys all the neat explanations put by those who supported paul’s ideas!!
    also explains the ressurcution theory.

  3. I always believed Romans knew how to use religion for their propaganda. The ancient Roman religion was a mix of Greek and Etruscan religions combined by Numa Pompilius. Whenever they conquered a region they would adopt their god. But this also meant after a while the Pantheon got a bit overcrowded and confusing. By the time of Constantine, Christianity had reached into prominence in Rome. All Constantine needed to do was change the state religion to Christianity. btw, cudn’t help noticing Maddy’s comment. Just out of curiosity, is the book he’s reading talking about St. Thomas being Jesus?

  4. Ashish, This is the first time I am hearing about Atwill’s hypothesis. There is another school of thought which believes that Yeshua was an imaginary person modeled on the life of Apollonius of Tyana.

    These currently are minority positions for there is mention of a Jesus in the writings of Josephus and Tacitus. From that the only point that can be concluded is: there lived a Jew named Yeshua who was crucified. A whole mythology was created around it much later.

    The following lectures are worth listening

    1. A conversation with Professor Thomas Sheehan about the historical Jesus.
    2. Historical Jesus on iTunes
  5. Ranjith,
    You are right. Earlier the Romans did not care much about religion so long the law and order was maintained. By the time of Constantine, things got out of control. One of my future posts is about Constantine’s vision and the historicity of it.

  6. JK: a request regarding comment formatting and how they appear. The name of the person commenting appearing both at the top and bottom is confusing. Is it possible to only have the name appear once, preferably at the end of the comment? Thanks.

  7. yes JK – will do
    an intersting book that will provide perspective to those times is (though a thriller) is alexandria link by steve berry.

  8. Maddy, somehow Alexandria Link was too painful for me to read. I kept at it due to the interesting history angle, but the writing was unbearable.

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