Holy Fact, Holy Fiction

By Abrams, Rebecca | New Statesman (1996), August 31, 2012 | Go to article overview

Holy Fact, Holy Fiction


Abrams, Rebecca, New Statesman (1996)


The Liars' Gospel

Naomi Alderman

Viking, 272pp, [pounds sterling]12.99

Ever since I was a child, I've been fascinated by novels about biblical figures in which the boundary between fact and fiction, always the thorn in historical fiction's side, is especially ambiguous. David Maine took on Noah in his novel The Flood, then Cain and Abel in Fallen, working the sparse details of the known stories into richly imagined domestic dramas. In Only Human, Jenny Dish recast the story of Abraham and Sarah as a love triangle, with God the arrogant, petulant and gloriously narcissistic third party. Diski and Maine deploy humour to explore the relationship between the human and the divine to great effect. Comedy is the dominant key for these retellings but it's comedy shot through with something much darker.

Now Naomi Alderman enters the fray with The Liars' Gospel, a novel that circles around the elusive historical character of Jesus. She is by no means the first. Norman Mailer's The Gospel According to the Son put the familiar story into Jesus's voice to interrogate the New Testament versions. Philip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ attempted to extricate the human Jesus from the Messiah his disciples made of him. Others, from Thomas Jefferson to Stephen Mitchell, have likewise attempted to distil the teachings of the itinerant preacher Jesus from the overwritings of the early Christians.

Alderman, however, is doing something rather different. While The Liars' Gospel shares a central preoccupation with the nature of truth and the inherent slipperiness of words and memories, it roots its characters firmly and vividly in their historical and political context. You can see, hear, smell and taste first-century Judaea on every one of its pages. Alderman, whose previous two novels were concerned with contemporary Judaism, here succeeds magnificently in re-Judaising a story set 2,000 years in the past.

Jesus, Mary and the others are given back their Jewish names: Yehoshuah, Miryam, Iehuda. Yehoshuah/Jesus is one of numerous preacher-healers roaming Judaea. Pilate is one beleaguered and incompetent local ruler among many and answerable to his bosses back in Rome in what was then a relative backwater in the vast sprawl of the Roman empire. Religions existed cheek by jowl and had as much to do with power as with belief--then as now.

Violence was endemic. If you think things are bad in Syria today, compare it with living in Jerusalem circa 30AD. Civilian massacres were routine, bloodshed common, deadly skirmishes between rebels and rulers commonplace. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Holy Fact, Holy Fiction
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.