Magazine article The Spectator

'The Kingdom: A Novel', by Emmanuel Carrère - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'The Kingdom: A Novel', by Emmanuel Carrère - Review

Article excerpt

This is an odd one, not least because it claims to be a novel, which it isn't. Emmanuel Carrère, writer and film-maker, looks back on an earlier self when, as a young man, he had a phase of being a devout Catholic, going to Mass daily, making his confession, the whole caboodle. He decides to marry his girlfriend, who is called Anne. We do not hear much about her. He later marries Hélène Devynck. Like the 'real' Carrère, the narrator has a house on the island of Patmos, where much of this book was written -- appropriately, since it is a (sort of) commentary on the New Testament.

As Carrère modestly says, everyone who has ever investigated the origins of Christianity ends up surveying the same relatively small number of sources and documents: the New Testament itself, obviously; the writings of Flavius Josephus, the historian who recorded the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70; the Dead Sea Scrolls (not much there to help us). Christianity or the Christians get brief mention in Tacitus, and the letters of Pliny the Younger. Otherwise you are on your own, and have to decide for yourself what to make of all this strange stuff.

Carrère imagines that James, brother of Jesus and head of the Jerusalem church, really had it in for Paul: indeed, tried to get him bumped off. (Here I felt like Captain Mainwaring -- ' I think you're getting into the realms of fantasy, Jones.')

The character who seems to engage Carrère's imagination most vividly is Luke. In this book, Luke is a disciple of Paul, who accompanies him to Jerusalem for his last journey there. When, at the end of Acts, Paul is left under house arrest in Rome, Carrère seems to think that Luke exaggerated the number of Paul's friends. Although Peter and companions had by then reached the Eternal City, 'no doubt none of them stooped to visiting Paul'.

When Paul was eventually killed by the Romans, it was left to Luke to keep the flame alive. In Carrère's version, Luke wrote some of Paul's later epistles, notably inventing the novelistic details of 2 Timothy, its abusive comments about Alexander the Coppersmith, the request for a cloak left behind in Troas, and its giveaway sentence 'only Luke is with me'. Carrère's Luke also wrote the Epistle of James, which, we learn, is much closer to the sort of things Jesus actually said than anything in Paul's letters. …

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