Twenty years ago, while studying Hebrew and Latin in high school, London writer Naomi Alderman found herself fascinated by the conflicting and overlapping Jewish and Christian accounts she was reading of the first century AD. She remembers telling her Hebrew teacher, “Someone should write a novel about Jesus, but from the Jewish perspective.” Her teacher thought it was a terrible, if not outright dangerous, idea.
Now Alderman herself has written that novel. The Liars’ Gospel tells the story of the life and death of Jesus from four perspectives: that of his mother Miryam (Mary); his disciple and later betrayer Iehuda from Qeriot (Judas Iscariot); the High Priest Caiaphas; and Bar-Avo (Barabbas), the murderer and rebel whom Pontius Pilate releases instead of Jesus. Each of the four characters is drawn from the New Testament, but in Alderman’s telling, they are fully Jews, like Jesus himself, and are steeped in the rituals and beliefs of their time. It’s a provocative and fascinating retelling of one of the foundational narratives of Western culture.
This is not the first time Alderman has used fiction to challenge orthodoxies. Her first novel, Disobedience, told the story of Ronit Krushka, a lapsed Orthodox Jew who returns to London when her estranged father, a revered rabbi, dies. The novel portrays adulterous and lesbian love affairs, among other transgressions, and it offended some in the Orthodox community in which Alderman grew up. It also earned Alderman the U.K.’s 2006 Orange Prize for New Writers.
Vox Tablet’s Julie Subrin speaks with Alderman about how she tackled the story of Jesus, reactions to her novel from Christian readers, and how Jews can and should shed their fear of Christianity. Give a listen, and if the conversation leaves you wanting more, enter our sweepstakes to win a free copy of The Liars’ Gospel. [Running time: 24:35.]