As Passover approaches, the city of Jerusalem is a political tinderbox.
Judah, a resistance leader, plots to overthrow the Roman occupation. Eleazar and his father, the high priest Caiaphas, seek peace in the city at all costs. Pilate, the Roman governor, maneuvers to keep order (and his own hold on power). Caleb, a shopkeeper, is reluctantly caught up in the intrigue. When rumors start spreading about the popular prophet Jesus, hailed by many as the Messiah, Roman and Jewish leaders alike fear unrest and violence during the upcoming festival. Then, in the midst of this tension, unexpected alliances emerge.
In Killing a Messiah, New Testament scholar Adam Winn weaves together stories of historical and fictional characters in a fresh reimagining of the events leading up to Jesus’ execution. Based on what we know of the first-century context, Winn’s narrative offers compelling explanations for gaps in the Gospel accounts. The social, political, and religious realities of Jesus’ world come to life and shed new light on our reading of the biblical texts.
In a city full of political entanglements, espionage, and competing interests, the blame for the crucifixion is complex and can’t land on just a single party. It takes more than one to kill a messiah.
Disclaimer: Although I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, the words and opinions below are my own.
I’m mostly familiar with InterVarsity Press through its a Week in the Life Of series, so I admit I thought that Killing a Messiah would be in a similar format: that of a novel with side bars of explanatory notes. I was wrong. This is a straightforward novel that, according to the opening notes, began over a decade ago as an idea for a lecture about the crucifixion. The opening prologue, although seemingly unrelated, was exciting enough to launch me into the story and hope for great things.
Killing a Messiah takes readers into the heart of ancient Jerusalem, a city under occupation by the Romans. Winn gives us an excellent idea of what life might’ve been like during that difficult time, as the Jewish people attempted to live normal lives while responding to the occupation in different ways. He does so by utilizing a mix of historical and fictional characters. Ultimately, this is a story of political intrigue as various factions fight for Jerusalem’s future.
But, and yes, there’s a but… this isn’t exactly a novel that stays true to the Gospel narratives. Don’t get me wrong; I love Bible-based fiction. I love when authors create a story using the information given to us in the Bible. They weave a narrative built upon that information, fleshing out characters and bringing the stories to life. But, in Killing a Messiah, I spotted discrepancies. Here we have a Jesus that stays silent when he’s in front of the chief priest and Pilate. The prison released instead of Jesus is not called Barabbas.
To me, these are rather obvious things to not include. But Winn sees things differently. In comments after the story ends, he gives an explanation for framing the story as he does. I’m not sure I fully accept it, however. Yes, it’s good to look at sources such as Josephus, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea to leave out information provided in a source that’s so important to so many. I also take issue with his final note on anti-Semitism. While he emphasizes that only a minority of Jews were involved in Jesus’s trial and crucifixion, he makes no such emphasis on the number of Christians involved in anti-Semitic acts and, instead, hopes that his story will play a part in bringing the two religions closer. Perhaps this is something that should’ve been left out, because I’m not sure his opinion on Christian-Jewish relations is needed. But maybe that’s just me.
Adam Winn (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is assistant professor at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor College of Christian Studies. He is the author of Reading Mark’s Christology Under Caesar and The Purpose of Mark’s Gospel and editor of An Introduction to Empire in the New Testament.
Publisher: InterVarsity Press
Publication Date: 14 January 2020