The Carpenter’s Son by Arnie Gentile

Summary: A fictionalized story of Jesus and his family and then escape to Egypt and Jesus’ early life.

I am not sure I really appreciate the difficulty of Christian fiction. Or maybe I do and that is part of why I tend to read so little of it. Fiction regardless of genre or background needs to tell a compelling story. It has to provide the reader with something, escape, adventure, excitement, insight, longing, a glimpse of wonder. But Christian fiction has to do that and also portray faith and God not just according to the author’s perspective but also in a way that others will accept.

Books about Jesus are even more difficult. Jesus is both God and fully human. He was someone that was physically real, experienced actual bodily reality, and was still sinless. How can that be portrayed? As an infant, he had to eat and cry and poop and get sick and have foods that he liked and ones he probably liked less. He had to learn to walk, which means he would have had to fall down and make mistakes. The line between mistakes and sin complicated one. Some mistakes are clearly sin. Some are legitimate accidents, but some of those accidents are also sins of communion because of a lack of case or attention or awareness. I do not want to police the difference but as I read The Carpenter’s Son I did think about the difference. A child that throws a block out of- frustration, but not understanding the consequences of that action has made a mistake in judgment and emotional control, but can there be growth and maturity without experience? Regardless of intention or theology, a story of Jesus will offend. If nothing else some will object because they believe it is a violation of the second commandment to portray God.

The Carpenter’s Son is mostly, but not entirely, focused on Joseph. He has visions and tries to follow and trust God but he does not always understand or trust his own perceptions. There are meetings with older men asking for advice. (Joseph is portrayed as a young man, not much older than Mary. As opposed to a much older, likely widower, that some assumed.) Joseph loves Mary and seeks to protect and care for and listen to her as well, but it is Joseph that has the deeper internal dialogue.

It is hard to do historical fiction. Do you use modern words to connect with the reader or ancient ones that may be more historically accurate? I was distracted by some of the anarchisms. All are minor, some are more minor than others. How do you describe a piece of further that you sit on with others? ‘Couch’ was used at one point. English translators often used the word couch, for instance in Job 7:13 “my bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint.” But neither the author of Job nor the author of The Carpenter’s son means a six-piece microfiber sectional centered around a TV. But that is likely what at least some readers will see in their mind when they read the word.

This is part of the value of historical fiction (and the peril.) We want and need to see the historical people as people like us while seeing them in their contexts, and therefore alien to us.

One of the books I most enjoyed last year was Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes. The point of it and the earlier Misreading with Western Eyes is to remind us of how distant the biblical culture is from ours. We too often draw Jesus and other biblical characters into our own time and culture instead of the opposite. I also read the Color of Christ last year (about how Jesus has been portrayed in art, literature, film, and pop culture throughout US history). So I was primed by those to think about how Jesus was portrayed in Carpenter’s son. I don’t think Jesus and his family were ancient enough or Jewish enough, or from a communal culture to the extent I think would be historically accurate. But I am also not an expert and there are probably places where I am expecting a more alien experience than I should.

I did enjoy The Carpenters Son. 4- did make me think about the biblical characters and my faith and how extraordinary the Steny of Jesus is, especially in how it is not what we would expect. There are no spoilers here. The Carpenters Seen is the start of a trilogy. It starts with the escape out of Bethlehem and finishes with the return to Israel. All of this is speculative fiction. But there is value in the speculation. And the story was engaging and worth reading.

The Carpenter’s Son by Arnie Gentile Purchase Links: Kindle Edition, Paperback

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