Cover Image: Killing a Messiah

Killing a Messiah

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I’m mostly familiar with InterVarsity Press through it’s 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 memorable things and shouldn't have been left out. 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.

Disclaimer: Although I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, the words and opinions below are my own.
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The reasons I am drawn to biblical fiction are the same reasons why others avoid it. For instance, I like looking for inconsistencies between what the Scriptures tell me and the creative license taken by an author. It keeps me on my toes! I also like how Christian novelists thread the Gospel message into their narratives. Unlike other genres, I've come to expect characters in these stories to wrestle with their faith or to question their salvation. Additionally, a well-researched novel that delves into the customs, traditions, and political climate in a time period can help me put biblical events into context.

Challenge - If you are like me, you welcome a good challenge—Winn is going to give it to you! Many of the choices he made drove me to Scripture with questions like...  "Wait, did it happen in that order?" and "Why didn't he include such-and-such in a scene?" Because the events in this novel span all four gospels, I did a fair amount of page-flipping seeking answers to my questions. 

Glorifying God - Strangely, Christ was in the story without being its focus. He draws crowds and threatens the peace of the establishment.

Culture and Climate - Winn's plot-driven writing style carried me effortlessly from one key event to the next. While his characters didn't strike me as deep, the author did present their motives well in light of the political climate and the peoples' eager expectation for a Messiah. My interest level remained high throughout the book. 

The potential reader should know Killing a Messiah is not a New Testament retelling of the life and ministry of Jesus. Adam Winn is an author with an agenda and while you may pick up on this as you read, he does spell it out for readers in his author's note. Basically, he rejects the idea that Pilate believed Jesus was innocent and crafts a narrative to support this idea. He gives readers a completely new and different perspective on the events surrounding the death of Christ.

In the end, I had mixed feelings about the book. I believe it will appeal to readers who enjoy political intrigue and conspiracy theories, but that it may fail to resonate with readers (particularly women) who are used to certain elements in their biblical fiction. 

3.5 Stars/5

I received a copy of this book through NetGalley. The views and opinions expressed are 100% honest and my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC's 16 CFR, Part 255 Guidelines, concerning the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising.
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The gospels give us the events that lead up to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, but there are still details that we may wonder about. What did the priests and politicians discuss among themselves when Jesus entered Jerusalem? What plans were made to make sure He did not cause trouble? Though we don’t know the answers for sure, Adam Winn offers a fictionalized account of the behind the scenes events in Killing a Messiah.

The story itself is interesting, and provides a thought-provoking scenario of what we don’t know about the final week of Jesus’ formal ministry. The priests and politicians have roles in the crucifixion, but the Bible does not tell us everything about the plot against Jesus. This book is plausible, and gives you something to consider as you read the gospels.

It also aims, both in the plot and a section at the end, to counter the idea of anti-Semitism by Christians. This idea should not be held by Christians, but still pops up now and then.

I liked the concept, and the story was good, but I was disappointed by the use of d–n repeatedly in the book. I think that detracted from the story.

I received a complimentary copy from the publisher through NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
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