Thursday, June 18, 2009
Jesus: A Story of Enlightenment
© 2008 Deepak Chopra
Yesterday I wandered about in my library's fiction section with the intention of letting something capture my eye. This "when the reader is ready, the book will come" approach didn't seem to be working, so I decided to find a book by Michael Crichton. He's been recommended to me before, but I've never read him before. Because I did not know how his last name was spelled -- thinking it had an "H" -- I found myself looking at the wrong bookshelves altogether, but while I looked my eyes saw the title Jesus. "Hmm", I thought, "Interesting." The full title was Jesus: A Story of Enlightenment. It was by Chopra, which gave me pause, but I opened it up to see Judas fretting about Romans looking for Jesus. "Ooh," I thought, "The story of the gospels related in novel form? I'll give it a go."
That is not quite the case. Chopra introduces the book by writing that we know little of Jesus' life between his birth and the beginnings of his time as a teacher, aside from one odd story about him getting separated from his family and teaching the rabbis in a local synagogue. Chopra therefore decided that someone should try to tell the story. Because we have no evidence from which to work, Chopra decided to use an "archetypal pattern" of people who have found enlightenment: I assume this is something along the lines of Campbell's "hero's journey" archetype. This may be the reason the story seems to lack historical depth or texture: although this is technically historical fiction, it's incredibly shallow in that you could write the same book but just change the name of the Romans to another villain, and the name of the Jews to the name of another downtrodden people. George Lucas used a pattern, but he made the developing story his own: that doesn't happen here.
As mentioned, the book is not a novel form of the gospels: it concerns Jesus as he was in his twenties, as a troubled and intuitive youth who feels compelled to search for answers to the meaning of suffering. This will set him on a somewhat brief journey to find answers, and he finally does in a range of snow-covered mountains when he encounters an old mystic who both introduces and ends the story. He does encounter two NT personalities who accompany him part of the way, namely Judas and Mary Magdalene. Chopra seems to be drawing on the Gospel of Judas when writing the ending, although he does paint Mary as a prostitute. My only knowledge about that subject is that one character in The Da Vinci Code called it a deceitful fabrication.
Previously I said that the book's plot is shallow, with no historical context to ground it. I think the same is true of Jesus: he appears to be a character with dimensions at the start, but about two-fifths of the way in, Chopra suddenly replaces him with a Jesus who says things that are seemingly out of character: it's like the author directly started making him say things instead of letting the character develop on his own. The character is used to say the same things Chopra said in The Third Jesus, which isn't that surprising but still seems muddled. What I can say positively about the book is that the "visions" were well done: I was very wary at first, but Chopra did them in a way that was not intrusive and even believable.
I can't say I would recommend this to someone looking for a gripping story, but if people find the titular character interesting, they will probably be able to enjoy this to some degree.