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King Jesus - Robert Graves Robert Graves gives this work of historical fiction an intriguing premise. He presents Jesus not as the offspring of a divine being, born of a virgin birth, but as the very mortal son of Mary and Antipater, the eldest son of King Herod the Great. Herod had a nasty tendency to eliminate family members who crossed him without much of a hearing. Antipater fell victim to this paranoia, and was executed just before Herod’s death. Antipater’s death left Jesus as the rightful heir to the terrestrial kingdom of Judaea, based on his descent from Herod. Mary’s descent from the House of David just served to solidify Jesus’s position.

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King Herod the Great/Wicked - Grandfather of Jesus? (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Jesus didn’t learn any of this until much later, of course, and grew up thinking Joseph the carpenter was his father. He is depicted as initially a scriptural prodigy, then later a man of great learning, a philosopher, a charismatic speaker, and a prophet. Arguably he fulfills several of the different Messianic prophecies, but Graves’s Jesus does not put himself forward as the Son of God.

Graves is at his best in discussing the circumstances of Jesus’s arrest and trial. He knows his Roman politics, and this section reads like it could be a chapter of [b:I, Claudius|18765|I, Claudius (Claudius, #1)|Robert Graves|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348245799s/18765.jpg|4232388]. Judas gets a sympathetic portrayal, appearing to be a victim of political manipulation rather than a traitorous tool of Fate. Pontius Pilate is a sly political schemer, and he can’t quite get off the hook by placing the blame for Jesus’s death on Jewish elders. He has too much at stake, with the implications that a Jesus as King of the Jews/Israel would have for the Roman Empire. As Pilate sees it from his own purely selfish viewpoint, it would be a good thing.

RomaninoPilate
Pontius Pilate conveniently washing his hands of the Jesus problem. (Source: Wikipedia Italia)

The story has some wilder elements, such as showing Mary Magdalene as a sort of witch leading a goddess-worshipping cult. Graves ties a lot of mythological features together, drawing interesting parallels from Judaism to Greek, Egyptian, and other mythologies, but sometimes he seems to be stretching it a bit. In his Historical Commentary, Graves writes, “I undertake to my readers that every important element in my story is based on some tradition, however tenuous, and that I have taken more than ordinary pains to verify my historical background.” The result is a thought-provoking look at a familiar story from an unusual angle.