The novel, Logos, dramatizes the advent of Christianity. The primary action ultimately involves the composition of the original Gospel – by the novel’s protagonist, Jacob.
The novel’s premise is predicated on the consensus among biblical scholars that the canonical Gospels were written decades after Jesus’ death, and that all of their authors are anonymous. They likely were not written by persons bearing the names that are attached to them: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Moreover, mainstream Gospel scholarship has concluded that there must have been at least one additional Gospel, now lost, that preceded and was a source for these canonical Gospels. The mystery source is most often identified as Q, a proto-Gospel. But there are dozens hypotheses for the provenance of the canonical Gospels, and much disagreement exists among biblical scholars. Other hypothetical sources or proto-Gospels that may have been sources for the canonical Gospels have been identified as well, e.g., L, M and K. None of these have been found.
But I am a novelist, not a biblical scholar. The great historical novelist Hilary Mantel says, “I try to stick with the facts until the facts run out.” I began with these facts: To quote Harold Bloom, “there was an historical Jesus.” Apparently, like Che Guevara or Ethel Rosenberg, and like legions of other Jews in the first century, he was murdered by the powers that be because he was rebelling against an unjust society.
We know almost nothing about the historical Jesus, but we know quite a lot about Palestine at the time: There was a dominant imperial power–Rome–which ruled by means of local client autocrats, including a Jewish King (the Herods) and a theocracy focused on the Jerusalem Temple. And there were many poor, and revolutionaries. Among the dissidents there were also Jewish pacifists, who lived monastically, and preached against the worldliness and the acquisitiveness of the priests, and against animal sacrifices, eating meat, and slavery, and practiced celibacy. They also prophesied that an apocalypse, the end of the world, was at hand. The most prominent among these were the Essenes.
Apparently, the historical John the Baptist and the historical Jesus emerged as charismatic leaders among the radicals.
At the same time, a Jewish scholar and philosopher named Philo lived in Alexandria, Egypt, from 20 BC to 50 AD. Philo was a product of a momentous event in the history of the world that had happened four hundred years before: the encounter between ancient Greek civilization and influence, and ancient Judaism, the Jewish people. This was precipitated by Alexander the Great’s conquests which drove the Persians out of Egypt and the Middle East including Palestine.
Alexander died young, but his generals who succeeded him established important cities, schools, and cultural centers throughout the Middle East: most important, the City of Alexandria and its great, now almost mythical library. The modern word to describe the resulting phenomenon is Hellenization, which means the spread of Greek language, culture, and population into the former Persian Empire after Alexander’s conquest.
So, in the first century, Philo lived with one foot in the secular world and one in the religious tradition of his fathers – Judaism – and he set out to synthesize or reconcile those two traditions that were equally dear to him. His focal point was Greek philosophy’s “Logos” concept.
The writings of Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher who lived in about 500 B.C., are the earliest evidence we have of the word Logos receiving special attention. If there were such a thing as a Greek-English dictionary at that time, you might find the word Logos defined to mean: an argument, reasoned discourse, an opinion, word, speech, account, to reason. Later, the Greeks refined the concept to include the rational and intelligent principle of the universe by which it is energized and operates: the orbit of the planets, the seasons, life itself, the thing that that caused it to come into being, that gave birth to it, and that still gives it life.
Philo reworked Logos to mean a mediating element that joins the Torah’s God with our material world – for example, angels, the burning bush, and whatever it is that makes us human: reasoning, words, compassion. Philo wrote that intermediary beings are necessary to bridge the enormous gap between God and the material world. The Logos was the highest of these intermediary beings, and was called by Philo “the first-born of God,” and the eldest and chief of the angels.
That all sounds very Christian. But so far as we know, the original narrative attributing divine qualities to Jesus is in Paul of Tarsus’ (a/k/a St. Paul’s) letters – which were originally written in Greek. Nietzsche speculated that Paul had experienced hallucinations associated with his epilepsy, and this seems plausible to me.
Still, within just 50 years of the death of the historical Jesus – a time span well within living memories even then – something unique and momentous in the history of the world occurred: the deliberate and systematic creation of a myth that would ultimately swallow the Roman Empire. The participants in this premeditated myth-making are anonymous, but we can surmise a few facts: They were likely Hellenized Jews, and therefore among the intelligentsia. Likely they created the original gospel in the aftermath of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, and were profoundly affected by that event.
How did Philo’s Logos – which to him was always an abstraction: Philo was a lifelong Jew – become a human being and God incarnate? That is what my novel is about
In A.D. 66, Jacob is an educated and privileged Greco-Roman Jew, a Temple priest in Jerusalem, and a leader of Israel’s rebellion against Rome. When Roman soldiers murder his parents and his beloved sister disappears in a pogrom led by the Roman procurator, personal tragedy impels Jacob to seek blood and vengeance. The rebellion he helps to foment leads to more tragedy, personal and ultimately cosmic: his wife and son perish in the Romans’ siege of Jerusalem, and the Roman army destroys Jerusalem and the Temple, and finally extinguishes Israel at Masada. Jacob is expelled from his homeland, and he wanders by land and sea, bereft of all, until he arrives in Rome. He is still rebellious, and in Rome he joins other dissidents, but now plotting ironic vengeance, not by arms, but by the power of an idea.
Paul of Tarsus, Josephus, the keepers of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and even Yeshua, the historical Jesus himself, play a role in Jacob’s tumultuous and mysterious fortunes. But it is the women who have loved him who help him to appreciate violence’s dire cycle.