Planet Jesus Trilogy, Book One: Flesh and Blood – Douglas Brode
A new twist on the story of Jesus.
The foreword of the book claims the story is a translation of some newly-discovered Dead Sea scrolls. As an atheist, I took that with a pinch of salt, but if you are religious, you may well believe that statement, and be fascinated by the story that unfolds. Whether this is fact or fiction, Brode’s slant on the life of Jesus is definitely intriguing – his main premise being that Jesus was actually female…
The story is told entirely from the point of view of the main character, Jess. She is eleven years old when the tale begins, and lives with her large family just outside a town called Nazareth, in old Palestine. Her father, Joseph, is a carpenter and stone mason, and her mother, Mary, runs the family home. Jess has a few siblings, including a twin brother, Joses.
This episode follows Jess’s life from the age of eleven until she hits puberty at age twelve. The main area of interest for queer readers is the section where Jess passes as her twin brother in order to go to school – he has no interest in learning whereas she hungers for it. But, girls are not allowed into school, so she takes her brother’s clothes and passes as him for as long as she can. During that time, a new young woman in the area takes more than a friendly interest in this ‘boy’, which Jess does nothing to encourage and finds a neat way to get out of.
Jess then has her own romantic interludes with boys she already knows or meets during the course of her adventures. This is most definitely a heterosexual story at heart. To be honest, this was the area of the book that gave me the most pause – while the language of Jess is far more mature than most eleven year olds, I still found it a little uncomfortable to read about an eleven-year-old having romantic feelings for older teenage boys. And be warned, there is an attempted rape of her at one point which may be a trigger for some readers.
The main focus of the story, however, is Jess’s awakening to how unfair her society is, both in its treatment of women but also in the great inequalities and hypocrisies between the classes, and between the Romans and the Jews. It’s clear that she feels she has a path to follow in life, to become someone that others will listen to, and someone who could change the course of history.
It’s a long book – there is an incredible amount of detail in it about daily life in Palestine, and the politics of the time. I felt some of that could have been dropped to give the tale better pacing, and the story did stretch my credulity in many places. But if you like historical fiction, or just want to read a twist on the life of Jesus, you might find this enjoyable.