BOOK CLUB – The Liars’ Gospel by Naomi Alderman

5256159881 7ba9c432e6 m pictureWelcome to BOOK CLUB, which I run with co-conspirator Nicole from Linus’s Blanket. Today we will be chatting about The Liars’ Gospel by Naomi Alderman, from Little, Brown. For those of you reading this post, please remember that this discussion may contain spoilers.

Here is the synopsis of the book I wrote for my review:

It has been a year since Yehoshuah, the man who would later be known throughout the world as Jesus, was crucified by the Romans. His death has changed many of those who came in contact with him during his relatively short life, but perhaps not exactly in the way that one might think.

The Liars’ Gospel is not a religious book. In fact, it really isn’t even about Jesus, either the historical figure or the religious one. The real heart of the novel is the political situation of Roman-occupied Judea. Yehoshuah’s mother, who effectively not seen her son since he began his ministry, finds herself harboring a fugitive whose town attempted to make a stand against the Romans. Ichuda finds himself lost in more ways than one – not only has he lost what faith he once had, but he has left Judea and is assumed by all there to be dead. The High Priest of the Temple, Caiaphas, admits that he is essentially a collaborator, but justifies his actions by telling himself that he simply wishes to keep peace. Finally is Bar-Avo, the man who was in mail at the same time as Yehoshuah and escaped only by manipulating Pilate and sealing Yehoshuah’s fate.

If you plan on participating in today’s BOOK CLUB, please consider subscribing to comments at the bottom of the page (please use the TOP subscription option, the second option will subscribe you only to replies of your own comments).  I will be updating this post with new questions and ideas over the course of the day.

Here we go…

  • First off, what were your general impressions of the book?
  • Is this a book you would have read had you not been reading it for a book club?
  • Which of the four perspectives did you you like the best?
  • Did you find the format an effective way to tell this story?
  • What, if anything, did The Liars’ Gospel change about the way you see Yehoshuah/Jesus’s story?
  • Any other questions? Anything else you want to discuss?

Copies of  The Liars’ Gospel were provided by Little, Brown in order to facilitate this discussion.

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17 comments to BOOK CLUB – The Liars’ Gospel by Naomi Alderman

  • Let me be honest, as someone who was raised Jewish, as soon as I saw the back cover that said “the life of Jesus” (which wasn’t on the description of the book), I was totally thrown off and didn’t want to read it. But I’m glad I went against my first instincts (with Jen’s help!) and read this book because I LOVED it!

    I never would have picked up The Liars’ Gospel, but what a story! Whether you think of him as Jesus or as just another religious prophet, not only is the story compelling, but the thought that people are probably up in arms over it is pretty interesting, too! I mean, Naomi Alderman is basically insinuating that Jesus could potentially just be a man whose stories were blown out of proportion.

    Of the four perspectives, I like Miryam, and mainly because I feel like she humanized Yehoshuah and made me realize how everything began. I also don’t have much background of the details of the story of Jesus because of my Jewish upbringing.

    I think the perspective is a realistic one. I’m not saying that people should take Alderman’s words and stop believing what they believe, but as someone Jewish who also likes realism, I know that not everything can happen. Are we here through G-d or through evolution? Or a combination of both? I like the questioning of it all because it starts conversation. It’s not meant to entice you away from religion or lessen your faith, but to just open your eyes to other things that are out there.

    • Because I don’t have a religion, it was easy for me to enjoy the stories for what they are–stories–and I’m very thankful for that. This is a really good book, and I can’t imagine allowing it to upset me and not being able to enjoy it. I mean, it’s not like she’s claiming it’s nonfiction and definitive. Seeing negative reviews on Goodreads, though, I had to ask myself this question (and not to be a contentious jerk, either, I promise): What makes the Bible any more believable than this book, or any other? It’s a book of stories just like this one. It was written by men (with agendas of their own). But I know that’s just my non-belief opinion, and I certainly am not trying to intentionally offend anyone with it.

  • I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It is not a book I would have picked to read on my own, but I’m very glad I read it for BOOK CLUB. I thought it was written very well (aside from two mistakes I found in the actually story, that I hope were fixed before the final product was published), and I loved the format.

    I’m also glad that it was more about the events/backdrop of Yehoshuah/Jesus’s story–I know (knew) nothing about the Roman occupation of Judea, so it was interesting to read about it in this form. I’m not a religious person, but I do know many of the stories in the Bible (it makes excellent reading as a book of stories), and I really liked the angle the author took in each of the stories in THE LIARS’ GOSPEL. I had to chuckle a little at one of the reviews I saw on Goodreads–a man gave this book a horrible review and was very mad that “THIS ISN’T THE WAY IT HAPPENED AT ALL; THIS IS TOTAL UNTRUE” (I’m paraphrasing), and it was all I could do not to comment on his review: “That’s why it’s called fiction.” Sigh. I think Alderman’s storytelling decisions are pretty great. (I especially liked Mary’s story and how the story of Jesus’ birth stemmed from her not wanting to disappoint one of his followers. That gave me a good chuckle.)

    I have no doubt that Jesus was a real guy who was a great community organizer, but I’ve never believed the miracle-making and resurrection stories. I’ve always seen them as just that–stories. So THE LIARS’ GOSPEL was interesting to me as a book of counter-stories, and I thought it was really well done. I think most everything in the book was just as plausible as the stories we’re told in the Bible. I’m very glad I read this.

    • The other thing that is humorous about the man’s post, besides the fact that he was reading fiction, was that these are his beliefs. He can’t prove anything, he just follows with his heart. So the “this isn’t the way it happened,” well, he doesn’t know for sure except through his religious beliefs.

    • That gave me a good chuckle too Heather! And wow, it sure did make me think about ALL of the stories in the Bible. Who knows right?

  • I might have picked this up on my own, but it would have taken forever 😉 Thanks for pushing this up to the top of the tbr pile!

    This book was ENTRANCING. Seriously, I couldn’t put it down. I loved the time period, I loved the different perspectives.

    I have a feeling that this will be one contentious book. It has the potential to make people angry. I took it for what it is: a great story.

  • I love retellings, alternate takes and different perspectives so I would have read this whether I did for book club or not and I really loved this book even though I think it is one that will ruffle many feathers. I don’t think people like to admit that their faith is just as predicated on a selection of stories as anyone else’s, but considering that most religious texts were written both thousands of years ago, and after the times of the people who have lived, we to assume that they are just as likely to be largely fictional and/or symbolic as anything else. And definitely, I ‘m sure, some lies slipped in there.

    All of the perspectives were fascinating to me for different reasons. I felt like I understood Myriam’s way of thinking more than the other, and I found I wondered more about the accounts of the men. Iehuda seemed to find comfort after his “betrayal” with the teachings, but I wondered how he felt after his death, and if he considered him such a danger that it was worth it to have him executed.

    • I don’t think he intended for Yehoshuah to be killed–didn’t he say that he thought Yehoshuah would just get lashed and because he would be humbled by it, they might go back to the original plan (to spread the message of love instead of how things had gotten out of hand)? Or are you asking whether he rethought his decision to report him at all, under the circumstances?

  • So Little, Brown told Nicole and I that they’d love to participate in BOOK CLUB and offered us a few choices, I chose The Liars’ Gospel almost immediately based on the quality of writing in the first few pages and the fact that the story sounded so discussable. I was interested in Myriam’s story, but it was when I got to Ichuda’s that I really became captivated. I’ve known for years that the Roman occupation informed the gospel stories (like all the business with tax collectors), but I had never really delved into what daily life would be for those under the Romans.

    I think I was particularly interested in Ichudea and Bar-Avo because their tales brought the most bearing on the life and death of Yehoshuah. I found the parallels between Bar-Avo’s story and that of Jesus (not necessarily Yehoshuah) to be very striking and thought-provoking, particularly the parallels between what happened to the man who betrayed Bar-Avo and the stories of Judas (again, not necessarily Ichudea)’s betrayal.

    • I thought that was interesting, too–the parallels between the stories of Bar-Avo and Jesus. I liked how it showed the differences between their ideals–one thought he should just accept his fate because of the purpose the death would serve in the long run, and the other believed in doing things “now” while still living.

  • I might have to read this one! I’m not religious, but I like these kinds of book (I think)

    • I think you’d like this one Allison. Religious or not. It sure made me do a lot of thinking. Besides all of that it’s just a well thought out, wonderfully paced, rich tale :)

  • Julia

    I really loved this book! I thought that the author did an excellent job of bringing the ancient world to life.

    This is not a book that I would have read if it were not for this book club. I was particularly moved by Miryam’s story and Iehuda’s story. For both of these characters I thought that the author did a very good job of showing their complexity and their conflicting emotions. They are transformed from their typical depiction of being the polar sides of “pure good” and “pure evil” into being real human beings who struggle with the life, love and faith.

    One big thumbs up. :)

    I can understand why fundamentalist Christians would be upset with this book. The author is Jewish so the book gives a Jewish understanding of the life of Jesus. I have taken secular university level Jewish studies courses and I can state that the book fairly reflects the actual history of the Roman occupation of Judea for the period of 100 years before Jesus’s birth to 100 years after Jesus’s birth.

    I really liked the author’s technique of using the four different narrators to give different perspectives on Yehoshuah’s life. I think that the great insight that this author makes is when she states “Storytellers know that every story is at least partially a lie. Every story could be told in four different ways, or forty or four tousand. Every emphasis or omission is a kind of lie, shapping a moment to make a point.”.

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