By 1921 when this was published, Papini was a man deeply passionate for Christ. This is apparent from the very introduction, let alone throughout the commentary he has written on his Saviour’s life. As an evangelical atheist for his first four decades, this may come as something of a surprise. It shows that the man certainly underwent a conversion.
For those familiar with the Gospel writings, there will be little here that is unknown in the narrative. Occasionally, Papini embellishes with reference to apocryphal writings or church legend, but he usually lets you know that he is doing so. For those not familiar with the life of Jesus, this would make a fair introduction, not least because the passion Papini writes with is somewhat infections. He manages to bring insight into the most familiar aspects of the story. Take, for example, the opening line below.
But Papini was very much a child of his time. This becomes apparent whenever the Jewish authorities are in focus and, in particular, during the arrest, trial and subsequent execution of Christ. His portrayal of the physiognomy of Christ’s enemies most strongly brought to mind lines I’d previously heard in the depraved Nazi documentary The Eternal Jew and most recently encountered in Dickens’ depiction of Fagin: hooked noses and hairy brows all round.
Papini was an ardent fascist and a great supporter of Mussolini. He firmly believed in theories of Jewish plots to commandeer the planet and it is a shame that he could not see past his prejudices to understand that Christ himself, as well as all the disciples he so passionately portrays, were very much Jewish.
Having said that, this was a work which surprised me for its intensity and for how little known it is in Christian circles. It may well be that the writer’s association with fascism has prevented this from reaching a wider readership.
Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | StyleRead more about how I come up with my ratings