Does everyone have their own fantasy of Jesus? Does your Jesus skip from 12 to 30 through some sort of divine magic? Shepperson’s Jesus (fictional, of course) packs four books of non-stop adventure into those years, with a richly portrayed supporting cast.
This first book all takes place in the strip between Egypt and Syria now known as Israel and its neighbors. There are references back to the child narratives in the gospels, parallel reenactments of gospel with different twists, and anticipations of ministry narratives, just as there are references to the politics, economy, lifestyle, and society of that first century life. Inner lives are filled in, imaginations and longings are created. Dreams happen and some get crushed. Even Father God and the Holy Spirit show up, all given voice, action, and character.
Of course, this is Shepperson’s creation, not yours or mine. He uses voice, language, psychology, history, geography, et al in the service of a very rich, fast paced narrative. It is adult material, including violence, betrayal, sexuality, and suffering. It is also teen material, filled with angst, longing, and developmental challenges. It is modern in style, with each chapter/chunk coming from a participant’s voice. It uses language in an uninhibited street style, sometimes poetic, sometimes hip, perhaps even trite, but certainly not stale.
Did I like it? Mostly. Given what I will put up with on TV or in a movie, this is tame stuff and in service of a good cause. What is that cause? Shepperson doesn’t say, but it felt to me like I was being asked to move Jesus and his world from somewhere out there far away to a place more near and real, and put myself in that world so I could reflect more deeply on the world around me, the world beyond me, and the world within. It’s a fast-paced, fully textured, vocally rich ride–one that will stay with me for a long time.