Image of Jesus in Literature and Nonfiction

Oscar wilde de profundis

The New York Times article, “Has Fiction Lost its Faith,” reminded me of a “Image of Jesus in Literature and Nonfiction” class I took in college. The only book that I recall reading in the class is Paradise Lost and that was an extremely painful experience at the time.

Since I took that class, I have read Nikos Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ, which I thought was an extraordinary spiritual novel that created controversy by displaying Jesus as human. For example, the carpenter Jesus, built crucifix’s for the Romans to use for crucifixions. The point of this was that the human Jesus must pay for his sins by being crucified himself.

In Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, which was written from prison, he breaks down and finds Christ and makes this point—the Gospels should be read in the original Greek and only at special times to gain the true meaning and resonance.

J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey is one of my favorites because the image of Christ is so surprising and unexpected.

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis is depressing and inspiring at the same time. Spirituality cuts deep in this classic.

Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited brings to light the negative, guilt-ridden and redemptive impact of Catholicism on a dysfunctional and wealthy English family.

Jose Saramago’s The Gospel according to Jesus Christ brings Christ down to earth, and it is a tour de force, but unlike Nikos Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ, there is not an ounce of spirituality in Saramago’s The Gospel according to Jesus Christ. I’m surprised at the excellent reviews because it’s a trudge to get through.

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan was another book that I did not find credible. Much of the research and scholarship concerning the politics and culture around the time of Jesus was fascinating. However, I didn’t buy the author’s presumptions, declarations, and analysis. 

Here are a few more of the best Jesus fiction and literature.

Jesus the Son of Man by Kahlil Gibran is a beautiful and inspiring read that looks at Jesus through the eyes of those who knew him, including “Syrians, Romans, Jews, Greeks, and Persians; priests, courtesan, publicans, and poets.” Jesus the Son of Man is a fictional account of Jesus from enemies and believers that is not full of dogma. This is a piece of Jesus literature that stands the test of time.

King Jesus by Robert Graves portrays Jesus as not the son of god but a mere mortal. He incorporates Greek, Egyptian, and other ancient myths into this thought-provoking tale of the gospels. Just because this Jesus is not born from heavenly origins doesn’t mean he can’t perform miracles. As a classical scholar Graves brings an authenticity to this worthy entry into Jesus fiction.

Quarantine by Jim Crace was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 1997. Crace journeys into Jesus literature focusing on Jesus’s 40 years in the wilderness. Crace’s Jesus fiction fills into the details against Jesus’s temptation and road to enlightenment.

We’re interested in the Image of Jesus in Literature and Nonfiction and will continue to find and post worthy books in the Jesus fiction and literature oeuvre.

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You might also enjoy Leonardo and the Last Supper by Ross King Review.

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Joseph Raffetto

Joseph Raffetto earned a B.A. in Comparative Literature from San Diego State University. He can be found online @noovella on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads. His books are available on all online booksellers.