Risen: The Novelization Of The Major Motion Picture, by Angela Hunt, based on the story by Paul Aiello, and screenplay by Kevin Reynolds and Paul Aiello
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Bethany House in exchange for an honest review. The film, Risen, is scheduled for release on February 19th, 2016.]
There is a lot to like about this novel, especially given that it is a novelization of an upcoming movie about a plausible but fictitious Roman tribune who goes AWOL after getting caught up in the search for the risen Jesus Christ. Clavius is a convincing figure as a rationalistic and ambitious Roman whose mission to find where the disciples of Jesus stashed his body runs up against the reality of a risen Messiah who seeks to free people from fear of death and guilt over their sins through a radical commitment to peace and love, as well as truth. The book contains a character, one Jewish widow named Rachel, who happens to be Clavius’ secret paramour and also a curious seeker of truth about the resurrected Jesus who feels ashamed for her lack of interest in marrying the younger brother of her deceased husband, who was a man of great emotional distance, just like her Roman lover. Alas, time constraints forced Rachel to be cut out of the movie, but from this novelization, the movie looks quite excellent anyway.
In terms of its contents, this novel is straightforward and very easy to read. It took me about an hour to an hour and a half to read the 300 pages or so of this novel, and the chapters glided by easily and pleasantly. The book has two POV characters, namely Clavius and Rachel, and the vast majority of the material belongs to Clavius, who shows a marked and dramatic change from a man with little to live for who is sick of living in Palestine surrounded by fanatical Jews to a godfearing Gentile who lays down his career as a Roman tribute to preach the resurrection in Rome. The book begins at the time of the crucifixion, and continues to the time of the Pentecost. The author, and the source material in general, take the Bible seriously, even if they look at it from the point of view of a Roman outsider rather than a Jewish insider, something which I think has a far greater significance that immediately meets the eye, and which is worthy of some discussion. This is a movie that ought to appeal to a wide audience, and it ought to especially please those Christians looking for a good film option  this spring. Having read the novel, I look forward to seeing the movie myself; if it’s even half as enjoyable to watch as the book was to read, the movie will be a good one.
This is not to say that the book is perfect. Rachel’s immoral relationship with Clavius, in which neither of them believe that marriage can result, is certainly to be blamed, but there is no romantic intimacy after both become followers of Yeshua. Clavius is portrayed as an idolater, with a particular fondness for worshiping Mars, but once he sees the risen Christ he sees his idols for what they are, and changes his ways. There are really two areas of substantial comment or criticism that can be made about the film, and they are related issues. For one, the author deals with the Sabbath and other biblical laws as someone coming from a clearly antinomian perspective, and who is thus unable to fully enter into biblical discussion from a genuinely Christian, that is to say, Jewish Christian, prononomian perspective. The author therefore seeks to enter into early church history through a Gentile who is almost, but not quite, a believer, someone who simply cannot make the full leap to obedience to God’s ways even if they long for God’s grace to cover their sins. Clavius, therefore, is a stand-in for contemporary Hellenistic Christianity and our own contemporary society’s inability to truly enter into a covenental relationship with God and Jesus Christ on their own terms. The film thus combines a gripping plot with surprising and deeply melancholy emotional depth concerning the state of contemporary society, where we view Christianity from the point of view of outsiders who are mystified by God’s laws but drawn to Jesus Christ’s love and kindness towards others anyway.
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