A readable novelization of the original screenplay, Risen closely follows the short segment of the Gospel of Matthew following the death of Jesus. The story is recounted from the perspective of Roman Tribune Clavius, whom Pontius Pilate dispatches to find the body presumed stolen from its tomb. What he discovers redefines both his belief and identity.
To fill out the short and well-known narrative, Hunt adds a second perspective, largely absent from the film, in the person of Clavius’s love interest, the young Jewish widow, Rachel. Rachel is herself struggling with her faith and social status and moved by rumors of the new messiah.
Their romance is the freshest and most engaging aspect of a story which is otherwise a frank work of piety. Readers expecting an alternative vision of Jesus along the lines of The Da Vinci Code are likely to be disappointed. Hunt is a widely successful writer of Christian fiction, and Risen is rife with markers of modern messianic Judaism, a sub-movement of Evangelical Christianity.
That understood, a story which adds historical perspective to the Bible always has compelling potential. However, while touchingly crafted, Hunt’s retelling seems to pander to the modern Jewish readership it hopes to reach, and suffers from improbable, if not inaccurate historicity. Rachel makes braided egg Challah bread, an Eastern European Ashkenazi tradition imagined thirteen centuries too early. As a Jew, Jesus’s scourging exceeds the thirty-nine lashes Hunt cites as “the maximum allowed for a Roman citizen.” I don’t mean to pick, but she gets this backwards (Deuteronomy 25:3). Pilate is portrayed as perpetually bullied by the people he rules, and his Roman soldiers so softly empathetic they coo in the ears of their crucified victims as they are dying to ease their suffering.
Hunt’s traditional readership will enjoy the book.