“Sui generis” best describes Kevin St. Jarre’s one-of-a-kind new novel, which retells the story of Jesus from the point of view of Doubting Thomas, a.k.a. the apostle Thomas Didymus (“twin” in Greek). Readers who can’t resist stories about mystery manuscripts may be sucked into the “Translator’s Proem,” a swashbuckling account of a professor who finds, in a jar in Afghanistan, a text that rewrites Christianity. (The Gnostic Gospels actually were found in a jar in Egypt in 1945.)
We’re in Dan Brown territory—Gnostic Gospels, Mary Magdalen, dark secrets, love, feminism—but Prof. B. L. Treah is no Tom Hanks. Instead, he’s a pedant and a dullard who annotates the manuscript with trivial, annoying, inadvertently humorous comments while totally missing what’s actually interesting here: St. Jarre’s notion that during his “missing” youthful years, Jesus (called Yeshua) studied Buddhism in India and absorbed its precepts into his own spirituality. (Legends do link Jesus, and especially Thomas, to Southeast Asia, particularly Kashmir.)
Thomas then retells the New Testament with a Buddhist flavor, turning miracles into realistic events with the help of common sense and Eastern drugs, and adding Mary Magdalen (also a trained Buddhist) as Yeshua’s thirteenth apostle, or possibly girlfriend. Thomas’s twin is his devilish doppelgänger or tempter, called the Other, who often pops up with bad advice—rather like the bumbling B. L. Treah. An incongruous commentator is another interesting literary device, which might have been pushed even farther.