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Review: The Gay Disciple

Book cover

This book was recommended to me by a friend of Rev. John Henson (the author), who was a minister at a local church. The Gay Disciple: Jesus' friend tells it his own way is a pseudo-fictional work, a set of stories around the Gospels from the perspective of lesser-known disciples of Jesus. The main character is Lazarus, who some believe was the 'beloved' disciple referred to in the Gospel according to John. Henson didn't set out to provide us with an historical reconstruction, conjecture or hypotheses about what might have happened, but rather told a story from an understanding of what is possible. Neither does the sexuality of Lazarus feature much in the book, which is set mostly after the resurrection of Jesus.

As a stand-alone novel, it's okay. It's a simple read. The vocabulary isn't that great, there isn't much in the way of descriptive or analytic writing, and I read the whole thing within two days. Henson did cleverly cast certain Gospel events, and how they came to be recorded the way they were, in an interesting light. With a larger network of disciples working behind the scenes everywhere, which the Apostles themselves might have been unaware of, Henson introduced the possibility that many events recorded as mysterious in the Gospels do indeed have mundane and natural explanations.

Being pseudo-fiction, Henson had the latitude to project whatever theological and political messages he liked onto the events and characters around the Gospels, and he excercised this rather skillfully in places. We read the story from the perspectives of the prostitutes, tax collectors and others who couldn't relate to the moral authorities of the day, doing what they did to survive in a society where hypocrisy was common amongst the religious leaders. I think that's especially relevant in these difficult times, when organised religion along with most public institutions) has lost so much credibility.

A couple of things are noticeably absent or dismissed too casually for my liking, one of them being the substance of what caused anyone to follow Jesus in the first place, the substance of what caused the Apostles to give up everything and follow Him, and the hard truths that every Christian faces. Absent of this, Henson's version of Jesus comes off as a rather creepy socialite who challenges nothing and is merely there to take advantage of those around Him.

The second thing that was skimmed over was the Resurrection: We know from the Gospels that the Resurrection was something the Apostles themselves struggled to believe and make sense of. The Resurrection is a non-sensical event, an impossibility, for which there are no naturalistic explanations for the known facts, and yet it happened. This is shrugged off, accepted as just another thing, by the novel's characters with no questions asked - Henson, I think, missed an opportunity here to make the novel far more compelling. The Resurrection is what turned a group of men, lacking in courage and faith, into brazen zealots prepared to be martyred for the faith in decidedly unpleasant ways.

So, again, The Gay Disciple is a fairly simple read, it's accessible to those without an understanding of the New Testament, and I reckon readers might be intrigued enough to read the Gospels for themselves.