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This book has made its way into my top 10 favorite books of all time, possibly my top 5.
The book retells the story of the three wise men. However, in this telling, Balthazar, Gaspar and Melchyor are fugitives who escaped Herod’s prison and a death sentence. Balthazar lived his life as a thief and murderer, winning notoriety as the Antioch Ghost. Gaspar and Melchyor, the latter a master swordsman, had the fortune of being held in the same cell as Balthazar and benefitted from his plan to escape. After a chance encounter with Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, and then subsequently witnessing Herod’s solution to the problem of the prophesied Messiah, Balthazar decided to assist the family.
The story is filled with graphic violence. Besides murder, there are scenes of grave robbing, pedophilia, necrophilia and torture. Many murder scenes are described in detail. And if you know anything about Herod’s solution, you will know that children and babies are also murdered. So why did this book have such an impact?
The book opens: “The magic of the Old Testament is coming to an end. Great floods, mystical beasts, and parting seas have given way to the empires of man. Many believe that God has abandoned the world…” What a great way to begin a book!
All the characters are multi-faceted and well developed. Balthazar’s life is a struggle with atheism, hatred toward God and divine inspiration. Gaspar and Melchyor’s amazement at Balthazar’s skills becomes unsteady and their true character and ultimate fate are intriguing. Joseph’s struggle with Mary’s immaculate conception is addressed and makes him more relatable- “It’s okay if I call him my son, isn’t it? Surely God will forgive me for that, for I cannot bear to think of him as anything else.” Herod is a monster that disgusts even after you think he could not be any more disgusting. And of course the other characters do not disappoint. But one of my favorite characters in this book was, surprisingly, Pilate. I can’t even begin to describe his character. I looked forward to his appearances and sometimes read those sections more than once.
Bottom line, there are so many people who have at least a basic knowledge of the story of Christ, but it always seems to be almost other-worldly. This book tells the story in a more human way, which I actually found quite moving. If you have a strong stomach and are not offended by revisionism, I highly recommend this book.