Tag Archives: Theology

James and Jesus icon

James: the dangerous brother of Jesus

James and Jesus iconMany scholars suggest that the brother of Jesus known as James the Just is the most forgotten man in Christian history. “I didn’t know Jesus had a brother,” is often the first response when his name is mentioned. The evidence is compelling; according to numerous references in the canonical gospels of the New Testament, the book of Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s authentic letters, contemporary historian Josephus, the non-canonical gospel of Thomas, and early histories of the church, Jesus not only had a brother, but a very important brother, the primary leader of the Jesus movement in the decades following the crucifixion.

What? The leader of the early church? Why don’t the folks in the pews know about this? How could such an influential person in the early history of Christianity be forgotten? Ironic. Or is it? Could it be that the church has largely ignored James precisely because of his relationship to Jesus? Could it be that he was not forgotten but intentionally erased from the story?

It is axiomatic that the victors write the history, and James was the leader of the losing side in the first great conflict in church history. After the crucifixion, the original followers of the slain messiah regrouped in Jerusalem, including Peter and the other disciples, and it was here that James soon ascended to leadership. This core group of proto-Christians (it is anachronistic to apply “Christian” to this early movement) was Jewish.

Enter an outsider. A Greek-educated Diaspora Jew who insisted that he had been called to be an apostle to the Gentiles, who argued that traditional rules of Israelite religion didn’t apply to his Gentile converts, who became an independent missionary in defiance of James’ authority, and who established his own power base in regions far beyond the influence of Jerusalem. Paul of Tarsus was the thorn in the side of James.

Although James and the Jerusalem establishment may have won the early skirmishes, the emerging Christian church would soon be Pauline and Gentile, due in no small part to the vagaries of history and the Jewish civil war. With Jerusalem destroyed, just a few years after the deaths of Paul and James, Jewish Christians could not contend with the Paulines who were better suited for survival in the Greco-Roman world. Although vestiges of this internecine conflict persisted and may be traced through the compilation of the gospels and into the second century, the developing Christian orthodoxy was decidedly Pauline and the legacy of James diminished.

To 21st century sensibilities, the ancient controversies over circumcision, dietary rules, and Sabbath and festival observances seem unimportant.  Why should old conflicts be dredged up? Why is the current scholarly rediscovery of James important or even relevant?

In a word, Christology. Nothing has so divided Christians from the earliest days to the present–scholars, clergy and laity–than the conflicting answers to Jesus’ nagging question, “Who do you say that I am?” For some, it is a test, and the correct dogmatic response assures one’s salvation; for others, however, the question is a call to wonder.

In the early centuries, there were two great centers of Christian scholarship located in Alexandria of Egypt (the 2nd largest city of the Roman empire after Rome itself) and Antioch of Syria (the third largest city). Christian scholars from Antioch argued for the humanity of Jesus while competing scholars across the Mediterranean in Alexandria stressed his divinity. A scholar named Arius, who may have studied in each city, proposed a middle ground–that Jesus was somewhere between divine and human. Emperor Constantine convened the Council at Nicaea to settle the dispute, and a political compromise ensued. Was Jesus human? Yes. Was Jesus divine? Yes. Instead of either/or, the assembled bishops declared both/and. Truly human and truly divine was the political compromise, hammered out first at Nicaea and then at Chalcedon, that may have settled the debate de jure but not de facto.

Was the issue resolved? If so, why do modern-day evangelicals accuse the rest of Christendom of being soft on the divinity of Jesus? Why do liberal scholars, including many in the Jesus seminar, stress the humanity of the man from Nazareth?

Enter James. James is relevant to the ongoing Christological controversies.  James scholar Robert Eisenman ends his tome (James the Brother of Jesus) with this challenging statement, “Who and whatever James was, so was Jesus.” Many would disagree, but Eisenman’s statement frames the debate and defines the importance of James scholarship. This also brings us back to the original premise that James is not merely forgotten but has been intentionally written out of church history.

Ireneaus, the second-century heresy hunter, saw the problem, and he declared the views of the Jewish-Christian Ebionites (heirs of the James legacy?) to be heretical with a deficient Christology: “their opinions … represented Jesus as having not been born of a virgin, but as being the son of Joseph and Mary according to the ordinary course of human generation.”

St. Jerome saw the problem. Around 400 CE, Jerome suggested that James and the other siblings of Jesus mentioned in Scripture were really cousins. At the heart of Jerome’s rejection of a human brother for Jesus is the high Christology of the church. There was no room on the divine family tree for mere human branches.

For many, the divinity of Jesus is the hallmark of Christianity, the sine qua non, and thus James is dangerous. Do we dare to ask the lesser-known man from Nazareth–James, the brother–“Who do you say that Jesus is?”

 

 

A book review from New Zealand

It’s a small world we live in.  The latest scholarly review of A Wretched Man, a novel of Paul the apostle, comes from the opposite side of the globe—Dunedin, New Zealand.  Dean of Studies at the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dr. Jason Goroncy, offers his review which praises the attempt to reimagine theology through art.  The following is an excerpt, but you can read the entire review at Dr. Goroncy’s blog, Per Crucem ad Lucem.

[T]he communication of divine truth demands the work of the very imagination it is determined to sanctify. So Jonathan Edwards: ‘Unless you use imagination, unless you take a truth and you image it – which of course is art – you don’t know what it means’. Or, citing John Henry Newman:

The ways in which we ‘see’ the world, its story and its destiny; the ways in which we ‘see’ what human beings are, and what they’re for, and how they are related to each other and the world around them; these things are shaped and structured by the stories that we tell, the cities we inhabit, the buildings in which we live, and work, and play; by how we handle – through drama, art and song – the things that give us pain and bring us joy. What does the world look like? What do we look like? What does God look like?

This is precisely why I welcomed reading Obie Holmen’s A Wretched Man: A Novel of Paul the Apostle. Holmen seeks to … situate Paul in his geographical, social, historical and psychological landscape, and gift us with a creative way of hearing afresh the letters that make up the bulk of the New Testament.

According to Holmen, prior to his fire-side conversion-encounter with Yeshua (Jesus), ‘Paulos (Paul), the defender of orthodoxy, had acquired a proud identity and a status; self-righteousness became the dressing for his wounds, masking his inner torment’ (p. 75). Indeed, ‘the wretched man wandered the streets of Tarsos, lost and alone, accursed and condemned’ (p. 54). Thereafter, Holmen paints Paulos as one who is seeking to carve out the implications – for Torah, for Jewish privilege, for our understanding of God, etc. – of this radical encounter with Yeshua. The entire story takes place, markedly, against Paul’s own conflict – the ‘inner torment’ – between his inherited (and then reconstituted) theology and his homosexuality, the latter manifest in his relationship with Gentile friend Arsenios. Augustine once suggested, to the shock of some of his fellow bishops, that St Paul may have been ‘greatly tainted by sexual desires’. In his portrait of the gay Apostle Paul, Holmen exploits this suggestion beyond what the old bishop of Hippo may have had in mind, and some readers may well lay the book down because of such. But such action would, in my view, represent a premature judgement.

… Holmen is a gifted writer, and his well-researched yarn is certain to encourage readers to read the Bible in a new light, with a deepened awareness of the groundedness of its message, with a new appreciation of the real humanity of its figures, and – I suspect most importantly for the author – a renewed wonderment of the magic of divine grace.

Saint and sinner: Paul as human being

Paul is the protagonist of my novel, which is to say, he is the main character.  He is neither hero nor villain but thoroughly human with flaws and foibles like the rest of us.  He fights externally with James and the Jerusalem establishment and internally with his own perceived sinfulness.  He can rise to the heroic in his defense of the outsider as a child of God, but he also descends to the despotic in cursing those who disagree with “his gospel”.

In the past couple of days, I have come across a pair of blog posts that touch upon themes raised in the novel.  Gavin at Otagosh blog writes the following:

The Paul of Galatians famously comes across as an egotistical ranter. He simply doesn’t handle theological diversity well! It’s his way or the highway, no matter that senior figures in the early Christian movement (Peter, James) have quite a different take on things than he does.

Is Paul defending the “gospel of Christ”? We’ve got to concede that if he was, his opponents (fellow Christians) thought they were doing that too. No, he’s defending the gospel of Paul: “the gospel that was proclaimed by me.” Go through just chapter one of Galatians and notice all the ‘me’ and ‘I’ statements. It’s an eye-opening exercise.

Galatians is about a territorial dispute, and Paul is marking his territory. So does he mean to lay down a curse or not? It seems a no-brainer. It doesn’t much matter whether you want to understand accursed as hell-bound or excommunicated, it amounts to the same thing.

Here is a list of derogatory names used by Paul in his writings to label his enemies: “peddlers of God’s word”, “false apostles”, “deceitful workers”, “false brothers”, “dogs”, and “evil workers”.  The victims of Pauline name-calling were not pagans, emperor worshipers, or mystery cultists; they were fellow followers of the man from Nazareth whose sin was disagreement with Paul’s interpretation of the Christ.

Mothermary44 The second blog post was entitled, Who was Yeshua bar Maryam?  The blogger, who goes by the name of Mothermary44, raises the question of the historical Jesus and wonders whether Pauline speculation set the Christian course away from the historical Jesus toward a mythical, divine “God in a man-suit”.

Paul knew virtually nothing about Yeshua bar Maryam, the real-life wandering teacher, healer, and sage, when he began proclaiming the gospel. The real, historical man simply wasn’t important to Paul — not compared to the divine being whose glory had stricken him blind. (Acts 9)

All my life, I wondered why the pre-resurrection Jesus — humble, loving, forgiving, funny, “a glutton and a drunkard” (Luke 7:34) — was so different from the humorless and judgmental post-resurrection Jesus Christ, Only-Begotten Son of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, God in a man-suit. Finally, it came to me: the difference was Paul of Tarsus. Who knew nothing about the real Yeshua bar Maryam when he began proclaiming the gospel of Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God.

The novel is not quite so “in your face”, but portrays the ongoing struggle between James and Paul on several levels including James’  charge,

Who do you think you are, coming here with your Greek tongue, claiming to be a Pharisee, claiming to be a follower of my brother?  You weren’t there!

You never heard him speak, you never mingled with the crowds, and you didn’t witness the stinking Romans murder him on the cross.

You’re like an uninvited stranger at a burial boasting that you knew the dead man well.  How dare you share my grief!  How dare you!

My novel tracks my own wonderings about Paul’s Damascus road experience and about the boundary-breaking apostle to the Gentiles who graced us with stirring words of inclusion—“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”—but whose pride also resulted in hyperbole and condemnation of his fellows. 

For good and ill, Paul’s legacy continues in the church of the 21st century.

Latest Review of “A Wretched Man” published

The Historical Novel Society is highly respected in the field of historical fiction.  They offer an online presence and also publish two prestigious print magazines, The Historical Novels Review (quarterly), and Solander (twice yearly).  Thus, I am delighted to report that they have offered a very favorable review of my work,  A Wretched Man, a novel of Paul the Apostle.

Here is their review, verbatim:

In A Wretched Man, Holmen remains faithful to the historical origins of Christianity in the first century C.E. while weaving an intriguing tale of discord between James and Paul—a discord paralleled by Paul’s own internal conflict with his “unclean” inclinations. The suggestion of homosexuality as the thorn in Paul’s flesh is skillfully incorporated into the tale without being overwhelming.

James, the younger brother of Jesus, has assumed the burdens of his brother, first while he is away teaching and then when he is crucified. He must care for their mother Mary and younger brothers as well as provide leadership to Jesus’ followers. When Paul approaches James with his account of conversion while on the road to Damascus, James is furious. How can Paul claim to know what Jesus wants when Paul never knew Jesus, never walked with him, and certainly was not there when he died!

As a devout Jewish Christian, James insists on the keeping of Torah and the circumcision of Gentile converts. He and the Nazarenes await the return of Jesus and the kingdom of God on earth. Paul, on the other hand, ministers to the Gentiles and travels spreading the good news to all who will listen. He preaches that all Jews and Gentiles are welcome apart from Torah. He comes to believe that the kingdom of God is spiritual not physical. These are two very different interpretations and neither is willing to yield.

The author notes are very helpful for those unfamiliar with early Christian history as are the maps of the Holy Land. A well-written historical fiction novel. Recommended. — Debra Spidal

Why Paul?

Monkey See Bookstore front

Next week, I will speak at the Northfield bookstore, Monkey See, Monkey Read with more public appearances to follow.  I will read an early chapter from the novel, but first I will offer a few comments about my journey of writing, which I publish here.

The most frequent question I hear is “Why Paul? Why did you choose to write about Paul?”

Why bother with a man nearly 2000 years dead with a reputation as an anti-Semite, apologist for slavery, misogynist, and a gay-bashing homophobe? Paul was not one of Jesus’ disciples; in fact, he never met the man from Nazareth. The early followers of Jesus, including his own family, probably regarded the man from Tarsus as an outsider, a usurper, a pretend Pharisee, a “Hellenist”–Hebrew by blood but Greek by language and culture: a man on the margins. For awhile, the working title of the novel was The Jewish Gentile.

But wait, was this not also the man who wrote of Christian egalitarianism, of boundary breaking inclusivity, and whose good news of a gracious God inspired Augustine in the fourth century, Luther in the sixteenth, Barth a mere century ago, and whose message of love unconditional continues to stir our hearts? “Why Paul?” Because he is a puzzling enigma, that’s part of my answer.

Jesus himself authored no writings. Nor did any of those who followed him in the Galilee or during his fateful pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It fell to Paul the outsider, who first opposed the movement, to become its reporter, memorialist, essayist, interpreter, and promoter. At one time, over half the books of the New Testament were attributed to his hand, and this is also part of my answer: “Why Paul?”–because he is the most important man, outside of Jesus of Nazareth, in Christian history.  For good or ill, even the secularist must acknowledge his profound influence on western civilization’s Judeo-Christian heritage.

An enigma who shaped history. Most fiction authors must create colorful characters. This novel’s protagonist comes ready-made with knotty complications and buffeted by conflict from all sides. It has been my task to allow the complex, critical, controversial man from Tarsus to bloom before the reader’s eyes.

But, there’s more to it. There are more personal reasons for choosing Paul.

I have heard accomplished authors explain, “I write because I read.” If one relishes the imagining that is essential to entering the dream world of the novelist, it is a natural development to create one’s own captivating characters, alluring scenes and settings, an alternate reality that speaks to one’s inner truths–fictive and mythical though they may be. Thus, for many writers, the statement, “I write because I read” is an appropriate and accurate answer.

But, it is not my answer.

Mid-twentieth century American novelist Thomas Wolfe said, “The artist is religious man.” I write because I wonder. That’s my answer. I wonder about the “higher power” of the twelfth step group, and I wonder why I have spent more than half my three score years, and counting, as a clean and sober man. “There but for the grace of God, go I,” it is said, and I wonder. I wonder about the mysterious God revealed to Job in the whirlwind, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.” With William James, I wonder about the nature of religious experience; what happened to Paul on the road to Damascus? I wonder about the God revealed in the words of Holy Writ. What truths are unveiled there, but also what untruths? As citizens of the twenty-first century, how are we to interpret of the writings of Paul, a man with keen insight into a gracious God, but who also condoned slavery and counseled women to be silent in church? And then there is our issue, a twenty-first century issue that roils our pews and our politics, the issue of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters. How can we make sense of the harsh “clobber passages” penned by Paul?

As with all novelists, I have created a fictive world of the imagination to which I invite my readers. Trudge the dusty alleyways of Jerusalem as James, Jesus’ own brother and the leader of the Jewish Jesus movement, escorts Paul, the young upstart who claimed a vision on the road to Damascus. Pick sides a dozen years later when Paul and James debate circumcision and the traditional requirements of Torah before the assembly of apostles. Wander the ancient Roman highways with the lonely but defiant apostle to the Gentiles, looking ahead toward Rome and back over a nervous shoulder toward suspicious Jerusalem. The novel will introduce you to many whose names you know, lifted from the pages of Scripture. Sail across the Great Sea as the apostle returns after completing his missionary journeys for a final confrontation with James, his nemesis. Will the now-aged leaders, and their Jewish and Gentile followers, finally reconcile?

Because I wonder, I write. And so, as I invite you to imagine yourself into Paul’s journey, I am also inviting all to tag along on my journey too. Come, wonder with me.

Welcome to my new blog

Some of you may be followers of my other blog, Spirit of a Liberal, a blog of progressive, religious themes.  That blog will continue, and this new blog will not relate to the often political discussions that take place over there; instead, this blog will focus on A Wretched Man novel, writing and publishing issues, and other literary themes.  To those regular followers, welcome.  To new folks here for the first time, welcome to you also.  All prior posts appearing here appeared first on Spirit of a Liberal.

Last week, I did some “shoe leather” marketing for the novel.  That is, I hit the streets, visiting a couple of the private liberal arts colleges of Minnesota.  I visited with a few professors of New Testament, and I am encouraged that my novel may become part of their assigned reading list for their fall term classes.  The novel is also stocked and available through their campus bookstores.

I also spent nearly an hour on the phone with my publicist.  Even though the novel was released early in March, the publicist is just gearing up for intensive marketing efforts.  One of the items discussed was our frustration that Amazon.com can’t keep the book in stock because of their policy of ordering limited quantities at the outset.  In the first month, Amazon’s website has said “out of stock, more on the way” most of the time.  I think they have ordered and reordered nearly half a dozen times.  While it’s nice to know there’s a demand out there, it would be better if Amazon would start ordering the book in greater quantities. 

By the way, for those of you who have already purchased the book, I would greatly appreciate a few kind words and a rating on Amazon.com and/or Barnes and Noble.  Tagging the book is also very helpful, especially when your tags are the same as others such as “christianity”, “apostle paul”, “biblical fiction”, “christian biographies-memoirs”, “christian fiction”, “historical biography”, “historical fiction”, “paul the apostle”,  and “religion”.  Sorry for the blatant self-promotion.

A Wretched Man Novel print run

I departed on a pilgrimage in late summer 2006 without a roadmap; after numerous fascinating turns, frequent detours, and the occasional blind alley, I have arrived at journey’s end—with the assistance and encouragement of many helpful fellow travelers along the way.  Today, an anonymous artisan will push a button, and the first edition of my novel will spin through the rollers of an offset printing press. Soon, boxes of books will then travel their own journey to distributors and retailers—hopefully, for a just a short layover.

The website created for the occasion, www.awretchedman.com, is online, ready for the browsing public.  The ecommerce functionality of the website awaits customer orders with several purchase alternatives including autographed copies directly from me, through the publisher, or through Amazon.com.  Locally, the books will be available in Northfield at Monkey Read Bookstore in a few days and at a book signing at Bethel Lutheran on March 13th.

With apologies to those who follow this blog closely, here are brief summaries of advance reviews reprinted again with links to the full reviews by clicking on the reviewer’s name:

a stunning fictional account of the early church … the most authentically historical novel ever written about the lives of the apostles … presents the apostles as real flesh and blood human beings … This is a story that will both shock and inspire any Christian who is truly searching to find and follow the historical Jesus.

From review by Professor Jeffrey Butz

a powerful recreation of the world of Paul, James and Peter that pulls no punches … highly readable novel, based on contemporary scholarship … Paul comes alive as a complex individual … this book opens up the reality of the world of Paul and his contemporaries in a way no other work does … Real individuals, with passions and agendas, step on to the world stage.

From review by Professor Barrie Wilson

a compelling exploration of the Jewish and Gentile movements in the first century … A Wretched Man will help you to imagine your way into Paul’s life and times … Holmen definitely captures the “feel” of first-century Roman territories … well-versed in contemporary progressive scholarship about Paul … these characters leap off the page and into our imaginations

From review by Christian education consultant Tim Gossett

For those who choose to buy the book—thanks more than I can say, and I sincerely hope you enjoy it even a wee bit as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Click here for more info

A Wretched Man novel release date set

Regular followers of this blog know that I have penned a novel entitled A Wretched Man, a novel of Paul the apostle.  For those who didn’t know this but are interested, you can click on the Wretched Man tab above for prior postings about the novel.

Here are abbreviated versions of the advance reviews we have received:

a stunning fictional account of the early church…the most authentically historical novel ever written about the lives of the apostles…presents the apostles as real flesh and blood human beings…this is a story that will both shock and inspire any Christian who is truly searching to find and follow the historical Jesus.

From review by Professor Jeffrey Butz

a powerful recreation of the world of Paul, James and Peter that pulls no punches…highly readable novel, based on contemporary scholarship…Paul comes alive as a complex individual…this book opens up the reality of the world of Paul and his contemporaries in a way no other work does…real individuals, with passions and agendas, step on to the world stage.

From review by Professor Barrie Wilson

a compelling exploration of the Jewish and Gentile movements in the first century…A Wretched Man will help you to imagine your way into Paul’s life and times…Holmen definitely captures the “feel” of first-century Roman territories…well-versed in contemporary progressive scholarship about Paul…these characters leap off the page and into our imaginations.

From review by Christian education consultant Tim Gossett

In meetings with my publisher last week, March 1st was set as the official release date although the actual date when copies are available may vary by a few days.  We also discussed the process of becoming listed with Amazon and Barnes and Noble for online purchasers.  For the past month or more, I have been working with the publisher’s web designers, and a robust website should soon be functional, which will include ecommerce capability for purchase directly without a middleman.

Of course, we will do traditional marketing as well, including book signings/readings.  The publicist is beginning to set these up, but if any local followers of this blog want to contact me directly to arrange an event, feel free to do so: obie (dot) holmen (@) gmail (dot) com.

A Wretched Man novel: 3rd Review is in

A Different Voice is a website devoted to progressive, Christian educators.  It reviews and recommends educational resources deemed suitable for progressive congregations.

There are many of us…progressive Christian education professionals, pastors, youth directors, parents, volunteers, lay ministers, conference staff people…who are committed to taking the Bible seriously but not literally…who believe justice and grace and compassion and love are at the core of what it means to be Christian…who practice spiritual disciplines and still love God with their minds as well…who know themselves to be on a meaningful and hope-filled journey of faith.

Tim Gossett of Different Voice is “a twenty-some year veteran of youth ministry and Christian education. He has masters degrees in Religious Education and Religious Communications from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH, is a certified Christian education director in the United Methodist Church, and is an author of a handful of books.”  Mr. Gossett posted a lengthy review of A Wretched Man that includes the following snippets:

If asked to recommend some good books about Paul for laypersons and church professionals, there are several candidates that would come to mind. Two, though, would receive my top recommendation. Borg and Crossan’s The First Paul would be tops on my list for its lucid and important description of the de-radicalization of Paul’s message by the early church. Next, I’d recommend a forthcoming novel, A Wretched Man: A Novel of Paul the Apostle by RW Holmen, a compelling exploration of the Jewish (Nazarenes) and Gentile (Pauline) movements in the first century. If you’ve ever struggled to understand Paul’s form of faith, Holmen’s work of historical fiction will help you to imagine your way into Paul’s life and times.

  1. Holmen definitely captures the “feel” of first-century Roman territories. I suspect most readers will feel as if every chapter will add to their knowledge about life in those difficult days, from the basics of daily life to the realities of trying to exist as an oppressed religious community. Holmen clearly loves that period of time, and he describes it beautifully and (I think) pretty accurately. His training as a historian is clearly evident. 
  2. The author brings to life the source of the conflict between the early Christian movements, namely that Jesus did not return as expected, and there were significant differences of opinion about what Jesus’ life and teachings meant for Torah-followers and Gentiles alike. We cannot hope to fully understand and appreciate the differences between the Jesus of the gospels and the Christ of faith in the Pauline letters without understanding these two very different “Christianities.”
  3. The novel helps contextualize the letters of Paul and clarify how their themes came about. Paul’s conversations and private thoughts eventually are woven into bits and pieces of the letters. Unlike some novels about Paul, this one contains very little of the actual letters themselves, though, focusing only on their key phrases and themes. Stories from the book of Acts are woven into the story arc, though many scenes originate in Holmen’s own imagined, fleshed-out version of the characters’ lives.
  4. It’s clear to me that Holmen (who has done post-graduate studies in theology and Christian history at a progressive Benedictine community in Minnesota) is well-versed in contemporary progressive scholarship about Paul. This is evidenced in subtle ways—I suspect many readers will not pick up on the progressive emphasis—and at times I wished Holmen had been able to more directly expand on some of the insights in the Borg/Crossan book I previously mentioned. Yet it’s definitely the rare religious novel that can be recommended to your parishioners without reservation. 
  5. Finally, the novel treats Paul, Barnabas, Peter, James, the various women Paul knew, Timothy, Titus, and many others as extraordinarily normal people. We witness their frustrations, their anger, their salty language and questionable behavior, and the mundane experiences of their everyday lives, not just their piety and faithful witness. In many ways, this is the greatest gift of A Wretched Man, because these characters can now leap off the page and into our imaginations. 

Read the full review here

A Wretched Man novel: 2nd review is in

I earlier quoted the first review/recommendation that my soon-to-be-released novel received.  Advance Reader Copies of the novel have been sent to potential reviewers in anticipation of the novel’s February release.  Today, my publisher advised me that a second recommendation came in over the weekend.  Here it is:

current copy resized A Wretched Man: A Novel of Paul the Apostle is a stunning fictional account of the early church that reads like real-life. While a work of fiction, this just may be the most authentically historical novel ever written about the lives of the apostles. Robert Holmen is a wonderful writer with a gift for bringing the Roman and Jewish worlds of the first century to life in an incredibly realistic way. Holmen’s marvelous prose made me feel as if I was actually there witnessing the events described. This is the first biblical drama I have ever read that presents the apostles as real flesh and blood human beings struggling with the all-too-human issues we all face. The internecine struggles waged by Paul, James, and Peter in this book are still with the church today. This is a story that will both shock and inspire any Christian who is truly searching to find and follow the historical Jesus. It has certainly deepened my own understanding of my faith.

Rev. Jeffrey Bütz, instructor of Religious Studies, Penn State University, and author of The Brother of Jesus and The Secret Legacy of Jesus