When I started reading this book-- after maybe the first few chapters--I thought it would end up being a dud. The writing didn't impress me, and the premise seemed goofy. Norman Mailer writing a first-person narrative of Jesus' life? I mean, I know Norman Mailer thought of highly of himself as God, or at least a god, but still it seemed like it would spell disaster before I reached the end. But now that I've finally finished, what I assumed would be a two-star (three-star at best) affair has turned out to be pretty good.
I can't address the historical accuracy of this book, nor would I want to. I don't think that's the type of thing Mailer was looking to achieve anyway. Does it jive with the latest in Christology? Does it deviate from the Gospels? I don't know, nor do I care. Did I find his writing captivating? Yes, I did. Did he bring the character of Jesus alive to me, a practical atheist? Yes, he did. Was I sympathetic to him, did I care to see what would happen to him next, despite already knowing the story of his life? Yes, I was and I did.
A criticism I'd make about the characterization, however, would be that Mailer only scratched the surface of the Jesus character. What he gave us was good, but it could have been a lot better if he had chosen to go deeper.
I'm still not sure why Mailer wrote this book, but I'm glad he did. It gave me enjoyment, and while it wasn't a religious experience, it was very satisfying. Maybe if Mailer had written the Bible I'd be a believer.
(I'll have to finally get around to reading The Last Temptation of Christ
to see how it compares. What I've read from Kazantzakis I've really liked, so I expect no less from The Last Temptation