Book Review: The Book of Rachael; sister of Jesus; wife of Judas Iscariot
Updated: May 16
Media Review: I am reflecting on some of the books and media I have reviewed as part of my research into the various views of the life and times of Jesus and his followers.
Author: Leslie Cannold, Australian philosopher, researcher, ethicist, and social activist. She works for a coalition of pro-choice organizations. Cannold identifies herself as a secular Jew.
Publisher: The Text Publishing Company, 2011
Genre: Historical fiction, Jewish fiction, Alternative history
Author's approach: The author dedicates the book to women struggling for a place in history. The Author’s note states her resolution to write a story about the forgotten sisters of Jesus. She states her goal is to bring to life a fictional character by evoking the time and place in which the character’s story is set.
Rachael’s mother, Mary, is harsh. She warns Rachael not to become pregnant before marriage, knowing how she herself had to run from her hometown when she was pregnant. Cannold’s novel theorizes that since unmarried pregnant women can be stoned to death, Mary invented the story that God made her pregnant. Rachael’s sister, Shona, does everything right and ends up raped and forced to marry her attacker. Rachael rebels. She trains to be an herbal healer and midwife. She falls in love with Judas Iscariot, the strong, brave, Zealot who is close friends with her brother Jesus. She does not want a life of drudgery with children ending her career, so she takes herbs to prevent pregnancy.
During this story, we learn about Rachael’s life with colourful descriptions of the time and place. Jesus is away travelling, and little news of his work reaches Rachael. At one point, Jesus calls for Judas’s help in facing rising opposition in Jerusalem. By this time, Rachael has agreed to bear a child for her husband, Judas Iscariot. However, when Jesus is killed, his closest apostles want to take vengeance against Judas Iscariot. Judas had already killed himself, but they come for Rachael, who was carrying Judas’s child. Rachael has to run from her hometown because she is pregnant. The novel hypothesizes that the apostles made up lies that Jesus rose from the dead to vindicate their dedication to Jesus.
Themes: how women were powerless in Jesus’ day, having few choices and being abused, and how the lack of reproductive choice hurts a women
Pros: The book provides excellent insights into the culture of Jesus’ day and the limitations on women and their choices in life. It is consistent with Matthew 28:12-15 which says that chief priests bribed soldiers to spread the report that Jesus did not rise from the dead, and that his body was stolen. “That story is widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.”
Cons: If the theme of a story about Jesus’ sister makes you think this will be Christian fiction, you will be disappointed. There is very little about Jesus’ miracles, healings, or teachings. The novel does not support the virgin birth or show Jesus as the Messiah or risen saviour.