“This rich Biblical story recasts Matthew, not Judas, as Jesus’s betrayer. Matthew, a non-practicing Jew and a clever soldier-of-fortune with ample friendships but no strong ties, narrates, beginning when he is appointed tax-collector of Capernaum by Pontius Pilate. Though the district in fact falls under Herod’s jurisdiction, Matthew will actually be secondarily employed by Pilate in the role of a spy.

Pilate instructs Matthew to monitor the activities of religious zealots in the region, and, once installed, Matthew mingles with the locals and quickly earns the trust of local brothers Simon and Andrew. Soon after, when a preacher named Jesus comes into town, Matthew has the first inkling that he may in fact have news of a would-be religious uprising to report back to Pilate. Matthew wins Jesus’s trust, is named a disciple, and follows the movement beyond Capernaum, sending detailed reports back to his Roman employer.

Matthew is a fascinating narrator who assesses all parties with equal skepticism, and Matthew’s conflicts and ploys become increasingly complex as his allegiances to his livelihood with the Roman Empire and his friendship with Jesus and the other disciples clash with greater frequency and intensity. Matthew’s conflicted narration will engage even readers minimally familiar with the source material.”

– Publishers Weekly

WARNING: Christians may find some passages offensive.

“One of the most dislikeable protagonists I’ve ever come across… he makes me want to go and take a good shower.”

– Linda Proud, author of ‘2000 Years of Christianity’


“This is exceptionally erudite, flawless, and subversively delicious. The author blends an almost vicious comedy to some serious history for a compelling historical fiction. The characters are richly drawn, the narrative fierce, muscular, compelling. The author has mastery of prose and story and knows how to mold the English language into an empire of a story. The action and dialogue move the story forward as well as develop the characters. The setting is atmospheric with the era pitch perfect.”

ABNA professional review

I was brought up in a ‘Christian’ household and attended Sunday school as a child. So I heard all the stories about Jesus – the Star of Bethlehem, the virgin birth, walking on water, feeding the multitude, healing the sick, raising the dead – indeed, rising from the dead. When I grew up and became a doubter and then a non-believer, I simply dismissed these tales as fairy stories. But now, the author has written this highly entertaining book about how it might have happened if a zealot called Jesus of Nazareth had lived and died in Roman Palestine at the start of a new era. Those bible stories I heard never talked much about Romans, which meant Jesus was never placed into context as a Jew living in occupied territory.
Mr Helweg-Larsen has written this story from the point of view of Matthew Levi, one of the disciples who had been a Roman tax collector – and a spy for Pontius Pilate. It is an enthralling story, providing on the way historical background about the Roman occupation and way of life, the countryside, the lives of the various Jewish factions and the impact of history on the population. In particular, here, the suppression of a revolt 20 years before and the subsequent crucifixion of 2,000 men.
The story is completely plausible – although, of course, it is a work of fiction. The characters are 3 dimensional, each with virtues as well as flaws. Matthew the spy comes close to reversing his allegiance at one point and his friends the Romans have their good points – and their bad.

But the life and death of Jesus is only a part of this tale. Perhaps more important is the reaction of the people around him, especially the common folk who followed him. His believers swallowed his every word. Tales about him spread from mouth to mouth and grew in the telling because people wanted to believe, regardless of the truth. And that is no less true now as it was then.

This is a masterfully written book by a man who has studied the history and the places. Recommended.

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