What to make of this strange, ambitious, near-brilliant piece of ventriloquism from controversial memoirist James Frey? “The Final Testament of the Holy Bible” presents the reader with a knotty exercise in genre disorientation.
The book is, among other things, a vivid re-imagining of the life of Jesus Christ, a pricey quasi-objet d’art from super-gallerist Gagosian, a calculated act of provocation, a gesture of almost stupefying egotism, and a sincere and moving examination of the nature of spirituality. The multiple ironies at hand are potentially disabling.
This book of prophecy, written by one of the most famous liars of our time, is also an ode to the purity of poverty that costs $50, a cry against exploitation by the founder of a notorious digital sweatshop and an expression of hubris from a man ostensibly humbled first by his addiction and then by his very public discrediting.
Forget second acts; Frey is, to contradict F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous dictum about American lives, on the third or maybe fourth act of his deeply checkered career.
Carefully designed and formatted to resemble a traditional Bible — right down to the words of Jesus highlighted in red — “The Final Testament” tells the story of Ben Zion Avrohom, an alcoholic drifter in modern-day New York who undergoes a transformation after he miraculously survives a horrific accident.
When Ben comes out of his near-fatal coma, he is in possession of the same otherworldly powers that the New Testament ascribes to Christ. Is he the Messiah? Ben is evasive on this point, but he brings a sense of serenity and peace to everyone he meets, and he quickly develops a devoted following. His charisma and refusal to acknowledge any civil authority become a threat to the established order, which inevitably leads to a harrowing and suitably mystical end.
Frey has thus taken as a starting point for his book the not especially original but still thought-provoking question of what a contemporary Jesus would be like. His account, like all such exercises, is fundamentally interpretive, emphasizing the elements of Christ’s life and teachings that he values and de-emphasizing those that he has no use for. The historical Jesus’s poverty and lowly associations are fundamental to Frey’s conception, with Ben taking as his companions not the rich and powerful, but the truly marginalized: homeless people, drug addicts, prostitutes and criminals.
One of the book’s loveliest sections is the testimony of Judith, a self-described “fat, ugly failure” whose painfully barren existence is transcended by Ben’s ability to love and be loved. “That feeling of being alone,” she recalls, “always alone, truly and deeply and horribly alone, disappeared.”
The central force of Frey’s conception of Christ, however, lies in Ben’s rejection of the hierarchies of organized religion, which he calls “a beautiful con . . . the longest-running fraud in human history.” Not for him such worn-out and repressive concepts as the afterlife, prayer, the soul, sin and indeed the whole concept of faith in general.(via google trends)
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