Book Review - My Brother’s Keeper: A Novel about the Family of Jesus by Bill Kassel

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Editor’s note: This book is a work of fiction. It should be noted that some elements of the story are unsupported by biblical accounts or Church tradition.

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My Brother’s Keeper: A Novel about the Family of Jesus is what author Bill Kassel calls a work of speculative fiction. In this book Kassel offers both a fascinating story and many plausible solutions to questions raised by the biblical accounts of the life of Christ on earth. Among those include the young Mary’s marriage to an older Joseph, the mention of brothers in the Bible even though the Church definitely teaches that Mary was ever virgin, the early background of Saul (who was to become St. Paul), and the mindset of Pontius Pilate.

It is important to keep in mind that this book is not about Jesus but rather, focuses on James, the older brother of the Lord and the promise he made to his father Joseph to be his brother’s keeper. Bill Kassel presented Joseph as a widower who had children from a previous marriage. James was the youngest of those children; this is how he was presented as the brother of the Lord. Such is necessary for Kassel to expand upon those people and events surrounding our Lord. As a result, My Brother’s Keeper tackles many difficult questions which inevitably cause the reader to examine his or her own faith.

The first part of the book which covers Mary, Joseph and the family was particularly interesting. Kassel’s vivid portrayal of the various characters helps the reader to step into their questions, doubts and general conundrum surrounding the birth and extraordinary nature of Jesus.

It becomes evident that James is gifted in learning and is destined to become a renowned leader in the Jewish faith. Studying with the local rabbi since the age of five, he is sent to Jerusalem and the great Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, when he becomes of age. In the novel, by the beginning of Jesus’ ministry James is known as The Just, one to whom many, including Pontius Pilate, would turn to for counsel. James’ dealings with the chief priests and Pilate would eventually intersect with Jesus’ arrest, causing great difficulty for James as he wrestles with his promise to his father to watch over his brother. During the three-year ministry of Jesus, James ponders the meaning of the Lord’s words, actions, and the many miracles attributed to him. It is easy to relate to James as he struggles with just who his brother really is even though the family knew since his birth that there was something extraordinary about Jesus.

The end of the book proved to be a challenge, but a good one. Kassel’s premise was difficult for me to accept at first until I realized just how much it tested my faith. Kassel’s excellent skill as a writer guided me through a deeper examination and made me wonder how I would have responded had I’d been in James’ situation. Throughout the book, Kassel conveys the necessity of an open mind for acceptance of Jesus as Messiah. He does this in part by illustrating just how entrenched the religious leaders were in the Law and their position with the people. The reader can sense James’ struggle to understand what Jesus means by his words and actions even as he fights to save his brother from death. His encounter with the Lord at the end of the book is provocative and meaningful.

The enormity of Kassel’s research for this book is impressive. His depth of knowledge of life in Nazareth and Jerusalem during the time of Jesus creates a rich, nuanced, and multi-layered story. I did, however, feel bogged down in the middle of the book, scanning pages and growing impatient, wishing for more to be said about Jesus and his ministry. While the background that Kassel lays down is important to a greater understanding of the whole, I did feel some of the detail was excessive.

That being said, My Brother’s Keeper is a wonderful read that will engulf, entertain and educate, producing many fruitful moments of reflection. I highly recommend the reading of this book between Christmas and Easter as a way of preparing for the remembrance and celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection.

You can read samples of the book, hear audio clips and order your copy at BillKassel.com.

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Copyright 2017 Susan W. Bailey

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About Author

Susan Bailey is the author of River of Grace Creative Passages Through Difficult Times (Ave Maria Press), and Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message (ACTA Publications), part of their Literary Portals to Prayer series.
Along with her blogs Be as One and Louisa May Alcott is My Passion, Susan writes for the Diocese of Worcester newspaper, The Catholic Free Press.

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