New Book by Dr. Osvaldo D. Vena Explores Alternative Version of Jesus’ Life
November 4, 2020
What if? What if Jesus had not died on the cross? How would he have lived his remaining years, and what would he say about his life, his ministry, and his alleged death? In his new book, Postcards from Egypt: Reimagining Jesus from the Gospel of Mark (Wipf and Stock, October 2020), Dr. Osvaldo Vena, emeritus professor of New Testament interpretation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, explores an alternative version of Jesus’ life both before and after the crucifixion.
Dr. Vena’s novella asks the reader to imagine that Jesus, having been rescued from certain death, ends up in Alexandria, where he marries and has a family. When he discovers a scroll describing his ministry—the Gospel of Mark—he notices many points where he disagrees with the way his story has been told, and he decides to find the author in order to give his own version of events. This novella helps us reimagine not only the familiar Gospel accounts but also the possibilities for the historical Jesus’ life and ministry.
Published by Wipf and Stock, this book is available at Wipf and Stock’s website and all major book retailers. In an effort to learn more about Postcards from Egypt, Dr. Melanie Baffes, affiliate faculty member of Garrett-Evangelical, reached out to Dr. Vena.
What gave you the idea to reimagine Jesus’ story and the stories about him in the Gospel of Mark?
I started with the question: What if Jesus did not die on the cross but was rescued by friends and escaped to Alexandria, where he got married and formed a family? One day, many years later, he came across a scroll that talked about his life and ministry, as well as his death and resurrection. The scroll was the gospel of Mark. He then realized that many of the things attributed to him in that document were misleading or simply wrong So, he decided to give his own version of the story, which he does once he finds the author. The entire book unfolds then as a conversation between Jesus and the scribe who wrote the gospel.
Could this be considered a type of “historical” novel? How accurate is the setting of the story?
This can be considered a “historical” novel because I made sure that the setting is that of 1st century Roman World, specifically Alexandria, Egypt. This setting is appropriate in two ways. First, it is one of the possible places where the Gospel of Mark may have originated, and second, it was a city that had an important Jewish population. It is plausible then that Jesus could have been living there when he discovers the gospel.
How does the story offer an alternative vision of Jesus’ ministry?
It tries to peel off the many layers of theological interpretation added to the stories by the evangelist. Jesus’ vision of his ministry is then not that of the nascent church but his own as a Jewish prophet and miracle worker who believes that is being used to announce God’s kingdom but who does not believe himself to be the Messiah.
Who do you want to read the book?
Seminary and college students taking intro to the NT classes, particularly the gospels, as well as laity and public in general who want to look at the Bible from a different, more creative perspective.
Q&A conducted by Dr. Melanie Baffes, affiliate faculty member of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
Endorsements & Reviews
“In Postcards from Egypt, a novel, Vena asks daring questions. What would have happened if Jesus did not die on the cross? If he was married? If he had an effeminate disciple? If he felt that his voice has been stolen and used—through misrepresentation and sheer invention—to build a movement based on his alleged resurrection? These questions allow Vena to reimagine Jesus in a radical way. The Jesus who emerges in Vena’s novel is free of dogmatism, and prejudices.”
—Manuel Villalobos, Chicago Theological Seminary
“What if the message and the life of Jesus were meaningful even without his death on the cross and his resurrection? Just as Christians once imagined the life of the young Jesus in the legends recorded in Pseudo-Matthew, Vena imagines the life of the mature Jesus in a novella we might call Pseudo-Mark, challenging us to ask: What is truly at the core of the Christian faith?”
—Nancy E. Bedford, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
“In this fascinating novella, we meet Jesus as an older man who has grown in wisdom, humility, and grace. . . . As he looks back on his spirited and passionate youth and relates the events that unfolded, we hear the Gospel stories anew as we consider how he himself may have understood his life, his followers, his world, and his God. Through this compelling story, Vena has done what no biblical scholar has done: he has reclaimed the voice of Jesus to help us reconnect with his humanity—a humanity that has been largely obscured by the continuous remaking of his divinity.”
—Melanie Baffes, author of Love, Loss, and Abjection: The Journey to New Birth in the Gospel of John