When reading the Bible, often my difficulty is putting myself in the shoes of the original context - listening with Roman, first century ears, understanding the particular points of interest the writer is addressing or answering. When reading the New Testament, for instance, Paul's teaching on relationships between men and women doesn't strike us as different or radical - it was then. Nor do we realize that simply because Jesus was from Galilee there were distinct and irreconcilable differences between he and the religious establishment in Jerusalem. Without persistent study the Bible can turn into little more than moral stories and miracles and a good guide for living.
The Fisherman's Testament (Cesar Vidal) is a little book that gave context and deeper meaning to the story of Jesus to me. It's a short, easy read that I read on a plane ride and when the plane landed immediately sat down in the terminal to finish the last couple pages. The story is told from the perspective of "Vitalis", a retired Roman military official, who emperor Nero invites to an interrogation of a man named "Petros". Petros has an interpreter, Mark, and not many pages into the book the reader is hearing almost verbatim, sections of the book of Mark.
Vidal presents the portions such that the reader understands their significance better, especially to first century Roman listeners. More than that, he presents Mark, and Peter as real people, men who are tired, gray, yet also have the resolute inner peace of a follower of "Christos". Even after 30 years, Peter's voice quivers when telling of his denial of Jesus and the crucifixion.
Though this may sound simple or basic, in the end I was impacted by the reality of the story - that Jesus was real, that Peter was real and these events actually occurred. We are two thousand years removed and sure we have our Bibles and numerous other sources from the era to confirm facts. In the same way that we may have an heirloom or item from a great grandparent or grandparent and we tell stories to our kids - we 'knew' them. "This is their handwriting", or "He made that dresser and planted that tree" or "let me tell you one of Grandpa's stories". There is relationship there - somehow reaching past the realm of the living to the past. And this is what I often find difficult with a text that is 2000 years old. I need to get past the translated text to the real people, especially the One who is alive.
The last sentence of the book was most moving for me and captured the reality of the past I confess as true and dedicate the whole of my life to: "...I will see [Christos] face-to-face, he who died on the cross to save me and who first spoke to me through the lips of an old fisherman." The eyewitnesses are long gone. But many wrote their accounts and those remain. Further, as the author details in a "note from the author" nearly every detail and person of his book were real, and their existence and actions confirmed by many different sources, the totality of which exceeds those we have concerning historical figures like Plato, Aristotle and Socrates.
I commend this little book to you. It will not disappoint.