Acts of the Assassins - Gospel Noir


On the Open Book programme on Radio 4 (I never know what I’m going to say) I said that too much reverence for biblical stories and any refashioning will be tedious. Too little and the updated version becomes facetious. There are observable symptoms for both.

In every over-reverential re-telling of a New Testament story the author cares far too much about what language the characters are speaking.

‘I’ll have the fish,’ said Peter in Aramaic.

The facetious disease is just as easy to recognise – Jesus returns to earth in the present day and smokes dope. Of course he does. Updated, Jesus is always a stoner. It’s just easier to explain him that way.

Luckily there are alternatives. Gospel Noir has antecedents, if not exactly a history. A reader from Canada, Andrew Johnson, sent me this youTube clip of the wonderfully-titled Rinse The Blood off My Toga (1954). The Canadian TV comedy duo Wayne and Shuster wring the Jesus story for gumshoe giggles.

Made me laugh, but the Jesus story also lends itself to an investigation without the facetious topcoat. The story certainly contains a string of mysteries – a missing body, Assassins_frontpossible false witness, the suspicious death of a collaborator (Judas commits ‘suicide’).

And no question the four gospels are dark with noir – a brutal execution, a confused occupying force, a case that never closes – the mystery remains unsolved to this day.

Hard to say, at this point, whether gospel noir is a new genre or just a single novel in Acts of the Assassins. Something to discuss at Hay Festival this year, where I’ll be talking about this and other biblical fiction subjects on Friday 29th May.