Eye Witness Book 1
by Robert James Luedke
How much evidence would you need to believe in something? Would second hand sources be sufficient or would you need an eye witness account? If you could read a hand written account of the death of Jesus from someone who was there, would that be enough to commit yourself to Christ? That’s the question posed by Luedke’s graphic novel Eye Witness.
This graphic novel is split into two segments in two different time periods. There’s the framing sequence which features celebrity forensic archaeologist, Doctor Terence Harper. Then there’s the middle section which shows us the week leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus. I’m going to deal with these two sections separately.
The Framing Sequence:
It’s the modern day and Dr Terence Harper and his research assistant are on their way to the Middle East. A rare document has been uncovered that only Harper can decipher. Could this document be conclusive proof that Christianity is true? And to what ends will people go to suppress this information?
As I was reading Eye Witness, it struck me that Harper was very much in the Robert Langdon mould of protagonist. An academic who knew a lot about the Christian faith and it’s origins, but wasn’t a believer himself. Someone who was best suited to a library who would be soon thrust into life threatening adventure. The problem with Harper though is that I just don’t buy him as a character. The framing sequence contains some very stiff and stilted dialogue. The fact that Harper is not a believer, despite everything he has seen is driven into the reader, in a way that does not feel organic at all. In some respects, I wish that the framing sequence wasn’t there at all because I feel it detracts from the novel’s strength – the section set in the first century.
The Middle Section:
The document that Harper translates is a first hand account of the events in Jerusalem surrounding the death of Jesus. It’s here that Eye Witness changes dramatically. We see the final days of Jesus in Jerusalem. The dialogue that was stilted in the framing sequence now sounds much more natural. It feels like the author no longer feels he has to prove anything with the dialogue and lets the story speaks for itself. Which is a great thing. Luedke doesn’t stick slavishly to the Biblical text when the characters are speaking, enabling him to stick to the truth of the events without having to make sacrifices when it comes to translating the story from the written text to the graphic novel medium. I wish more artists and movie makers would move in a similar direction, showing us the greatness of the Bible story without feeling they need to stick 100% to every single word recorded.
This section is by far one of the best told graphic novel versions of the life of Jesus I have ever seen. The art is dynamic and engaging. Interesting choices are made for panel arrangements with a variety of angles and close ups that bring the story to life. And the colouring, which I believe has been redone for this version is top notch. It feels like a modern comic with art that is comparable to most professional level comic art on the shelves today. For a Christian comic book, that’s incredibly high praise from me.
Luedke has made some interesting theological choices with how he presents the material. These are choices that I’m familiar with in academic circles that I don’t necessarily subscribe to myself. These include: portraying Judas as a zealot, who handed Jesus over to force his hand as the Messiah; the presence of Saul of Tarsus in the passion narrative; the presence of Mary, mother of Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane; and an interesting construction of the cross. While I don’t agree with these inclusions, I would not say that they are invalid and need to be removed. However, I would act with caution before giving this novel to someone to read, wanting to discuss these issues with them.
The revelations of the document, as presented in the middle section, cause Harper to question his lack of faith. This is the point where my disbelief could be suspended no more. Here is a man that had seen all the archaeological evidence for Jesus. This new document is no more valid than any other document. It doesn’t prove the existence of Jesus any more than any other document. It doesn’t describe the resurrection or anything else miraculous about Jesus. All it proves is that there was a man named Jesus who was executed. I find it difficult to believe that this document would move Harper in a way that the Gospels didn’t.
I haven’t read the next two books in this series, so I don’t know where Luedke goes from here. I hope he spends more time in the first century, because it is this aspect of the book that I enjoyed. The story in the modern day on the other hand left me cold. I would love to see Luedke present the whole story of Jesus, from birth to death to life again.
If you’d like to read Eye Witness Book One for yourself, head on over to the Head Press Publishing website. The first book is available to download as a PDF for only US$6. At 88 pages it’s well worth it.