Writers down the centuries have chosen to regard the Bible as man-made literature, rather than solely as a work dictated by God and set in stone, and have accordingly felt inspired to rewrite and criticise it. Twenty-five years ago, when feminism flourished, I imagined a fifth gospel as a long-hidden scroll, a radical alternative text written by Mary Magdalene presenting not only the humanity and sexuality of Jesus but also the female contribution to theology. This was published in 1983 as The Wild Girl. Now Michel Faber has picked up the idea of a fifth gospel and woven a comedy around it in order to satirise the excesses of fundamentalist religion flourishing in our confused modern culture. His novel takes its place in Canongate’s Myths series, which has opened up a space for writers to carry on the tradition of reinterpreting ancient stories and questioning whether they nourish or imprison us.
Theo Griepenkerl is a Canadian academic, linguist and research fellow based at the Toronto Institute of Classical Studies. He travels to war-torn Iraq to negotiate with the curators of the museum in Mosul, already looted and trashed. With half his