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Literature / The Letters From Nicodemus

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Rabbi Nicodemus ben Nicodemus is a wealthy, respected writer of haggadas (parables), who would be perfectly happy with his quiet life and work, if only his beloved Ruth was healthy. Her illness, though, is wearing at them both, as he confesses in writing to his old teacher, Justus.

The times, however, are tumultous - a new prophet is said to have shown up at the shores of Jordan, a new prophet who baptises and chastises the people, claiming Someone else is near - and he's unworthy of unlacing His sandals...

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The year is 3788, or, as Romans call it, year of the consulship of Piso and Frugi.

One of several novels that Jan Dobraczyński set in biblical times, Listy Nikodema ("The letters from Nicodemus") deals with "taking up the cross" and what it really means.


Tropes that have taken the leap of faith:

  • Anachronism Stew: Served at Herod's party in the form of turkeys and maize alkohol.
  • Badass Preacher: How John the Baptist appears (until his imprisonment).
  • Been There, Shaped History: From the very first letter we learn Nicodemus is good friends with Joseph of Arimathea. Then he personally meets John the Baptist, several disciples, and then Jesus Himself. He also knows many of the bad guys and is a witness to several miracles, as well as Salome's dance. And owns the house where they had the Last Supper.
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  • Bittersweet Ending: After twenty four letters worth of angst, Nicodemus sells what he owns and goes forth to spread the Word.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Some things are called the way they were back in the day, like simlah (a cape).
  • The Caretaker: Is the point of view character, so we're shown several facets of this.
  • Composite Character: Mary of Bethany (Lazarus and Martha's sister) somehow got traits of Mary Magdalene. She's also the one to bring the fragrant oils that Judas deemed so wasteful.
  • Corrupt Church: The levites and pharisee.
  • Creepy Child: Nicodemus finds young Salome weird to the point of scary.
  • Crisis of Faith: Nicodemus, for the entire story. Solves it in the end.
  • Death by Adaptation: Joseph of Arimathea.
  • Den of Iniquity: Herod's birthday party.
  • Description Porn: Nicodemus's work is writing parables. It shows in the sheer purpleness of his descriptions.
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  • Due to the Dead: True to the source material, delivered by Joseph and Nicodemus.
  • Egocentrically Religious: Nicodemus is slowly, over months and years, overcoming this attitude. Judas, however, is too consumed by his thirst for revenge. Also, most people think of Messiah in terms of what He could give them (mostly politically).
  • Epistolary Novel: Twenty five letters sent by Nicodemus to his mentor.
  • Five Stages of Grief: Nicodemus, over Ruth's illness and eventual death - he starts in mild anger, then goes on to try bargaining, until she dies and he slips into black depression. Then finally finds acceptance and peace in his new faith.
  • Foreshadowing: Jesus speaks about crosses several times, creeping Nicodemus out.
  • God Before Dogma: This angers the hell out of the pharisee.
  • God Test: People keep demanding miracles from Jesus, true to the source material.
  • Heroic BSoD: Nicodemus is a bit disgusted with himself when his BSOD after Ruth's death dissolves. He thinks he should be depressed (a reaction not unheard of in Real Life).
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Pontius Pilate probably wasn't that greedy and sleazy.
  • Holier Than Thou: In many flavours - Nicodemus himself has increasing doubts, but the pharisees in general are holier than anyone.
  • Incredibly Inconvenient Deity: The general publics' idea of the Messiah is a war leader in shining armour, and they get a former carpenter from Nazareth (and nothing good ever came from Nazareth) who speaks in riddles of varying weirdness. Nicodemus, though, feels there might be some unpleasant duty waiting for him specifically.
  • In Mysterious Ways: Some people (like Peter) learn to accept this, some (Judas) reject it violently. But this is the entire point.
  • I Should Have Been Better: Nicodemus thinks so after Ruth's death, then after Jesus's death.
  • Jesus Was Crazy: Or at least very weird from Nicodemus's point of view. Also Judas tends towards this opinion in his more resentful moments.
  • Jesus: The Early Years: Nicodemus visits Betlehem to learn about them. First he's told a story blatantly made up for tourists, then the young storyteller gets chastised by an old woman who actually was there at Jesus's birth and tells it like it was - Nicodemus for the life of him can't believe in such an ignoble birth of the Messiah.
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: Several times (Nicodemus witnesses Him calming the storm). Although - see the source material page.
  • Kangaroo Court: The only people who speak in Jesus's defense are: Joseph of Arimathea (who points out the procedural problems), Nicodemus and a young man who soon afterwards becomes Christian.
  • Manly Tears: Nicodemus notes that Jesus weeps quite often.
  • Never Accepted in His Hometown: People of Nazareth hate Him viciously.
  • Occupiers out of Our Country: Some Jews are very, very tired of the roman rule...
  • Older Than They Look: Mary looks no older than she did when giving birth thirty years prior.
  • Philosophical Novel
  • Pretty Boy: John (the Evangelist).
  • Restored My Faith in Humanity: Nicodemus starts out somewhat bigoted (not nearly as bigoted as his colleagues), but in the last letter finally admits that he's came to regard Peter and the other disciples (galileean fishermen, mind) as better than he himself is.
  • Stoic Woobie: John the Baptist after his imprisonment.
  • Sword & Sandal
  • Turbulent Priest: John, having fulfilled his path-straightening purpose, goes on to yell at Herod about his incestuous and adulterous relationship. You all know how this ends.
  • Twice-Told Tale: This is practically a Fanfic for The Four Gospels.
  • Walk on Water: Nicodemus wasn't there for once, but he was told the story by Judas.
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