I sent Gospel to some of my idols. (In the antediluvian pre-email days, children, people not only wrote letters but one could be happily surprised by the manners of famous authors; James Michener and John Barth sent witty, non-generic notes thanking me for my tome).  But most amazing to me was getting letters back from Anthony Burgess and then Gore Vidal. Mr. Vidal wrote back that should Gospel prove “spiritual and ennobling, why send it on? Revelation is always random, always unwelcome.”  Hm, just like my 788-page book arriving with a thud in his Amalfitano postbox. Mr. Burgess did offer a blurb along with a most kind letter: “Many thanks for GOSPEL… We over here have lost the capacity to create at such length, with such erudition, exactitude, fantasy and humour. I heartily congratulate you on your achievement. As my fiction making days seem to be over, I’m glad to see the vis so much at work in you. I wish you all success.”

Nice things reviewers said:

“A splendid novel on all counts.” — The New York Times Book Review

“Barnhardt has got such great imagination and wit, and erudition enough to recreate the gospel itself in these pages, that this is the kind of book you want to linger with and relish.” — Alan Cheuse, NPR: All Things Considered

From Entertainment Weekly (click on it to read it…)

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“[Gospel] was, for me, a panacea for spiritual ills despite its almost lethal injection of perspective. You managed to bring every Christian fear to the forefront, gave them life, let them slither threateningly over hard-won beliefs… For me, a closet cynic, your book eroded a coral reef of niggling doubts. I recognized traits steeped in fear—not unlike those of the born again characters—which had me rationalize inconsistencies in the Bible lest they topple my carefully engineered church of cards. …I hoped that after reading your book I wouldn’t have to start my spiritual search at the beginning again. And I didn’t. Because I realized what I always knew — truth is an illusion, different for everyone. Like cathedrals and jewel-encrusted crucifixes, they are manmade and prone to subjectivity. You said it best when you noted that God’s gift to us was never Truth, as we imagined it, but Faith. Thanks to you, mine is stronger than it has ever been.”
— from E. in Cochrane, Alberta

“Just finished Gospel. What a book. What an ending! …And to think I once thought once [Faith] was lost it could never again be found. Silly thing I am. …I pictured Faith like virginity. A one time deal. But no. Rather it is like the river which dries up in one season and returns the next.” — from S. in Mahopac, NY

“Before Gospel, I never saw religion as human history, as embodying utterly human foibles and egos. Including so much that is manmade. I never thought of God, or the Holy Spirit in particular, as having a sense of humor, and I’m a woman in a world of men’s religions. Gospel has in a way brought me back to a more basic sense of spirituality. These days, I occasionally talk to the Holy Spirit. And sometimes, I think perhaps she answers. And she sound like the voice that you gave her in your book!” — from M. in Washington, DC

“…It is the astonishing intellectual journey that is really the star of this show. This book is so well researched and so clearly explained that I spent hours googling some of the references just to see if they were fabrications or ‘real’ history. Boy, was it real. The cast of references include St John the Dwarf, African female rulers, Greek mystics, crusaders, imams, rabbis, kings and fools. The book is beautiful in its sensitivity to faith and love while having a rollicking good time deconstructing and debasing most of the sillier aspects of all religions. In the end all of our heroes come to a closer understanding of their actual selves and the necessity of faith and real love in their lives (regardless of their religious preferences, or lack thereof). I caution people who take the Bible literally not to read this book, you would be better served getting your religion from the television set. For others who have a delicious week to spare, access to Google, and some background in ancient history, well, you are in for a treat.” — Carl from

Not all readers thought it was such a treat:

“I had intended to pass the book on to others but now I will consign I to the trash can.”
— from C. in Tucson

“Blasphemy and filth from start to finish.” –from W. in Wichita

The Gardiner (Maine) Public Library solicited hundreds of celebrities for their important books. Says the website, “[Our] list’s worldwide publicity brings uplifting letters from people who are finding the recommended books meaningful… Librarians dream of people discovering books for education and entertainment, and to improve their lives. The list makes that a reality. I urge you to sample the treasures recommended here, and I hope you will share them with your friends.”

Johnny Cash (!) listed Gospel as one of his books.

“Shouldn’t parakalo be parakaleo?” — an orthodox priest from Albany, NY

“There is a reference error in footnote #22. The Infancy Gospel clay bird story reflected in the Quran is Surah 3:49 — not 3:44.”
— E.G. in Bar Harbor, ME

Corrections aplenty! Someone who had been posted in the British diplomatic corps in Khartoum wrote to tell me that the sandstorm in my Sudan episode was not a chamseen but likely a haboob. I corrected it with thanks.

“I don’t know when I’ve been so captivated by a book! One slight thing I’d like to mention in case you go into another printing… You refer throughout the novel to ‘REVELATIONS’ (plural). In fact, it is ‘REVELATION’ (singular), sometimes referred to as ‘The Revelation to St. John.’ …For anyone who has been to seminary, seeing RevelationS is not unlike hearing a fingernail scraped along a blackboard!” — from Rev. B. in Albuqueque

I think ‘Revelations’ is a low-church Southernism, but I have since mended my ways. It is a publisher’s wives’ tale–which is true–that a newly published book will fall open to a typo. That happened with Gospel; it fell open to a Hebrew mistake and I came to realize that the next-to-last copy-editing made its way to the typesetter and not the final-final-final draft. Oh, there were some painful errors in the hardback and my publisher (St. Martin Press’s Thomas J. McCormack) and I got several letters for each and every one of them. Like this three-page screed:

“I am mystified by the fact that the author appears to have attempted to write a novel for a specialized group, those who can read Greek and Latin, etc. and yet has made so many mistakes in these areas… I purchased this novel for holiday reading. I spend my working semester correcting such errors, and I do not expect to be doing the same on vacation. I submit the book is a defective product. You can gauge my seriousness by the amount of time I have invested in this letter. I asked my lawyer about suing for “cruel and unusual punishment” and he laughed, but I certainly intend to get my money back, if you please. I submit that the above [listed errors] demonstrates that your [book jacket copy] containing the words ‘erudition, exactitude’ amounts to a fraudulent representation of your product. I await your instructions to how this should be done. I enclose a copy of the receipt…” — Prof M., Duquesne University

But my publisher, thankfully, also got many more like this:

“Very simply put, Gospel is the finest novel I’ve read in a decade. Wilton Barnhardt’s erudition whip-lashed my Jesuit upbringing every which way but sideways… not to mention giving pause to agnosticism. And that is the highest compliment I could pay.” — from R. F.X. O.

A Jesuit-trained, practicing agnostic—there’s my target audience! My publisher also heard from Andrew M. Greeley, who passed away recently. Father Andrew, back in the ’90s, was a priest and best-selling novelist whose talk-show appearances and lightly rebellious, capacious discussions about faith (almost daring the higher-ups to censure him) became one of my models for the tone of Gospel. I was relieved to see he was pleased rather than offended when I sent him the book:

“[Gospel] is a real tour de force. What a marvelous idea to give God a speaking role, especially in Her Maternal and Spirit role. Barnhardt’s God is my God, a God who never stops loving and who is indeed vulnerable because of Her love for us.”