The physical and spiritual relationship between young Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene is the focus of this lively if unpersuasive saga. Plagued by his reputed illegitimate birth, Jesus adopts the name of Martis and joins the Roman Imperial army to escape Nazareth. The pallid framing device, in which professor Jude Hunter discovers the handwritten autobiography of Jesus, is a clumsy narrative necessity; more interesting are the changes of scene that encompass the frontiers of the Empire and Rome itself. As Martis becomes a soldier and medic, his exposure to combat and brutality convinces him to stifle his feelings and become a military Messiah who will liberate Judea. Mary Magdalene provides a serene if static argument to the contrary, and exposure to Chinese warrior/healer Iron Cane helps induce Martis to drop his aspirations to heroism. However readers react to the suggestion that Jesus came to form his philosophy through the suffering of everyday life, the picture drawn of his times provides an intriguing notion of what might have happened. Unfortunately, some aspects of the narrative seem governed more by the need to preserve the central character than by plausibility.