(also read blog reviews, reader comments, and online comments)


Scholarly Reviews

A Wretched Man is a powerful recreation of the world of Paul, James and Peter that pulls no punches! In this highly readable novel, based on contemporary scholarship, Paul comes alive as a complex individual. What accounts for his visceral attack on Torah? What was behind his careful avoidance of James and Jesus’ first followers in Jerusalem? What drove him on to the ends of the earth, setting up the infrastructure of a new religion? It’s all here as Holmen explores Paul’s inner turmoil and the likely motivation behind Paul’s beliefs and actions. Agree or disagree, this book opens up the reality of the world of Paul and his contemporaries in a way no other work does. Real individuals, with passions and agendas, step on to the world stage.

Barrie Wilson, Professor, Religious Studies,
York University, Toronto.

Author of  How Jesus Became Christian.


A Wretched Man: A Novel of Paul the Apostle is a stunning fictional account of the early church that reads like real-life. While a work of fiction, this just may be the most authentically historical novel ever written about the lives of the apostles. Robert Holmen is a wonderful writer with a gift for bringing the Roman and Jewish worlds of the first century to life in an incredibly realistic way. Holmen’s marvelous prose made me feel as if I was actually there witnessing the events described. This is the first biblical drama I have ever read that presents the apostles as real flesh and blood human beings struggling with the all-too-human issues we all face. The internecine struggles waged by Paul, James, and Peter in this book are still with the church today. This is a story that will both shock and inspire any Christian who is truly searching to find and follow the historical Jesus. It has certainly deepened my own understanding of my faith.

Rev. Jeffrey Bütz, instructor of Religious Studies,
Penn State University,
Author of The Brother of Jesus and
The Secret Legacy of Jesus


Holmen seeks to ... situate Paul in his geographical, social, historical and psychological landscape, and gift us with a creative way of hearing afresh the letters that make up the bulk of the New Testament ... Holmen is a gifted writer, and his well-researched yarn is certain to encourage readers to read the Bible in a new light, with a deepened awareness of the groundedness of its message, with a new appreciation of the real humanity of its figures, and – I suspect most importantly for the author – a renewed wonderment of the magic of divine grace.

Read the full review by Dean Jason Goroncy
Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership in Dunedin, New Zealand


A Wretched Man will help you to imagine your way into Paul's life and times … a compelling exploration of the Jewish and Gentile movements in the first century … Holmen definitely captures the "feel" of first-century Roman territories ... well-versed in contemporary progressive scholarship about Paul ... these characters leap off the page and into our imaginations.

Read the full review by Christian education
consultant Tim Gossett

In A Wretched Man, Holmen remains faithful to the historical origins of Christianity in the first century C.E. while weaving an intriguing tale of discord between James and Paul—a discord paralleled by Paul's own internal conflict with his "unclean" inclinations. The suggestion of homosexuality as the thorn in Paul's flesh is skillfully incorporated into the tale without being overwhelming.

James, the younger brother of Jesus, has assumed the burdens of his brother, first while he is away teaching and then when he is crucified. He must care for their mother Mary and younger brothers as well as provide leadership to Jesus' followers. When Paul approaches James with his account of conversion while on the road to Damascus, James is furious. How can Paul claim to know what Jesus wants when Paul never knew Jesus, never walked with him, and certainly was not there when he died!

As a devout Jewish Christian, James insists on the keeping of Torah and the circumcision of Gentile converts. He and the Nazarenes await the return of Jesus and the kingdom of God on earth. Paul, on the other hand, ministers to the Gentiles and travels spreading the good news to all who will listen. He preaches that all Jews and Gentiles are welcome apart from Torah. He comes to believe that the kingdom of God is spiritual not physical. These are two very different interpretations and neither is willing to yield.

The author notes are very helpful for those unfamiliar with early Christian history as are the maps of the Holy Land.

A well-written historical fiction novel. Recommended.

Debra Spidal of the Historical Novel Society


Readers are gushing!

"A stupendous novel"

"Regardless of your personal religious background, this book is absolutely breathtaking"

"Your novel was difficult to put down and brought to life a distant time and place with such humanity and liveliness"

"A truly significant work"