A new novel by Rick Herrick arrives with a weighty yet straightforward title — A Man Called Jesus.

The book takes the reader on a journey with Jesus, beginning with a scene where he and his wife Anna are expecting their first child. It is a happy time, and Jesus seems to be just like any other father-to-be — excited, nervous and working hard to earn enough money to care for his family.

Whether Jesus was ever married is still a matter of debate among religious scholars. But this is a novel and as such there does not need to be a rigid discussion. Rather, Mr. Herrick uses this subject matter and the subsequent death of Anna in childbirth, as a springboard for the narrative. A distraught Jesus runs from his town and everyone he knows, and in the wilderness begins to discover who he will become.

Many of the events of the book follow a well-known story; Jesus’s journey from unknown peasant to leader of a religious movement and his eventual death at the hands of the established power structure of Jerusalem. The novel uses the major moments in the New Testament as stepping stones to tell a story that adds color and texture to the biblical events. The motor working underneath the surface and driving the narrative is as much based on economics as religion.

The novel looks at this familiar story from a historical vantage point that places Jesus among the underclass who befriends other outcasts — divorced women, the homeless, handicapped and diseased — and decides to speak out against economic injustice. Many of the familiar villains are here. There are the corrupt political figures who levy unjust taxes on the poor and priests more intent on extracting sacrificial levies than spreading the gospel. Jesus takes on the money changers and preaches the gospel of love rather than the gospel of greed and retribution. John the Baptist is as fiery as ever, and Judas just as slippery a character as in the Bible.

The difference is in the telling. The language and descriptions are more contemporary, and the events and characters move more quickly to center stage to show rather than tell the story of essentially one year in the life of Jesus in a way that is accessible and straightforward.

At the end of the book, Mr. Herrick also supplies a detailed analysis of each chapter, explaining the assumptions he made in order to create a novel. “The first big one is that God is love,” he writes. “You discover this God when your heart fills. For me, this happens most frequently when I serve my neighbor, when I reach out to others in kindness.”

Mr. Herrick is a former university professor who writes the East Chop column for the Gazette. His previous book was The Case Against Evangelical Christianity

. In this book he states that his intention was to investigate two questions: “Who was the real Jesus of Nazareth and what relevance does this man have for the twenty-first century?” To this end, Mr. Herrick provides a reader’s guide at the end of the book to generate additional discussion.