Books: The Twelfth Man

BROTHERS by CHAYYM ZELDIS

497 pages. Random House. $10.

This gaudy costume novel elaborates lengthily on one of those history-as-it-wasn't ingenuities: the supposition that Jesus — though he did not know it himself — had a malevolent older brother. Obsessed by his hatred of the young mystic, he pretended belief, joined Jesus' band of followers, then betrayed him to the Roman authorities. The idea is intriguing. The family relation ship between good and evil makes a strong metaphor, and the attempt to add flesh and fury to the rather thin biblical characterization of Judas invites attention.

Yet Chayym Zeldis, a prizewinning poet and...