I’m glad that you learned something from the last letter. I do honestly believe that if my career as a writer doesn’t take off I should become a sex-Ed teacher. Apart from insects and literature, human sexuality is the only thing in this world that interests me. Bugs, Books, and Sex…my my what a strange man I am. I hope your mission trip is going better, I could tell from your last letter that things are a little uneasy between you and the rest of your group. Let me remind you that if our correspondence is getting in the way I can stop writing you these letters. I don’t want to burden you.
Now, as for the book I sent you I do hope you get the chance to read because it has left a deep impression on me, not only because I’m an atheist, but also because I was raised in the Christian church. Now I’ve told you once or twice, that many of my good friends are Christians, one of whom recommended me an excellent book about god’s love for atheists. I always love my interactions with the Christians I call friends because they tend to be intelligent people first and foremost and we can get into some fantastic conversations. One of them in particular recommended the book that I sent you; after we discussed religion one day and he suggested I would like the book due to my interest in history.
I asked for the book for Christmas, and I had every intention of reading it, but life, that greater fucker of plans, interceded, and so it rested there between Julius Caser and Rushdie for close to a year before I picked the book up and began it back in January.
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan is a book every Christian, Atheist, Jew, and Muslim should read because it s the first honest historical interpretations of the historical figure of Christ I have ever seen. Let me be clear B——, there are many theologians in existence that cite the gospels and then write about the life of Christ, but few people ever seem to try and place Jesus in the historical context from which he existed. Jesus as a man has typically been placed into a sacred bubble of pure faith, and should any attempt to poke at that bubble to poke and prod at the man within it, well, my god who the hell do you think you are?
Reza Aslan has a bachelor’s degree in religious studies, a Masters in Theology, an M.F.A. in creative Writing, and finally holds a PhD in Sociology. These credentials all point to a scholar interested in how human beings create meaning through holy narratives, and then how those narratives affect their day to day lifestyle including decisions about the meaning of reality. No one can contest that Aslan is an idiot without looking like one himself, though there are some who have tried only proving themselves to be one. You’re welcome to look the man up B—-, in fact I’ve included a link to, without a doubt, the stupidest interview FOX News has ever done. And given the fact this is the channel that decided to give Glen Beck his own show, that’s saying something.
One of the largest concerns about Aslan and this book was not whether he painted Jesus in an unholy light, but because Aslan was a Muslim writing about Jesus. Let that sink in for a moment and then remember how many Christian authors, spokesmen, politicians, and television personalities have written and spoken about Muhammad and Islam.
Now I have to write this B—–, before I go any further. I’m going to have to include only so many quotes to prove this books merit. The reason for that last sentence is simple; I would quote the entire goddamn book if I didn’t stop myself.
Let me begin with one the many passages that awakened me to the man of Jesus, and separated me from the bearded baby sitter I learned about in Sunday school:
“If one knew nothing else about Jesus of Nazareth save that he was crucified by Rome, one would know practically all that was needed to uncover who he was, what he was, and why he ended up nailed to a cross. His offense, in the eyes of Rome, is self evident. It was etched upon a plaque and placed above his head for all to see: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. His crime was daring to assume Kingly ambitions.
The gospels testify that Jesus was crucified alongside other lestai, or bandits: revolutionaries, just like him. Luke, obviously uncomfortable with the implications of the term, changes lestai to karkourgoi, or “evildoers.” But Try as he might, Luke cannot avoid the most basic fact about his messiah: Jesus was executed by the Roman state for the crime of sedition. Everything else about the days of Jesus of Nazareth must be interpreted through this singular, stubborn fact.” (155-6).
You can imagine how this fact alters the perception of Jesus. The lessons of Jesus’ life are never portrayed in political terms for Jesus isn’t a political figure. His concern, in terms of the rhetoric you usually receive as a Christian is that the man is concerned with the poor, with the needy, and then of course salvation. None of those lessons really afford people the chance to see Jesus as a political figure, a man with an ambition to oust the Romans from the Holy Land and help the Jews regain their freedom. Aslan’s success is bringing this new idea of Jesus into focus without sounding condemning or condescending.
For example, another charming story you receive in church is the story of Jesus coming before Pilate. Every child who remembers going to Church on Easter (seriously how lame was that? What’s the point of having the goddamn Easter bunny leaving eggs if you have to get up and go to church first? You know there’s chocolate at home, and that you can find it, and that if you don’t hurry you’re older brother’s gonna grab it all before you do and…I’m getting off topic). Now we’re told that Pilate was a good and somewhat wavy fellow who didn’t enjoy sending people to death. Aslan manages in one paragraph to flip this on its ear:
“The gospels present Pilate as a righteous yet weak-willed man so overcome with doubt about putting Jesus of Nazareth to death that he does everything in his power to save his life, finally washing his hands of the entire episode when the Jews demand his blood. That is pure fiction. What Pilate was best known for was his extreme depravity, his total disregard for Jewish law and tradition, and his barely concealed aversion to the Jewish nation as a whole. During his tenure in Jerusalem he so eagerly, and without trial, sent thousands upon thousands of Jews to the cross that the people of Jerusalem felt obliged to lodge a formal complaint with the Roman emperor.” (47).
Now if you are at all like myself B—–, this short passage should shock you and then hopefully make you laugh at your own ignorance. The character of the Romans has always existed alongside Jesus Christ, but there’s always been a divide. The Roman Empire is history, that’s old professors reading books in libraries and telling each other knock knock jokes in Latin while smoking pipes. Jesus is church, old priests giving sermons about fishing and friendship and telling awful puns about the Holy Spirit. What I found most fascinating what Aslan’s ability to contextualize and reveal the inaccuracy in contemporary religion without being condescending.
You’ll note in my last letter I was obviously lashing out at many contemporary Christian’s attitudes towards sexual education, and unless you’re a very open minded Christian, you were probably pissed off. Aslan’s book avoids such a pitfall, and the book is so wonderful in the way it recreates Jesus as, not a divine being, but a historical figure that’s interesting for his actions and belief. Jesus is no longer the son of god, but a working class Jew tired of the oppression and hypocrisy of the Jewish elders and physical domination by a foreign people. Jesus is a man who wants to see his people liberated from the totalitarian system which subjugates and tortures them. In short, he’s my kind of dude.
Now I will tell anyone I know that I despise Paul and his letters, and that’s why the third part of the book is so crucial towards Aslan’s thesis. The conception of Jesus as Christ, a perfect being that is one and the same with god is largely due to the writing of Paul and his influence and Aslan notes how this happens:
Christianity after the destruction of Jerusalem was almost exclusively a gentile religion; it needed a gentile theology. And that is precisely what Paul provided. The choice between James’s version of a Jewish religion anchored in the Law of Moses and derived from a Jewish nationalist who fought against Rome, and Paul’s vision of a Roman religion that divorced itself from Jewish provincialism and required nothing for salvation save belief in Christ, was not difficult one for the second and third generations of Jesus’ followers to make.
Two thousand years later, the Christ of Paul’s creation has utterly subsumed the Jesus of History.” (215).
Perhaps the reason then that I despise Paul is because he keeps Jesus from being an interesting person. He strips Jesus of his humanity, his human ambitions and concerns for the Jewish people, and instead lifts Jesus up beside the Lord turning him into an ideal and thereby stripping identification from his audience. There’s a reason why “idealism” can be dangerous, it’s impossible to attain an ideal because it is without concrete form and therefore can never be attained. Now this is not me being an armchair atheist B—–, I’ve just never understood why no one seems interested in the details of Jesus’ life. When I was going to school I had a Christian education class in middle school. Our teacher was the baseball coach and quite possibly the biggest fat-headed idiot in the history of western society. To put it in perspective he once beat an armadillo to death in front of his athletes, and was fired from his job for teaching students that Dinosaurs were a conspiracy against Religion to disprove Jesus. Yeah…let that sink in.
The Reader may ask, what does this have to do with Paul? My Christian education was never the gospels, but only, ONLY, the letters of Paul. It wasn’t just the fact Paul’s letter were supposed to be saying that pornography and drinking were sins (especially when you’re Episcopal and drink wine at the dinner table that’s made by your priest) it was the fact that Paul was more interested in giving commands than actually talking about Jesus the man.
There are lots of little moments where Christ as a man becomes someone fascinating. For example, whether or not Jesus was a bastard. Whether his outrage in the temple was him defending god’s honor or else a rebellion against the Jewish priests who had been culled by the Roman Empire and essentially bought. Was Jesus alone in being a supposed “prophet” in the holy land? Whether John the Baptist held more political and spiritual power than Jesus himself did. Was Jesus really magical healer? Well, I would love to address all of these points, but I promised I wouldn’t quote the entire book. I guess B—- you’ll have to read for yourself of the man and determine for yourself who you would rather believe in.
I hope this book opens your eyes to the man of Christ, a man I know better now than I did after being in the Christian church for almost a decade. This letter, like all of my letters, isn’t designed to shake you of your faith, but just to challenge it. I believe in Jesus of Nazareth and reject Jesus the Christ. One is a man I would like to know more about, the other is a boring cartoon character.
Aslan himself notes of the man in the last lines of the book:
“Because the one thing any comprehensive study of the historical Jesus should hopefully reveal is that Jesus of Nazareth—Jesus the man—is every bit as compelling, charismatic, and praiseworthy as Jesus the Christ. He is, in short, someone worth believing in.” (216).
Sincerely, yours in the best of confidence and support,
Joshua “Jammer” Smith
P.S. I wish you had told me Charlie was a girl B—–. If I’d known that I would have posted more pictures of Keira Knightly. I’m happy for you, and I really hope she likes you back. Let me know what your family says. I’m here for you. And cheer up, remember gay originally means happy. This makes you a happy person!