Review of Imaginary Book:
Every so often there comes along a book which shakes the world. Such books incite revolutions, topple empires, destroy religions, spread mass insanity, and spark genocidal wars. Fortunately, “Alternate Jesus” is not such a book.
In “Alternate Jesus”, the author asks, what if Jesus of Nazareth had never been crucified? How would history have been different? The author gives us two answers; two “alternate worlds” in which Jesus lived. Unfortunately, only one of those answers is convincing to this reviewer.
The book has two parts: “In This Sign Conquer”, and “What is Truth?” In Part One, Jesus seizes control of his environment by secular means; in Part Two, Jesus takes a more spiritual approach. Part One is all too convincing, for its message is “power corrupts”. Part Two is mystical, not dramatic. It teaches that “truth shall set you free”, but it deliberately does not tell us what truth is.
“In This Sign Conquer” starts in the city of Rome, where King Jesus had just successfully concluded his Crusade Against Empire. With the defeated Roman Empire at the mercy of his Zealots, he proclaims himself Prophet, Messiah, and God-Emperor of the World. “That was his high point,” the chronicler wryly comments. We then see Emperor Jesus play out, within his reign, the entire history of the medieval Church, including censorship, repression, fanaticism, fraud, corruption, witch-hunts, wars and genocides. It ends with Emperor Jesus’s death and the collapse of his tyrannical theocracy.
“What is Truth?” shows Jesus as an old man, teaching Torah to his students – among whom we find the Roman Ambassador to Judea. The story is a dialog between the old Rabbi and his students, friends and rivals; they ask each other what truth is. In a style similar to Plato’s dialogs, Jesus draws from all participants their own ideas as to the nature of truth; and in return the students draw out his own views. This part of the book is lyrical, philosophical and mystical – and for those reasons lacks the spectacular drama of Part One.
The book, as a whole, lacks balance. “In This Sign Conquer” is a critique of the historic Christian Church; and as such, all too effective. After such an indictment one would expect praise of equal power, but “What is Truth?” seems thin in comparison. It is more for poets, priests and philosophers than for the rest of us.
The difficulty is partly due to the nature of the subject. It is easy to write political protest for the masses, but far less easy to present ecstatic mystical liberation theology in terms that relate to the average reader’s everyday life. Neither Dante nor Milton could describe their Heavens as vividly as their Hells. This difficulty is compounded in a secular age such as ours.
Another difficulty is due to the nature of history. “Alternate Jesus” is an alternate-worlds story, subject to the epistemological limits of such a narrative. We of this world-line can visualize the world-line of “In This Sign Conquer” because it is a lesser line than ours; it contains less information. The opposite is true for the world-line of “What is Truth?”; it is a greater world than our own, one of higher content, and for this reason we cannot know it fully.
God-emperors have risen and fallen many times; there is nothing new in that old story. But in our world, Jesus died young, so we do not know what he would have taught, had he lived to old age. For this reason, “What is Truth?” falls short; it ends with mystery; one must fill in details for oneself. It ends with silence, as “In This Sign Conquer” ends with noise; and in both cases we see reflected the tragedy of our own world-line’s Jesus, who died before he could tell us all that he had to say.