Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Jesus The Terrorist: a book knocking around the office which has caught my eye and which I shall read. Might well be bollocks . . .

Here at I work last night, I came across a book provocatively entitled Jesus The Terrorist, and after spending a few minutes reading the blurb on the back and part of the introduction, I decided to take it home. (This is not theft by the way as, by general consent, most items one comes across in a newspaper office, especially books and magazines, are common property, by which hacks mean that if you can get away with stealing it without anyone noticing, it's yours. Obviously we draw the line at those items which are personal - wallets, coats, cars, that kind of thing. I should also point out that newspapers are inundated with unsolicited new books, sent in by publishers who know nothing of the industry and feel we might be able to give them a little free publicity. They say you are never more than a few feet away from a rat. Well, where I sit on the feature subs desk, I am never more than a few feet away from a whole pile of books - at least 30 - which have been sent in on spec in the hope that we will take an interest in them and write glowing reviews. They are always ignored, clutter up the place for several years and then, I think, are recycled into a constitutent of tarmacadam. And if they are not, they should be. The books department has even more books, and every so often several hundreds of these are piled several feet high on a desk and everyone is invited to take what they want. I invariably take several and never read any of them. These have included a biography of Hogarth, a biography of Jung and other hi'falutin nonsense in which I am theoretically interested but obviously not interested enough actually to read the books.)
My first reaction when I saw the title Jesus The Terrorist - and I should point out that even though I have read a little more, the jury is still out and shall be for quite some time - was that this was the kind of crap Erich von Daniken used to churn out - Was God An Astronaut? - and latterly a certain Graham Hancock, whose books have often been serialised by the Daily Mail and who is always introduced as once having been on staff at The Economist. (The subtext is that The Economist is a journal of such seriousness that it is incapable of employing anyone who might be a sandwich short of a picnic. And with an eye on the libel lawyers - who these days are everywhere - I must hastily point out that I am not claiming Hancock is in any way mad or a charlatan, just that unfortunately he often gives the impression that the lift doesn't always reach the top floor. Here is his website.)
To digress rapidly back to my theme - a digression from a digression, now that, surely, is true sophistication - the book I - er - filched is not badly written. The author, a Peter Cresswell, who has previously written Censored Messiah (which, on googling, seems to cover more or less the same ground) has a Cambridge degree (but see my caveat about assuming The Economist would never employ a nutter) and a Phd in social anthropology from the University of Wincanton - oh, all right then, York - so just because he can write an English sentence without dropping his 'aitches and avoiding glottal stops doesn't necessarily mean his books are of any worth. But nor should they prima facie be discarded.
His thesis is that far from being a religious leader who was intent on founding a new church, Jesus - apparently the name is a Westernisation of a garbled Greek translation of the Hebrew and Aramaic Yeshua and until 600 years ago was pronounced Iesu here in the West - was one of quite a few Jews rattling around that neck of the woods who actively tried to rid Palestine, Judea and Galilli of the Roman occupation, that his apostles were all more or less part of his extended family (the claim that he had several brothers and sisters has longed been made, although not by the Vatican, and strikes me as eminently reasonable), and that accounts of his life were later wilfully distorted by members of the emerging 'Christian' church in order to fit in with Jewish prophecies.
Now however good, bad or indifferent this book turns out to be, it is an area I find interesting. A few years ago, I read A J Wilson's Jesus, A Biography, and this book seems to cover much the same ground. Both seem to agree that Saul turned Paul was the genius behind the founding of the 'Christian faith', and that as far as the religious sphere was concerned, Jesus had no intention of founding a new Church but was an orthodox Jew who wanted to purify Judaism and return to a simpler way of worship. For example, it seems James, now accepted as his brother, took over the leadership of the small group who followed his teachings after Jesus's death (although Christians will insist that Jesus didn't die) wanted to keep the group as a small Jewish sect and that he came into conflict with Paul who had far, far grander intentions - as we now know.
Wilson's book admirably - in my view - adopts the principle of Occam's razor and when in doubt, his explanations tend to the prosaic rather than the miraculous. I'm rather hoping that when writing Jesus The Terrorist Cresswell has adopted the same principle.
Cresswell does concede that the title of his book is provocative, but he claims this is necessary. He also writes that because of the murky nature of his subject matter and because books are linear (he doesn't say that, I do), he is obliged to present some aspects of what he has to say without at first justifying his claims, but promises later to supply explanations and justifications. Whether or not he does so is the acid test as to whether this is a serious book or just more cack along the lines of von Daniken's drivel. I shall keep you posted. And if I never mention it again, you will know this book went the way of Jenny Uglow's biography of Hogarth.
Incidentally, Cresswell's book will be published by an outfit called O Books which 'operates virtually' and has now office. However, the main man is based in Hampshire.
From the O Books website:
This is the shocking truth:
* Jesus was a zealot who wanted to be King of Israel.
* The apostles and disciples were members of his family, by blood and by marriage, and they went on to wage a war against Rome.
* Far from 'converting', Saul - the false apostle - remained malicious and vindictive to the end.
* Saul started the lie that 'the Jews' killed Jesus, while he himself helped to kill Jesus' brother James.
* Saul invented Christianity, borrowing the rituals of a pagan religion, Mithraism.
* The gospels are a deliberately scrambled version of Jewish zealot propaganda with characters, who were Jewish warriors, stolen and subverted by Christian writers.
AUTHOR: Peter Cresswell graduated as a social anthropologist from Cambridge University and did a post graduate degree in sociology at York. He trained as a sub-editor and worked as a research officer at the Open University. After working as a senior journalist and leader writer, he set up a publicity consultancy. He is the author of Censored Messiah (O Books 1974) which shed new light on the origins of Christianity.

O Books seems to be a busy outfit and has a loads of books on its website. I can't as yet not be sure that is isn't a vanity publisher, although given the number of links it has with distributors worldwide that might be unlikely. Cresswell's new book isn't being published until 2010, so I suppose my copy is technically illegal.

The Vatican's smart footwork on the question of disaffected Anglicans who will be offered their own little room in the great RC mansion and, at a stroke, will increase the number of Catholics in Britain while - at a stroke - heaping even more woe on St Rowan Williams deserves mention, but must have its own entry. Kate will not be in the slightest interested, but I suspect Barry will have a few things to pass comment. Also when pontificating about the issue (which is not such a bad joke in context), I shall merely be regurgitating comments by others I have half understood, so don't hold your breath.


    I had a look at Graham Hancock’s website: what a shambles. Too many fonts, too many colours and far too garish; it looked like a Victorian circus poster - not a place to find intellectual rigour. Maybe, I find it difficult to accept Sociology as a proper academic degree. Like most people, I allow first impressions to sway my judgement, but I also always ask myself, ‘Is there a real reason for this disinterest?’ In this case, yes. The subject matters include all those iffy pseudo-sciences that are aggregated together in the high turn-over sections of remainder bookshops.

    BBC4 is running an interesting TV series about Art Deco in the 1920’s and the style of the London Underground was covered. When the various companies were merged, the astute CEO employed contemporary architects and artists to create a theme. The legacy of this is that all signing is utterly plain, stripped down and totally informative. The maps are simple and large numbers of tube-naïve people can use the system every day. He got it right 80 years ago and it really doesn’t need to be improved. I think he may well have accidentally invented the art of semiotics. Most web-sites are cluttered and gaudy. Hancock’s is one of them.

    CRESSWELL’S HALF will follow

    When I was working in Ireland, it was not uncommon for me to watch television at the hotel where I stayed for £30 a week [indecently cheap, even then for bed, breakfast and dinner.] Having been born in Belfast and keen to learn about the country as a whole – I’d even seen Bob Quinn’s plausible series ‘Atlantean’ on Channel 4 - I was still open to historical documentaries on Irish TV. One night I sat and watched a well-crafted programme about The Troubles, what had happened since and up to the present (1983, as it was then). It concurred well with what I already knew, so what harm? In the last minutes, the impartiality collapsed and the IRA’s spin was wedged in. It fitted neatly, but…
    I thought how many viewers now actually think that the entire effort is well-documented history? Possibly too many. And that, Patrick, is how I feel about books purporting to revise History as we know it.

    And the sadness is that I so want to agree with them, but really don’t have the time, the wit or the finance to rebuild the accrued History of the World to accommodate the theories of some eccentric researcher who is peddling an improved but cynically-flawed version of the truth for financial gain. We have the same ‘impasse of truth’ that was milked by Dan Brown in the ‘Da Vinci Code’. Henry Lincoln was let down by his colleagues when they wrote ‘The Blood and the Rose’. In their turn, they had been shafted by an art student hoax in the 1920’s. There are nuggets of truth in the history of the Knights Templar. [Poussin’s paintings are rather pretty. {On balance, Anthony Powell’s ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’ is a far more satisfactory result of Poussin for inspiration.}]

    In modern times, we are being carbon-taxed by politicians who are happy to listen to scientists fretting about climate change. The other half of the scientific community is conveniently ignored. We are victims of those who profess to know what the climate might do in 50 years time but are unable to predict the weather for next week or next year. The science is so difficult that the computer models for the future don’t even retro-calculate the weather that we have recorded for the last century. [To be continued.]

  3. I found this site to be extremely interesting, well written and all of the post enjoyable. I did not know of this book, and I will look for it.

  4. I will be looking closely Cresswell's thesis. My literary agent even suggested entitling my own work (based upon 30 years research) 'Jesus the Terrorist'! '1st Century Radical' was published in October 2008!
    Any serious study of the life of Yeshua-bar-Yosef which fails to account for the facts which evidence his hatred of the Roman occupying forces, can be discarded, no matter how glossy or media-friendly that study may appear!
    Michael Calum Jacques