A Book Review (of Sorts)
Scene: Hell—SATAN’s Throne Room. Flickering flames and sulfurous smoke all around. From far off are heard the tortured cries of the eternally damned.
BEELZEBUB enters and flings himself at SATAN’s feet.
BEELZEBUB: You called, my Lord?
SATAN: Yes, Beelzebub my boy—I’ve been thinking.
BEELZEBUB: Then I await your command, Master.
SATAN: I think it’s time to lure more academics and college students this way.
BEELZEBUB: How? We already have Sex Week at most campuses; we have Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins still writing and lecturing, although you called in your contract on Christopher Hitchens ...
SATAN: No, I want something different. We need a new book on “the historical J.C.” Evil laugh. I always get goosebumps when I say that—J.C., instead of (whispering) “He Whose Name We Never Say.”
BEELZEBUB: You’re right, Master. It’s been too long since Bart Ehrman’s or John Crossan’s or Marcus Borg’s last books. There’s a whole new generation of readers out there to capture.
SATAN: Yes—well, so what do we have in the warming oven, so to speak?
BEELZEBUB: I have just the ticket, my Lord. One of my minions has been cultivating this young Muslim academic—he grew up in Iran under Islam, came to America in the 1980’s and (shudders) converted to The Enemy’s evangelicals. But then we saw to it that he went to Harvard Divinity School, and that fixed that. He learned to question all that nonsense that had been put into his head by the evangelicals, and he became so good at it that one of his professors asked him: “Why don’t you go back to your roots?”
SATAN: Heh—that was good. So he went back to Islam?
BEELZEBUB: He did—just like that. Ever since, he’s been just where we want him, teaching Islam and creative writing to young college students. Plus, he moved to Southern California!
SATAN: Perfect! But how have you been, as you say, “cultivating” him?
BEELZEBUB: I planted the idea that he should write up all his scholarly doubts about the divinity of J.C., after he first wrote a book on Allah as the “one true God.” So not only has he now served as an instrument to keep Muslims Muslim, but he has a book on the “Historical J.C.” ready to be published!
SATAN: Really? Does he offer anything new?
BEELZEBUB: At least it’s different from that stuff and nonsense by Crossan, Borg and Ehrman. For our man Aslan—that’s his name—
SATAN: Aslan? Really? That will draw the Narnia fans—or at least confuse them.
BEELZEBUB: Yes, well, we are prepared for everything, I always say. At any rate, for Aslan, the historical J.C. was a Jewish zealot, on the order of Bar Kokhba (another of our own, you will recall—whom Aslan doesn’t see fit to mention, by the way).
SATAN: How does he deal with the matter of The Empty Tomb?
BEELZEBUB: Ah, there I have to say that he handles it better than Crossan does, with his story of J.C. literally going to the dogs that no one could believe. He simply notes that whether or not J.C. left the Tomb on his own is not an historical fact, but an article of faith—and as an historian, he cannot go there. End of story—he says you can believe in it if you want to, but don’t let it interfere with your evaluation of the historical facts.
SATAN: Speaking of historical facts, what does he say about the Nativity?
BEELZEBUB: Now there, our Harvard Divinity professors really got to him. He writes that it’s all a fantasy, that J.C. was a nobody who was born in Nazareth, not Bethlehem, and that everyone from Galilee knew it. Luke and Matthew, he says, added the Bethlehem bit later, in order to shoehorn J.C. into the Messiah role, as supposedly foretold in the Forbidden Book.
SATAN: That’s perfect—just what I would have wanted him to write.
BEELZEBUB: Well, as I say, we’ve been watching his environment for quite some time. We knew that it would bear fruit, sooner or later.
SATAN: So what would you say is his main thrust?
BEELZEBUB: You have to hand it to him—it’s an angle no one we’ve influenced has quite come up with before. His main thrust is to discredit what J.C.‘s followers wrote in the Forbidden Book, because as he says, they made it all up after the fact to suit their particular audiences, and that’s why the accounts of what happened differ so widely. And he claims that they wanted to hide the main fact about J.C. which made them ashamed.
SATAN: And what is that?
BEELZEBUB: Are you ready for this? He says that as a Jewish zealot, J.C.‘s chief goal was to overthrow Roman rule, that he was a rebel against the Roman State, and that as a result he got the ultimate punishment that Rome reserved only for traitors, not criminals: nailing him up naked on a piece of wood to suffocate slowly, while suffering horrible pain. (If you’ll permit me to say it: those poor humans have no idea of what pain is until they get here.)
SATAN: What about the two criminals nailed up on either side of him? How does he explain them?
BEELZEBUB: Oh, he says that the word translated as “thieves” is misunderstood, and that the Greek stands for a term the Romans regularly used for insurrectionists. So they were rebels, too—it’s just that J.C. was the biggest one of all, going around speaking of his “Kingdom” at hand. His own people, Aslan says, handed him over to the authorities as a means of currying favor with the Romans.
SATAN: What’s his factual support for writing that?
BEELZEBUB: That’s just what’s so good about his book—there are no notes or references; just a bibliography at the end. You have to take his word as a scholar for everything he says. College kids these days don’t like footnotes, anyway—too retro.
SATAN: I already know the answer to this, but I’ll ask it anyway: what does he have to say about our Great Apostate, Saul—who left us to join The Enemy?
BEELZEBUB: Well, of course he uses the P-name, which we may not pronounce. But what he writes is really good, for our purposes: he says that P—I mean, Saul considered himself better than all the other followers, even though he never saw J.C. in the flesh; that Luke made up the tale of his “vision of J.C.” on the way to Damascus; and that Saul really trashed Jewish law in a way that J.C. never would have allowed if he had been alive. He also throws in all the old stuff about Saul having no historical details about J.C.‘s life, and having no interest in J.C. the man—for Saul, it’s all about this fantasy that came fully formed out of the stroke, hallucination, or whatever it was that he experienced outside of Damascus.
SATAN: Just as I thought. Sounds like we’ve got a winner—make sure it gets published and reviewed by all of our favorite candidates, and juggle the figures on Amazon to make everyone want it as the latest best-seller in “Religion”. Oh, and get the author an interview on NPR—Terry Gross will do fine.
BEELZEBUB: Consider it done, O Master!
BEELZEBUB exits, crawling out backwards.
SATAN (muttering): Note to Self: Slip a random sentence or two from Aslan’s book into the readings Hitchens has to listen to from his own works—see if he notices anything.
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