The Testament of James, second excerpt

Added to the first excerpt, the following takes us through the first 5,900 words of Vin’s new novel, “The Testament of James,” published by Mountain Media on Dec. 16, 2014. In all, six excerpts are posted on this site: Go to the subject index and click “Fiction,” or click the link at the bottom for “next excerpt.”

This material is copyright c Vin Suprynowicz, 2014, all rights reserved.

(CHAPTER ONE CONTINUES)

“James was the brother of Jesus?” Chantal asked.

“A bit inconvenient for those who insist the mother remained a virgin till she died, a debate more religious than medical in which you’ll excuse me if I take no side.” Richard took his glass of tonic water from Skeezix and tried a sip, apparently found it acceptable. “Call them half-brothers, whatever you please.”

“Actually, Matthew says Joseph knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son,” smiled Lance the Californian, “which would clearly indicate they got busy soon afterwards.”

“The Matthew in question being not our host for the evening, I presume, but your Gospel According to Matthew.”

“One, twenty-five,” nodded Lance, pulling his chair closer to the fire, and thus to the old professor.

Richard smiled. “At any rate, no one during the time Jesus was alive seemed to know anything about this ‘born of a virgin’ business. There’s good evidence the Greeks who wrote the existing gospels eighty years later based it all on a mis-translation of Ezekiel. Ezekiel said the messiah would be born of a young woman, an almah. But the wrong word was used when that was translated into the Greek as parthenos, ‘a virgin.’ Jesus had four brothers, after all — James, Joses, Jude, and Simon — evidently sisters as well, and he was a candidate for being the messiah because he combined the royal lines of King David and the high priest Aaron by being descended from Joseph and Mary, both. If Joseph was not the father then Jesus’ claim to be the hereditary messiah would have been enormously weakened among first-century Jews.

“So the gospels refer to James the Just as the oldest surviving brother of Jesus,” Richard continued. “James being the English name, you understand. On his coins King James of Scotland who succeeded Elizabeth the Great was identified by his Latin name, Jacobus, which explains why we call the post-Elizabethan theater ‘Jacobean,’ because the real name of James in Latin was Iacobus, in Hebrew Ya’akov, the same way they got Jesus from Yeshua.

“James the Just was in Jerusalem till about the time of the big Jewish revolt in 65 A.D., give or take,” the old professor continued, now hitting his stride. “The Jews refused to erect statues and burn incense to the Roman emperors; the Romans could never figure out this ‘monotheism’ business, they thought the Jews were just being disrespectful. Add a nice tax revolt and you get a serious war starting in about 66 A.D. The Roman governor of Syria comes down with the 12th Legion to restore order and the Jewish rebels ambush and defeat the 12th Fulminata at the Battle of Beth Horon, which shocked the Romans considerably.” Richard closed his eyes and moved his head slowly from side to side, working out a crick in his neck. “The Romans then send a better general named Vespasian and his son Titus, they do well enough that Vespasian is made emperor in 69; Titus stays behind and takes Jerusalem after a seven-month siege in 70 A.D.

“Some reports say the traditional Jews stoned James to death in 62 for claiming his brother was the messiah. Others say the Romans crucified him closer to the year 69. Either way, the first problem with this report that he left behind an important book is that the Romans burned pretty much everything in sight within a few years after he died.” Richard St. Vincent looked around to make sure he had their attention, which he did. “Burned the city, crucified thousands, led the survivors away to die in the arenas. It’s a problem for most of our history of that era. Except for the writings of Flavius Josephus, a Jew who went to work for the Romans and who barely mentions Jesus -– our Jesus — the earliest Christian documents are oral traditions that weren’t written down till at least a generation later, and in Greek, at that. Oral tales get embroidered. Old people get things mixed up, believe me.

“So this tell-all book by James the Just sounds great, there’s a hunger for an actual Christian manuscript from before the destruction of the temple, something to clarify all the confusion and contradictions in the existing gospels, all written decades later under assumed names. But assuming he ever wrote it, and assuming it survived, you’ve now got a lot more than just the traditional fires and floods to explain why such a book could have disappeared. Meaning no offense to any of my neighbors today, who I’m sure are all peaceful and tolerant to a fault, but the leaders of the Christian Church some centuries back were known to go to considerable pains to suppress what they saw as heretical beliefs.”

“The book would be considered heresy?” asked Marian the Mouse, tossing caution to the winds. She’d either made a resolution to start asserting herself more, or she’d broken her own rule and consumed more than one glass of wine tonight. As a matter of fact, she now allowed Les the vampire novelist to pour her another.

“If it says what people have claimed, they’d move heaven and earth to discredit it, I should think,” Professor St. Vincent nodded. “The Christian church you have today was founded by a Jew named Paul, who helped persecute the Christians — he was there to help stone Saint Steven — until he had his revelation on the road to Damascus, his epiphany, whatever. The New Testament was carefully put together to indicate that Paul visited Jerusalem from time to time to check in with James the Just and the Nazoreans — the surviving followers who had actually known Jesus — that they were all on the same page.”

Richard had drained his glass of tonic, gestured that he’d like another. Skeezix scurried. Matthew squatted down and used the poker to push the fragments of wood into the center of the fireplace to get the blaze going. The fire started to crackle again, casting a somewhat brighter yellow glow.

“But that must have taken a lot of editing,” added Lance White, taking advantage of the pause. Matthew noticed Marian and Chantal both hung on the Californian’s every word, mooning like sick calves. “Because the most likely thing is just the opposite. Jesus preached only to the Jews. There were Greek cities right across the Sea of Galilee, but he never preached to the Greeks or the Romans, he just wanted to restore to the Jewish faithful the ecstatic core of their own faith, which he insisted the priests had hidden away from them. ‘Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who wished to enter.’”

“Our visitor is right,” Richard nodded. “Jesus believed they’d turned a profound way of knowing God into a list of rules for how to cook cheese and whether you could pick a grape on Saturday. He preached that the priests had hidden away the important mysteries of their faith from the people, and to get their attention he set out to match the prophecies that told the Jews how to recognize their messiah, or at least ‘A’ messiah, which means anointed one. In Greek: ‘Christos.’” Richard paused to accept his refilled glass from Skeezix, nodding in thanks.

“The book, Richard.” Matthew tried to get the old man back onto the main track. Some folks had to work in the morning.

Richard waved off the attempt to break his stream of thought.

“But Paul’s mission was to build a new religion among the Greeks and Romans and other people of Asia Minor, which is where he spent his time,” the old professor continued. “He faced a big sales job, and when a salesman keeps hitting the same objections, he has to change either his product or his sales pitch, and Paul did both.

“The people he was attempting to convert didn’t want to become Jews, they found the dietary laws excessive, and they especially wanted nothing to do with circumcision, which they considered to be ritual maiming, and of the sexual organ at that. So Paul told them they could forget all that, it was optional. Meantime, many Jews living in Antioch and Rome were afraid he’d get them in trouble with the Romans, so they turned him in for preaching sedition against the empire by claiming Jesus was a God who ranked above the emperor.

“Bad blood developed. Paul became more and more anti-Semitic. Yes, even though he was a Jew, don’t get me started. In fact, so as not to offend the Romans, Paul actually began to preach that it was the Jews who killed Jesus, a man who was crucified by Roman soldiers at the order of a Roman prefect. Look at the whole Barabbas story.”

“The thief who was freed instead of Jesus?” asked Skeezix, who had flopped down on the rug near the fire with Tyrone, one of the two big orange tabbies. “They made a movie out of it.”

“With Anthony Quinn,” added Marian, a veritable blabbermouth tonight.

“A fine source of historical fact, your Hollywood passion plays,” Richard smiled.

“I think they filmed it in Rome,” Marian hiccupped.

“So Pilate asks the Jewish crowd if there’s one prisoner they want to set free, and they all cry ‘Barabbas!’” Richard mimicked, acting out the crowd scene by waving his arms. “The story tells us they preferred saving Barabbas to Jesus, demonstrating that killing Jesus was fine as far as the Jewish crowd was concerned.”

“And?” Chantal asked.

“Early copies of the gospels say the name the crowd shouted was ‘Jesus Barabbas,’” Lance the Californian answered. “The Third Century theologian Origen ordered the scribes to shorten the name to just ‘Barabbas’ -– he said it wasn’t appropriate for any criminal to share the name of the savior. At the trial of Jesus, the Sanhedrin priests asked if Jesus claimed to be the son of God, and he replied ‘I am the Son of Man’ or ‘I am the Son of the Father.’ It would have sounded to the Romans like a denial — he denied he was a son of the Gods, therefore denied he was putting himself on the same level as Caesar. But the prophet Daniel had referred to the coming Jewish messiah as the Son of Man, so the crowds knew what this clever Galilean meant. They admired his cleverness, finding ways to escape all these verbal traps. In Aramaic, ‘Bar’ meant ‘son of.’ Jesus said he was the ‘Bar-Enos,’ the Son of Man, or the ‘Bar-Abbas,’ the Son of the Father. When the crowd cried for Jesus the Son of the Father, Jesus Bar-Abbas, to be set free, who do you think they meant? Anthony Quinn was a fine actor, but there was no one else named Barabbas who was set free instead of Jesus. The crowds cried out for Jesus the Son of the Father to be set free, and the Romans crucified him anyway. In fact, the Sanhedrin actually had to move quickly before a mob could form to object, because Jesus was clearly very popular.”

Richard gestured for the newcomer to go on. He seemed to be appreciating the breather.

“Meantime, Richard says Paul changed the product he was selling, and that’s for sure. He started borrowing heavily from more successful competitors.” Lance leaned forward. It wasn’t hard to imagine him holding forth from a pulpit, though Chantal found herself wondering if he preached in the white slacks and the parrot shirt. “First there was the cult of Mithra, which worshipped a sun God born of a virgin. Paul grabbed that the way Henry Leland’s competitors grabbed the electric starter once they saw it on his 1912 Cadillac. And then there was the cult of Attis and Cybele. Attis was tied to a tree with his arms outstretched, died, and three days later was brought back to life by his mother, the goddess Cybele. For Paul, these legends were products that a modern marketer would call ‘pre-tested.’

“And then Paul added transubstantiation,” Lance’s gold neck chain glinting in the firelight, “’Eat of my flesh and drink of my blood,’ which would have horrified Orthodox Jews of the time.”

“Unless he meant something else when he told them to eat of the flesh of the gods,” added Matthew, beaming his Cheshire Cat smile.

Richard looked around to see if everyone else was done, then shrugged. “At any rate, the Jews in Jerusalem wanted no part of all this improvisational theater, so there must have been a huge schism between Paul’s new Christian church in Greece and Turkey and the Nazoreans, the observant Jews who honored Jesus for his attempts to restore their original faith, who still considered James their leader in Jerusalem. But the history of the church was written to paper over that split, they had to stick with the story that James the Just was pleased as punch with the way Paul was proceeding. So if James really wrote a book to challenge all that, to set the record straight, your new Christian church would have moved heaven and earth to suppress it.”

“You haven’t even talked about the main thing people claim was in the book, that they get all excited about,” Marian complained, though she still looked up from the floor only briefly.

“The crucifixion,” Richard answered.

“Does this book or does it not say Jesus survived the crucifixion?” Marian asked.

# # #

The above takes the reader through the first 5,900 words of “The Testament of James,” by Vin Suprynowicz, copyright c Vin Suprynowicz, 2014, all rights reserved. To read the next excerpt, beginning Chapter Two, go to https://www.vinsuprynowicz.com/?p=1970 . To buy a signed, numbered copy of the limited hardcover edition, go to http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=14453647811

2 Comments to “The Testament of James, second excerpt”

  1. MamaLiberty Says:

    “If having to wait some months to read the rest of the story will bother you, please don’t start.”

    Oh, what the heck. Read it anyway. LOL Remember the serial stories offered in the movie theaters when we were young? The excitement built over the whole week until you could settle back in the seat with your popcorn and watch the next episode unfold. The anticipation is half the joy.

  2. Thomas Mitchell Says:

    Novels were once serialized in newspapers and magazines at a penny word. The price is still about the same.

    I can’t believe you named a character after one of your cats.

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