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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

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Review: Under Tiberius

Under Tiberius - Nick Tosches

I really have little tolerance for haters. I'm cool with disagreement, but when a person reaches the point of throwing vehement rage at the object of their disdain, I tune out or turn off. It's counterproductive and it usually makes the hater look like a complete idiot.


Enter the many books which criticize the roots of Christianity in the most vulgar manners. Clearly, some people hate organized religion. That's okay. It's understandable for some. Rather than approach the subject with grace and intelligence, however, they digress into crude tirades, hoping to convince readers that Jesus had his way with his mother and every little boy he came across in his travels. This is not the product of intelligent and insightful discourse; it is the work of a juvenile mind bent on “proving something.” And it does not matter the target of this puerile criticism, portraying Jesus as a horny manipulator or the Islamic religion as a nation of sword-toting brainless idiots is equivalent to black face and Looney Tunes' anti-Japanese propaganda. If you want to disprove the saintliness of Jesus, do so in a way that at least resembles historical reality.


That said, it's surprising that I not only finished Nick Tosches' Under Tiberius, but that I quite enjoyed it.


From the beginning, it is clear Tosches has some bones to pick with Christianity. Jesus is portrayed as a stinking drunk whose only ambitions are money and getting laid. Jesus forms a business relationship with our narrator, Gaius, and the two embark on a scheme to get rich. Along the way, they become friends. For me, this relationship never made any sense whatsoever. Gaius was somebody, banished perhaps, but it seemed unlikely he'd ever form a true relationship with the likes of Jesus. Everything about this novel reeked of authorial manipulation based on a long-standing hatred. Gaps of narrative and logic abounded.


But I pressed on. And somewhere, midway, the author did something unexpected: he began to treat the character of Jesus with some dignity. Though Jesus was no messiah by any stretch of the word, he developed a sense of humanity. He became a person, not a caricature. And like that, Under Tiberius became a worthwhile fictional critique of Jesus. Was that the intention all along? Did the author lose focus? Seriously, what the hell?


Suddenly, the writing was interesting and gorgeous. There were still gaps in the story and I still didn't understand the character of Gaius, why he cared so much about the man he was manipulating, but Jesus, ironically, became more real. Compared to the way he was portrayed for much of the novel's beginning, Jesus was multi-multi-faceted. And though he was no son of god, he began to resemble the historical figure who believed in something.


Under Tiberius could've been so much better had it not initially been a strident mockery of Jesus. It could've been the book that completely changed my mind about Jesus-bashing novels. I could've accepted the greed and the sex, even more surprising, I could accept the plot holes and the rushed ending, but I could not accept the blatant vulgarity of a one-dimensional Jesus. Had more time been invested in the relationships Jesus had with his disciples and others, less time spent jumping from whore to whore, I would've had a greater appreciation for this novel. Nevertheless, it surprised me in the end, and that counts for something.


Thank you, Mr. Tosches, for giving me a Jesus I could believe in.