How the Son of God Became a National Icon
By Stephen Prothero
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Reviewed by Jules Siegel
In "American Jesus," Boston University professor Stephen Prothero
diligently ponders the changing manifestations of Jesus in American
culture over the years and finds -- surprise! -- you don't have to be a
Christian to love Jesus. Believers of all faiths have adopted Jesus as
one of their own icons. If only "Studies in Iconology" author Erwin
Panofsky were alive to see this. You've got your black Jesus icon, your
Moslem, Jewish and Mormon Jesus icons. How about that Hindu Jesus doing
yoga? Far out!
Professor Prothero would never stoop to such outmoded hippie
exclamations of joyous awe. His prevailing expression is a carefully
almost concealed bemused smile. The Establishment lip will curl
distinctly on trailer-trash-type trends. Anything decidedly Californian
tends to produce a raised eyebrow. One would have to be a very
well-informed religious scholar to challenge the accuracy of Prothero's
library research. When he gets into areas that ordinary folk might know
something about, however, he can be much less convincing.
He writes about the Jesus freak movement, "As heroin replaced pot as the
drug of choice and overdoses multiplied, many came to associate drugs
with captivity rather than freedom." (127) Few in the Bay Area will
agree that heroin ever replaced pot as the drug of choice. Heroin has
never been an important drug numerically. In the Federal 2002 National
Survey on Drug Use and Health, 75 percent of illicit drug users admitted
using marijuana, compared with 0.1 percent for heroin.
A principal social characteristic of the time was the belief among users
of marijuana and the hallucinogens that they were sacramental
substances, one of whose main results was the feeling of closeness with
the Great Spirit, whether the flavor was Aquarian, Mesoamerican,
Oriental or Christian. Many an atheist found God through LSD and other
drugs. For Christians, especially, getting to know Jesus was a common
psychedelic experience. To this day, some Jesus freaks quote holy
scripture to support their belief that God made drugs to help human
beings, and that Jesus himself was a mushroom eater.
Prothero is a very gifted and astute observer with an attractively
clear, direct and concrete literary style, but he is not easy to trust
even when he gets his facts right. In writing about the way Jewish
thinkers have attempted to come to terms with Jesus as a Jew, he must
explicitly mention each and every one's condemnation of Paul's invention
of some of the most irritating aspects of Christianity. Maybe this is
just awkward writing, but it comes across as subtle ridicule. His humor
is limited to a few Black Jesus jokes ("Yo Mama's so old she was a
waitress at the Last Supper"), and two very lame Jewish Jesus jokes. He
rarely writes about how people feel, but concentrates on institutional
political motives and strategies. See how Jesus became a focus-group
celebrity through astute marketing techniques such as seeker-sensitive
It's really quite awkward for orthodox Christians to accept fully how
others see Jesus and the uses they make of him in their own belief
systems. The Abrahamic religions -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam --
are exclusionary. You can't be any combination of Jew, Christian and
Moslem at the same time, although you can recognize Jesus. Oriental
religions are inclusionary. As Prothero points out, to the followers of
the Hindu religions, Jesus is merely another avatar of the universal
As a child, Prothero's "most sacred Christmas moment" was his father's
annual reading of "The Christ Child," a children's book illustrated with
"wondrous color lithography, and always, that halo bursting forth from
the page." (xi) Today, he seems rather annoyed by "crazes" such as "What
Would Jesus Do?", "What Would Jesus Eat?" and "What Would Jesus Drive?"
He notes that the 110-foot-tall, 750-pound Jesus hot air balloon
"continues to lift off each Easter over northern California," and new
controversies such as the dubious brother of Jesus burial box and Mel
Gibson's "gruesome" movie continue to arise.
"What would Jesus make of all this?" Stephen Prothero asks at the end.
"That is anyone's guess," he writes. "But I rather doubt that he is
leaning back and laughing." (302)
Gee, why not? That Jesus balloon sounds a lot more appealing than some
Christo wrap performance. In spreading the Gospel, your best guide is
"in my Father's house there are many mansions." Better yet, go to the
New Testament, Acts 2: "And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost,
and began to speak with other tongues.... Now when this was noised
abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because every
man heard them speak in his own language." Jesus speaks the language of
universal love. Each soul receives it and reflects it with a personal
twist -- even Stephen Prothero in "American Jesus." Isn't that just great?
Jules Siegel has written on national trends for Playboy, the Village
Voice and Rolling Stone.
JULES SIEGEL Apdo. 1764 77501-Cancun Q. Roo Mexico
Which is more important: somebody's name or the eternal truth?
By John Kaminski
It's not the creed that's important, it's the integrity.
It's not the name that we give to the thing we worship, it's recognizing the essence of that thing as the highest truth, the thing worth being worshipped, so that the name we put on it doesn't really matter, as long as we recognize the thing for what it is.
We're too caught up in names, in identity, in rituals, and holiness. Piety makes me sick. Rituals bore me. What we're looking for is truth, and that can come in many guises, be from many places, and certainly have an infinite number of different names.
Do you understand what I'm saying?
Let me make it clearer.
Those spiritual gangsters who were run out of Egypt all those years ago have led us in the wrong direction. And they've been abetted by holy men of all persuasions who have betrayed those who have sought sanctuary in them, solace from them. The maintenance of their own churchly business has become more important to them than the souls they're supposed to be putting at ease, to be trying to save. It's a problem with every church, synagogue and mosque that ever existed. Some of them lose their souls over it.
Spiritual gangsters, that's the right name for them. They saw the people's need. And they took advantage of it. We have to have that home to go to, that place of rest. If we don't have it, we can't function. Sure, you can call it repression of fear of death. But it's the human condition. We can't deal with it without some help. Otherwise, we'll get sick, or worse, weird. And maybe that's what happened to them. It's the story of the first holy man, and every single one since.
People need to have things explained. Why am I here? What is it all for? And most importantly, where am I going? If it's not explained, and then tucked safely away in your brain like some kind of paid fuel bill, you're going to worry. And worry keeps you from seeing, from being able to do all those wonderful things that make life the joy it can be.
But problems arise when you get two different versions of the truth. It's the same truth. But it's two businessmen, each describing it differently, each trying to survive, each trying to make a profit (no, that's too harsh, at this level) ... each trying to make his creed survive to serve the people it was intended to serve. And eventually going to war over their two different versions of the same story. Really sick. It's the story of the stupid human race.
Here in this Westernized world we live in, we all derive our spiritual heritage from the same bunch of Old Testament hooligans who were thrown out of Egypt for nasty, usurious practices that many of them still exhibit today. Then they were kicked out of Babylon and set up shop near the Dead Sea.
Put any kind of name on them you want: thugs with yarmulkes or perverts with crosses, or perhaps worst of all, smug businessmen with clerical collars telling you they can save your soul when they're really thinking about building theme parks in South Carolina. They've bet their eternal souls on their bank accounts, and made people believe that the name was more important than the thing that the name was trying to describe.
And that's how we lost our way.
Which leads us to the present day.
These same certain thugs are acting like any holy men trying to set up an advantage for themselves in order to gain more money to pile in their particular houses of worship. And because they're so subtle, so intelligent, and so rich, they've managed to create laws in a lot of places that forbid people from talking about certain events of history.
Without going into this particularly freighted event, let's just examine what it means to prohibit people from talking about certain events. I think they call it, in some European countries, "profaning the memory of the dead," and they're putting plenty of people in jail for just bringing the subject up.
You'd think, in this supposedly enlightened day and age, that people were intelligent enough and open-minded enough to talk about anything, discuss it rationally, and then come to some sort of consensus about what was the objective truth. But no. It hasn't turned out that way.
The guys with the yarmulkes say you can't talk about it, what we say is true, it may not be challenged, and we'll put you in jail if you continue this conversation.
Well, you have to take it seriously, because there are people in jail because of it. Just look at old Ernst Zundel, kidnapped out of his house in Tennessee and now having spent a year in solitary confinement in Canada without any formal charges, just because he feels the need to point out that those gas chambers you can see on the Auschwitz tour weren't really there in that particular form during World War II. They've been reconstructed, and some people quibble about the reconstruction. But there's a law that you can't talk about, and he's in jail.
It's a classic example of the maxim: it's not the creed, it's the integrity. In this case, integrity is the big loser. Not to mention Freedom of Speech. It's definitely a religious issue. But it has nothing to do with God. Only the version (or perversion) of what one group of supposedly holy men wants to cram down the throats of everybody else.
Now, remember that we have to be careful about who we're criticizing, because all too often we'll discover we're only criticizing ourselves. Such is the case with all this palaver about Jews. Sure, the behavior of Israelis - calling their neighbors vermin and trying to exterminate them as such - brings a lot of needless heat down upon themselves, as do their traditions of usurious banking, constantly claiming they're discriminated against while they're the richest ethnic group on the planet, and also their open sexuality (to put it politely). This last talent causes problems but also makes a lot of money from those who don't like talking about sex in public but sure do in private.
Considering from where the Jewish tradition derives, the very people who criticize it most better take a lot harder look at where their own traditions come from, and realize that the very basis of Christianity and Islam derive from ideas and rules Jews invented. In fact, if you want to get a little paranoid about it, you could wonder if the Jews didn't invent those two spiritual paths in order to gain a little privacy for themselves. Or some other advantage, like yoking people with moral restraints while keeping their own rules more flexible in order to gain a couple of extra points on the rate, if you know what I mean.
Lately I was privileged to receive an interesting post from Rumor Mill News titled "Shock: Secret Identity Of Israel's Yahweh Revealed!" I had this feeling I was reading "Weekly World News" in the 7th century B.C.
The point the story tried to make was that if Israel tried to claim some kind of divine right to that land it stole from the Palestinians, it better take a harder look at its own actual history, and realize the basis for this claim rests on extremely shaky ground.
Recently, in speech to visiting Christian Zionists, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asserted, "This land is ours... God gave us the title deeds..." However, recent scholarly research, including discoveries by an archaeological team from the University of Tel Aviv, not only deconstruct the Biblical Old Testament and Torah stories upon which this claim rests, but grant previously unthinkable credence to an ancient historian's claim that the Israelites of Exodus were actually the Hyksos, and therefore of Asiatic origin.
So wrote a cryptic fellow who goes by the name of M-theory. Briefly told, he wrote that the Israelites were never in Egypt and that the Jewish god YHWH had a girlfriend, the goddess Asherah. (Is there a law against saying this?)
He cited evidence that indicates Solomon and David are absent from the archeological record. Holy screaming Pentateuch! Does this mean they didn't exist? Well, the same thing could be said about Jesus. You can't find him in the empirical history books, either.
As far as the modern day Israelis being descended from the Mongol hordes from Asia, well, we already knew that, from Arthur Koestler's famous book "The Thirteenth Tribe" which revealed that most of the present-day inhabitants of Israel are really expatriate Russians, and not Semites (which means there's nothing to be anti- about). Crooks are crooks regardless of their DNA.
Other nuggets from Mr. M-Theory include:
"Asherah, (whose name means "she who walks in the sea") supposedly consort of the supreme god El, was also referred to as Elath (the goddess). According to the Ugarit tradition, whose clay tablets contain the earliest known alphabet, she was consort of El, and mother of seventy gods. She is also associated with Baal and is supposed to have interceded to her husband, the supreme god, on Baal's behalf, for the building of a palace in order to grant him equal status with other gods. In the cuniform tablets of Ras Shamrah (Circa 1400 BCE) the head of the Pantheon was El; his wife was Asherat-of-the-sea (Asherah). After El, the greatest god was Baal, son of El and Asherah. Curiously, Baal's consort is his mother, Asherah. In the Lebanon traditions Baal is equated with Jupiter."
Yeeowww! This means that Yahweh, whom Jewish scholars now say redacts back to Baal, had sex with his mother! Holy screaming Sophocles! There must be a law against saying that! Maybe there will be soon.
"According to biblical scholars who focus on the "P Source" for the old testament," M-Theory writes, "Yahweh as a name is first used with Moses in Exodus, and is indicative of monolatory (exclusive worship of one of many Gods) rather than monotheism. The name Yahweh can also be translated as "I am who I am", literally a way of saying "mind your own business", a way of disguising his true identity. Yahweh does not appear until Exodus and, strangely, the god Baal is entirely absent in Genesis."
And, the mysterious author adds, in a perfect consistency with the vicious tone of the Old Testament, "This Yahweh is prone to violence and seems to despise his chosen people."
Lest I give away M-Theory's entire game, let me just quote one other segment of his fascinating exploration of pre-Christian mythology.
"The Hebrews living in Canaan were therefore under Egyptian rule. It is also here in Canaan that we can make a comparison between Yahweh and the Canaanite Moloch (Baal) and extrapolate a polemic inversion of the story of Pharaoh ordering the death of all the "first born" in Exodus.
"The worshippers of Moloch sacrificed their first born children to their deity through immolation. Worshippers of Yahweh in Canaan were also known to carry out child sacrifice on occasion, especially in times of hardship, although immolation (holocaust) was supposedly frowned upon. Slitting the child's throat, however, was acceptable."
This information dovetails perfectly with what I've been reading lately in my Talmudic studies on Carol Valentine's eye-opening website Come and Hear http://www.come-and-hear.com (a must-read compendium if there ever was one) where the preferred method of execution for innumerable offenses by the goyim (surely you know who they are - they're us, dummy) is decapitation.
So the danger becomes: if Christians and Muslims try to impugn the Jewish faith and declare their god is some minor mountain deity from the hinterlands of Ugarit, they're only going to bring themselves down with it. Because the whole legend of Jesus, which was constructed of equally spurious and unrigorous chicanery, is cobbled together with the same inconsistency, carelessness and manipulation.
Religion is essentially crowd control, devised by Constantian-type governments to keep the people from rising up against their leaders. It had to be a very rich person who said "the meek shall inherit the earth."
Anyway, the whole piece - "Shock: Secret Identity Of Israel's Yahweh Revealed!" - is well worth reading for its astonishing Old Testament gossip. Click http://www.rumormillnews.com/cgi-bin/forum.cgi?read=42815
All this folderol goes to show the wisdom of the ancient proscription on trying to give that ineffable and majestic spirit that animates the universe any kind of name whatsoever. You're only asking for trouble if you do, thanks to priests (and ministers and rabbis and whatever kind of guruistic occupational title you want to apply) who value the profitability of the tale they wish to tell higher than the needs of those who need to be reassured that their future is something more than the ignominious dust they will one day surely become.
If you want to go looking for the essence of the spirit that animates everything, don't go searching through ossified parchments in rancid temples. Find the spark you need to mobilize yourself in the diamond's eye in the rain, or in the teardrop of your lonely child.
And don't let the spiritual gangsters tell you otherwise.
John Kaminski is the author of "America's Autopsy Report," a collection of his Internet essays featured on hundreds of websites around the world. A second volume of his essays, titled "The Perfect Enemy," is currently under construction and due to be published later this year. In addition he is about to release a pamphlet titled "The Day America Died," an overview of 9/11 aimed at convincing those who still believe in the official version of events that the story as told by the U.S. government is really a manipulative fantasy aimed at vilifying Muslims to more easily steal their oil. Funding for this project, and the author's food budget, is still being sought, and contributions will be gratefully accepted.