Meet the real Jesus Christ: a slovenly reprobate who becomes a religious huckster with the help of a Roman Svengali.
In Tosches’ 2002 novel, In the Hand of Dante, a fictional version of the author discovered a handwritten manuscript of The Divine Comedy in the bowels of the Vatican. Lots of dusty shelves there, apparently. This time, Nick discovers a memoir by Gaius Fulvius Falconius, a speechwriter for Roman emperor Tiberius, describing not only meeting Jesus Christ, but guiding him toward Judean celebrity. Banished from Rome after getting on the emperor’s bad side, Gaius meets a “dirty little half-shekel thief” whom he proceeds to mold into a faux messiah more golden-voiced than his competitors. Using Old Testament prophesies as a playbook, Jesus and Gaius do brisk business, ostensibly collecting money for a synagogue but spending their nights carousing. Miracles are carny routines: the dead man Jesus “resurrects” is only poisoned; the “lame” man he heals is a beggar encouraged to rise with the promise of more money. (People possessed by demons? Drunks.) Ill intentions be damned, apostles are attracted to this new faith, and rumors about the feeding of the 5 thousand bolster his fame. Tosches’ cynicism about religion in general and the Christ story in particular is unmistakable, though there’s surprisingly little angry-atheist bluster in the novel’s prose; framing the novel as an ancient memoir gives the story a more deadpan affect. And he’s clearly thought hard about how parable and gossip, plus a little luck, can make a faith. But Tosches gets bogged down in etymological digressions and convoluted squabbles among the Romans and rival priests. If Tosches feels no obligation to God’s existence, fine; but obligations to good fiction demand that the path to the “real” crucifixion have a touch more intrigue.
One of the grumpiest stories ever told about the greatest story ever told.