Under Tiberius (2015) Nick Tosches

Under Tiberius
This is my first Nick Tosches book and look forward to picking up some others. Great historical fiction, of a sort, the troublemaker sort, the kind that earned him the “literary outlaw” moniker no doubt. The extremely human and imperfect Jesus of Nazareth wandering with his clever sidekick, the recently unemployed speechwriter for the mad emperor Tiberius. Not quite a buddy book of the “fear and loathing” variety.. but they do come out of the desert with keen interests in sex and opium and riddles. For all the blasphemy associated with the book and extended by the levity of reviews .. like my few words above.. this is a serious book of literary imagination, historical empathy, and yes, biblical reverence. Biblical scholar Reza Aslan’s popular and also controversial Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (2013) is recalled in much of this, and may well have served up some considerable short cuts for Tosches. Taken together though we learn again that it is the novelist, not the academic, who writes for the ages. Performance scenes before crowds of the curious are turned with such unanticipated beauty. The “water into wine” bit was in the bag of tricks of the early common era jesters and clowns throughout the empire, we come to understand. Jesus, in Tosches telling, demonstrates this miraculous swindle with a sublime touch, all can suspend their belief, their common sense, their experience, for something new, something transcendent.


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