At a time when Christian conservatism is at revival and religious values are being evaluated across the world, 1st Century Radical is the most timely guide to understanding not only the basics of Christianity but also the roots of its founder – Jesus Christ.
Known in the book as Yeshua-bar-Yosef, Michael Calum Jacques, the Oxford educated author of the book, introduces the reader to some background information about the person we know today as ‘Jesus Christ’. But the introduction of the historical character is not carried out in the typical modern day fashion. Instead of picking the usual rosy words filled with deep awe and inspiration, the writer employs the original 1st century sources to create the outline of the character that will later reveal its true face to the audience. The initial sketch of most important person that is drawn with the help of the original sources is something that is completely absent from today’s books about Jesus Christ and Christianity.
During the course of the last 2,000 years, history has witnessed an epic transformation of Yeshua-bar-Yosef, a Palestinian boy who grew up in Galilee under Roman occupation to Jesus Christ, one of the most revered and holy figures on the face of the earth. But do we pay slightest attention to the roots of this historical figure at all? Do we know anything about the youth of the son of Yosef (Joseph) who resented the Roman occupation of Jewish lands and challenged their authority over his people? If the answer is ‘no’, this book furnishes us with all the information we need to know to understand the character of Jesus Christ.
The book not only mentions Yeshua-bar-Yosef in detail, it also describes in detail his enemies, friends, peers and other contemporaries. The book intertwines Yeshua-bar-Yosef with a radical ideology that forms the basis of his insurgent group. The author claims that Judas the Galilean was the founder of the ‘The Fourth Philosophy’. With the help of his sound command over Aramaic and Hebrew, he goes on to uncover the earliest records of the ‘Fourth Philosophy’ that was based on the following four principles:
- Opposition to foreign rule through force
- Strong opposition to payment of taxes to Roman occupying forces
- Adherence to its fundamentalist religious principles with rigour
- Zealous devotion to the cause
After sketching the outline of the Yeshua-bar-Yosef with the help of original, first century facts, the book then depicts the situation of then occupied Palestine and its effects on the society. Peppered with some references to today’s resistance movements against foreign occupation, the writer controversially compares Yeshua’s armed band to that of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda and draws some parallels between the ideologies.
The author also boldly claims that Yeshua had a few terrorists in his armed band that had sought to overthrow the Roman occupation by violent means. Though staunch Bible followers may find his revelations upsetting, the historical evidences provided by Jacques helps the reader understand the complete background and comprehend the situation that Yeshua and his people were going through. The sources on which the author relied upon are hard to discredit, let alone deny.
As if on mission to break all the myths surrounding the historical figures of Christianity, the author questions the ‘fabled’ virgin birth of Jesus Christ, and counters the logic behind the faith-figure status of the ‘Messiah’. He also digs deep into the roots of Mary of Magdala, Judas Iscariot and other associates of Jesus only to shed a new light on their roles long hidden under the dust of history. Description of Yeshua’s band of followers can be described as the highlight of the book which then climaxes to mention the uprising in Galilee and the consequent arrests, trial and execution of the Galilean movement including the crucifixion of Yeshua.
Jacques has the great ability to dust the history books and dig deep beneath the surface thanks to his immense linguistic knowledge and wide-ranging authority over history and religious texts. The work carried out by the author is the first of its kind that is bold yet subtle in nature. The style of writing is deeply engaging whereas the level of work is highly challenging and inspirational.
His work gains more relevance in today’s world where we see global conflicts that are deeply rooted into occupation, corruption and injustices. A rendition of Jesus Christ who stood up against occupation and for the rights of his nation connects well with the people across the world rather than a divine, pacifist figure who sacrificed his life for reasons yet to be proved in the light of facts and history.
Book review by Moign Khawaja