King and Emperor by Harry Harrison. Chapter 19, 20, 21, 22

The master-copy itself was a strange work, whose weird-ness caused Solomon increasingly to raise his eyebrows and pluck at his beard. It began with an introduction of a kind:

These are the words of Jesus ben-Joseph, once dead and now returned to life. Not returned to life in the spirit, as some say, but returned to life in the body. For what is the spirit? There are some who say, the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life. But I say to you, neither does the letter kill nor the spirit give life, but the spirit is life and the life is the body. For who can say that the spirit and the body and the life are three? For who has seen a spirit without a body? Or a body without a life but with a spirit? And so the three are one but the one is not three. I say this, I Jesus ben-Joseph who was dead but am alive…

The narrative went on in a kind of disorganized ramble. But through the ramble, and clearer as the translation team spelled through the many pages, came a sort of an account, and an account that agreed with what Anselm the heretic had told Shef, and—though he hesitated still to tell it to Svandis—with the visions he had had himself of the Crucifixion of Christ.

Whoever told the story declared that he had himself been crucified, nailed to a cross and drunk bitter drink on it, he said again and again. He had been killed and taken down. He had come again to life, and his friends had taken him away, away from the cross and away from his home. Now he lived in a place he did not know, and tried to draw some meaning from all that had happened. The moral that he drew seemed to be a kind of bitter resentment. Again and again he would refer to something or other he had said in a former life, and would deny it, call it folly, take it back. Sometimes he would answer what seemed to have been his own rhetorical questions.

Once I said, “Who among you, if a father and his child asked him for bread, would give the child a stone?” So I asked in my folly, and did not know that many a father has only stone to give, and many have bread but yet give only stones. So it was with my father, when I called out to him…

Solomon hesitated here as he translated, for he recognized the phrase he was translating. Domne, domne, quare me tradidisti? it read in the barbarous Latin of the book. But in Aramaic it would have been Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani, as it is given still in the Gospel of Mark. Solomon made no remark on the corroboration, but translated on, his voice as even as he could make it.

It seemed though that the teller of the story had turned against all fathers, or at least fathers in heaven. He insisted that there was such a father. But he insisted also that such a father could not possibly be good. If he were good, why was the world as it was, full of pain and fear and disease and suffering? If all these were the result of the sin of Adam and of Eve, as the narrator knew was argued, was this not a case again of the fathers and mothers sinning, and the punishment being visited on the children? What kind of parents would so condemn their children to slavery and to death? That slavery and death were what must be escaped, said the heretics’ book. But the way to escape it was not by paying a price, nor a ransom, for the slavemaster-father would take no price for release. Rather it was to release oneself. And the key to that release was to believe in no afterlife, or not one under the control of the God of this world, princeps huius mundi, as the narrator continually called him. It was to live your life in such a way as to gain most pleasure from it, for pleasure was the gift of the true God beyond this world, and the foe of the devil-God who ruled the world, the betraying Father. It was to bring no more slaves into the world for that Father to rule and tyrannize over, but to control one’s spirit and one’s seed.

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