What am I Reading? Propositum by Sean P. Curley
Propositum by Sean P. Curley ISBN Paperback: 978-1-60047-762-1; Digital: 9781301786299 was released in 2007. I purchased it in 2013 but did not read it until summer of 2014.
The author describes the book on his web page and Facebook page: “A rich landscape of characters with ambition and guile who conspire to form Christianity. They manipulate the Jewish High Council, the Roman Senate, Caesars, and history to create a new religion. But why did they do it? http://curley.me/propositum”
“If Jesus did not exist, then how did Christianity form?
“Inside a rich landscape of the failing Roman Republic and a tumultuous Jewish population is an ambitious and visionary ex-Senator who conspires with Paul of Tarsus to create something… better.
This provocative historical novel melds the birth of Christianity with recent scholarly works and delivers a shocking, but plausible, story of Christianity’s formation and the Christ myth.”
The Christ Myth Theory has been postulated since the late 1700s. Its Wikipedia entry is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christ_myth_theory
Propositum is a dramatization of the Christ Myth Theory. Proculus, a retired Senator living in Judea with his Jewish wife June, is the author of the theory. He believes the RomanRepublic is dying and very quickly turning into an empire. As such, they will be a danger to his beloved Judea – who, as a people, will not accept Rome (or anyone) as their despotic rulers. Eventually an Emperor will not tolerate the Jews being exempt from taxes every seven years; and with emperors proclaiming themselves and their kin gods … well, the whole “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” thing will make life in Judea a little awkward.
Awkward is putting it mildly. Proculus believes the disputes will lead to outright war; a war that will not go well for Judea.
How will he save his wife’s people? His friends? If he can spread Judaism through the empire- inculcate it so thoroughly that it supercedes the other religions – including the emperors’ self-created deities – that a war or conflict would be impossible.
But how can that be done, Proculus thinks. The tenants of Judaism do not easily lend themselves to proselytizing. Dietary restrictions. Clothing restrictions. Laws about what to do and not to do on the Sabbath.
Yea, that might be a problem … “We have to lop off what now? Umm, thanks, but I’d rather not…”
Proculus sees the problem. Not only will he need to find a way to get permission to convert Gentiles (a big enough hurdle), but to allow the converted Gentiles to eschew some of the more draconian and undesirable rules of Judaism. The more desirable it is, the more converts there will be. The more converts there will be, the less likely a Roman Empire would desire a civil war.
It may not restore the Republic, but it will save Judea from destruction because they wish to follow dogma.
He enlists the aid of his friend Maximus, a retired general. With both their contacts still in Rome, they hope to be able to manipulate and cajole enough politicians and power brokers to allow them to continue to spread their new and improved version of Judaism.
But neither of them would be taken seriously as ministers of this Jewish reboot. They need a more believable figurehead.
Proculus’ friends in Tarus have a son named Saul. Saul spent most of his childhood preparing to study and become a Pharisee. Unfortunately, he flunked out. Fortunately, it instilled in him not a hatred, but a bitterness of all things Pharisaic.
Saul recommends emulating the beliefs of the Essenes. Proculus assigns Saul to find out as much as he can about the sect and report back to him. Saul learns of the Teacher, who espoused what Proculus is planning one hundred years before. Saul jots down the sayings and beliefs of the Essenes and their Teacher in what he calls the Book of Q.
Meanwhile, Emperor Tiberius dies and Proculus and Maximus go to Rome to suss out the two new possible emperors. They decide Caligula would be the less tolerant of the two and help manipulate his way to the throne.
When Caligula becomes emperor, Proculus convinces him that, since he is a god, his likeness should be in every temple. Even Jewish temples. But that is strictly forbidden by the Jews. Caligula doesn’t care. Proculus is pleased. The threat of war with Rome will goad the higher Jewish counsels to approve Proculus’ plans to convert the Gentiles.
Saul finds a perfect personification of their beliefs in John the Baptist and listens to him preach, but he is killed before Saul can actually meet him.
They decide to make the Teacher a more modern figure rather than someone who died in the previous century. They name him Jesus – a common and untraceable name.
Saul takes Proculus’ suggestion to change his name to Paul and his home from Tarus to Tarsus to avoid questions about his true past. He finds others who embrace his beliefs – Silas, Barsabbas, James, Cephas also called Peter, and small, wiry John.
Whole families are brought into the new religion. One baby, Theophorus, was the first generation to learn about the new way from the crib. I had to look him up on Wikipedia to discover who he was.
A new emperor, Claudius, ascends the throne. He will be much more tolerant of the Jews. This will not do. By now Maximus and Proculus are joined by Maximus’ daughter Curia who keeps the leaders apprised of events in Rome. We read as she marries and has two children.
The religion continues to grow. Paul writes epistles to the leaders and the communities that have established temples and churches. Proculus grows older, but more confident that his plan will succeed.
A new emperor, Nero, ascends the throne. He will be much less tolerable of the Jews. Proculus visits him and is worried – perhaps he will go too far.
The Pharisees start to push back. They allowed the conversions of the Gentiles, but not all of the changes to their sacrosanct laws. Paul and his followers are arrested. Some are killed. Paul adds details to the life of Jesus – he was killed by the Pharisees. This turns the crowds against their mockers and in their corner.
More friends and followers are made; some friends and followers die.
Rome attacks Judea. Well, that may eliminate the threat of the Pharisees. Paul is in jail? Well, after he finishes a few more letters … they NEED a good martyr…
END OF SPOILERS
Propositum is a thoroughly researched and very entertaining historical novel. You get the feel of what life was like at the time – how someone from the era lived, what they ate, how they traveled, etc. In most respects the characters are realistic and likable. Yes, Proculus is a likeable fellow despite what he hath wrought. You want to dine with him and his wife. You admire Maximus’ strength and courage. You even root for Paul to succeed after his first faltering attempts at public speaking.
The few action scenes are very well done and usually involve Maximus: his thwarting assassination attempts on the emperors, his leading troops during the sack of Jerusalem (including some wonderfully written spy work).
But the book usually consists of meetings. Paul reports and updates Proculus and Maximus on the goings on in the soon-to-be Holy Land. Curia reports on the goings on in the Senate and the dealings of the Emperor. This leads to one of the flaws of the book.
I’m the last person who should be critiquing a book – but Propositum sometimes suffers from the old writer’s trope “show – don’t tell”. The book has a LOT of “tells”. Paul discusses people he meets – friends and foes – his ideas to move the propositum forward. That sort of thing.
The “shows” are done quite well – Paul’s first attempts at preaching, Maximus going with him on one journey and arranging a few miracles credited to Paul, Peter’s ministry and its results, Proculus’ meetings with Senators and Emperors, the aforesaid sacking of Jerusalem, the burning of Rome and its effect on the cast, Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus (side note – it was fun reading and second-guessing what the author decided “really” happened and who “really” existed – John the Baptist was a great example) . All well done.
If the “tells” were turned into “shows” it would have doubled the length of the book. That would not be a bad thing – I would have loved to have spent more time in this world with these characters. Why not show us Paul in the crowd listening to John the Baptist and his thoughts about him rather than have us sit with Proculus as Paul tells us about hearing John minister? Do you see the difference?
One great thing about the book is that during it all we still root for Proculus even thought some of his decisions cause some horrific results. He single-handedly caused strife between Rome under Caligula and Judea. He fomented anti-Jewish fervor during the Roman fire in the time of Nero.
There were other, smaller, moments that I truly enjoyed. Paul’s misogyny was present from the beginning, and his growing dislike of Curia was fun to read. Curia’s growth from a reluctant participant to the head of the order was well done.
My favorite moments involve Paul – his first poorly-done ministries, his growth as an apostle, the slow realization that he is a tool being manipulated and his inevitable acceptance that his usefulness is finally over.
One review mildly critiques the book: “Nearly every plan is executed perfectly”. Although we are shown Paul’s tough time with his first attempts at ministering and we see some disastrous results with Paul and Peter against pro-Pharisee groups; that is true. Proculus’ manipulation of the Roman government and particularly the Emperors and wanna-be emperors would make the Illuminati and Bilderburg Group members jealous.
The book spans 40 years. Perhaps this criticism could be avoided by showing us how long this timespan is. Perhaps Proculus is frustrated at times – he realizes he will not live to see his plan in complete fruition, but he can still regret it not going faster. Common history tells us Constantine was the first Christian Roman Emperor, so Proculus’ plan (let’s pretend for a moment Propositum’s story is true) about 250 years to complete. It took Islam only 100 years to take firm root throughout Arabia.
This would add more pages to this lovely book. Add to that the “shows” mentioned earlier and Propositum could clock in at 400 to 500 pages instead of 270. Fine by me. The author may groan, though!
The book should get as much attention as Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code. Even more so. There should be publicity galore for this book and the subject getting the attention it deserves. There is no subject so controversial it should not be discussed. So-called Christians should be damning Sean to hell and in the very next breath saying they will pray for his soul. All while burning the book.
Christians whose faith is strong will not have that faith shaken by reading Propositum, and they will get to read a good “what if” historical novel, get a scholarly feel for what life was like in the middle and near east two millennia ago, and – if they choose to ignore the basic premise of the book – get a realistic idea of what the early church must have been like. Premise or not, Paul and the earliest Christians probably went through exactly what is told (not always shown) by the author: hostile crowds, argumentative authorities and occasionally a convert.
I bought my copy through Apple’s I-Store. It was my first fiction novel e-book. It is available in paperback and hardback directly from the author’s website and Amazon. Buy it, read it, enjoy it, discuss it.
The author promises a sequel this year – with Curia and her by-now grown son at the helm of a new religion. An aging Proculus will undoubted have something to say! I can’t wait to read it!
Here is the opening chapter of the book: http://curley.me/propositum/sample.html#.U7ndiUC4O8A
Copyright 2014 Michael G Curry