Jesus Christs (Synopsis)
by AJ Langguth
Synopsis by Maureen Nelly
AJ Langguth casts a mesmerizing net of words depicting Jesus and his life. Jesus Christs is a collection of vignettes sharing a common character, but in a non-linear fashion. Langguth's storytelling grabs the reader by the solar plexus and forces a shift in perspective. One's idea of "history" or "time" is shoved off-center. Jesus is no longer an isolated figure in history but instead expands into an archetype. He is a recurring character throughout time who shows up in different scenarios or time frames ranging from the era of ancient Judea to Nazi Germany to a radio station in the twentieth century. He is seen as a prisoner, a priest, a teenager, a schoolboy, a talk-show host and, of course, the prophet.
Jesus is portrayed as a conscious being who is cognizant of the character he is playing. Certain patterns, events and suffering are to be expected each time. There is nothing new, no surprises. Only minor variations occur.
- "He was both: a prisoner about to be strapped into the electric chair and a chaplain who had come to comfort him. They recognized each other at once, but the captive Jesus sensed some antagonism from the Jesus priest. 'What's the matter?' He spoke quietly enough that the warden and guards could not overhear. 'I'm the one who's going to fry. Why should you look so grim?'
- 'I'd expected to be finished by this time. The demands on me have been almost more than I can stand. It's not fair that you should be released first.'
- The prisoner took the priest's hand. Let the guards think he was pleading for mercy. 'God must think they need a priest in their midst more that a traitor. We don't have to agree...'"
One passage tells of the time Jesus and all of the apostles were settled into college. Knowing the usual scenario, they were prepared to wait around for 15 years or so until the prescribed time had passed. Unfortunately, due to an overeager Judas, Christ was pushed down the stairs prematurely and was taken out of the game. He meets up with Satan and is complaining about the whole situation. This is a young Jesus. Satan begins comparing the similarities in their work. He claims they had been given the same assignment, including the rounding up of followers and a rigid script to follow. Jesus is skeptical but beginning to be persuaded. Satan says,
- "Being handsome was less predictable. Sometimes he was plain, and those were the times he preferred He spoke then and they listened harder because there was less to watch...No matter how he looked, women gave him trouble. The leader is always desired; he knew and forgave that. Good looks, when they were given, were restrained...He never had to overcome a hairy, gleaming kind of beauty. and he was seldom disfigured. He taunted himself; Men want God's message delivered in a plain wrapper, and I am the one and perfect Messiah."
Satan offers Christ a place of refuge, seeing as he is now out of a job prematurely. He is a smooth character who wears a college tie that the young Christ admires. Finally the boy demurs, saying that the others will be waiting for him.
- "It is one thing to put a naive boy in a woodshop for fifteen years. To get the same degree of obedience is much harder if you've locked him in a library."
"What would you call it when the pattern of your life is so rigid that you don't dare break it? You wouldn't suggest that that's freedom. After four years of study, I found myself valuing freedom above all else." He smiled to himself. "And here I am."
Christ leaves and Satan is finally alone. He calls for servants, rips off the tie and trappings of the legal trade.
- "'Habit is hard to break'," Satan said kindly, and Christ nodded.
Jesus Christs by AJ Langguth was first published in 1968 and was reissued by Gateways Books in 1993 with new and stunning illustrations by EJ Gold. Langguth, himself is a professor at the School of Journalism at the University of Southern California. He was a war correspondent during the Vietnam era and covered other key news stories including civil rights demonstrations and the assassination of President Kennedy. Langguth went on to publish nonfiction publications during the '70s, '80s and '90s. Jesus Christs stands out in his curriculum vitae as a departure -- a unique offering.
- "The servant withdrew, and Satan pulled on a tight sweater that set off the thick muscles in his shoulders. He combed his hair, longer now and darker, to a point at the back, bared his perfect teeth at himself in the glass and grinned at his own vanity."
My personal impressions of Jesus Christs include a feeling of expansiveness. Upon first reading, I gained a sense of a story that was much larger than the tiny little sphere I am used to inhabiting. It invited me into a real world and allowed me to see the triviality of my own personal miseries. Immediately, I had an understanding that, yes, we are all only playing a role. It is set, with only minor variations but there is a definite course to follow. How we follow that course is up to us. It can be done joyously and openly. Or it can be acted out in fear and loathing or boredom and resignation. An interesting perspective. Langguth was able to create a transportation vehicle that honed in on the beingness of all. Whether it is your role to play a Judas or a Christ or a sweating Satan -- all parts are equally necessary. It would be great to remember this every day.