National Security and Double Government
As Frederick Jackson Turner observed in a seminal paper delivered during the American Historical Association meeting in Chicago in 1893, the frontier had closed, and a distinctive phase of American history had thereby come to an end.
Roosevelt would not be confined by precedent or bound by fear of failure. He held to what he called “the Jackson-Lincoln theory of the Presidency; that is, that occasionally great national crises arise which call for immediate and vigorous executive action, and that in such cases it is the duty of the President to act upon the theory that he is the steward of the people, and that the proper attitude for him to take is that he is bound to assume that he has the legal right to do whatever the needs of the people demand, unless the Constitution or the laws explicitly forbid him to do it.”
Reza Aslan’s exploration of Jesus as an historical figure does an excellent job providing a context to the gospel stories. That context helps in revealing not just the historical truth but also the intended meaning behind those stories. In particular, the in depth exploration of the power dynamics amongst the apostles and the early Church leaders is illuminated by the real-politik description of Roman power in 1st century Palestine.
This frantic attempt to reduce John’s significance, to make him inferior to Jesus—to make him little more than Jesus’s herald—betrays an urgent need on the part of the early Christian community to counteract what the historical evidence clearly suggests: whoever the Baptist was, wherever he came from, and however he intended his baptismal ritual, Jesus very likely began his ministry as just another of his disciples.
Christianity after the destruction of Jerusalem was almost exclusively a gentile religion; it needed a gentile theology. And that is precisely what Paul provided. The choice between James’s vision of a Jewish religion anchored in the Law of Moses and derived from a Jewish nationalist who fought against Rome, and Paul’s vision of a Roman religion that divorced itself from Jewish provincialism and required nothing for salvation save belief in Christ, was not a difficult one for the second and third generations of Jesus’s followers to make.
Thunderstruck is a fun read, and satisfying in it’s interconnectedness in a way that The Devil in the White City (the other book by Larson which I’ve read) is not. While the timeline of the two parallel stories is not always in sync, the eventual cross over between the two seemingly unconnected narratives provides a climactic culmination of the stories. The portrait of Marconi as professionally driven but intellectually ignorant and socially obtuse reminded me of our modern startup-bros; he was almost proto-Zuckerberg-ian in his disdain for a world less convinced of the greatness of his ideas than he was. However, like in The Devil in the White City, the vivid historical accuracy of the Cripen murder story precludes the sort of conclusive closure one craves and expects from such a literary narrative.