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A Study Of Gods And Human Nature In 'Tiberius'


Nick Tosches has written a new novel that Publishers Weekly calls unflinchingly blasphemous, mirthfully vulgar and ultimately brilliant. It's about a small-time con man of ancient times who steals, swears, drinks, goes whoring and leaves town. But a Roman aristocrat named Gaius Falconius sees commercial possibilities in this drifter. They hit the road together, and the man becomes known as Jesus Christ. Nick Tosches' new novel is called "Under Tiberius." And Nick Tosches, who has been called the Dark Prince of American Literary Fiction, joins us from our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

NICK TOSCHES: It's my pleasure.

SIMON: So the premise of the book is it's a newly discovered memoir, right?

TOSCHES: That is the premise, yes.

SIMON: So well, tell us how that comes about.

TOSCHES: It's set up as a forgotten lost manuscript that was not meant to be read by anyone except the author's grandson.

SIMON: There's a stunning scene in which a man comes to Jesus and says, help my daughter. She is blind, and he does. I won't read your own words back to you, but Jesus tells her father she's blessed. She sees what we can not. The Lord has given her this gift. Your child is special and deserving of adoration. I was deeply moved.

TOSCHES: I was very, very gratified that certain scenes, such as that one, did come to me as well as the nastier stuff.

SIMON: Well, as soon as he's done delivering these beautiful words of encouragement to the father, he says something utterly vile.


SIMON: Which I guess it's hard for us to repeat. But it suggests that Jesus didn't mean a word of it. But is that part true? Is it possible to mean the words but - I mean, I thought after reading the scene, maybe Jesus doesn't mean it when he says something flip and vulgar.

TOSCHES: It's part of human nature. We might say something to console or encourage another not really believing a word of it. And yet, it will have the intended effect. And on the other hand, we're basically capable of saying anything depending on the mood.

SIMON: I think you're going to be asked this question a lot as you speak about the book over the next few weeks. Why write a book like this?

TOSCHES: A book like this. One of the primary motivations in a lot of my thinkings and a lot of my books has been the question of did man invent the concept, the dichotomy of good and evil before he invented the gods? Or did he invent the gods first and then pronounce good and evil through them? I think I wanted to push people to actually look at the fact that the idea of God has never been a force for good in this world but only for evil. And it's only been born out of weakness and resulted in bloodshed, mayhem, lies, theft.

SIMON: You really believe that, Mr. Tosches?

TOSCHES: Yes, I do.

SIMON: No good whatsoever?

TOSCHES: Well, could you give me an instance?

SIMON: I have been around the world in a lot of different wars and scenes of savagery. And in I believe all of them, you will find very selfless priests and nuns trying to help people.

TOSCHES: I agree with you 100 percent, completely and without reservation. I am saying that those same good human people would be behaving the same way without a god to tie it onto.

SIMON: Can I ask some questions about you, the writer, Nick Tosches?


SIMON: You're no Iowa Writers' Workshop writer, are you?

TOSCHES: (Laughter) No, I'm not. As a matter of fact I've never been to a writers' workshop.

SIMON: I've read that you were once a snake hunter.

TOSCHES: For a few weeks, yes. Dr. Haast's Serpentarium, which no longer exists, down in the outskirts of the Everglades south of Miami. It was then the world's largest producer of anti-venom, which was gotten from the venom from poisonous snakes by milking them. I was a snake hunter who was deathly afraid of snakes. I'm from Newark, N.J. Yeah, that was one of my early attempts to make a living.

SIMON: Well, back to your book.


SIMON: Toward the close of the book, Gaius says, only the weak, the meek and wretched of the earth need the palliative of hope. Don't we all need hope?

TOSCHES: I think we do. And if there is a God, I think the greatest gift he instilled in every human beginning is delusion. And that is what hope is, that we who do not have a cup of coffee today will have one tomorrow. So it basically drives us forward.

SIMON: Nick Tosches, his new book "Under Tiberius." Thanks so much for being with us.

TOSCHES: Thank you for letting me talk a while. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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