The book review you’ve all been waiting for: ‘What if Jesus Were a New York City Firefighter?’
We get some strange stuff in the mail at Spectator. From bizarre press releases to hate mail, we see it all. Going forward, we want to share some of the best of it with you. This week we got a children’s book called What if Jesus Were a New York City Firefighter?
Written by Martin E. Coleman and Thomas J. Vito, the book was inspired, according to its press release, when one of the authors reflected on spirituality in America and asked himself “What if Jesus had been a firefighter?” We read it. Here’s our review.
From a narrative perspective, the biggest problem with What if Jesus Were a New York City Firefighter? is that it doesn’t answer its own question. The protagonist, beyond being named Jesus, doesn’t seem to share any other similarities with the Biblical Jesus (other than praying a lot).
Also, not a single one of the major characters in this book is a firefighter. Jesus saves a baby from a burning building at one point, but the story ends while he is still in high school. The book would be more accurately titled What if Some Random Kid Were Not a Firefighter?
In addition to not being about Jesus and not being about a firefighter, the book’s press release advertises the story as “aimed at teaching children about 9/11″ — but 9/11 is never mentioned anywhere within its pages. In Chapter Three, Jesus visits the World Trade Center (and discovers his crippling fear of heights) — but that’s the only time the WTC or 9/11 is even implicitly brought up. There are a series of discussion questions at the end of the book. They also make no mention of 9/11.
Nonetheless, it’s unquestionably a page-turner. The sorts of things Jesus gets up to in this story, while perfectly normal activities for any little boy, are rendered unintentionally hilarious by the fact that this kid is supposed to be Jesus Christ. For example, do you know what the biggest challenge of Jesus’ life was? If you answered “being crucified and dying for the sins of mankind,” you must be thinking of that other book about Jesus. The authors of this book paint a very different picture of the Passion of the Christ:
The day of the competition finally arrived and Jesus now faced his biggest challenge — the New York City Regional Junior Fire & Rescue Corps’ Team Obstacle Course and Relay Race.
The story is replete with these sorts of bizarre images. His mom yells at him:
“Jesus! Turn off that garden hose! You’re wasting water!” – p. 15
Jesus is an athlete:
Jesus enjoyed playing many different sports. He was good at skateboarding, soccer, football, baseball, and basketball. — p. 23
And the authors are oddly specific about exactly how well the Son of God would perform on a physical exam:
Jesus ran the one-mile jog without breaking a sweat, and did twenty-five pushups, ten pull-ups, twenty-five sit-ups, and fifty jumping jacks easily. — p. 27
There’s no Judas in this story, but Jesus does experience what I guess the authors must imagine to be a similar betrayal:
“Hurry up, Jesus! It’s your turn to jump,” his friends cried out. “Are you chicken? Bock, bock, bock!” they teased as they flapped their arms up and down. – p. 23
The stand-in for the Agony in the Garden, I guess, takes place at the Christ family’s kitchen table:
That night Jesus barely touched his favorite meal, Mom’s delicious spaghetti and meatballs. — p. 35
And while Christians generally look to the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus’ greatest words of wisdom, this book replaces those dusty platitudes with some useful ladder-safety pointers:
Keep three points of contact with the ladder at all times, Jesus reminded himself. – p. 39
In the Bible, when Pontius Pilate asks Jesus if he is the King of the Jews, Jesus replies “You say that I am.” Not-a-Firefighter Jesus is similarly humble after saving a baby from a burning building:
In the brief statement Jesus made to the press and the public, he refused to take credit for his deeds. – p. 43
You get the idea. This is a decidedly weird book. That being said, it was obviously written from a place of sincerity, and a portion of the proceeds are benefiting NYC firefighters, so we don’t want to come down too hard on it.
It’s supposed to be the first in a series called “What if Jesus Were?” So we’ll conclude this review by gently suggesting that future installments would benefit from being about Jesus and/or about the professions named in the title.
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