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  • Writer's pictureArnold Schroder

#72: Jesus of Nazareth and the Biology of Defeat

(12/30/2023) What does it say about a society if it venerates the image of someone being executed by the state for sedition? In this episode, we trace the improbable evolution of Jesus of Nazareth from fervent revolutionary to apolitical, transcendental being. We situate his trajectory in the cross-cultural tradition of prophetic liberation movements, from southeast Asian hill tribes to North American pan-indigenous movements, and alongside other Jewish messiahs, such as the bandit chief Hezekiah and the mysterious sorcerer known only as “the Egyptian.” What all of these eclectic figures—some with a military orientation, some who primarily relied on miracles—had in common was a singular devotion to national liberation. That these politics came to be repurposed for an ostensibly apolitical mythology—a story of sacred victimhood, in which dying is winning—helps us to understand one of the many feedback loops between culture and biology that characterizes contemporary life. We have become confined to an increasingly narrow range of our evolved potentials, bereft of any sense of real agency—we come, in other words, to inhabit the biology of defeat.

Bibliography for episode 72:

Aslan, Reza. Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Random House Publishing Group, 2014.

Cozzens, Peter. Tecumseh and the Prophet: The Shawnee Brothers Who Defied a Nation. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2020.

Henrich, Joseph, Steven J. Heine, and Ara Norenzayan. “The Weirdest People in the World?” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33, no. 2–3 (June 2010): 61–83.

Inglehart, Ronald. The Silent Revolution: Changing Values and Political Styles Among Western Publics. Princeton University Press, 2015.

Kerckhove, Derrick de, and Charles J. Lumsden. The Alphabet and the Brain: The Lateralization of Writing. Springer Science & Business Media, 2013.

Pagels, Elaine. The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 1996.

Price, Neil. Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings. Basic Books, 2020.

Schjolden, Joachim, and Svante Winberg. “Genetically Determined Variation in Stress Responsiveness in Rainbow Trout: Behavior and Neurobiology.” Brain, Behavior and Evolution 70, no. 4 (2007): 227–38.

Scott, James C. The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. Yale University Press, 2009.

Sloan Wilson, David, Anne B. Clark, Kristine Coleman, and Ted Dearstyne. “Shyness and Boldness in Humans and Other Animals.” Trends in Ecology & Evolution 9, no. 11 (November 1, 1994): 442–46.

Smith, Mark S. The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2002.

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