Letter to Shirley MacLaine

© 2001 A Alexander Stella

In 2001 I (Paul Cooijmans) received a copy of this somewhat unusual letter to Shirley MacLaine, neatly typed on three thin lightweight airmail sheets:

February 26, 2001

TO: Shirley MacLaine, Malibu, California
COPY TO: Paul Cooijmans
FROM: A Alexander Stella

Despite the military format for greeting, I started writing this missive more on the spur of the moment, rather than after extended deliberation. Somehow, I got the impression you might like to learn about Avram Beilitsyn and the novel he wrote, STEPPING STONES, was one of the most exhilarating and thought-provoking books I've ever read. Maybe, it was a little bit too exhilarating, even for a novel that combined science fiction with fantastical religious writ.

With tears in his eyes, Avram reported watching agents from the US Postal Service burn virtually every copy. I saw those tears a second time, when I told him about my stupidity. I had forgotten my copy, which he had autographed for me, with me off a cross-country bus.

Today, I still kick myself for that. Not only did I lose what passed for friendship between Avram and me; I never succeeded in obtaining another copy. And so, I am at a loss at proving the existence of "The Gospel of Aphrodite". A summary of that Gospel was attached as an appendix to STEPPING STONES. The upshot of it all being, I am at loss to prove that some author had the temerity to portray Jesus Christ as a father to a head-strong young girl.

For the moment, I'm letting all that pass. I believe it would only be sensible for me to delve a little deeper into the spirit of that novel. In my conversations with Avram, I got the impression the man believed he communed personally and directly with the spirit of Isaiah. I must admit I never - absolutely never - witnessed any transaction between Avram and that Old Testament prophet. Plus, I firmly believe Avram took a dare-devil attitude in that regard. He used to joke that it was years since he had split a six-pack with a burning bush. Manifestly, when one takes that government suppression into account, Avram took liberties that strained contemporary sensibilities.

For starters, passages in his novel describe how the three major Abrahamic faiths, inspired by Isaiah's prophecy, attempt to achieve mystical accord. Please note the novel describes the following actions regarding the Temple Mount in Jerusalem as only being predicted, and yet to be carried out. What we have is prediction about prediction. Gotta admit, even dared-devils like Avram get cautious from time to time.

Isaiah's prophecy is to be inscribed on the Western Wall - in Arabic. The construction in question is a remnant of The Second Temple, and therefore sacred to adherents of the Jewish faith. Somewhere in the interior of the Dome of the Rock, a mosque particularly holy to Moslems, Isaiah's prophecy is to be inscribed, in the original Hebrew and in a universal language like Esperanto.

Even in a novel supposedly describing a future utopia, there's discord. Some very devout Christians and Jews and Moslems complain that the shrine would resemble Stonehenge, a pre-Christian pagan edifice.

And the novel does not stop there in describing what the future shall bring. Archeologists discover the tomb of a Nestorian Christian scholar, somewhere in China. In this tomb, they come upon a manuscript purporting to be a previously unknown gospel. Writing in Aramic, the manuscript's author makes startling claims. The name she insists on being called is Aphrodite, and she's the daughter of Jesus, the founder of the Christian faith.

Of course, her father was none too pleased with her choice of name. Chances are, quite a few fathers can relate to that. Really, Aphrodite's choice would be comparable today to a belly ring or a tattoo on the left buttock, or a class ring bestowed by some "leader of the pack". No doubt, some fathers can relate.

For a girl barely thirteen, she had a scamp's panache. She was audacious enough to tell Jesus she was only following his example of tweaking the nose of the authorities then oppressing the country. As I remember Avram's novel, there were some passages that liberally quoted The Gospel of Aphrodite.

Here and there, Aphrodite through Avram's quotations reveals the delight she took in pointing out the logical flaws in her father's propositions. Supposedly, "his face would darken and his eyes would blaze". Even so, he was only too pleased to present her to the crowds as his daughter. That was how much he loved her.

She not only had discussions with her father. Later on, she also conversed with Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsis. Aphrodite, as quoted by Avram, claims she convinced Paul to rank love higher than either faith or hope. That was the true an deeper meaning of her father's mission.

Ya'know, when you think about it, that seems only to make sense of what Paul said about love. In just about every other Epistle, Paul emphasizes faith far more than love.

Aphrodite did own up to one failure with regard to Paul. Had she succeeded, according to Avram, Christians of today just might be reciting something like:

"You shall be free, and in freedom, you shall come to know the truth."

At this point, allow me, A Alexander Stella, the author of this particular fan letter, to offer my personal opinion. Something like that could've very easily started the persecution of Christians far earlier and far more brutal and far more thorough-going than history records. Come to think of it, Avram does hint this may have led to the suppression of Aphrodite's gospel. If Avram were actually alluding to history rather than fantastical religious writ, one would have to give Paul credit for prudence, for being "as cautious as serpents".

As quoted by Avram, Aphrodite goes on to claim she engineered the compromise between Paul and her uncle James, who was the brother of Jesus and the head of the Jerusalem church. James would tolerate Paul's preaching among the gentiles and forswearing circumcision. In return, Paul would convince gentile converts to donate money to the Jerusalem church. Years later, Aphrodite had to remind Paul in person about the promise he had made.

And she doesn't stop there. She even revises the other Gospels. As Aphrodite recounts the incident in the Temple, her father Jesus had no intention of perpetrating vandalism. Again, that only makes sense, when you think about it. Prior to that time, the man did nothing illegal, and even deliberately side-stepped what could pass for civil disobedience. Anyway, that's exactly how Avram quoted Aprhodite. He also told Jesus to shut up. Being royally ticked off, Jesus confronted the guy, and banged his fist on that money-changer's table. A leg shattered, spilling gold and silver coins all over the place, precipitating a riot.

In the end, I find myself wondering whether the foregoing passages were disquieting enough to provoke the burning of nearly all the copies of STEPPING STONES. Well, I must acknowledge there was other stuff. But that's for another letter.


A Alexander Stella