The Good Man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ

Some time ago, I was asked to draw up guidance for a filmed version of Philip Pullmann’s book. I found some of my notes today and thought they looked entertaining-

The Director/Producer had a background in tv comedy and Philip Pullmann pulled out.

Essential problem lies in the history of Christ on film:

The life of Brian dominates any effort to film the Christ story, and the Monty Python analysis is classic- that everyone speaks sententiously…

3 options:

Either Avoid entirely or fully embrace humour

The passion of the Christ ducks this choice by doing really nasty violence, which is another solution!

Is there humour in Pullman? Certainly, but much of it is the narrative voice which does not translate naturally into film.

Historical issues: can film help? Yes:

1) fill out the multicultural environment of Nazareth

a) Geography: Nazareth is Very close to Sepphoris/zippori (5 km away)

It was considered the capital of Galilee and as such, the absence of any ref in the bible is telling. (Herod the Great makes Sepphoris the capital in 47BC, tho the ROMANS already called it the effective capital from conquest in 55BC). It was recaptured by Jewish zealots in 46 and then taken by Rome again under Verrus, burnt and all inhabitants enslaved. Herod Antipas rebuilt and fortified the city. It was then called Autokratoris (autonomous city)

A direct road connects Sepporis(Saffuriyya) to Legio (Meggido) the military Headquarters in Galilee and also to the sea to Tiberias.

Now, although it was Legio that was the major garrison, the Talmud records on a number of occasions that Sepphoris was the major garrison of the area (b Shabbat 121a: this is about a non-Jew who helps extinguish a fire on the Sabbath. “it once happened that a fire broke out in the courtyard of Yosef ben Shimai in Shihin. The Roman garrison (Gastra) of Sepphoris came to extinguish it because Yosef was the guardian of the kind, but he did not allow them to because of honour for the Sabbath. A miracle took place and rain fell and extinguished the fire….”

In AD 67, there was a garrison of 6000 soldiers in Sepphora mentioned by Josephus under the leadership of Placidus. Otheres followed so that in the end, when Titus arrived the garrison numbered some 60,000 men. This may have influenced Talmudic accounts…

b) Mary’s story:

Silence may suggest that the story of Mary’s rape/ seduction by a man the Talmud calls “Ben Pandera” (son of a Panther) or Pantheus, a Roman legionary, may be true. (this is the section from the Talmud Shabbath 104b tractate:

Rabbi Hisda said: ‘The husband [of his mother] was Stada, the biological father, Pandera…The mother [yet another rabbi says] was Miriam, the women’s hairdresser…It’s like they say in [the Babylonian yeshiva town of] Pumbedita: She cheated on her husband.’

The Aramaic word M’gadla is “hairdresser” so there is confusion in this story between Miriam/mary the mother of Jesus and Mary magdalen.

Pantera may be a joke about “parthenos”, virgin. The greek work Parthenos was apparently very difficult for an Aramaic speaker to pronounce and “Panther” became a mangled corruption.

There is also a reference in ORIGEN that the Jews claim Jesus was the son of a married Jewish woman and her Roman lover

The Talmudic story is set in the 2nd Century but the writing seems to go back only to the 6th Century

2) Other sects:

Essenes: meaning expectant. Was Jesus an essene? Was John? (certainly this is implicit in Kazanzakis)

dead sea scrolls hidden around 70 AD

Nag hammadi library hidden around 200AD to keep away from Irenaeus’ heresy hunt

Archaeology: ossiaries have been found in Talpiot with names of Miriam, Joseph, Joshua and James

Gnostics. A great scene in the book (Christ and the prostitute) suggests Paulician, Waldensian or cathar beliefs about degradation of the body to hasten the judgement,

  • the devil made the world and corrupted the teachings of Christ by making the system of the church
  • -you cannot eat eggs because they are a result of sex
  • all sex is the bad but masturbation is particularly bad, and worse than rape, but gay sex was better than heterosexual sex because it could never lead to progeny. There was a belief that only the mind can sin, so any activity below the waist was not permanently sinful. The lower orders of the Cathars were in slavery to the devil so anything they did was ok because it was not their responsibility! They were saved through the efforts of the elect who had taken a special baptism to free them from slavery to the devil and the world.
  • belief in reincarnation
  • the Heresy of the Free spirit: a corruption of Sufi thought in France – if God created everything then he also created evil: blind obedience to a master and total freedom of action: the individual is above the law, there is no afterlife. Heyday between 1250- 1330

(in the East, there was a similar heresy called the EUCHITES)

Mary’s annunciation:

Rasputin’s sect were called :”the men of God” or Khlysty and they had naked parties, singing, drinking and dancing onto a trance-like state followed by orgies which led to pregnancies. The resulting children were said to be “begotten by the Holy spirit”!!

GREEK! establish Christ as a Greek name, why would Mary opt for a Greek (ie: Roman) name.

(remember the lingua Latina of Ancient Rome was Greek…)

Maybe the Magi speak to Mary in Greek…

Jesus is sometimes referred to in Yiddish as Yoyzl (Hebrew name would be Yeshu, a shortened version of Joshua) Yoske Pandre, little Jo (yoysif) Today, rabbis will say that the word Yeshu is an acronym for “y’mach sh’mo ve-zichrono”, may his name be forever forgotten.

Again, links to Sepphoris would allow for greater use of Greek.

Sepphoris represents the urban elite: Jesus is described as “a friend of tax collectors and sinners and there was a rich young man in the audience (Mk 10:17-22) and a tax collector among the apostles (Mark 2: 13-17); there is even a steward of the royal household among the followers( Chuza, steward to Herod Antipas who is rebuilding Sepphoris…luke 8:3)… does that imply he dined in Sepphoris?? Grin…(maybe he visited John in prison there: Matt 11:2)

Capernaum: needs to be brought into the story. This is where Jesus “settled down”

Fisherman (Matt 4:12-22)

Toll house (mark 2:13-14)

Centurion garrisoned there (John 4:46-54)

Ambiguity : need to preserve ambiguity of the angel/ stranger. Maybe link to soldier Ben Pantera.

Pullman explains the temptation story but not the prayer in Gethsemane. Could the angel be linked to this prayer as a dialogue?

The gethsemane monologue is very important in turning Jesus into a wholly likeable figure.

What should have been, improving the narrative – think of the trinity addition to end of Matthew 28. 19..(vs Acts 2.38 baptism in Jesus’ name only…) no texts contain chapter 28 before 4th century tho the trinitarian formula linked to this text to baptize existed by the time of Ignatius of Antioch, letter to the Philippians (107-112), Irenaeus Against Heresies (130-200) and Tertullian (He commanded the eleven others, on His departure to the Father, to “go and teach all nations, who were to be baptized into the Father, and into the Son, and into the Holy Ghost“) the Prescription Against Heretics 160-220.

  1. History and truth- stupendous
  2. Stolen body from the tomb (the legion of angels/ satanic horde “my name is legion”)

Albert Schweitzer (1906) thinks Jesus was deluded, thought the kingdom would come soon and thought he would usher it in as a triumphant messiah. He expected to be saved from the cross. I think this is the source of much of the Pullman book. What Schweitzer wrote still has relevance today and anyone writing about Christology or the “life of Jesus” is frankly writing footnotes to Schweitzer.

scweitzer by Tim

It is Schweitzer who inspires kazanzakis.

Christ is Judas. Christ is a nickname. A fairly routine idea actually and also routine would be the idea thatJesus is the twin of Thomas- hence the name didymus, “Twin”