• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Saturday, January 31, 2015

    Life of Brian in discussion with Jesus of Nazareth

    Mark Goodacre is currently teaching a module on Jesus in Film which is good news for the rest of us as it has led to him uploading his Celluloid Jesus pages again, as well as adding a substantial amount of new material and a few extra blog posts to boot.

    This week he's clearly been doing the late seventies as there are a few blog posts on Jesus of Nazareth and Life of Brian including YouTube links to all the talks from last year's "Jesus and Brian" conference.

    One post that particularly caught my eye was one where Mark discusses being "struck by several Brian - Jesus of Nazareth parallels". The one he discusses is a moment in Jesus of Nazareth when one of the villagers grumbles "What does Rome give us?"* It's memorable of course, because of the famous scene in Life of Brian where one of the leaders of the People's Front of Judea asks "What have they [the Romans] ever given us in return?" only for the group members to reel off an extensive list of benefits of living in the empire.

    What makes it particularly interesting to me is the short time gap between the two productions (just two and a half years between the first broadcast of Jesus of Nazareth at Easter 1977 and the release of Life of Brian in the autumn of 1979. Indeed the two films were recorded so close together that Brian was able to use its predecessor's sets. On top of this when you consider that British TV had only 3 channels at this point, that Jesus of Nazareth was a much publicised production and that this line of dialogue occurred in the first episode, then it's fairly likely that at least one of the Python troupe watched it at the time.

    Once you picture that, then it's not hard to believe that it's no mere coincidence that this line ended up in the Pythons' film, whether consciously or sub-consciously. Lloyd Baugh mentions Jesus of Nazareth's banalities and this is a particularly bad one - it's just not the way people express this kind of sentiment in real life. So perhaps the embryo of this scene was conceived then, whether spoken out at the time as a way of critiquing the programme, or something that just got lodged in the back of somebody's mind.

    I guess what interests me in all this is the way that it faintly mirrors the kind of critique of the early gospels we find in some of the later ones. Much has been made of the negative portrayal of Thomas in John's Gospel. Not a few scholars think that this might be John casting aspersions about Thomas and, by extension, the movement or the Gospel that came to be associated with him. Or think of the many times that Matthew and Luke take a pithy statement from Mark's Jesus and transforms it into a whole scene that makes the original phrase far more memorable - The Parable of the Good Samaritan for example.

    Those two example are from different ends of the spectrum. Many who would feel uncomfortable with the idea of John smearing Thomas in this way, would nevertheless be fine with Luke rearranging his material to make a particular point. But there are all kinds of these little interactions between the gospels, particularly the Synoptic Gospels, and given that they were written relatively close to one another it's not unreasonable to imagine those writing later taking their predecessor's words and enhancing, adjusting, correcting and, yes perhaps, even parodying some of what they had to say.

    I've just left a comment on Mark's post asking if he can remember any of the other examples of these parallels and will be interested to see whether any of these parallels also happen to parallel how the later gospel writers used their sources.


    *Note Mark has this down as "What do the Romans give us?", but on a second hearing I beg to differ.

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