[NetBehaviour] The Doubter's Mysteries: The Trial of Jesus

Edward Picot julian.lesaux at gmail.com
Fri Jul 5 21:53:04 CEST 2019


Thanks again, and as always. Yes, I can see that the Christian tradition 
that it was the Jewish priesthood who really wanted Jesus killed, while 
Pilate was more inclined to be lenient, is an uncomfortable one and 
feeds into the vicious anti-Semitism of the middle ages. Some 
commentators have observed that the early Christians themselves had a 
vested interest in writing the scriptures from this angle, because they 
were attempting to obtain the patronage (or at least the toleration) of 
Rome - a campaign in which they were ultimately successful, of course. 
Actually I think the account in the Gospels is a little bit more nuanced 
than just making out the Jewish priests to be the baddies - all four 
gospels mention Joseph of Arimathea, and John makes several mentions of 
Nicodemus, both of these being members of the priesthood who were 
sympathetic towards Jesus.

I'm not a Biblical scholar, and this is difficult territory! But to me 
both Caiaphas and Pilate, as they're presented in the Bible (and 
particularly in John) are grimly fascinating figures. Caiaphas comes 
across as genuinely shocked and horrified by Jesus' barefaced claim that 
he is God - not just a representative of God, but God in person - and 
you can see why. Your sympathies are instinctively with Jesus, because 
he's the vulnerable one, but you can understand why someone like 
Caiaphas would regard him as intolerable. But Caiaphas also comes across 
as a real politician/pragmatist - it's expedient that one man should die 
for the good of the nation. He's prepared to countenance brutality 
towards an individual for the sake of preserving the status quo and 
avoiding what he sees as anarchy. As for Pilate, his question 'What is 
truth?' has a tremendous ring of authentic world-weary cynicism to it, 
and his hand-washing gesture suggests the same kind of attitude: I can 
see that this is horrible, I don't want to be deemed guilty of it, but 
I'm going to let it happen all the same, even though nominally I'm the 
one who's supposed to be in control. The only way he can live with 
himself is by dissociating himself from what he does. I find myself 
sympathizing with Pilate and despairing of him at the same time. 
Despairing of humanity, if he's representative of how it handles its 
affairs. And he also feels to me as if he's close to despair himself.

It's a long time since I read Bernard Shaw's St Joan, but I found myself 
thinking of that play as I tried to write about the differences between 
charismatic preacher-prophets and the established priesthood. I think 
Shaw makes similar points about the way the Catholic church felt 
threatened by St Joan. I was also thinking about a really good biography 
of Martin Luther I read a long time ago (I think it might have been the 
one by Richard Friedenthal), which explained with great force the 
various different attitudes towards the Bible which came to prevail 
during the middle ages - the Catholic Church thought that the church 
alone should be allowed to interpret the word of God, and common people 
ought not to even read it for themselves, in case they got wrong ideas; 
Luther thought that everyone should be allowed to read the Bible, but 
the Church should decide what it meant; some of the more radical 
Protestants thought that everyone should read the Bible for themselves 
and decide for themselves what it meant; and some who were even more 
radical thought that the Bible was only a starting point, and each 
individual should seek to commune directly with God and act in 
accordance with what they thought God was saying to them. Those 
different attitudes still feel very current to me, reflected in our own 
attitudes towards political power, orthodoxy and the state.

As regards the King James phraseology - 'Render unto Caesar that which 
is Caesar's' - yes I do find myself using certain phrases like that 
without pausing to think, not even quoting them from the Bible but 
regurgitating them from memory, because they're so deeply embedded... 
perhaps I ought to rethink them a bit. I do rewrite this stuff a lot.

Anyway, thanks again for the close attention and the comments.


On 04/07/2019 21:13, Alan Sondheim via NetBehaviour wrote:
> Hi Edward,
> I like the idea of "John the Dunker" rather than the Submerger. It 
> ties in also of course with witchcraft trials, at least in the U.S.
> The original Mystery Plays always make me uneasy - I keep thinking of 
> adjunct stories like Chaucer's Little Hugh of Lincoln and the damage 
> they did, not to mention current sectarian violence around the world.
> And I felt a bit uneasy with this story, of course told ultimately by 
> the victors; as far as I know, Josephus doesn't mention it, so there's 
> a blank slate, something missing, etc.
> Why did you leave 'Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's.' and 
> some other passages in the language of the King James? Just curious.
> Great series, this one making me uncomfortable!
> Best, Alan
> On Thu, Jul 4, 2019 at 12:42 PM Edward Picot via NetBehaviour 
> <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org 
> <mailto:netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>> wrote:
>     Dear all,
>     'The Doubter's Mysteries' are an attempt to write a short cycle of
>     Mystery Plays - ie. plays based on Bible stories, like the Medieval
>     Mystery Plays of York, Chester and Wakefield - from the point of
>     view of
>     a sceptical modern audience; an audience which either doesn't
>     believe in
>     God, or can't work out what he's playing at.
>     There are fourteen of these plays, and the eleventh is now online:
>     'The
>     Trial of Jesus'.
>     http://edwardpicot.com/mysteries/11thetrialofjesus.html (or for
>     the full
>     series so far, visit http://edwardpicot.com/mysteries)
>     - Edward Picot
>     http://edwardpicot.com - personal website
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