Book Notice: Jesus and Brian (Skinner)

Jesus and BrianYesterday I was thrilled to find this new book in my campus inbox! Last summer (June 20-22, 2014), King’s College London hosted a conference entitled, “Jesus and Brian: A Conference on the Historical Jesus and His Times.” I remember wanting to attend and being very disappointed that I was not able. (I had already made two trips to the UK that summer and there’s no way my university would have financed a third!) While the conference was taking place, I was able to catch various posts on social media as several of my friends attended and attempted to live tweet the proceedings. Well now I guess I have the second best thing, a copy of Jesus and Brian : Exploring the Historical Jesus and His Times Via Monty Python’s Life of Brian (London: Bloomsbury/T&T Clark, 2015). The book is scheduled for release on September 10, 2015 and represents the full proceedings of the conference.

The contributors to this volume represent some of the very best scholars working in both Jesus research and reception history, and include William Telford, Richard Burridge, David Shepherd, David Tollerton, James Crossley, Philip Davies, Joan Taylor, Guy Stiebel, Helen Bond, George Brooke, Bart Ehrman, Paula Frederiksen, Amy-Jill Levine, Steve Mason, Adele Reinhartz, and Katie Turner.

Two of the book’s four jacket endorsements are provided by members of Monty Python, who, I should point out, also attended the conference:

“I was astonished when I heard there was to be a conference where proper New Testament scholars would be discussing what they had learnt from Life of Brian! This is the result. Fascinating…” –  John Cleese

“Taken as a whole, the essays form a complete analytical documentation of the Life of Brian, and very interesting they are too! They take various angles and look at the film from not just a filmic one but from a historical point of view, and read many things I had not noticed at the time. The comparisons are always illuminating, and the commentaries always right on the nose.” –  Terry Jones

I hope to provide a more substantial review of the book in due course, but for now, I wanted to get it on your radar. You only have two more weeks to wait!

Jesus in Contemporary Culture: Part Ten; Is Brian Jesus? (Skinner)

BrianWe are closing out our semester here at Mount Olive and this means we are watching the final two films in our “Jesus in Contemporary Culture” course. Before the Thanksgiving break we finished watching the Monty Python classic, The Life of Brian, which may have been the most enjoyable experience of the semester for the entire class. This movie gets better every time I watch it and I also continue to see things I have failed to notice in previous viewings. As entertaining as this movie was, I think it was difficult for our students to make some of the connections intended by the Pythons. The students laughed a lot but when it came time for analysis, it took some prodding on our part to help them make the connections between Brian and Jesus. When I introduce this film in the future I will probably discuss political and religious issues in 1970s Britain insofar as that cultural backdrop informs so much of the film’s humor. (I would appreciate any insights from my UK friends on how to do this in an effective way…..)

Of particular interest to me (and to the class) in our analysis of the film and its broader cultural impact was an appearance by Michael Palin and John Cleese on the UK show, “Friday Night, Saturday Morning” in November 1979 (see video below). The two appeared opposite Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood (the then Bishop of Southwark), both of whom came across as stuffy, insulting, and condescending. (This was not lost on my students!) In the appearance, you get a very clear sense of the intelligence and thoughtfulness that attended the writing of the film. Cleese, in particular, ably articulates his frustration with the domesticated Jesus of institutional Christianity and the intellectual dishonesty to which he was exposed during his time in Christian school. Cleese also insists that Brian is not intended to be Jesus. As much as I enjoyed this interview, I chafed a little at the suggestion that Brian is not intended to be Jesus. This seems disingenuous to me. I think today most reflective viewers of the film recognize that Brian is Jesus, at least in most respects. After all, isn’t that what makes the movie work so well?