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Day Two of Jesus and Brian

I continue this coverage of the Life of Brian and the Historical Jesus conference with the second-day post by Mark Goodacre.


Jesus and Brian Conference, Day 2

William Telford and Mark Goodacre

After a wonderful first day, the Jesus and Brian conference began again on Saturday morning with a paper from one of the real gurus of Jesus films, William Telford. He had a superb series of reflections on the ways in which the Life of Brian parodies the Jesus films, and his paper was superbly performed.  He does not just read his paper, in the manner all too common in the guild, but he acts it.  It was compelling stuff.

Just as compelling was the second paper, “Monty Python’s Life of

Philip Davies and James Crossley

Jesus”, in which first Philip Davies and then James Crossley took a more subversive look at the film and argued that it is not quite so benign in its intentions as it is depicted by Burridge and others.  After a coffee break, Helen Bond gave an eloquent and fascinating paper on laughing at crucifixion.

Helen Bond

The quality of the papers continued to be high. Guy Stiebel from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem talked about “Romanti Ite Domum: Identity and Expressions of Resistance in Judaea”, with fine use of Powerpoint, including one picture of some kind of ancient phallus, which caused lots of sniggers (and some remarks about “bigus dickus”).

Steve Mason

Last night I blogged about my hunger after the canape reception, but today I was forced eat my words after we were treated to a delicious sandwich lunch, and I was even invited into the speakers’ room where I got to hang out with the swells.  I do miss nice British sandwiches, so it was a treat, and I sneaked one last one in to enjoy with the first afternoon paper, Steve Mason on “What have the Romans ever done for us?”, a really fascinating study of first century politics and relations between Judaea and Rome, with superb use of Powerpoint (and it’s not often that you can say that).

Paula Fredriksen

After Steve Mason came one of my favourite scholars, Paula Fredriksen. I must admit that I still feel a little starstruck whenever  I talk to her.  Her paper was called “Are you a virgin? Biblical Exegesis and the Invention of Tradition” and the best use of clips from the film — each short clip was followed by some reflections on the Biblical text.

The last session of the day kicked off with a fascinating piece by David Shepherd, who explored another Biblical parody, Wholly Moses, starring Dudley Moore, which was something of a critical and commercial failure.  Shepherd showed several clips and explored the difficulties with the film.  The second of his clips, in which Dudley Moore as Hershel “does God” after having come down from the mountain I found hysterically funny, so much so that when my head fell backwards I knocked someone’s bag off their desk. The last paper of the day was given by Aaron Rosen, who talked about “Sonofagod: Images of Jesus in Contemporary Art”.

There was just enough time in between the end of the formal programme and the conference banquet for a swift pint in a German style bierkeller with big screens showing the World Cup, and we just caught Argentina beating Iran 1-0 in the closing minutes.

The conference dinner took place in the Inner Temple Hall, and was hosted by Robin Griffith-Jones.  Earlier in the day, Richard Burridge had mentioned that he would try to get a chance to introduce me to John Cleese, and I was delighted that he did so.  Here, for posterity is the pic.:

Richard Burridge, John Cleese, and Mark Goodacre

 Joan Taylor kindly took the picture.  I was delighted to get the chance to chat to Cleese, who was utterly delightful.  At the dinner itself, the top brass sat on high table with Cleese, with Fredriksen to his left, Griffith-Jones to his right, and Bart Ehrman opposite.The food was excellent and the wine flowed pretty freely.  Afterwards, Cleese gave a short speech and then invited attendees to ask him questions about the film, with Michelle going around with the mic.  Cleese dealt graciously and amusingly with each of the questions and I could have listened to him all evening.  A really marvellous occasion.

Sadly, this wrapped up my attendance at a wonderful conference.  I had a conference in Roskilde, Denmark, to get to, on Luke’s Rewritten Bible (on which, more anon), so I jumped on the tube to Victoria and the train to Gatwick, in time to grab a couple of hours’ sleep before my early morning flight.

The conference did continue today (Sunday) with several great speakers including A-J Levine, Adele Reinhartz and Bart Ehrman.  I would also really have liked to hear Richard Burridge’s talk about the Malcolm Muggeridge and Bishop Stockwood programme.  Perhaps I’ll be able to catch up via the conference video.  As far as I could tell the whole thing was being video-ed.

This pic. is nicked from the T & T Clark twitter feed, via Jim West’s blog, and depicts Joan Taylor interviewing film editor Julian Doyle:

Joan Taylor and Julian Doyle

It’s appropriate to conclude with a picture of Joan Taylor, who did so much hard work to make this conference a success.  It was a brilliant idea for a conference, superbly organized, with tons of amazing papers from top people.  And, of course, John Cleese.

Did I mention that I met John Cleese?

Brian and the Apocalyptic Jesus Parts 1
Day One of Jesus and Brian



  1. Avatar
    Steefen  June 25, 2014

    How Jesus Became God does not have [The Book of] Revelation in the index or in the Table of Contents. For many Christians Jesus is elevated to God in the Book of Revelation.

  2. Avatar
    willow  June 27, 2014

    Wow! I’d never have thought it of Goodacre! Monte Python, really, Professor G!?!? lol

    PS: When I grow up I want to be as smart as Paula! What an amazing woman she is!

  3. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  June 27, 2014

    I have seen the film. I think it does an excellent job of illustrating how people can develop a religion with very little evidence and then spin any subsequent evidence to support that religion. I consider myself to have a religious preference of “none” or “still pending,” but I still found the Crucifixion scene to be offensive. Was there much discussion of this at the conference?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 27, 2014

      Yes indeed. One of the papers, by Helen Bond, was devoted to the topic. She argued that there’s a logic in not seeing it as offensive; but I have to say, it’s the one part of the film I’ve always had the most trouble with myself. Making fun of people being tortured just doesn’t seem right somehow. But I may devote a post to her paper to show her position.

      • Avatar
        willow  June 28, 2014

        I had to stop watching at that point, so didn’t see how it ended.

  4. Avatar
    Slydog1227  June 28, 2014

    Thank you for the conference updates! I watched “Brian” again tonight. No one locally carries the DVD and I thought that I had it in my collection but did not. It was not available for instant viewing on any of the usual major sources, but a full version was available on youtube. I quite enjoyed the crucifixion scene with Eric Idles wonderful Bright Side of Life. I think it was humorous, apropos, and quite perfect . The whole synchronized foot wagging on the cross to the rhythm, as I’m sure was the intention, reminded me of an old Busby Berkeley movie. It’s Python! …and it’s Jesus! Could it really have ended any other way?

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