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The Life of Brian & The Apocalyptic Jesus

On the blog some months ago I mentioned the “Jesus and Brian” conference in London this past summer, devoted to exploring the Historical Jesus in light of Monty Python’s Life of Brian. The event was held at the King’s College London, Edmond J Safra Lecture Theatre, King’s Building, Strand, London WC2R 2LS on June 20-22nd, 2014.   I gave one of the talks at the conference, and it is provided here thanks to the labors of the audio-video team at Kings College and our support person, Steven Ray who had to manipulate it to improve the quality. Further details about the event can be read here:

http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/trs/events/jandb/about.aspx

Following is the abstract that I gave of my paper, in advance: When the Life of Brian first came out, I was a gung-ho, born-again, evangelical Christian in seminary, studying for ministry. Even though I found parts of the film hilarious (I tried not to laugh), other parts – not. Some of these were predictably offensive to a pious sensitivity (“Always look on the bright side of life”!); but one was not, a scene that received relatively little critical attention: when Brian finds himself among a group of street preachers proclaiming messages of coming apocalyptic doom. I strove hard to assure everyone I knew that first-century Palestine as not “like” that, filled with prophets anticipating the coming apocalypse – mainly because I realized what was at stake. If this was the context for Jesus’ own proclamation (not to mention Brian’s) then he was as duped as the others, and he did not stand out as the unique son of God with an unparalleled divine revelation. Now twenty-five later I realize just how wrong I was. As in so many other ways, the Life of Brian was humorously, but also incisively, on target. The widespread apocalyptic movement of Jesus’ day was indeed the milieu that makes best sense of his own message.

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    prestonp  October 21, 2014

    “The widespread apocalyptic movement of Jesus’ day was indeed the milieu that makes best sense of his own message.” Dr Bart

    What was his mission?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 22, 2014

      To convert Jews to realize that the end was imminent and they needed to repent, or face judgment when the son of man arrived.

      • Avatar
        prestonp  October 23, 2014

        What was his mission?

        “To convert Jews to realize that the end was imminent and they needed to repent, or face judgment when the son of man arrived.” Dr Bart

        Why did he want to convert Jews to believe that the end was near? What judgment?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 24, 2014

          You should read my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. I lay it all out there.

          • Avatar
            prestonp  October 26, 2014

            “…the author provides a detailed examination of Jesus’ words and deeds to show that they present the work of a Jewish apocalyptic prophet who expected universal judgment and the coming Kingdom of God to occur within his own lifetime and that of his disciples. While Ehrman’s provocative thesis will stir up controversy among scholars, his warm, inviting prose style and his easy-to-read historical and critical overviews make this the single best introduction to the study of the historical Jesus” Publishers Weekly

            I agree about Dr Bart’s warm writing style. He is a genius. Truly, he is amazing, a unique talent.

            I agree that he has provided a detailed explanation for his views. Unfortunately, it is not a thorough one. Other, more compelling arguments could be made which are omitted. Some of his brilliance as a scholar/author is due to his engaging, pleasant, conversational tone. He sets the reader at ease, lulls him into a confidant expectation that the last thing he would do is mislead anyone, all the while presenting theories about scripture and Christ that are way, way off base. (Let me hasten to add, I am not implying he does this deliberately.)

        • Avatar
          prestonp  October 30, 2014

          So far, this much I’ve learned as first year student in Prof Ehrman’s Intro to the New Testament. He lived. He walked on this planet as a man, a real human being and he spoke, with passion and urgency, to warn others of the impending doom about to engulf their world. Shouted, proclaimed, entreated, pleaded, announced, are better words, I suppose, to describe what he did to try to alert others. This guy really cared. He had a big heart for people and for god. Apparently, some listened, too. I wonder if maybe a handful of those who heard him in person were shocked when they learned later that there was an effort underway to make him into something he never was, by some of the key disciples.

          I wonder if there was any backlash from his truly loyal followers when they realized others were trying to make him a god or something? “He was a preacher folks. That’s all. Don’t listen to anyone who says differently. He was an apocalyptic preacher and a good one, but nothing more.” Did they confront the ones changing his identity? Did they make a concerted effort to set the record straight in public? Did they ask his mom and brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, you know, his true blue friends and family, for their assistance to help to expose the other side? Some of his disciples almost had to have objected, don’t you think? It makes sense. “No folks, no one saw him after he was killed. No, Pentecost did not erupt into a multi-lingual free for all. No out of town visitors heard any locals speaking fluently in their respective languages. Didn’t happen!”

          • Avatar
            prestonp  November 6, 2014

            Why die for a “has-been” apocalyptic preacher who was way, way off? Would anyone die for Harold Camping’s erroneous predictions? What was in it for these guys to hatch such a bizarre story?

            Rhetorical

  2. Avatar
    bonnie43uk  October 21, 2014

    I loved the python film, I tend to see things in it which have obviously been exaggerated to the point of hilarity, but when you look a little deeper, must have occurred to a lesser degree, ie, when Jesus was giving his sermon on the Mount of Olives there MUST have been people at the back of the crowd who couldn’t quite make out what Jesus said,.when some woman questions “What’s so special about the Cheese makers”, her husband confidently retorts back to her ..”Well obviously, it’s not meant to be taken literally, it refers to any manufacturer of dairy produce”!! and at one point another woman realizes she’s worked out what Jesus said after mishearing him “Meek instead of Greek ( “did anybody catch his name” .. lol), she then says, “I’m glad they’re getting something, they’ve had a hell of a time”!!.

    It emphasizes the important fact that we are ALL prone to mishear things and get things wrong..we humans are notorious for being mistaken when we are adamant we knew what we heard, and we will not be swayed in our view.

    A classic example of word confusion is something my mother told me she heard about an order shouted down a crackly telephone line during WWI.. “Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance”, was heard at the other end as “Send three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance”!!. It’s probably a made up story, but I’m sure it’s now passed into history as a factual occurrence. Who really knows 🙂

  3. David
    David  October 21, 2014

    There clearly is a progression of de-emphasis on the apocalyptic return of Jesus from Mark to John, something I never noticed in my early years as a believer, and I believe most evangelical Christians today are also unaware of it. The reason of course, is as you pointed out….it didn’t happen! And yet, while Jesus explicitly proclaimed his return within the lifetime of at least some of his followers, hundreds of millions of believers today continue to look for his immanent return, despite the passing of nearly 2 millennia. But then of course there are the Jehovah’s Witnesses who claim he did return, invisibly, in 1914 (only THEY seem to be aware of it). Or the Baha’is, who claim he returned in the form of Bahá’u’lláh in the 19th century. Or the Ahmadiyya Muslims who believe he returned in the form of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, also in the early 19th century. The fun just never ends!

    • Avatar
      prestonp  October 23, 2014

      “The reason of course, is as you pointed out….it didn’t happen!”

      How do you know?

      “And yet, while Jesus explicitly proclaimed his return within the lifetime of at least some of his followers, hundreds of millions of believers today continue to look for his immanent return, despite the passing of nearly 2 millennia.”

      He has returned to hundreds of millions– explicitly. What do you think he meant when he said you must be born from above” When you were a christian, didn’t he “return” to you like he did to Dr Bart when jesus entered his life?

  4. Avatar
    shakespeare66  October 22, 2014

    When I see you making presentations of this nature, I always think of Daniel in the Den of Lions. I know what that is like. I have a preacher friend who takes exception to anything and everything I quote from you about Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet. She is stuck on the Gospel of John and can’t see to get it out of her head. Furthermore, this brings to mind the difficulty of the separation of knowledge…that is, what you possess about the life of Christ and what your Daniel questioners may possess in the way of knowledge. I can understand where you are coming from because I have read 15 of your books and although I do not know 1/10th of what you know, I can understand where you are coming from. What about the audience who has limited or even no knowledge of what you purport? Are they not just grasping at straws when the question you? I admire your courage to go into the lions den although you have been in much worse situations. How is it that so many scholars continue to believe that Christ was the “Savior” when they accept the understanding that he was an apocalyptic Jew and that he was calling for the end times?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 22, 2014

      Right! Luckily, this audience was almost entirely critical scholars, so there was no problem with that in this case. As to Jesus as an apocalypticist, many scholars who accept this view simply think that Jesus was necessarily a man of his time. He couldn’t know that the earth revolves around the sun either! So he was wrong about a lot of things.

      • Avatar
        prestonp  October 23, 2014

        “As to Jesus as an apocalypticist, many scholars who accept this view simply think that Jesus was necessarily a man of his time.” Dr Bart

        Upon what do they rely, specifically, to draw this conclusion?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 24, 2014

          The historical facts that Jesus lived as a man in Galilee.

          • Avatar
            prestonp  October 24, 2014

            The historical facts that Jesus lived as a man in Galilee. Dr Bart

            The same historical facts that Jesus lived as a man from Galilee also supply evidence that he was an apocalypticist? In which of your books can I find those facts?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 26, 2014

            Jesus: Apocalpytic Prophet of the New Millennium

          • Avatar
            prestonp  October 28, 2014

            In which of your books can I find those facts?

            “Jesus: Apocalpytic Prophet of the New Millennium” Dr B

            thanks

  5. gmatthews
    gmatthews  January 26, 2015

    FYI “The Life of Brian” is playing at the Carolina Theatre on Feb 13. Nothing like seeing the classics on the big screen again! http://www.carolinatheatre.org/films/coming-soon

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