There isn’t much really good evidence that Jesus actually existed. In fact, it is pretty much dependent on the account in the Bible. Without that, he really doesn’t count as an historical figure. But I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. The main reason for this is that the Bible story of his execution rings true to me. The incidental details just seem to be how things really happen rather than how someone making a story up would describe them.
For example, the bit where Pontius Pilate washes his hands of the whole business. That is just the way officials in big bureacracies behave.
And what a story it is. Jesus is betrayed by one of his followers. Betrayed by a kiss in fact. And his strongest follower bails out on him when the going gets tough. And what about the priests? To see priests manipulating the system to get a rival out of the way really does reflect the modus operandi of that species throughout history. Of course, there are bits that you can’t credit. People who get nailed to a cross and left to die don’t come back to life.
But what kind of man was Jesus? To me he is the first socialist. He is concerned with the poor and the marginalised. He treats women as equals. He defends the Samaritan from persecution. And he built up a following among the working fishermen. It is no wonder he got on the wrong side of the authorities. To get him they would have deployed all the tricks at their disposal to divide his followers and get him away from where he can damage.
The Jesus I imagine is very much in evidence in the Passion by the Streetwise Opera and the Sixteen, which was broadcast on BBC 4 on Easter Sunday. This was an edited down version of Bach’s St Mathews Passion translated into English and with the parts taken by the Sixteen and by singers with a history of homelessness. The audience take the part of the crowd with the musicians mingled in as well , and the soloists do their pieces while walking around. The narrator is St Mathew, sporting a beard and beige jacket looking something like a version of Jeremey Corbyn.
The music is great and the performances are excellent – some are highly trained and polished while others are less technically skilled but all bring a great feeling to their parts. But the key is the story they are telling. We see Christ being betrayed, the priests plot and Judas is distraught that he ends up killing himself. Pilate officiated in an of hand way aware that he is being used by the priests but too diffident to care.
The Bach works really well. It is deep, emotional and perfectly suited to the depth of the story that is told. But the very last piece is a newly minted chorus that ends on a note of optimism and affirmation.
And this too fits in with my vision of the real Christ. I always think that the Bible diminishes Christ by making him the son of God. His real achievement was to stir things up and leave a mark. That is a great achievement for a human, but a pretty pathetic one for a god. I have never really understood how exactly his torture and death were supposed to get us forgiven for our sins.
But we need the message of the real Christ, the socialist Christ, more than ever. In a world packed with weapons, riven with divisions and with rocketing inequality. we need his humanity more than ever. Redemption won’t come from a man with a beard in a cloud. We will be saved by working together to solve the problems we all face.