October 17th, 2010


Jesus of Nazareth, by Paul Verhoeven

I found Jesus of Nazareth fascinating on many levels. I worried that the book would receive plaudits for the same reason one applauds the dancing dog, not that it does it well, but that it does it at all. The director of Total Recall and Showgirls takes on the historical Jesus? But it quickly becomes clear that Verhoeven is no dilettante, and his membership in the Jesus Seminar has, if nothing else, brought him into contact with enough experts that he is, at the very least, an expert by osmosis. The book is as scholarly as one could wish, with copious endnotes and references to the literature. Verhoeven certainly has his own take on the life of Jesus, but he can point to various authorities to support his assertions. It's not as though he pulls these ideas out of his own butt -- he has several centuries of scholarly butts out of which to pull these ideas, in order to assemble his story.
And a story it is. Perhaps that's where Verhoeven most brings his own craft to bear on the issue. Very rarely, he discusses how he would shoot the scene, if he were making a biopic. But more often, I think his storytelling chops help him to negotiate the various takes on Jesus to produce a story that is believable (rather than compelling or miraculous). I'm not competent to judge the validity of the Jesus Seminar (not that Verhoeven swallows its results whole) or the various shadings of meanings from the Greek, but I think Verhoeven has assembled a believable story and one that accords with my own thinking about who Jesus was -- a religious figure of his time and place, preaching the immanent arrival of the Kingdom of God, and then caught up in the politics of his time and place, and later deified by followers who left the primary texts we have to work from. It is hard to summarize that in a pithy word beginning with L, but this story is a suitable response to CS Lewis' trilemma of Lunatic, Liar, or Lord.
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