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Thursday 10th June 2010

So most of you think he'd mistaken me for Marco Pierre White or one of the Hairy Bikers. Who knows?

I am doing a photo shoot next week to get some more up to date press shots for Christ on a Bike (as well as some new Collings and Herrin images), so today I headed to the National Theatre costume stores in Oval to pick myself out a Jesus costume.
"You're Jesus, aren't you?" said the lady who had let me in.
"I am," I confirmed, and with my current beard and flowing locks I increasingly resemble the Messiah, who I imagine was about 5ft7 and a bit chunky as well. That's the thing that makes me think that the Turin Shroud must be a fake as he's thin and at least 5ft 9 on there. Plus he's covering up his genitals with his hands - if I had been Jesus I would have made sure everyone got a good view of my cock. This is the world's first photo and you should give people something to look at.
"It did make me laugh when I saw that on your form," the woman chuckled, before leading me past various historically arranged rows of clothing to the very beginning of their collection- Greek, Roman and Biblical. Presumably if you want to dress up as a caveman then you have to get your costume somewhere else.
I had some fun trying on various robes and crowns of thorns and sandals before settling for some plain off-white robes. I am looking forward to seeing what photography whizz Steve Brown will come up with.
After Jesusfying myself I headed up to Hammersmith for lunch and to do some reading. Geza Vermes is my favourite Biblical scholar ("When it comes to discovering the historical Jesus, I'm the Geza" is his advertising slogan. All right, it isn't, but it should be) and I was reading Jesus: Nativity - Passion - Resurrection today. There's a lengthy discussion of the whole genealogy of Christ/Joseph not being Jesus' dad contradiction, proving I was already a top Biblical scholar at the age of 8. But Vermes is adept at pointing out the many, many cases where the Gospels attempted to have their cake and eat it, or became confused between different versions or were trying to shoe horn in Old Testament prophecies (especially Matthew, who it seems was prepared to make up the prophecies if they didn't exist) or change the story so it was more likely to appeal to the Greek and Roman readers that the early Christians (or this branch of them) was keen to convert.
It still astonishes me that people base their whole lives on what is written in the New Testament and yet never really take any time to look into the contradictions or to how the thing was put together. It becomes pretty clear to any independently minded eye that the Nativity story is pretty much entirely made up and the Gospel writers are bending over backwards to find a way to get the Nazarene Jesus be born in Bethlehem as the Old Testament says he must be. Whether it's creating a census (that historically speaking never happened) in which for some reason Joseph has to return to the town of his ancestors, where he clearly owns no property or making up a massacre of the infants which will send Jesus heading for Egypt (in Matthew only, he just goes back to Nazareth in Luke) to fulfil a mistranslated Old Testament prophecy.
I enjoy the fact that Matthew reads like a quite bad episode of Medium, in which the action is constantly spurred along by dreams, whether it's Joseph being told the truth about his "son" or the Magi being told not to go back to Herod or Joseph being told to flee to Egypt. It would probably have been more helpful if whoever was sending these dreams down had just informed the Magi in advance that they shouldn't visit Herod - then he wouldn't have known about Jesus and he wouldn't have sent his men to kill all those babies (in fact all kids under 2 - quite a broad remit, given that Jesus still had afterbirth on his face). It's like God or the Holy Ghost or the writers of Medium or whoever was responsible wanted all those kids to get slaughtered. That is the kind of thing that happens in Medium, ambiguous dreams that lead to more murders being committed and thus more drama. If Alison Dubois or Joseph or the Magi had just had everything revealed to them in dream form straight away the story wouldn't have been quite as punchy. But I can't help thinking that that generation of babies who were wiped out in Bethlehem was a big price to pay. Think of the psychological damage that the populace must have suffered. You'd think they would have held that against Jesus.
But something I hadn't thought of (which Vermes has) was the fact that Herod, an admittedly horrible and violent king who did some pretty dire stuff (though the massacre of the infants is not in the history books as you might expect it to be) just trusted the Magi to come back to him to tell him where Jesus was. He didn't use his own soldiers or police force or even have the Kings followed so that he could get his murders in quickly and more accurately. Maybe he just wanted an excuse to kill loads of babies, but you'd think he would be better informed. Especially given that the stable or cave or shed (depending on the Gospel and the translation - in fact it's only presumed to be a stable because there is a manger in there in one version) not only had a star hovering directly above it but also once Jesus was born a host of angels in the sky too. You'd think that might have attracted some attention from the people who wouldn't take too kindly to Jesus. Or at least get a mention in the history books. Just think of the star. It was one that could not only move along at a slow enough pace to be followed, but was also close enough to the ground in order that it could hang not just above Bethlehem, but one single house. Even if it was a little star it must have created a lot of light and a lot of fuss. And realistically if it was that close to the planet it would surely have burned everyone to death and caused the destruction of the earth. And yet even if it was just a tiny light in the sky, like the light on a helicopter, would that not have freaked the fuck out of people and also made it pretty easy for Herod's men to work out where the Magi were heading and get in there first and smother the baby Jesu with his own swaddling bands?
It's of course a lovely fairy story for kids and has loads of elements that would appeal to a guileless child, presents, moving stars, animals, angels but clearly none of if happened. If you're an adult and you believe it did then you really have to take a good hard look at yourself. And the book that it's all in.
The Christian religion was created by the people who wrote this book, not by Jesus and a minimal amount of study shows the way that the story has been spun and changed and the real Jesus and his beliefs have been obfuscated. Maybe many Christians don't believe in the literal truth of the Nativity. But I would go as far as saying that there is nothing factual in there at all and it's pretty easy to chip away at the things that are asserted as such. Vermes makes a good case for the whole ridiculous star business being a creation to fulfill another prophesy of the time. If you understand the context of when and where these stories were written and what the people writing them were trying to achieve (to prove it was their potential god and not all the others that was the real one) you can see the whole thing falls apart pretty fast.
You can of course believe in Jesus being a God without any of this, but what are you basing that on? A feeling in your stomach? The fact that your mum and dad believed it too? The book where this stuff all originates is not reliable enough, I would say, to make it the basis of your life. And if I were you, my Christian reader, I would really want to try and discover who Jesus really was before I devoted my life to him. I have a feeling he might have been a more interesting and exciting character than the New Testament would have us believe. Probably more revolutionary and iconoclastic, but I would only really be guessing. Perhaps a more educated guess than anyone who wants the Bible to all be true in spite of the fact that it can't agree with itself from one sentence to the next.
If you want to believe in a human who was hailed as a God from this period then you should go for Augustus, who at least was pretty funny and said of Herod (who murdered three of his sons as well as many other family members and was of course Jewish and thus did not eat pork) "I'd rather be Herod's pig than Herod's son."
But no one thinks Augustus was really a god any more. That was just a ruse to get people to follow him and invest in him and venerate him.... But Jesus was a real god. Not like all those other people.
Yet the biggest dichotomy of all is that if Jesus was the Messiah who the Old Testament predicted would be the saviour of his people then he didn't do a very good job at that. His people don't even think he was their Messiah. So that would seem to make all Matthew's claims that he fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies a little bit redundant in hindsight. All that effort to make out that he was born in Bethlehem and then the rest of the Jews don't even go along with it.
Not sure that any of this will be any use for the show, but it's fun to be back at the coal face and researching a new show. And I have a feeling that this time round Christ on a Bike is going to be quite different than the last time. Though I did have a listen to the begat section on YouTube this afternoon and it's going to be hard to to beat that.
But not as hard as it's going to be to relearn it.

Collings and Herrin Edinburgh podcast tickets are now on sale. Only £5. Only 10 shows so book early.
Christ on a Bike tickets also available here.
As It Occurs To Me are here

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