Flavin's Corner
11-5-99

Critics For Jesus

Beware of finding a Jesus entirely congenial to you.
Robert Funk, quoting the "final general rule of evidence" for the Jesus Seminar,
in The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (Funk,
Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar; New York: Polebridge Press/Macmillan, 1993; p. 5.)

     On Feb. 14, 1989, Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini decided that Salman Rushdie's
The Satanic Verses was an insult to Islam and issued a fatwa (Arabic for
"ruling") calling for Rushdie's death.  In the following years a Norwegian
publisher of the book was shot, a Japanese translator was stabbed to death, and
an Italian translator was seriously wounded in a knife attack.  Last year Iran
softened its stance against Rushdie, but many Muslim fundamentalists (including
Cat Stevens/Yusef Islam, click here for more) still thirst for his blood.  Last
week another fatwa was issued, this time demanding the death of American
playwright, Terrence McNally, who's Corpus Christi is currently running in
London.  It seems some Muslim fundamentalists believe a play with a gay Jesus
is blasphemy.  Ouch! When Critics For Jesus carry guns the artists might wish to
show their work elsewhere!

     The fatwa was issued by a 38 year old Syrian, Sheik Omar Bakri
Mohammed, head of Al-Muhajiroun ("The Emigrant"), a London-based Islamic
fundamentalist group with ties to Osama bin Laden and other terrorists.
Because Islam considers Jesus to be a "messenger" of God and the Quran
instructs "Whoever insults a messenger of God must be killed," Sheik
Mohammed convened a shari'ah (a "court" of Muslim law), ...and must now be
regarded as the most dangerous theater critic alive today.  And he probably
didn't even see the play!

     McNally is far from the first to utilize Jesus as a character in a fictional
setting.  King Jesus was the title of Robert Graves' 1946 novel which portrayed
Jesus as the child of Mary and Antipator, son of Herod, and a rightful "King of
the Jews."  The novel is difficult, filled with tree-alphabets, much mysticism
which was later incorporated into Graves' The White Goddess, and even though
it failed to sell well, Winston Churchill is said to have written Graves a letter
saying how much he enjoyed reading it.  In 1955 Nikos Kazantzakis wrote a
novel, O teleutaious peiramos (The Last Temptation of Christ), a classic allegory
of post-WWII political problems in Greece, which the Roman Catholic church
banned and for which the Greek Orthodox church excommunicated him.  The
science fiction and fantasy writer, Michael Moorcock, penned the short novel
Behold The Man in 1968, which didn't get him into any trouble (that I know of),
but did provide readers with a unique view of crucifixion.  While each of these
were controversial, provocative, and way cool, my personal fav would have to
be Jesus Comics by Foolbert Sturgeon (Rip-Off Press, during the early 1970's,
with some recent reprints).

     Various interpretations of the sketchy, incomplete, and rather ambiguous
character of Jesus started almost immediately after the beginning of the Jesus
Movement ("Christianity").  While it is reasonable to hold to the existence of a
charismatic, itinerant teacher by the name of "Jesus" during the early 1st century
of the Common Era, little else about the man may be advanced with any degree
of confidence.  His language, parentage, marital status, and all practical aspects
of his life, are the inventions of later authors.  A slur involving a Roman soldier
named "Pantera" being the true father of Jesus developed among the Jewish
community before the 3rd century CE. [Click here  for more.]

     "Mystery" traditions (the Gnostics) appropriated the figure of Jesus and some
of these schools taught sexual liberation.  In 1958 Morton Smith discovered a
copy of a portion of a letter by Clement of Alexandria, c. 200 CE, which briefly
discussed previously unknown sections of the Gospel of Mark that some
Gnostics were interpreting as being sexual in nature. [Click  here  for more on
"Secret Mark."]  Though the "sexuality" of Jesus has been debated, vigorously
at times, for nearly the last two thousand years, during the 15th through 17th
centuries the sexual prowess of Jesus (and the restraint thereof) reached an
amazing level with artistic metaphor (see: Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art
and in Modern Oblivion, Leo Steinberg, 1996, 2nd ed., U. of Chicago Press).
The persistent rumor the great Elizabethan playwright, Christopher Marlowe,
was killed in a tavern brawl after stating that Jesus was a homosexual is now
believed to be a cover-story for his assassination by his main financial backer (as
Marlowe was gay, talented, loud, and actually may have made such a wild,
unwarranted comment).


     Who was Jesus?  If anyone answers without a string of qualifiers they're
either lying or are disassociated from reality ("belief" is acceptance without
proof).  For "Jesus," the man and teacher, I follow the argument of J. Dominic
Crossan (author of The Historical Jesus, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, and
other works), who passionately struggles to understand a human teacher free of
non-human attributes.  ...Kind of like Thomas Jefferson! [Click  here  for T.J.'s
approach to the New Testament.]  I strongly suspect "gospel" authors followed
a narrative pattern based upon the mnemonic attached to the mathematical
zodiac, so as to equate "Jesus" with concurrent traditions, but that's just my take
on the "gospel" words.  As far as who Jesus was--I regard him as a man, a
teacher, nice guy (though probably severe with students), and beyond that ...I
don't know.  The opening quote concerning a "congenial" Jesus applies to me as
well. [Click  here  for my approach to the Jesus Narrative.]

     The fatwa issued against the life of Terrence McNally concerns "Jesus" only
superficially, as the Al-Muhajiroun strives to subject the entire planet to Islamic
law, though rather humbly aiming to control the country of Pakistan first (it's a
Muslim-majority thing and is too complicated to discuss here).  Islamic "law," as
gauged by such punks as Sheik Mohammed, denies ANY or ALL human, civil
rights and freedoms not sanctioned by the Quran.  Change your religion?  You
die...  Disagree?  You die...  Don't disagree?  You may die later...  Such
arrogance (read: evil) goes against the avowed United Nations' position on basic,
irretractable givens embrued and granted ...because we are alive and sentient.
Overlook comic-book and James Bond/Austin Powers' "supervillains," ...and
there are still those who wish to rule the world.  They are the enemy. [Click  here
for the United Nations' position, and here  for ...the "war" some Muslims have
declared against personal freedoms.]

     Death for writing a staged-drama is nothing new, but rather surprising today.
Terrence McNally is the recipient of many awards and laudatory mentions for his
precious contributions to his craft.  Is his play, Corpus Christi, any good?  I
don't know and don't especially care...  I haven't gotten around to seeing it,
though I've had the opportunity, and I probably won't in the near future (...lack
of cash and being rather reluctant to enter a theater without popcorn and
Raisenettes).  However, much like the current popular saying, "I disagree, but
will defend your right to speak your mind," I must support controversy.
Everyone should...

    Online reviews of the NYC premiere of McNally's Corpus Christi?

one
another
still another
and another one

     In the last several years America has experienced a resurgence in the urge to
censor, usually from a local level, but ...sometimes federal.  Maplethorpe, the
"Piss Christ" exhibit, and the recent fiasco with the Brooklyn Museum and the
jerk-Mayor, Giuliani, attempting to cut off their funds because of ...art, is yet
another example of how afraid we are.  We shouldn't be...  It'll be okay...  It's
not the fault of the artists, for this current problem, but the critics...

expecting green Spam,
Rick

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