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Since it is Easter week, I have been watching Jesus of Nazareth again, that star-studded 1970s spectacle, that brings back wonderful memories of being 11 and watching it with my Uncle Jack. My other favourite TV experience of the 70s is The Poseidon Adventure, when it was broadcast, and the two productions share a similar theme, actually - a holy man trying to lead his flock to safety in a dangerous environment. Both also have Oscar-winning casts (including Ernest Borgnine).

The Jesus of Nazareth mini-series is now seen as a Sir Lew Grade classic, with Maurice Jarre's rousing score, and astonishing array of actors, and realistic location-shoots, adding much. Oddly, the screenplay was partly written by Anthony Burgess, whose A Clockwork Orange is probably antithetical; and much of the key moments are directly from the King James Bible New Testament. Whatever else one may think about The Bible, few books have ever had as many great lines of dialogue, so many memorable sayings and events.

I was born on Good Friday 58 years ago; the mirror tells me today my youth is now long gone. Having no portrait locked away, my face speaks of too many coca-colas and pasta Bolognese meals, too few days running on the track, and my whitening hair has now blown away the brown-black bangs of my youth, when I felt so dazzlingly smart and alive, if anxious. Now I feel old, and Good Friday seems a sometimes very sad time, indeed. The crucifixion of any innocent person is tragic; probably any guilty person, also, given its inherent cruelty. If Jesus is the son of God, it is beyond tragedy, of course. It is literally abysmal - the bottom of what evil humanity can do.

I have been reading the French philosopher of Christianity, Michel Henry (sadly deceased), whose book I Am The Truth is startling. More about that in a minute.

Jesus was an historical figure; indeed, he appears in historical accounts, rarely but more often than Pontius Pilate (who only appears in The Bible). So, let us set aside the question of his existence - a five foot five Jewish man lived about 2,000 years ago, called Jesus, and was historically crucified. The other fact we know about him/Him, is that he/He was able to gather crowds, and said a few of the most astonishingly radical and beautiful ideas ever spoken (he wrote nothing down, like Socrates).

So, the baseline fact is, Jesus is at least one of the most amazing thinkers and teachers of human history, on a par with Socrates, and just as real. So, Good Friday is, however else you might want to add to its weight, at the least a commemoration of one of the greatest acts of injustice in human history, the brutal killing of a genius, who was very gentle and generous.

But, as many others have observed, if Jesus was "just" a human, then actually, he was not necessarily a kind, generous, gentle teacher but a dangerous liar or a madman - because, paradoxically his teachings are subversive of all existence, the status quo, power structures, and realities and verities then accepted. It seems we cannot just love the human Jesus, because Jesus, pace Henry, was never human. He was either a nobody best ignored, or He is the son of God. The living embodiment of a totally new Truth.

I am not sure about the idea that none of Jesus's teachings survive if he is human; after all, most of his actual advice and encouragement is wise, if difficult to take: turn the other cheek, for instance. Turn the other cheek - the central idea of non-violence - remains the most proven way to avoid war over centuries, but is what most nations avoid, instead seeking bloody vengeance, perpetuating the endless cycle of murder we see today in the world. Jesus tended to love everyone, even the so-called unclean and despised, tax collectors and sex workers. His message is rarely critical of the minority position; he tends to castigate the rich and powerful elites for their hypocrisy, and welcomes the small, child-like, and fallen equally. It is easy to imagine a secular philosophy of gentle tolerance and peacefulness based on his teachings, and many people do imagine such ideals and ways of living.

I want to believe Jesus was the son of God. I want to believe He rose from the dead on the third day. Von Balthasar the theologian believes Jesus went to Hell on Saturday, the dark day between his death and his resurrection; and suffered terribly there. Henry argues that the Truth Jesus represents is so disruptive of linguistic/historical ideas of "truth" as to represent a complete epistemic break with language and reality, so that Jesus becomes a New Truth that supplants the logic we currently operate by. In a rhetorical strategy, he basically argues that since Jesus is True then that trumps any way logic or science or reason has of disproving Him, and anyway, once we accept Jesus, we don't need other forms of Truth, because the new Truth is incredibly uplifting - we too are sons of God, and are not even born of our parents, being eternally coeval with the Son. His book is almost impossible to understand, but exciting.

Who Moved The Stone? remains my go-to book, to convince that Jesus was resurrected. The key proof that had it been a hoax they would have marshalled more (to their culture) persuasive witnesses is compelling - if you notice, the scriptures rely heavily here on the eyewitness account of Mary Magdalene, seen as a relatively "low prestige" person. It hardly feels like a carefully-prepared conspiracy, with few if any respectable witnesses pressed into service. Instead, it feels genuinely ad hoc, chaotic, real, messy and strange - as if they did not expect Jesus to really come back. The sense of astonished joy and propulsive inspiration from the event seems to compel actual wonder and belief in them, and hence, us.

It is not clear however that being resurrected proves one is God. If the world is that supernatural, then other beings could do strange wonders also. Lazarus was not God, for instance, yet was resurrected.  At the end of the day, we must decide for ourselves, what we feel. Jesus is not provable by others, ultimately. He is either The Truth, or not, and that is up to your own self, your own ipseity.

You have to read about him/Him, see dramatizations, depictions, and then you will know, or sometimes, know, what you feel. It may be wishful thinking, or it might be the Holy Spirit, but I tend to believe, most often, that a great act of love brough the son of God to us, once, and always, and Jesus radiates through time, as our best friend and advocate.

But not always. Sometimes like Thomas, I doubt. And that is the challenge of being a weak human. If indeed that is what I am - Henry thinks I am the son of God also.


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