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Paul Verhoeven, the Dutch movie director, comes at this topic from an interesting vantage point. Besides the fact that before becoming a movie maker, he was trained as a mathematician, however he had an abiding interest in the figure of Jezus all of his life.

Unsurprisingly, coming from a predominantly protestant/reformed culture, he is focused on the search for the historical Jesus. It was a surprise to learn however that he carried this interest so far as to become the (apparently) one and only lay member of the Jesus Seminar, which undoubtedly is THE leading body of serious scholarship in this area.

The book is interesting primarily because he has a way of making you think more deeply about the scenes (because he does think as a movie maker). This can be helpful regardless of whether you agree with Verhoeven or not, for it focuses the mind on "what's the upshot?", what's the point. Woven into the fabric of the book is his own thinking about one day perhaps making a movie about the life of Jesus. Even though I hardly agree with his approach, I venture to say that his Jesus movie could be more interesting than many others, except perhaps Monty Python's Life of Brian, which it would be hard to outdo. On the other hand it would suffer from the fact that Verhoeven kills off Jesus' spiritual meaning right from the outset.

Verhoeven sums up the relationship with Paul in an interesting way: Paul had more to gain from a dead Jesus than from a live one, because his framing of the basic tenets of what was to become Christianity depended on Jesus dying on the cross. In other respects however, the book stays within the framework of a thoroughly Christian conception of who and what Jesus was and keeps him within a patently Christian framework - which very definitely does benefit more from a dead Jesus than from a live one. He does so even when he embraces certain positions that are bound to be thought controversial, such as advancing the theory of Jesus having been conceived out of wedlock from the rape of Mary by a Roman soldier.

He does try to clarify the notion of Jesus being radical, which is relevant, but he ends up framing that in the mold of Che Guevara, as a revolutionary and a sponsor of violence. With that he loses me entirely. But, while this is another aspect of his view that will likely be deemed controversial, he still manages to leave Jesus as the first Christian, and founder of a religion. A truly radical view of the matter would be to finally come to grips with the fact that Jesus was no such thing.

To my taste Jesus was closer to Socrates, or Jiddhu Krishnamurti, when in his "Truth is a Pathless Land" speech in 1929, disbanded the "Order of the Rising Star." To my taste, that moment embodied the spirit of Jesus. With the historical trails Verhoeven follows, Jesus is effectively killed off as the spiritual teacher he was (as he is bound to be in this world), exactly because Verhoeven limits himself deliberately to talking only about the 30 years of Jesus's life on earth, and treating the three years of his ministry as an extension of that, and so, in focusing on the body, which Jesus taught was not the point, he once again kills the spirit of the teacher which was and is Jesus, something we are doomed to keep on doing as long as we make the ego system real.

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07.03.2013

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