Thursday, December 07, 2006

Verhoeven Jesus Movie notes: Spring '94

In my files I have a photocopy of material from the Spring '94 Jesus Seminar, apparently notes by filmmaker Paul Verhoeven on a Jesus screenplay he was developing at the time. Recently the director has begun mentioning the project again (probably because Mel Gibson's PASSION made messiah movies bankable), so I figure these notes might be of interest.


Paul Verhoeven - Cinema Seminar


Around the year 27 CE, John appears on the stage of history. According to one of the Gospel writers (Luke) he is a priestly family and may have had a Qumran or similar background (“Historical introduction to the N.T., R.M. Grant).
Hollenbach (“Social aspects of John the Baptiser’s preaching mission in the context of Palestinian Judaism") supposes that John was an alienated priest who, through some bitter experience (Kraeling “John the Baptist”) transformed himself into an "alienated profit of the apocalyptic cursing and blessing of God".

John starts to preach and baptize in Perea on the east bank of the Jordan. The choice of this location (Jordan, Desert) suggests prophetic intentions. When people would come to John they had to travel through the wilderness and across the Jordan (or vice versa) - symbolizing the journey from Egypt to the promised land (Webb: "John the baptist and prophet" page 364).
The baptismal act was probably accompanied by a confession of sins - sins that were forgiven by God, but de facto: by John - who apparently had a very healthy ego! The effect of John's message was that the people of Israel were divided into two groups. One, the true Israel, the holy remnant, would escape the quickly approaching judgment of God (and experience some restoration? John is never too clear about this, see Schillebeeckx "Jesus", page 106 Dutch edition). All the others, the "wicked", would be destroyed - clearly indicating the temple aristocracy, Antipas and even the Romans (Webb page 189-202).

John's baptism provided an alternative to the temple's sacrificial system as a means of forgiveness (Webb page 204-205). John in fact denied the temple aristocracy their claim to power and suggested their imminent removal from their position of authority. Because the temple rite was replaced, bypassed by John's baptism, we must view his preaching as a frontal attack on the temple (see also Schillebeeckx page 109). It was to this man that Jesus went (on his own? In the Gospel of the Nazoreans his mother and brothers intend to go too). He was struck by John's message and believed that God revealed truths through John (Hollenbach "the conversion of Jesus - From Jesus the baptizer to Jesus the healer"). Jesus’ baptism by John means that he identified with John's preaching and that he confessed his sins there and then. It also means that he saw in John an alternative to - and condemnation of - the temple. And that he was now waiting for the imminent arrival of the "expected figure" who would burn off the chaff (temple aristocracy etc.) and bring the wheat (the true remnant, now including Jesus) to the granary (Webb 288-303).

After the baptism most people would go back to their homes, reenacting the crossing of the purified through the desert and river into the promised land. Crossan (“Jesus, a revolutionary biography") points out that John was forming “a giant system of sanctified individuals, a huge web of apocalyptic expectations, a network of ticking time bombs all over the Jewish homeland" - a network that Jesus would use himself later when he started to preach his kingdom here and now.

At this moment however, Jesus becomes a disciple of the Baptist and makes friends with other disciples: Andrew, Peter, Philip, Nathaniel (Gospel of John 1:37-45. There were more: the "other" disciple, perhaps to be identified with the "rich youngster" of the secret Gospel of Mark; the “beloved” disciple: and of course women). His association with John, which included participating in his discipline of dieting, fasting and prayer, must have been quite substantial - later he had to justify his relationship with John (Hollenbach "Conversion of Jesus"). Also, the length of time that he stayed there should not be underestimated (Murphy O'Connor "John the Baptist and Jesus").

From John's Gospel it becomes apparent that Jesus somehow becomes a coworker or assistant to John (Hollenbach, Murphy O'Connor): in other words, his first lieutenant. Some passages in the same Gospel could suggest that Jesus began his own baptizing ministry, then separated from John, and even competed with him (John 3:26 "he is now baptizing and everybody is flocking to him", 4:1 "Jesus is recruiting and baptizing more disciples than John"). But it seems incredible that Jesus, who later held John in such high esteem, would have tried to set up a competing ministry. At this point in his life he believed that John was the mediator for God and what ever Jesus did was under the authority of John (the above-mentioned passages can be seen as the result of competition between the early Jesus movement and the still existing John-group, after the death of both their leaders).

Jesus, as John's lieutenant (and a relative of John's? Is that why John trusted him more than his other disciples?) is a very effective promoter - "publicist" – of John's case. He speaks to the people that come to see John: "why have you come out to the countryside? To see a reed shaken by the wind? To see a person dressed in soft clothes, like your rulers and powerful ones?" (Gospel of Thomas 78). Q reads here "what did you go out to see" which seems to put it more in the past, as if the conversation took place after John's death, when Jesus had already switched to the preaching of his "kingdom".

But the lines might have been spoken when Jesus was promoting the still living Baptist, contrasting the prophet with Antipas (Theissen argues that the reed points to Antipas because of first coins he was minting around 20 CE: on them was the image of a reed, "Gospels in context" page 30-39).
Jesus’ prominent position might also be deduced from Acts 18:25, where Luke talks about Apollos in Ephesus, who "was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus" and yet only "knew the baptism of John". Murphy O'Connor argues that this baptism was administered by Jesus when he was preaching John's baptism.

As time is running short John decides that more people need to hear his message. As he himself goes to Samaria (Aenon near Salim, "Shechem" in the heart of Samaria) he sends Jesus with some other disciples as his assistants to Judea (John 3:22, see Murphy O'Connor). In his immature enthusiasm Jesus also decides to go to Jerusalem (or perhaps John had asked him to do so, in order to prepare the way for his own arrival there?). In any case, when Jesus starts to present John's ideas in the temple he gets himself in serious trouble.

The temple was the largest employer in Jerusalem, and almost all the inhabitants of the city were indirectly dependent on it (especially when the temple was rebuilt from 20 BCE to 62 CE). Upper and lower classes profited from the status quo and would protect it (Theissen "Sociology of early Palestinian Christianity" page 52-54). John's preaching bypassed the temple however, and the imminent destruction by the "expected figure" seemed to include the destruction of the Temple.
Jesus, promoting John's case in the temple courtyard, announced the destruction of the building and to make his point he reversed some of the tables of the moneychangers. This was a (naïve) prophetic gesture, where Jesus tried to copy his master (desert, river crossing). As he had to defend himself in the following argument he pointed to (hid behind) the Baptist: "who gave you authority to do these things?". Answer: John the Baptist! (This is a "rabbinic" dispute: they will find the answer to their question by answering the counter question, see Boers "who was Jesus", page 42 - omitting Mark 11:31-33 as non-authentic. Also realize that 11:28 seems to follow seamlessly 11:18a, linking this dispute directly to the "cleansing", Schillebeecks page 110. In addition: in John's Gospel the "destruction" of the temple follows the "cleansing" immediately through a similar question "What miracle can you show us doing all this").

This polemic was probably highly disturbing to the audience, who were all dependent on the temple. It might've led to violent reactions and even to an attempt to stone Jesus (several passages in John's Gospel talk about stoning, i.e. 8:59 and 10:31). But Jesus and his "assistants" escape. They have to leave the city immediately. On their way back to the Baptist (John 10:39-40 reads "they tried to arrest him - he went away to the place across the Jordan where John first baptized") the news reaches them that John has been arrested by Antipas and was led to Machaerus.

The John group is confused, disillusioned. They start to scatter: Peter and Andrew go back to Galilee, some go back to Bethany. Jesus realizes that he might be the next target: he is the most prominent member of John's circle and his action in the temple got him notoriety. He hides in the Judean desert.

When we meet him again in Galilee, where he joins his former associates in Capernaum, he is changed radically.

Putting the "cleansing" and the arrest of John chronologically close together gives us the possibility of a powerful buildup to this change. There are now successive "disasters": first the failure in Jerusalem and on top of that the arrest of John. Both elements together push Jesus towards a non-apocalyptic vision, represented in the Kingdom of God "already there in action".

There might be an even stronger build up if, after the temple scene, Jesus had heard that John was executed instead of arrested. But in Matthew this is not the case: "when Jesus heard that John had been locked up he headed for Galilee" (4:12, immediately after the retreat in the desert). And later Matthew 14:13 "when Jesus got word of John's death he sailed away to an isolated place". This scene then leads immediately to the "feeding of the multitude". If we see the story of the feeding (Dodd "Founder of Christianity", page 131-134) as a cover story for an event that in reality was a political uprising we could argue that the anger and sorrow over John's death led to the rebellious sentiments.
We might then ask if the unique formation given in the Gospel of John that "they wanted to make Jesus King" was based on Jesus’ own personal performance for (at least partially) on the fact he'd been the most prominent of John's disciples.

Of course the chronology of Matthew could be false and Jesus might have gotten the news of John's death shortly after the temple scene. There might have been just a very short (and for John's disciples very confusing) period between the arrest and the arrival of this news. Or the arrest took place before Jesus went to Jerusalem (see my spring ‘93 paper "Proposal for sequence of events"). The rest might even have activated Jesus to go to Jerusalem. Was there a feeling that this was the beginning of the apocalyptic period foreseen by John? But the disaster in the temple and the death of John brought Jesus to the realization that there would not be any apocalyptic intervention by God.

If the temple scene is eliminated from the beginning of the passion it also eliminates the very convenient cause for Jesus arrest. Why then WAS Jesus arrested?

Crossan has suggested (personal conversation November ‘92) that the repeated presence of Bethany in all the Gospels (including Secret Mark) meant more than meets the eye. In my spring ‘93 paper I then focused on Lazarus, speculating that Lazarus was originally a disciple of John (if there is only one Bethany instead of two - see note at the end of this paper - John would've been working in the same place as letters live). Jesus befriends Lazarus and his sister(s). After the death of John, Lazarus falls into a post-Baptist depression (Crossan). Later, when Jesus has started his own ministry he renews the friendship and Lazarus becomes his disciple.

In that case I argued that the "resurrection of Lazarus" would be no more than a metaphor for psychological revival induced by Jesus and his new ideas. But this strikes me now as a too innocent explanation.

If the "miracle" of the feeding of the multitude is a cover story for a political uprising I would speculate here that the "miracle" of Lazarus is another cover for some (dangerous) political event.

In the Gospel of John (11:44-47) the "rising" of Lazarus results in a council meeting where the authorities plot to kill Jesus. In John 12:9 the same group "plans to put Lazarus to death, because of him many of the Judeans were defecting and believing in Jesus". Jesus seems to hesitate to go and visit Lazarus (he lingers two days at the Jordan, John 11:5). Later, when he is in Jericho after the miracle, he refuses to see Lazarus's sister (Secret Mark, between 10:48a 10:46b). And although John does not acknowledge any problem between Jesus and the Lazarus family (Jesus has a nice dinner with them sometime after the "miracle"). In mark that same scene is situated at the house of Simon the leper. (It's possible that "Secret Mark" originally read there "the house of the young man that Jesus raised" and was changed when the 46a/b passage was eliminated. My guess is however that John made the change to cover any problem between Jesus and the Lazarus family).

Free speculating now as a scriptwriter (and incited by a conversation with Crossan, January ‘94) I propose that Lazarus represented the militant wing among Jesus followers. Lazarus, like so many socio-religious revolutionaries through history, might have thought that the arrival of the kingdom had to be provoked by violent action. If Lazarus started out as a disciple of John, whose apocalyptic ideas already contained a period of destruction ("chaff in the fire") it's easy to see how this "abstract" punishment by God could be changed into active human participation in the punishment.

Lazarus could've been, in Jesus eyes, one of these men that "tried to enter/take the kingdom with violence", provoking the authorities into repressive action, first against Lazarus and ultimately against the leader of the group, Jesus himself. This would explain Jesus’s hesitancy to go to Bethany and also (as Sarah Winter pointed out to me, conversation January ‘94) the pretty extreme statement of the disciple Thomas when Jesus finally goes finally decides to go to Bethany: "let's go along too, so we can die with him" (if "him" is meant to be Lazarus here, that could certainly suggest that Thomas expected militant action - John 11:14 and 15).

Does the "raising" of Lazarus cover up for some specific event? Crossan suggested that Jesus might have gone to Bethany to restrain Lazarus, "cool him off". Did Jesus succeed in this confrontation ("fuming inwardly") with Lazarus? If not, that would explain why he avoided Lazarus's sister later on, why the authorities plot against Jesus (and Lazarus both), and why Jesus "withdraws to a region bordering the wilderness" - where he could hide in the many caves.

Another possibility is that the news that Lazarus's sister brings Jesus is that Lazarus is arrested ("he is sick"). Jesus hesitates to go to Bethany, but finally decides to find out what happened to his friend. Now compare the similarity between Secret Mark and Mark, describing Jesus’ death: "a great cry (apparently coming from the young man/Lazarus - in John changed to a cry coming from Jesus) - a tomb in the Garden - rolling the stone away" (see Crossan "Four Other Gospels" page 10 4-106: also conversation with Winter). Perhaps this indicates that Jesus, upon arrival in Bethany, heard that Lazarus was executed.

Jesus withdraws into the wilderness. Several months later, when things might've cooled off, he returns. Perhaps he was informed that the Sanhedrin has not been able to reach a verdict on him and that there is enough support in Jerusalem that he would be safe (Nicodemus's faction?). Or was the situation in Jerusalem still so dangerous that he could not enter the city openly? It does not seem too realistic to assume that the authorities feared to arrest him because of the crowds. His preaching in Jerusalem during daytime and going back to Bethany every evening could be a compression in the synoptics of the years before into one week. (John, who portrays Jesus is visiting Jerusalem several times before the passion, does not describe the going back and forward between Bethany and Jerusalem every day).

But during one night at least Jesus attends a secret meeting in Jerusalem (Mark 14:13-17 seems to point to preparations done in secrecy. John does not say that the supper is in Jerusalem. In fact in the chapter before Jesus is described as being "in hiding", 12:36). During the supper he is informed (probably by the "acquaintance of the high priest" of John 18:15) that the Romans and Temple police are preparing his arrest: Anna has decided to bypass the Sanhedrin and arrest Jesus in an undercover operation. At that point it must've become clear to Jesus that the secret gathering was betrayed. But it was not clear by whom. Perhaps they found out only months later that Judas was a traitor. The account where Judas is part of the arrest team seems strange. By making himself known as a traitor Judas would have set himself up for retaliation by the other disciples (who apparently were used to carrying swords). It is even possible that the disciples only found out that Judas was the traitor AFTER they had formed their circle of twelve. (That would in fact eliminate the argument that only Jesus can be the creator of the "twelve", as the early church would not have invented the embarrassing presence of Judas among them).

As Jesus tries to escape to Bethany he is arrested in an olivegrove called Gethsemane. (I don't think that he intended to go to Gethsemane, he wanted to go to Bethany, but the road to Bethany starts at Gethsemane).
There was a short fight. If Lazarus was still alive he could've been one of the men who resisted the arrest (and perhaps he got away, naked, as we read in Mark - also compare "naked" in Secret Mark). Or he and some others were arrested together with Jesus.

Within the next 12 hours all were crucified.

Note: the well known Bethany (1) is situated 2 miles east of Jerusalem. Another (2) is supposed to have existed about 20 miles east of Jerusalem, close to the Jordan: “All this took place in Bethany on the far side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing". This village has not been found, and is not described anywhere else.
In John 10:40 Jesus comes back to this place ("he went away once more, to the place across the Jordan where John had first baptized"-but here John "forgets" to mention the name of the place). In John 11:17 this leads to the amazing coincidence that Jesus, in order to visit Lazarus, now has to travel from Bethany (2) to Bethany (1).
Perhaps there was only one Bethany and Parker ("Bethany beyond Jordan" JBL 74, page 257-261" is right in translating the passage in John 1:28 as "all this happened in Bethany, across from the point on the Jordan where John had been baptizing".

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