Just this week I finished reading Jesus and Brian: Exploring the Historical Jesus and His Times via Monty Python's Life of Brian. As mentioned before, I was at the conference, so I was interested to see if it captured the serious-but-lighthearted feel of the live presentations. It did. I enjoyed this book about as much as any I have read recently. At times it's hilarious and at times it's penetrating. Here are some random thoughts I had after finishing it. (I'm not at all trying to write a formal review.)
First, I'm not sure that it was designed to be this way, but this book would make for an excellent textbook in a Jesus and Gospels class. The chapters are short and thus able to be read quickly. It's a Who's Who of Jesus studies, so you often get big-name scholars addressing their pet topics in a very accessible, and often funny, way. I laughed out loud reading Crossley's chapter, Levine's chapter, and several others. From the perspective of classroom use of the book, I was particularly impressed with Steve Mason's chapter, which gives something of a short overview of his theory on the Jewish war with Rome. He argues that it wasn't really about Jewish hostility toward Rome (that is, Second Temple Jews weren't, in general, all that anti-Roman) but Rome's ineptness in dealing with inter-ethnic hostilities in the Palestinian regions (specifically Jewish and Samaritan hostilities). This is a snapshot of his new monograph, but it essentially rehearses almost every major socio-political event in the Second Temple Period leading up to the war and provides a unified narrative for it all, a narrative that, to some extent, makes every effort to show all the exceptions that unified narratives usually cannot show.
Second, it was interesting to see how many of the scholars brought up the Palin/Cleese "debate" with the Bishop of Southwark and Malcolm Muggeridge as well as the Not the Nine O'Clock News parody of the debate. Burridge's chapter addresses it in depth, but many of the other authors also felt the need to defend Palin and Cleese and point out the ridiculous nature of their interlocutors' comments. Of course, this is right. Their interlocutors' comments were ridiculous. But I couldn't help but wonder if some historical Jesus scholars feel a particular kinship with Palin and Cleese for having also suffered attacks and misunderstandings by ecclesiastical figures.
Third, the book has a tremendous amount of diversity in terms of topics and methods. Ehrman takes steps into memory theory. Levine addresses sexuality and gender. Burridge addresses ecclesial issues. Telford addresses Jesus films. Brooke address the Teacher of Righteousness. Stiebel addresses archaeology. Mason, as mentioned, addresses socio-political upheaval. Taylor addresses reception exegesis. Bond addresses crucifixion. Reinhartz addresses Jewish identity. In one of the most interesting chapters, Katie Turner addresses how some Second Temple Jews dressed. All of this happens with tie-ins to Life of Brian, multiple quotations of the movie, and not a few F bombs. Indeed, I think this book probably wins the award for most F bombs I've read in an academic book, all well-placed.
In short, not only is this book extremely insightful and easy to read, it's actually fun to read. Given how boring some books about Jesus can be, that's an accomplishment that editor Joan Taylor can hang her hat on! Don't forget to sign up to win a copy here.