In his latest colum on National Review Online, John O'Sullivan (the former editor of the "dead tree" edition of the magazine, as they put it) ponders Pontius Pilate. (Guess why the subject came up.) At the end, he has this bit:
"We can be reasonably sure, however, of the falsity of Anatole France's cynical little story in which Pilate in retirement is asked if he recalls a crucified Jewish carpenter called Christ and has no memory of Him."
Can we be sure of that? With all due respect to Mr. O'Sullivan, I take France's position here. Even if we take the Gospels as representing a historical truth- or even the historical truth- which, fortunately, I'm under no obligation to do- I don't see how France would be wrong.
A relevant quote:
Pilate: Centurion! Do we have many...cwwwwuuucifixions scheduled for today?
Centurion: Oh, yes, my liege. One hundred and forty-nine, sir. Big day, sir. Passover, sir.
Pilate: Well, now we have one hundred fifty. Nice round number, eh?
As much as Christians may like to believe it, the whole Jesus thing was likely a flash in the pan at the time, and for a number of decades later. Then he got good PR men to take over.
As the quote indicates, I'm leading to an obvious area: Monty Python! My long-awaited (well, for a few days) DVDs came yesterday, and among them is the troupe's masterpiece, The Life of Brian. Appropriately enough, I think I'll watch them on Purim.
But there's a serious point here: One paper, I think the Daily News, commented regarding the opening of Mel Gibson's "Passion" that The Life of Brian gives a much more accurate historical picture. And they're right. Hundreds of prophets, messiahs, zealots, and assorted loons and hangers-on are running around Jerusalem. One is Jesus, another is Brian (a point missed by the movie's critics- including another National Review personality, William F. Buckley- back when it was released). Who's to say one was any more noticed than another? And even though even Python stresses Jesus's larger and more serious following, who's to say they're right?
Come to think, I've got more to say about National Review (which is, I hasten to add, one of my favorite magazines- I've subscribed for years- and websites) and its Christianity/Catholicism, but that's for another time.