Monty Python's film Life of Brian is known for its brilliant satirical humour. Less well known is that the film contains references to what was, at the time of its release, cutting edge biblical scholarship and life of Jesus research.
Professor Joan Taylor of King’s College London will present a public lecture on how the film can be used to explore the historical Jesus, at the University of Auckland on Wednesday, 27 April.
Titled "Jesus and Brian: Exploring the Historical Jesus and His Times via Monty Python’s Life of Brian" the lecture will focus on the conference, ‘Jesus and Brian’, held at King’s College London in June 2014. The conference was a chance to discuss the historical Jesus as a Jew who needed to be understood within the context of his time. The film is used as a means of focusing on key themes, and Professor Taylor will particularly consider the Brian character.
"The references to Jesus through Brian are quite subtle; for example, his insistence on being Jewish ties in with the scholarly insistence that Jesus was a Jew," Professor Taylor says.
"That was very much key stuff in the 1970s. But the main point is that Brian is not Jesus - he is mistaken for a Messiah when he is an ordinary guy. The real Messiah exists but people misunderstand him and complain about him."
The lecture is based on parts of the book of the same name Professor Taylor edited and had published by Bloomsbury last year. The book is a compilation of essays from foremost scholars of the historical Jesus and first century Judaea, all of whom enthusiastically gave papers at the conference. The collection opens up the Life of Brian to renewed investigation and uses the film to reflect on the historical Jesus and his times. The book also features a preface from Terry Jones, who not only directed the film, but also played Brian's mum.
The book was created after Professor Taylor organised the conference to which both Terry Jones and John Cleese came and spoke about the film.
"They were incredibly interested, down to earth and gracious. John Cleese gave an after dinner conference speech that was absolutely hilarious, but he has a very serious side as well," Professor Taylor says.
"He's very interested in questions of life and death, and meaning, and wanted a proper discussion. They were both really amazed and pleased that a bunch of historians and biblical scholars could use the film in creative and appreciative ways."
Professor Taylor completed a BA in English Literature at the University of Auckland.
"I was not remotely interested in the study of Theology at that time but I was really interested in spiritualties and religious ideas. I got interested in studying things properly after my OE, during which I visited Israel-Palestine."
She undertook a PhD in early Christian history and archaeology at New College, Edinburgh University, after studying Theology and Religion at Otago University. Formerly at Waikato University, she has taught at King’s College London since 2009.
The Life of Brian opened in cinemas in 1979 but Professor Taylor did not see it until 1985.
"My mind was changed about the film when a group of Catholic seminarians I knew when I was studying Theology in Dunedin insisted I came along to a screening in town."
"It was not at all sending up Jesus - which was what I had anticipated given the media storm - but sending up the world he lived in, with much aimed at British society in the 1970s too."
Find more details on the Jesus and Brian lecture.
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