The Pythons' Gonzo Gospel

Jesus never had a chance
By STEPHEN SCHIFF  |  October 5, 2009
monty-python-pompous-main
A Pompous Pilate -- with all of Judea in turmoil about him, Michael Palin (right), as Pontius Pilate, remains his usual oblique and mostly oblivious self, secure in the believe that his trusted aide--portayed by John Cleese (left) will see him through whatever lies ahead.

This article originally appeared in theOct 2, 1979 issue of the Boston Phoenix.

The scene is familiar: the vast blue sky, the expanses of sand, and, atop a distant hill, Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Mount to a rapt throng. But on the fringes of the crowd, His listeners behave like rowdies at a rock concert, yelling at one another and brawling until no one can hear the Savior's words. What's that He said? Blessed are the cheesemakers? "It's not meant to be taken literally," advises a well-to-do bystander. "Obviously it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products." But didn't He just say, "Blessed are the Greek?" No, no, it was the meek. "Oh, that's nice," comments a motherly type. "I'm glad they're getting something, 'cause they have a hell of a time." A few yards away, a sinister band of revolutionaries known as the Peoples' Front of Judea shake their heads. "What Jesus blatantly fails to appreciate is that it is the meek who are the problem," one insists. In fact, Jesus doesn't seem to be getting through to anybody. Even a beggar He's cured scarcely acknowledges the miracle. "One minute I'm a leper with a trade, next moment my livelihood's gone," he complains. "My family has been in begging for six generations. I mean, you try waving muscular, suntanned limbs in people's faces demanding compassion. It's a bloody disaster!" 

MONTY PYTHON'S LIFE OF BRIAN | Directed by Terry Jones. Written by and starring Jones, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, and Terry Gilliam | At the Paris, the Academy and in the suburbs.

If this gonzo gospel--the gospel according to Monty Python--bears a message, it's that Jesus never had a chance. No matter what He said or did, He was doomed to be misunderstood--and how could it be otherwise? Messiahs may come and go, but the folks whose salvation lies in their hands will forever be hopeless twits. The geeks shall inherit the earth; pettiness, cowardice, and self-interest make the planet go round, always have and always will. Indeed, though Monty Python's Life of Brian (originally titled Jesus Christ--Lust for Glory) is set in Judea, AD 33--on a Saturday afternoon at about tea time--it depicts a world that's as unlikely to respond to wisdom from on high as our own. The similarity doesn't end there. In Pythonland, revolutionary groups--whose leaders have names like Reg and Stan--bicker over feminist issues, such as the right of men to bear children. Bored housewives gather to watch a public stoning as if it were a primitive Let's Make a Deal. Pontius Pilate delivers pronouncements in an Elmer Fudd accent that keeps his subjects in stitches. And in the Roman amphitheater, artherosclerotic gladiators chase Samaritans in circles while vendors hawk larks' tongues, ocelot spleens, and other delicacies.

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  Topics: Flashbacks , Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, Jerry Lewis,  More more >
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    The scene is familiar: the vast blue sky, the expanses of sand, and, atop a distant hill, Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Mount to a rapt throng. But on the fringes of the crowd, His listeners behave like rowdies at a rock concert, yelling at one another and brawling until no one can hear the Savior's words. What's that He said? Blessed are the cheesemakers?

 See all articles by: STEPHEN SCHIFF