Very few people who devote their lives to studying the historical Jesus actually want to find a Jesus who is completely removed from our own time. What people want … is relevance.
-Bart D. Ehrman, “Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium”
I don’t think anything’s ever shaped my creative sensibilities moreso than the Holy Bible.
I get that it’s very douchey to open a post on a Bryan Fuller fansite by talking about myself and my creativity, but it’s an important thing to nail down. I could not, by any stretch of the imagination, say that I AGREE with the Bible and its holy Word, but to suggest it was an irrelevant influence would be a bold faced lie. Of course, even that comes with its caveats considering my massive obsession with Gnosticism and other Biblical apocrypha: the number of times I poured over one of my favorite books, the Book of Enoch, is certainly a testament (ha) to that. The Bible, the apocrypha, Gnosticism. Despite all being so different, they were very much the same to me. I intellectually understood that these were all separate works and all slaved to different, incompatible interpretations.
And I’m not really sure why, even all these years later, it enraptured me so much. Sure, it’s all very compelling literature, but not actually believing in it doesn’t give you very much of a reason to be as obsessed as I’d become in my teen years. But the Word of God, along with the Marquis de Sade (because obviously), had become my own personal Bible is a very different way. I didn’t want or expect it to be the key to the universe the sciences were, but I did see it as a key to unlocking a more personal universe. I don’t think it ever quite worked out that way, which still bothers me today.
I never read American Gods, though you’d think I would have. Now that the show’s out, I’ve decided to wait until it’s over to check out the book. It’s interesting to me how much Shadow Moon, as much as he’s Gaiman’s character, just FEELS like he’s born of Fuller’s cloth. He’s the same kind of isolationist as nearly other Fuller hero, though with a much different cultural context. David Slade’s direction inevitably draws up Hannibal comparisons, and Fuller and Green’s writing definitely leans into that kind of visual, symbolic storytelling but at a much higher scale. But it’s Shadow’s reservation that manages to ground all of it, keeping everything human no matter how divine things become.
Of course, gods were always human in their foibles, hopes, and dreams in ancient mythologies AND the Bible, so that comparison is pretty dumb. But it works anyway, and it’s my article, so we’re sticking with it.
I always liked Gnostic Jesus the most. It’s easy to praise the Gospel of Judas as being an eye opener, particularly since National Geographic had been so keen to push it as the unknown, amazing FIFTH Gospel (which even then I knew was bullshit because of the book’s Gnostic origins), but I’m not sure there’s ever been a more beautiful literary work to me than Jesus’s one on one with Judas Iscariot during the Last Supper. I’m going to cop to the sentimentality of the Gospel of Judas being so formative to my sensibilities on this one, to justify my immense love for the easiest apostle to call one’s favorite, but Judas speaks so much to why Jesus is ostensibly so heroic. Not only does he take the pain of death and sacrifice himself for the sins of all mankind while promising a greater world, he also blesses and gives thanks to the necessary evils of the world. There’s something kind of beautiful about that, to me.
But I have an appreciation for the canonical Jesus. Most agree, rightfully, that there was never a portrayal done better than the one done in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew. It’s, beat for beat, a completely accurate portrayal of the Gospel of Matthew without a single bit of artistic license. Just Jesus as he was, or as Matthew says he was (and we’re taking his word for it, for better or worse). But I find this film to be the proper, “canonical” Jesus in my head largely because of its authorship. Pasolini was gay, an atheist, and a communist, but he portrayed Jesus in film better than anyone else ever had or have since his film. Besides the fact that Pasolini felt a “nostalgia for belief” and thus wanted to portray the story as it had been portrayed to him in its ideals as a child, there’s also an amusing level of autobiography to the film. Besides casting his own mother as the Virgin Mary, which is still hilarious to me, Pasolini deeply related to Jesus as both were liberal iconoclasts seeking to make great social change. There honestly isn’t that huge a divide as we might like to think between the ideas Pasolini represented and the stories the Gospel told.
I’d implore anyone watching (or reading/rereading) American Gods to give The Gospel According to St. Matthew a watch. Besides being a beautiful film, it falls in perfect line, thematically, with the respect and examination Fuller and Green are giving us with their interpretation of Neil Gaiman’s novel. It’s a powerful film that allows Jesus to be seen as the great literary and inspiring figure he can be when seen correctly: free of biases and full of a gorgeous human empathy. We could use a bit more of that in the world.
Also, and this is unrelated, but Pasolini also did a movie where God took the form of a human man who drifted his way into a rich, elitist family and bonded with all of them in a way that made them realize the hollow emptiness of their existence. He is implied to have sex with all of them, both male and female, and their bourgeois emptiness causes them to go insane without the presence of God’s purpose and love, a love they cannot get from any other human being…not even their own family. It’s called Teorema and if we could somehow work this in as an episode of American Gods, that’d be super.
Man. I can’t wait for the season finale. That’s a Jesus I’m ready to write about.