Plain Jesus: The events on Nisan 14
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THE thesis of this unusual book is that on 14 Nisan Jesus was
crucified. On the previous evening, he had had supper with his
disciples, at which the only significant event was that he washed
their feet. Jesus saw himself as a servant, in accordance with
Isaiah 42, quoted at the baptism of Jesus.
The companions of Jesus (whom the author calls "the servant
persuasion") took as their manual of discipline the traditions that
were within 20 years assembled in the Didache. The "pith"
of this training manual was that the companionsof Jesus should be
gentle, long-suffering, harmless, and good. Saul persecuted
Then Saul met the risen Lord. As Jesus had been killed on the
day of the sacrifice of the Passover lambs, Paul excogitated two
ideas: "the repugnant idea that God planned the death of his son in
cold blood" as a sacrifice; and that Jesus had been the Messiah.
Paul spread these ideas energetically, still persecuting the
companions of Jesus, and now also everything to do with
The trouble was that he had a chip on his shoulder because he
had never met the historical Jesus or witnessed any of his life; so
he scorned the original companionsof Jesus as simple folk. Paul
could afford to be highly inventive and economical with the truth.
His interpretation was later taken up and perpetuated by the
The book is written in a cheerful and informal style, with
plenty of homely examples - "left-handed leg-spinners", training
raw recruits how to use a rifle. The author selects facts at
random, on the grounds that "scholars with all their learning
cannot agree", with occasional reference to established as well as
less well-known scholars.
Even the message that the book intends to convey is shrouded in
over-confidence, so that the ramifications of the central import
become clear only halfway through.
Fr Henry Wansbrough OSB is a monk of Ampleforth, emeritus
Master of St Benet's Hall, Oxford, and a member of the Pontifical