*** DEBUG END ***

Pawn in the game

21 April 2017


Conspiracy theorist: in Last Days Of Jesus (Channel 5, Good Friday), Simcha Jacobovici argued that Jesus was used in a power-game based in Rome

Conspiracy theorist: in Last Days Of Jesus (Channel 5, Good Friday), Simcha Jacobovici argued that Jesus was used in a power-game based in Rome

WHY did Jesus have to die? Good Friday TV offered two contrasting approaches to this central theme. The more substantial, and the more radical, was Last Days of Jesus (Channel 5). It was a curiously hybrid work, deriving its sensation from the political conspiracy theory of Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson.

Jacobovici in particular is ruthless in his attitude to the Gospels: their Holy Week narrative, he proclaims, does not make sense — but now he can offer us the key to unlock the mysteries that so irritate him. Why was Jesus not immediately arrested when he cleansed the Temple? How could the crowd turn against him in so short a time? Why was Pontius Pilate eager to release Jesus?

His answer is that the preacher from Nazareth is a pawn in a political power-game based in Rome. Emperor Tiberias allows the brilliant Sejanus virtual rule over the empire; Sejanus uses Herod Antipas as a useful ally for his ambition; Herod Antipas finds Jesus the ideal partner in his aspiration to rule Judaea: Jesus will neutralise the power of the Temple priesthood. Jesus’s followers, we know, included people high up in Antipas’s court.

These interlocking inter­ests stayed the hand of the priests and Pilate: Jesus was central to every­one’s future hopes. Only when Sejanus was executed did the whole house of cards collapse. Now Jesus was of no value to anyone who mattered, and he was crucified.

I have spelt out this farrago at ill-deserved length because, however far-fetched, it does encourage the serious questions we should ask. What appropriate kind of scrutiny should we apply to the Gospels?

Among other omissions, I was, as a former student of John Robinson, struck by the failure to address his thesis that the Fourth Gospel’s far more complex chronological narra­t­ive, in which Jesus visited Jerusa­lem several times, and cleansed the Temple at the outset of his ministry, might reflect a more accurate ac­­count than the Synoptics’ grand sweep of a single progress culminat­ing in the Holy City.

My overall impression was that those who put the programme together did not have the theological and scholarly expertise to handle the material.

Fern Britton’s Holy Land Journey (BBC1) was a far more orthodox account. She acknowledged the dis­crepancies between the Gospel ac­­counts, ascribed their writing to decades after the events they recount, and consulted archaeolo­gists and scholars; yet she explicitly stated that she would present her own version of a single chronology.

Academically thin, it was never­theless engaging and effective. By way of climax, she returned to a long-established tattoo parlour and had a small cross tattooed on her wrist. My irritation with this tawdry souvenir of a visit to Jerusalem sub­sided as I considered: how else should Good Friday affect us, if not to mark us with the sign of the cross?

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events


Church Times/RSCM: 

Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available


Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available


Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Church Times/Canterbury Press:

Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

Early bird tickets available



The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)