(8f) Jesus Christ Superstar and an interpretation



I saw again some songs of the film “Jesus Christ Superstar”, a 1970 rock opera written by Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics). Although originally a musical for theatre, I really enjoy the film version of 1973 in which Ted Neeley stars as Jesus but certainly Carl Anderson who plays a black Judas and whose performance always moves me close to tears while there are also some bad guys in the leading roles. But the musical is not only about men as Yvonne Elliman plays Mary Magdalene. For me, this story comes close to what may have happened while others may strongly disagree and call it blasphemy.


Judas and Jesus 

The film starts with the cast arriving in the desert where they build a very basic stage as the surrounding land is the main stage. This is followed with one of the highlights of the movie that continues to impress me most: Judas sits high on a mountain top watching Jesus and his admirers and advising Jesus in the song Heaven on Their Minds to become again a normal human who talks less about God and being His son as that starts to attract too much the attention of the authorities while distracts Jesus from their original goal, i.e. to help the poor. Judas sings that the person Jesus begun to matter more than the things he stood for. The filming of this song is great with views from above and close-ups to show Judas’ emotions: the expression on his face and tension in his body when he advises Jesus and says he still supports his original teaching without the need to involve God while it seems Jesus no longer accepts Judas’ advise, making Judas even more angry. But often a person must become larger than the message so the message can be heard and spread or the person is crushed by opponents. Judas says he advises Jesus to calm down as the attention Jesus attracts from the authorities may one day cause their death, indication Judas doesn’t want that Jesus and his other friends die. And what does Jesus? He continues his life as a hippie who gathers a large crowd and becomes opposed by the establishment and some friends.

Still, the sadness is that Judas’ never stopping mind drives him crazy. He can no longer understand what Jesus does as he explains in the song Superstar. And while Judas’ first song mentions he wants to warn Jesus that the authorities may crush him if he continues preaching, in the end it is Judas himself who will destroy Jesus by betraying him to the authorities. After this, during a brief moment when Judas can again think clearly and realises that he will be responsible for his friend’s death, sorrows drive him mad whereby he curses God for having used him in such a terrible way and he commits suicide so the madness in his mind finally comes to an end. Such a tragic figure who started by wanting to do good to others but in the end, he condemned people for not doing it his way. But even today, how many people are not driven by words that start to live their own life in the person’s mind so people end up doing evil (or good) to others? Some religious preachers, and they can be found in every religion, don’t mind to intoxicate the mind of mad and innocent people such as children while preach forgiveness to criminals if they do evil for God while other preachers tell people to do good. Also, ordinary people’s hate towards another God and culture can drive people mad so they distance themselves and even want to use violence against people from other backgrounds even when they are peaceful (an example is extreme right where people don’t want to interact with people they don’t like, even before the terrorist attacks) while some non-religious people despise everything religious. While all we need to see is the actions of good and bad people. And because extremists preach hate and violence, more people start to listen to those of their own group who hate people from other cultures and start to fear even people who talk only moderately about their own religion. Then people may start to go to the police to talk about friends or family, just as Judas did with Jesus while some will feel guilty that they betrayed friends or family, certainly when the person was innocent while the betrayal may anger that person. Already people on planes speak to air marshals about what they believe is strange behaviour by certain passengers so these people are taken away for questioning. And thus, poor Judas, used by both Jesus and the High Priests. Both probably noticed he was not well and instead of calming him, they used him: The High Priests so Judas would betray Jesus who was becoming too popular and threatened their powers while Jesus abandoned him for Mary although maybe it became impossible to control Judas. And thus, people whose mind can’t stop sometimes need help such as medications or a psychiatrist. And while in the past there were prophets and important leaders and scientists, this will probably no longer be in the future when more people become involved in decision making (although the elite may try to stop this process) while most major discoveries are already done although the details still need answers. And indeed, many religious people acknowledge that the time of the prophets is over and thus kill everyone who dares to oppose them while they claim to wait for the saviour who may finish their powers to end fighting between religious groups. Still, tensions between non-religious and religious people may continue for another hundreds of years whereby people who oppose law and order may be those who oppose an all-knowing power (kind of God) while over the past centuries they often sided religious leaders who promised them protection as long as they empowered religion by controlling ordinary people (e.g. the interaction between the Italian mafia and Roman Catholic Church).

Involvement of Mary Magdalene

But it also seems that the presence of Mary Magdalene drives Judas further to his madness. Indeed, in the song I don’t know how to love him, Mary admits she loves Jesus but she isn’t sure how. What may you expect when a woman falls in love with a man who lived with 12 male friends? Later there is a confrontation between Mary, Jesus and Judas in which Judas blames Mary for wasting resources that could have been used to help the poor. Jesus sides Mary by telling Judas that what they wasted was insufficient to help every poor person while there will be poor people as long as society doesn’t act as a whole to help people out of poverty. Jesus also stays with the others when Judas leaves alone. This seems to have been the last straw and Judas betrays Jesus. Indeed, how many stories do not exist in which people betray the person they love because of jealousy and/or because of loneliness? Judas may have loved Jesus (he betrayed him with a kiss) and after Mary came, Jesus may have spent more time and attention to Mary than focus on the movement Judas and Jesus started to empower the poor and this may have angered Judas.

Conclusion

We will probably never know for sure but it is a great musical. However, as Judas sings in his last song, he became known and despised as the traitor of his friend while Jesus, although he didn’t write down a single word, became known all over the world as a good person who inspired many to be like him while others used him to rule. Compare Jesus with rulers such as president Assad from Syria, king Herod and many other kings in history who claim the right to rule their country, even when civilians reject them. The story describes that Jesus accepted that people no longer wanted him and instead of fighting to get power as many may expect from someone who considers himself king and son of God, it seems he accepted death, claiming future society will change sufficiently so his message of peace will be heard although it is also right when he says that many (but not all) powerful people find it difficult to share some of their powers and wealth with those who have nothing. And thus, I can’t understand that many people blame Jesus for the ills of a religion as he never killed anyone. Some people refer to the story where Jesus was angry in the Temple as a violent person, but this is similar with the Pussy Riot in Russia who protested in a cathedral in Russia against a church that supports a president who they consider to be a dictator. Still, did Jesus die on the cross or did he make up the story and did he survive the crucifixion (his legs where not broken as was customs while a spear can be used to hurt and not kill and some people saw him resurrected) after which he ran away with Mary to end a public life that may indeed have led to his death? Indeed, in that case Judas may have been an unwelcome person who may expose the scam and thus needed to be removed. Whatever, the short public life of Jesus and later of Mohammed changed the world as both had major consequences that are felt up to the current days. And thus, it is amazing how God, an invisible force, is such a powerful force that it can be used to change the direction of history, whether we believe in this God or not.


And although people can claim that the cast was racist because white actors played good people while a black man played Judas to suggest darkness, other bad people were also white, suggesting the actor Carl Anderson was chosen because he was good for the role. And it is with regret that I learned he died from leukaemia in 2004 at the age of only 58.

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