Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Rudolf Bultmann and Jesus Christ Superstar

I once preached a sermon called "Andrew Lloyd Weber, a Journalist and Three Guys called Jesus". I won't bother explaining the details, but it was an amusing introduction and it got the audience into the mood of asking "Who is Jesus?". The musical Jesus Christ Superstar is one my favourites. I cannot help but say that its opening song reminds me of Rudolf Bultmann. The song is called "Heaven on Their Minds".

My mind is clearer now.
At last all too well
I can see where we all soon will be.
If you strip away the myth from the man,
You will see where we all soon will be. Jesus!
You've started to believe
The things they say of you.
You really do believe
This talk of God is true.
And all the good you've done
Will soon get swept away.
You've begun to matter more
Than the things you say.

Listen Jesus I don't like what I see.
All I ask is that you listen to me.
And remember, I've been your right hand man all along.
You have set them all on fire.
They think they've found the new Messiah.
And they'll hurt you when they find they're wrong.

I remember when this whole thing began.
No talk of God then, we called you a man.
And believe me, my admiration for you hasn't died.
But every word you say today
Gets twisted 'round some other way.
And they'll hurt you if they think you've lied.
Nazareth, your famous son should have stayed a great unknown
Like his father carving wood He'd have made good.
Tables, chairs, and oaken chests would have suited Jesus best.
He'd have caused nobody harm; no one alarm.

Listen, Jesus, do you care for your race?
Don't you see we must keep in our place?
We are occupied; have you forgotten how put down we are?

I am frightened by the crowd.
For we are getting much too loud.
And they'll crush us if we go too far.
If they go too far....

Listen, Jesus, to the warning I give.
Please remember that I want us to live.
But it's sad to see our chances weakening with every hour.
All your followers are blind.
Too much heaven on their minds.
It was beautiful, but now it's sour.
Yes it's all gone sour.

Listen, Jesus, to the warning I give.
Please remember that I want us to live.
C'mon, c'mon
He won't listen to me ...
C'mon, c'mon
He won't listen to me ...

You've got alot of stuff here: Jesus never claimed to be the messiah, demythologizing, too much realized eschatology, a distorted oral tradition, a church more influenced by Hellenistic mystery cults than anything else. I can't help but think that if Tim Rice hadn't written the lyrics, Bultmann would have been a good fall back! I would love to teach a course on Jesus and Film one of these days - sounds like alot of fun. Now, I wonder what Myers and West will have to say on this topic?

Note I: before I embarked on a career in NT studies I always wanted to be a lyricist and write West End/Broadway musicals. Two things stopped me: first, the industry is very political and hard to break into; second, I cannot read or write music!

Note II: In the Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar in the early 90s, the part of Jesus was played by John Farnham and Herod by Angry Anderson (this will only make sense to Australians). During the song by Herod/Anderson. There is a point where Herod/Anderson stops mid-song (not in the Script), throws his hands in his face in frustration, and opines that: "He think's he's God!". The audience, myself included being the vehemently anti-Christian 19 year old I was at the time, responded with an eruption of laughter - Jesus claimed to be God, what a silly man he must have been! Perhaps I shall blog on Jesus as God sometime soon.


Jim said...

I must protest, loudly, your misspelling of Bultmann's first name. He isn't a reindeer. It's Rudolf. RUDOLF. That's F not PH.


Whew, I feel better.

Michael F. Bird said...

Sorry Jim, it's late and I'm half way through my second glass of cheap Chilean red-wine (I wish I had some Aussie Wolf Blass)

Jim said...

I forgive you.

James Crossley said...

Angry Anderson?!?!?! As in '...every part of me wants to know every part of you...' and the Neighbours wedding of Kylie and Jason. I bet you never expected me to know that (Angry's song actually charted in this country to be fair)

James Crossley said...

And John 'You're the voice' Farnham!

Ben Myers said...

In response to this post, Mike, I can only say what Karl Barth once said to Bultmann: "You naughty man."

Anyhow, nothing could be less Bultmannian than the lines: "If you strip away the myth from the man, You will see where we all soon will be."

In contrast, Bultmann thinks that by "stripping away the myth" we will see something absolutely singular and unique and unrepeatable: the revelation of God!