How much do you know about Jesus’s crucifixion? There was Jesus nailed to a big wooden cross next to two criminals also being crucified . . . right? According to Julian Doyle, editor of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, this common conception might be far from the truth.
By re-examining the four Gospels’ narratives of the days leading up to and after Jesus’ death, Doyle argues that the Monty Python comedy classic might have got more right than anyone – including the group themselves – thought. Although Doyle’s erratic writing and often ill-supported claims to this point do little to make a convincing argument, there are some genuinely interesting points along the way that make for an amusing journey.
While light-hearted and often downright funny in tone, Doyle’s writing is both difficult to follow and illogical in its progression. In his introduction, Doyle assures the reader that there will be none of the distracting footnotes or alienating jargon that tend to be used in biblical scholarship. Fair enough – a more colloquial biblical analysis might be more readable and gain a larger audience than more academic books receive. However, in so doing Doyle also creates a problematic sentiment of derision towards academics – often implying they are silly and close-minded – which only hurts his own credibility.
Furthermore, he could have seriously benefited from a lesson in academic essay-writing. Doyle’s attempt to make the book read like a mystery novel means it is incredibly difficult to follow his points as they are being made. He cites evidence from the Bible and other contemporaneous sources, but it is often impossible to see how they help support whatever point he is trying to make. Chapters of hugely inconsistent lengths follow one another with no idea as to where they’re heading; the reader is asked to keep a thousand bits of information in his head as they waits for Doyle to come to some sort of conclusion.
Sincerely interesting points, such as the fact that wood was probably a highly valued commodity in Roman Jerusalem and yet there were supposedly thousands of crucifixions taking place, lead nowhere. By the time the conclusions are made, the steps to get there are so confused that it is unclear whether there is any validity to them.
A more insidious problem at the heart of Doyle’s analysis is his inability to decide whether or not he is taking biblical evidence as pertaining to fact. He treats the testimonies of the Gospel writers as “eyewitness accounts” of Jesus’ crucifixion, all the while laughing at what ridiculous and unbelievable claims they are making. Perhaps Doyle’s own confused theology has bled into his book, because his position towards Christianity in general is indecipherable.
A note to the publisher must also be made. The copyeditor, if there was one, seems to have given up after about page 30, leading to sentences with such incomprehensible punctuation as to make them almost meaningless. The strange collection of blurbs that litter the front and back cover also make it a tiresome effort to figure out what this book is even about.
Crucifixion’s A Doddle is a disappointment, as some truly fascinating claims are given such poor presentation. Doyle’s book is not without merit, but it is one to skip.
Crucifixion’s A Doddle by Julian Doyle (Clink Street Publishing 2016)
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