sat 20/04/2019

The Bible: A History, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

The Bible: A History, Channel 4

The Bible: A History, Channel 4

Gerry Adams is 'sometimes in tune with the Jesus message. Sometimes not'

Turn the other cheek? The gospel according to Gerry Adams was recounted in 'The Bible: A History'

For six years from 1988, when Sinn Fein was banned from direct broadcasting, Gerry Adams could be seen on television, but not heard. Instead, actors would read his words while his lips soundlessly moved. What would the architects of that ban have said if they’d been told that one day the political face of the Provisional IRA would be given an hour on television to make a programme about Christ? "Jesus wept?" "He’s got a bloody cheek?"

We already know what the Daily Mail has said. Adams has been paid 10 grand for his participation in The Bible: A History, and do they not like that. In this series, Channel 4 has given the floor to a variety of disparate presenters to explore some aspect or other of the Good Book. Scattered among them are the usual controversialists of every stripe – Howard Jacobson and Ann Widdecombe have had their say. But Adams? This is a man not known for turning the other cheek, for loving his enemy. How on earth would he square the teachings of Jesus with his old day job? He still calls it armed action. In Enniskillen and elsewhere they call it blowing up defenceless civilians.

We found him in prayer. In Long Kesh he was one of the more devout prisoners. “My friends describe me as staunch Catholic,” he volunteered, and we watched him gazing up at Celtic crosses, inspecting the oldest-known copy of St Mark’s gospel, communing with the Irish landscape. But the meat of the film was a trip to the Holy Land. Superficially this was a biography of a prophet who emerged from Roman-occupied Judaea and inspired four separate accounts of his life. How much we can trust those versions of events, or the historical testimony of Josephus, was a question that brought Adams into contact with experts – one Catholic priest and, interestingly, two Brits.

One of them took him to a recently excavated first-century tomb in Jerusalem. The idea was to imagine the kind of tight hole in the ground from which Christ rose after three days. “It’s going to be cramped,” Adams was warned as he prepared to enter. “Well, Sinn Fein used to be an underground movement,” he joked. After a short double take, the British architect giggled nervously. Adams slithered in so that only his legs were sticking out. Any resemblance to Saddam Hussein in his hidey-hole was entirely coincidental.

The same legs took a dip in the Sea of Galilee, and the River Jordan. Adams even donned a kippah. But any suggestion that he went native in his researches had the shimmer of illusion. This was the journey of a true solipsist. Everywhere he looked, Adams saw his own martyrdom reflected back at him. The wall slicing through the West Bank “cuts off Palestinians from the land they love and own”. Jesus was “a freedom fighter” who was “murdered”. And so on. You can take the man out of Ireland.

And maybe they shouldn’t have bothered. The film had of course nothing new to report about Christ. It will be remembered for the manner in which Adams answered the key questions linking faith and political conviction. He made much of his role in the peace process – only last month his contribution to the Good Friday Agreement was dramatised in Mo. The surprise was that, although Northern Ireland has overwhelmingly been seen as a sectarian conflict, he did not seek to defend his actions on religious grounds.

He followed the message of Jesus, he explained, “by my own lights”. He shifted in his seat, as if intuiting the phrase’s inadequacy. “But let’s not get carried away with any of this,” he continued. “My religious values are private.” Which slightly begs the question of why he allowed himself to be filmed at prayer, but hey. “Obviously they have influenced my political thinking. Sometimes in tune with the Jesus message. Sometimes not.” He held his interviewer’s gaze. When it comes to the teachings of Christ, Adams is an iTunes man: he doesn’t get the whole album; he just buys his favourite tracks.

The good news is that he thoroughly buys into the doctrine of forgiveness. “Bad things have been done to me,” he explained. “I have forgiven those who did it.” Less mention of bad things he may have done unto others. Did he have blood on his hands? “No I don’t. I feel I have done my best.” Did he repent? “I would love that there had been another way... I regret very much that anyone was ever hurt.” “Regrettable”,  you’ll recall, was the word he used whenever an IRA bomb filled a few more graves.

The marvellous thing about Jesus, the former mouthpiece of a terrorist organisation concluded, is in “the way he mixes with all the wrong people, the way he sets out rules for life. He knows we’re not perfect so he gives us another chance, and another chance.” Jesus loves me, in other words. Put that in your pipe-bomb and smoke it.

When it comes to the teachings of Christ, Adams is an iTunes man: he doesn’t get the whole album; he just buys his favourite tracks

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Hi Jasper, Really interesting post. This series has generated a great deal of discussion amongst viewers in recent weeks, and in light of this, Channel 4 are hosting an upcoming public discussion – The Bible: A History – that’s taking place at the British Library in London next month - for more details and to register to come along please see the Channel 4 TV Show blog - http://bit.ly/chHkEO Best wishes Anna

"Adams explores how Jesus's core message - that of love, forgiveness and advocacy of non-violence - has affected him" Is this Channel Four's latest attempt at alternative comedy?

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