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Jesus hath joined ThyFace
jesus on thyface
A new Gospel hath been vouchsafed unto us... in the form of Jesus on ThyFace, a book published just in time for Christmas. It features the full cast of the four Gospels, plus Geoff the Leper and the Whore of Babylon, all of them posting happily on their ThyFace pages. The UK authors, Denise Haskew and Steve Parker, started with the line "Lazarus hath changed his status to risen" and worked from there. Simon Jenkins, who has reviewed the book here, talked to them about how it came to pass.
Briefly, how would you describe Jesus on ThyFace?

Steve Parker: The book is a retelling of the Gospels using extracts from Jesus's social networking pages. We found this an incredibly flexible format, allowing us to develop humorous themes over several pages, while at the same time using 1st century AD adverts in the same way as someone might use cartoons. But it is the profile elements of the ThyFace pages that enable a real economy of humour.

For instance, in Satan's profile, one of his friends is L Ron Hubbard. That allows us to offend 8 million people with a single photograph and caption. But probably the most economical gag is Satan's URL. We originally put in abandonallhope.com as a holding line until we could come up with something amusing. In the end, we decided simply to change the ".com" to ".fr", enabling us to offend 60 million people using just two letters. You don't find that kind of economy in most humour formats.

What's your own experience of Christianity and the church? Good, bad...?

Denise Haskew: Sometimes just storm clouds when we attempt to enter, at other times, full-blown thunder and lightning and the distant strains of Carmina Burana.

Jesus on Thyface is very clued up on the details of the story of JC. How come?

SP: We've been doing a lot of research for a serious book on Herod the Great, possibly the greatest character in history Shakespeare didn't write a tragedy about. When you research a subject like that, you tend to get clued up on early church history, including some of the more esoteric ideas that have arisen from the Dead Sea Scrolls, and this has inevitably contributed a bit of the depth that we wouldn't necessarily put into a typical Christmas gift book.

Can you talk us through how you developed the comedy of the characters? For example, Jesus is something of a straight man while the disciples crack jokes he doesn't quite get.

DH: It's true that he doesn't always get the jokes, or doesn't always acknowledge them, but in the Gospels, the misunderstandings go both ways.

Here's the typical scenario: 1) Jesus preaches a sermon; 2) everyone listens attentively, waiting for him to stop talking and start healing/performing miracles; 3) Jesus retires with the apostles, where they reveal they didn't understand the sermon at all. 4) Jesus sighs and tries to explain it again in words of one syllable.

This scenario has a lot of comic potential and was the starting point as we worked on the Jesus/apostles relationship. Some of them had obvious starting points for their characters, of course: Thomas's scepticism, Simon Zelotes' aggressive streak, Judas's online gambling addiction. We trawled through various apocryphal works trying to get the merest hint of a suggestion of a character trait to help flesh them out.

Do you think Jesus had a sense of humour?

SP: We're convinced that on a few occasions he must have muttered, "Blessed are thou" with more than a hint of irony. And who could deliver a line like, "Get thee behind me, Satan," to a mate without a twinkle in his eye?

That said, you could hardly say that a sense of humour was his overriding character trait. He's clearly not very "street" in the way we've written him, which is why he doesn't always get the more earthy humour of some of the apostles. But Jesus aside, there are plenty of funny bits in the Gospels: when Peter tries to walk on water and sinks like a stone, that's comedy genius right there.

Inevitably, some Christians (maybe a lot, come to think of it!) aren't going to like the book very much. Does that bother you?

DH: One of the elements that makes the Gospels fascinating dramatically is that the protagonists and antagonists are claiming the same ideological ground. As Jesus is preaching from the same scriptures as the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the dramatic tension doesn't come from the conflict between religion and godlessness, but between two extremely different interpretations of the same theology.

When you tour the Vatican today, you don't see anything that reflects the natural ideological evolution of Jesus and his mission; instead, you see something that looks uncannily like the gold-encrusted Sadducee temple. When you hear Pat Robertson or Sarah Palin talking about moral issues, you don't hear echoes of Jesus, you hear the strains of a Pharisee lecture.

There are Christians who think just as Jesus is portrayed as thinking in the Gospels. But there are far more Christians who think like the Sadducees and Pharisees. It's the Sadducees and Pharisees who are going to be offended by this book. And no, that doesn't bother us.

Christians often complain how they're an easy target for comedy and how jokes about Islam would be a much tougher gig. Any thoughts on that?

SP: We're currently working on a follow-up book, Muhammad: A Life in Pictures.

Jesus on ThyFace is available on Amazon
denise haskew
steve parker
Above: the book's authors, Denise Haskew and Steve Parker. Below: Order your copy of Jesus on Thyface.
cover of the book jesus on thyface
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