Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1250
The father-in-law of Caiaphas, Annas is a high priest ready for action. His warning that Christ’s ‘‘half-witted fans will get out of control’’ (a phrase that could as easily apply to rock fans as apostles) has the desired effect on Caiaphas, convincing him to arrange the killing of this new radical religious leader, as he did John the Baptist. Annas reassures the distraught Judas that he has done the right thing by turning Jesus in; since the mob turned against Jesus, it seems clear to Annas that Judas had ‘‘backed the right horse.’’ The moral implications of Judas’s act seem lost on Annas.
Caiaphas is the High Priest of the Pharisees, or Jewish priests. He wants to get rid of Jesus, in fear that the Romans will punish all Jews for the ruckus caused by Christ’s followers. The Jews are in a precarious relationship with Rome; the priests have to tread a middle road between pleasing the Roman government and guiding their own people by upholding Jewish law and tradition. Caiaphas cannot afford to have Jesus erode his authority with a new religion. Therefore, he decides to eliminate this new leader around whom the Jews are ‘‘foolishly’’ assembling.
The Jesus of this rock opera is as much a rock idol as he is a religious leader. He exudes peace, proclaims peace, lives peace, but is otherwise a rather human ‘‘son of God,’’ since he has human doubts. Jesus displays human emotion on several occasions: irritation at his apostles for their unceasing demands on him, anger at the merchants and moneylenders in the temple, and genuine fear and doubt just before his execution. The spell he casts over his followers comes partly from his pure simplicity and partly from their desire to adore him, make him the object of their piety; they seem to miss his point that devotion is due to God, not to him. One of his characteristic gestures is to stroke the cheek of his admirers, and his calm even in the face of Judas’s anger is both inspirational and otherworldly, and, to Judas and Pilate, exasperating. It is his purity which prevents Jesus from recognizing that the precariousness of his political position (he is a threat to the Romans and Pharisees), more than the religious ideals he represents, that leads to his downfall. On top of his purity is another characteristic: his Superstar quality. Jesus is not just a man, but a ‘‘happening,’’ an event, a center of power around which the apostles and devout followers revolve.
Mary is a former prostitute who has joined the band of apostles and wives and serves Jesus. In fact, her attraction to him is more than platonic; it is also the same kind of physical attraction with which she is very familiar, and yet, the combination of these attractions, along with her awe of this holy man, make her afraid of her own feelings, as she describes them in her song, ‘‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him.’’ Of all of Christ’s followers, Mary best understands his need to stay ‘‘calm’’ and unworried, to take time for himself and to pace himself so that he will not break down under the demands of the crowd. She is empathetic to Peter, too, even when he betrays Jesus as predicted. Mary is the female embodiment of Christ’s message of love and acceptance. She gives the impression that, even more than the work of the apostles, it will be those with her faith in Jesus the man that will fuel the survival of Christianity.
The male apostles follow Jesus and sing a song that indicates their awareness that they could gain a kind of immortality from their association with this leader, ‘‘so they’ll all talk about us when we die.’’ They get caught up in the atmosphere of adoration, dancing and singing, not noticing that Jesus does not want such excessive devotion. The apostles seem to love the Jesus ‘‘happening’’ more than the man, although they protest their loyalty when Christ confronts them at the last supper. They also love their wine, drunkenly falling asleep just when Jesus needs them most, rousing briefly when the Roman Guard arrests him but easily talked out of fighting the guards when Jesus tells them to put away their swords.
Merchants and Moneylenders
These take over the temple to sell their wares and are dismissed by an uncharacteristically angry Jesus.
The Maid’s grandfather is the third to accuse Peter of association with Jesus, prompting Peter’s third denial.
Peter is a loyal apostle who considers ridiculous Christ’s prediction that he will betray him three times. But he does exactly as Jesus predicts, and when Mary points this out to him, Peter defends himself, saying that he had to lie to protect himself. However, Peter realizes the harm he has done to their cause, and he wants to turn back time, giving him a chance to protect his leader instead. He sings with Mary Magdalene ‘‘Could We Start Again Please?’’
Pilate is the Roman Governor to whom Jesus is first brought for punishment by the Jews, and who refuses to appease the crowd, due at least in part to a dream he has had portending his own incrimination if he does. He defers by sending Jesus on to King Herod instead, on the grounds that only Herod, as King of Galilee, has the authority to condemn a Galilean to death. When the Pharisees’ guards bring Jesus to Pilate for the second time, Pilate reluctantly has the young zealot flogged, as a measure to appease a crowd that could easily turn against him. Pilate endeavors to elicit any kind of concession from Christ, attempting to find an excuse to dismiss him unharmed. Pilate recognizes that he is contending not with Jesus but with the crowd demanding a crucifixion. Jesus does not play into Pilate’s game; Pilate’s anger gets the best of him, and he condemns Christ to die on the cross, fulfilling his prophetic dream.
The Priests are the Pharisees, who perch like vultures on the stark improvised scaffolding that serves as their temple. They are the council convened by Caiaphas to decide what to do about ‘‘Jesusmania,’’ which threatens the entire Jewish community, for the Romans do not make distinctions within the group and would punish all Jews for Christ’s actions.
The Roman Soldier recognizes Peter as a friend of Christ’s and prompts Peter’s second denial.
The stage manager sees to the unloading of props and trunks of costumes and gets the band of young actors ready to produce the play, which seems to be produced as much for their own sakes as for the viewing pleasure of the audience.
Simon’s surname Zealotes comes from the Greek word ‘‘zeal,’’ meaning enthusiastic devotion. It is Simon’s ‘‘zealous’’ goal to urge the Jesus cult to revolt against Rome. He tells Jesus to turn the mass of followers against Rome so that the Jews can accomplish ousting the Romans, as well as establishing their new religion. ‘‘There must be over fifty thousand,’’ he tells Jesus, ‘‘and everyone of fifty thousand / would do whatever you tell him to.’’ Simon shows himself quick to battle in the encounter of the Last Supper, but when Jesus tells him to put away his sword, he obediently does so.