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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.

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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.

Jesus Christ
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 Magdalene
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.

Male Apostles
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...

(The entire section contains 1250 words.)

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Critical Essays