Historical Context

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 517

The Biblical Story of Jesus
The story as told in the play Jesus Christ Superstar follows fairly closely what is known about the life and times of the historical Jesus. Jesus a rabbi whose father apparently was a carpenter, worked for a time in that trade as well before developing a ministry based on loving one’s enemy and a more holistic attachment to God than simply complying with religious law. Jesus went out to preach to the people rather than wait for them to come to him in a temple, as did most other rabbis of the time. It is speculated that Jesus was a member of the Pharisees, a progressive, democratic Jewish sect that interpreted the Torah more liberally than did the more conservative Sadducees. Jesus preached mostly in Galilee and apparently took the rather dangerous step of going into Jerusalem to preach as well, as the play delineates. Here he met with more difficult adversaries than he had in Galilee, with Jewish leaders who considered his teachings controversial and with Romans who feared a rebellious uprising. Jesus may have been a ‘‘marked man’’ in the sense that there were those who wanted to remove this threat to the authority of the Romans and the Pharisees, the high priests of the Jewish community. Knowing that he would not be suffered to live and preach much longer, he held a farewell meal on the eve of Passover and was arrested in the garden of Gesthemene by Roman soldiers. Jewish authorities first tried him, found him guilty of high treason (for pretending to be the Messiah, although there is no evidence that Jesus made this claim), and sent him to Pilate for execution. Nothing was recorded of him for the first forty years after his death, then the letters of the Apostle Paul (a Hellenized Jew born after the death of Jesus who introduced Christianity to the Greeks) refer to his ministry. The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) probably written after the Pauline letters, tell slightly conflicting stories, but essentially also confirm the existence of a rabbi named Jesus who was crucified under Roman law.

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The Theatrical ‘‘Happenings’’ of the 1960s and 1970s
Theater in the 1960s and 1970s was, to use the parlance of the time, a ‘‘happening,’’ a word that implied energy, spectacle, and significance. Beginning with Hair in 1967, nudity and shocking language would become commonplace in the theater, and audiences came to expect to be shocked and challenged as well as entertained. That Jesus Christ Superstar (1971) committed the sacrilege of conflating religion with Broadway spectacle was almost par for the course, as was its celebration of the hippie style, a style that valued the personal expression of uniqueness and freedom. There was a movement toward less formality as well as fusion with other art forms. This was experimental theater, often entailing audience participation, anachronistic costuming and props, and extending the stage to the larger world. Thus the combination of rock music with ancient, biblical themes in Jesus Christ Superstar, although completely unique in itself, was consistent with the prevailing mood of the theater.

Literary Style

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 780

Rock Opera
Tommy (1969), hailed as the world’s first rock opera, broke with the tradition of the musical stage production by incorporating rock music into the classical opera genre. Tommy, an album released by The Who, told through its songs the story of a deaf mute who becomes a guru because of his pinball skill. The album was an immediate success, and was soon transformed into a live stage production that The Who took on a worldwide live tour, during which they recorded Tommy Live in front of recordbreaking audiences. They also produced a film version, directed...

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Teaching Guide