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The 12

Imagine what it was like on that first Good Friday, after Jesus was crucified. In this world premiere adaptation that both follows and takes liberties with the New Testament version of events, Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan (book and lyrics) and award-winning composer Neil Berg (music and lyrics) focus on the chaos among the disciples, as they sort out their fears and beliefs.

The eleven disciples
The eleven disciples
Photo: Jennifer M. Koskinen
The world-class production team, which opened this show on Good Friday, April 23rd, 2015, has crafted an impressive spectacle, featuring a compelling cast of actors/singers/musicians, a beautifully hewn second-floor room (alluding to the Passover proceedings of the evening before and Leonardo's famous depiction thereof), and a smokin' band hanging out in the attic.

Jeannette Bayardelle as Mother
Jeannette Bayardelle as Mother
Photo: Jennifer M. Koskinen
The contentions among the eleven remaining followers—Judas is dead—plus Mary Magdalene (Christina Sajous) and Mother (Jeannette Bayardelle) fuel the story, as catchy rock anthems, ballads, and gospel-infused paeans provide an insistent, and at times, plaintive beat.

Vocal performances are solid all-around, topped off by Bayardelle's and Sajous' spiritual numbers and Pete's (Colin Hanlon) and Tom's (Tony Vincent) alternately thoughtful and argumentative counterpoints.

Colin Hanlon as Pete
Colin Hanlon as Pete
Photo: Jennifer M. Koskinen
Yet, despite all these standout elements, the book is filled with a questionable series of choices that resurrect old antagonisms which have largely been dismissed by scholars (the Jesus Seminar and archeologists) and even the Roman Catholic Church.

This debunking comes out of necessity, given the heavy-handed editing and misdirection of events performed by Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon (3rd Century), the Council of Nicaea (4th Century), and others who preceeded them in inventing miracles and blaming the Jews for the crucifixion, in order to re-brand and market a growing and pesky movement to the masses of the Holy Roman Empire, and to control them thereby.1 If Jesus had actually blasphemed, as the New Testament claims (by way of the Pharisees and Sadducees), he would have been stoned to death, according to Judaic religious law at the time.2 Crucifixion was the Roman punishment for sedition, and Jesus was clearly opposed to and active against the occupation of Judea by Rome.3 New archeological evidence speaks to this point directly.4

Cast of The 12
Cast of The 12
Photo: Jennifer M. Koskinen
While most of this subversive storyline been scrubbed from the New Testament, the testaments of the other apostles, which escaped burning during the nascent Church's various anti-heresy campaigns—that is, the Gnostic Gospels (found in the late 1940's at Nag Hammadi) and the Dead Sea Scrolls (found at Qumran in the early '50's)—tell a different story. Thus, Schenkkan's choice to follow the New Testament's version of events continues the anti-Semitic objectives of Constantine's Church, which led directly to forced conversions, burnings at the stake, torture, inquisitions, pogroms, and the Holocaust.

Christina Sajous as Mary Magdalene
Christina Sajous as Mary Magdalene
Photo: Jennifer M. Koskinen
Also in the unedited versions, we see a noticeably more practical set of teachings, including an altogether different portrait of Mary Magdalene, whom Schenkkan chooses to portray as a prostitute. The Church's excoriation of Magdalene is pitiful. In 591 AD, Pope Gregory pinned the label of penitent prostitute on her, though there are no references anywhere that confirm she was ever such. Pope Gregory's outrageous position (consider the prostitutes who catered to many popes as well as the prostitution of the popes to money and power) was finally reversed by the Catholic Church nearly 1400 years later, in 1969. Schenkkan's choice to exhume this shameful point-of-view is a disservice to anyone seeking a clearer view of the relationships between Jesus, Magdalene, and the disciples, as well as to women everywhere, who have been abused by the patriarchy of the Church and men in general, partially as a direct result of these scurrilous charges.

Tony Vincent as Tom
Tony Vincent as Tom
Photo: Jennifer M. Koskinen
Given that both Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar follow the same error-riddled storyline, one would think it time to break new ground in separating Jesus' exemplary teachings from those who would manipulate them for their own gain. Sadly, The 12 shows itself unwilling to question dogma and explore the potential of refreshing the core values of the prophet; or, as George Bernard Shaw put it, "Christianity might be a good thing if anyone ever tried it."

Denver Center Theatre Company's world premiere of Robert Schenkkan and Neil Berg's The 12 runs through April 26th. For tickets: 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.

Bob Bows

Footnotes:
1 "As we reviewed the evidence, it seemed to us that the traditional 'history' of Christianity was nothing less than the greatest cover-up of all time. Christianity's original Gnostic doctrines and its true origins in the Pagan Mysteries had been ruthlessly suppressed by the mass destruction of the evidence and the creation of a false history to suit the political purposes of the Roman Church. All those who questioned the official history were simply persecuted out of existence until there was no one left to dispute it." Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries, Three Rivers Press, New York, 1999, p. 249.

2 Jesus was respectful of Jewish law. In a two page letter to the Sanhedrin (unearthed at the Temple Mount in 1961), Jesus clearly explains that his remark on being "the son of G-d," was not blasphemous because he did not mean it literally or physically, but metaphorically in the way that everyone is a child of God. This is the smoking gun that finally and irrefutably invalidates the Roman Church's dogma that Jesus was singularly Divine. Michael Baigent, The Jesus Papers, HarperSanFrancisco, 2006.

3 "The notion that the Jews were somehow responsible as a people for the death of Jesus had now become and accepted part of the Christian tradition. Time had obliterated the fact that the early Christians were Jews, that Jesus himself was a Jew. And time had obliterated any consciousness that the Crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans was the response of Rome to a defiance of its authority." Abba Eban, Heritage—Civilization and the Jews, Summit Books, New York, 1984, p. 118.

4 Michael Baigent, Op cit.

 

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