Comments on Jesus Christ Superstar
by Tony McQuilkin
- Mary Magdalene is first described in the NT as one of whom
Jesus had cured of seven demons (Luke
8.2). She is more prominent in JCSS than
in the passion narratives in the NT. However, she is considered the first
witness to the resurrection to Christ (John
20.11-18), and as such has a high
place in Christian hagiography. In hymns written before the 12th
century, an otherwise unqualified reference to "Mary" probably
referred to her. She has a more prominent place in the hagiography of the
eastern churches, where she ranks as the equal of an apostle, than in the
- In JCSS her character is combined with three others from the NT:  Mary of
Bethany, who anoints Jesus with costly ointment (John
12.1-8);  an unnamed
woman who anoints Jesus with costly ointment, and is called a "sinner"
7.36-50); and  the woman caught in adultery that is brought to
Jesus for judgment (John 8.3-11). By her association with  and , she
has long been considered a prostitute; indeed, the name "Magdalene" is
used as a term for a reformed prostitute.
- In JCSS she is the only significant female character; in the NT passion
narratives, there are others that are probably more prominent, including Mary
and Martha of Bethany, and Christ's own Mother.
- Joseph, called Caiaphas, was high priest from c. ad 18 to
36, when he was deposed by Vitellius, governor of Syria. He was son-in-law to Annas,
according to John
18.13. Annas, or Ananos, was high priest from ad 6 until
ad 15. Five of his sons, and Caiaphas, his son-in-law, were high priest at one time
or another. For most of the year the high priest was just like any other priest,
although he was nominal president of the priesthood, and was president of the Sanhedrin,
or council, consisting of the leading priests and Pharisees. Only on the Day of
Atonement (Yom Kippur) would the high priest have any special priestly
duties: on that day he wore the high priestly vestments, and he alone entered
the Holy of Holies, the innermost chamber of the temple, to present the
sacrifices for himself and for all the people.
- According to the OT, the high priest would serve for life. But in NT times
the Roman procurator appointed the high priest and kept his vestments locked up,
and brought them out only on the Day of Atonement.
- Annas may have been regarded by the Jews as the "real" high priest,
even though Caiaphas performed all the ceremonial duties. Or, Annas may have
been the "power behind the throne", with Caiaphas acting as his
- In the Gospel according to John, after his arrest, Jesus is first taken to
Annas. The gospel writer mentions that Annas was father-in-law to "Caiaphas,
who was high priest that year." Then Jesus is interrogated by Annas, who is
referred to as the high priest. Annas then sends him bound to Caiaphas, and then
- The Pharisees and the chief priests plot against Jesus (John
26.1-5, Mark 14.1-2,
22.1-2) fearing that his popularity
could lead to a rebellion which the Romans would crush, destroying both the
temple and indeed the nation. Caiaphas declares, "You know nothing at all!
You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the
people than to have the whole nation destroyed." And, John continues: He
did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that
Jesus was about to die for the nation . . . .
- Hosanna is the English version of the Hebrew with the
approximate meaning of "save us, we beseech thee." This, with the
waving of palms, was the reception given by Judas Maccabaeus after he forced the
Syrians out of Jerusalem in bc 164. (This event is commemorated in the Jewish
festival of Hanukkah; cf. 2 Maccabees
10.1-8 and 1
Maccabees 4:42-59.) This eventually led to an
independent Jewish state, which was eventually taken over by Rome.
Understandably, the priests feared that Jesus might be planning to be proclaimed
king, and lead a revolt against Rome, which the Romans were likely to crush.
- Jesus cleanses the temple of those who were taking undue
advantage of their position. In theory, one could bring in a bird or animal for
sacrifice in the temple bought anywhere, in the temple, or outside the temple.
But if it was bought outside, the priests would have to inspect it, because the
law required only an animal "without blemish" for sacrifice. Somehow,
the priests always seemed to find a blemish on anything brought into the temple
from outside. So the worshiper had to buy from the priests in the temple, at
around 20 times the outside price. The market in the temple was called the
"bazaar of Annas", because his family controlled most of the sale of
animals in the temple. Naturally, Annas and his family would not be well
disposed to Jesus' action in driving out those who bought and sold in the
- Herod Antipas was tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, and was
the ablest son of Herod the King, who figures in the birth narrative of Jesus (Matthew
2.1-19). He was married to the daughter of the Nabataean king Aretas
IV, but divorced her to marry his brother Philip's wife Herodias. For that he
was denounced by John the Baptist. Subsequently Herodias persuaded Herod to have
John beheaded. At one point Jesus refers to Herod as "that fox" (Lk
13.31). Herod's Song in JCSS is a dramatization of Jesus' trial before him (Lk
23.6-12). In ad 36 Aretas made war on Herod, and Herod was heavily defeated.
According to Josephus, many regarded Herod's defeat as divine retribution for
his execution of John. In ad 39, Herod was denounced by his nephew Herod Agrippa
to the emperor Caligula, and was deposed.
- Herod Archelaus was Herod Antipas's older brother and was ethnarch of Judea
and Samaria from the death of his father (probably in BC
4). He was the worst of
Herod's sons, and his rule was so repressive that a deputation of Jews and
Samaritans went to Rome to ask Caesar Augustus to remove him, which he did in ad
6. (There is an allusion to this event in Luke
19.14.) Thereafter Judea was made
a Roman province governed by procurators, who had full powers of life and death.
- Pontius Pilate was appointed fifth procurator of Judea by
Tiberius Caesar in ad 26. Although Pilate is mentioned by secular historians, he
is known mainly from the NT and by his being mentioned in the Christian creeds,
a fact alluded to in "Pilate's Dream" in JCSS. At the trials of Jesus,
he seems to perceive that Jesus is not guilty of any capital offense, but, if he
does not give in to the priests and the crowd, he will lose control. So first he
tries to pass him off to Herod, and then to release him, but finally he washes
his hands and gives sentence of death.
- Pilate's dream may be based on the NT record of the dream of Pilate's wife: When
[Pilate] was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, have
nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a
dream because of him. (Matthew
27.19) But Pilate's dream is out of
sequence, coming in JCSS before he comes to the judgment seat.
- Simon Peter is always mentioned first in the list of the
apostles. As Jesus predicted, he denies him three times, although the timing of
the denials is compressed for dramatic effect in JCSS. According to Luke (22.54-62), after the third denial, Jesus looked at Peter, and then Peter wept
bitterly. In JCSS, Peter tries to rationalize his denials, and only Mary is
beginning to realize Jesus' significance.
- Simon Zelotes may have been a member of the Jewish school
called Zealots, (originally, Cananaeans), or he may have been a
"zealot" in the sense of "eager enthusiast". The party of
Zealots maintained that paying any tribute to Rome, or to any heathen ruler, was
treason against God. They maintained resistance to Rome until the Jewish War of ad
66-73, when the temple was destroyed. The portrayal of Simon in JCSS, then,
is consistent with the ideals of the Zealots.
- The other apostles seem overly ambitious and worldly, but
our impression of them is from all of history, particularly the NT book of the
Acts of the Apostles, not just from the passion narratives. And the brothers
James and John asked to be seated at Jesus' right and left hand when he came
into his power. (Mark 10.35-45 and
- The thirty-nine lashes was the most that were given by the
Jews. According to the OT, in Deuteronomy
25.3, the maximum was forty. But,
since this was taken as a divine limit, in case they miscounted, they would stop
at 39. Pilate is either observing Jewish custom, or he has had enough at 39. St
Paul (2 Cor
11.24) reports having suffered this punishment five times. The
flogging was sometimes fatal.
- Christians believe that Jesus was both fully man and fully God. One of the
problems of Christology is the relationship of the human and
divine in Christ. For instance, what limitations could he have had if he were
divine, yet, being human, he was therefore limited in some way. The writers of
JCSS emphasize the human Christ, perhaps at the expense of, and possibly to the
exclusion of the divine: in JCSS Jesus is tired, angry, has doubts, and even
seems to despair of the purpose of his mission.
- Abbreviations: JCSS = Jesus Christ Superstar; OT =
Old Testament, NT = New Testament
- References: The chief references are the passion narratives
of Jesus, found in the four New Testatment gospels: Matthew
Luke 22-23, and John
18-19, with additional material taken from other parts of
the gospel narratives. I have consulted the following works as well.
- Deen, Edith, All the Women of the Bible, New York: Harper and
- Lockyer, Herbert, All the Men of the Bible, Grand Rapids, MI:
Zondervan Publishing House, 1958.
- The New Bible Commentary: Revised, Edited by D. Guthrie and J. A.
Motyer, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1953, 1970.
- The New Bible Dictionary, Organizing Editor J. D. Douglas, Grand
Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962.
- For further information, please consult the passion narratives in the New
Testament, as indicated above. It is our sincere hope that you enjoy this
production of Jesus Christ Superstar, and that you will want to learn
more about Jesus. For that, you can read the four gospels in the New Testament,
which are written "so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the
Christ, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his