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Headscratchers / Jesus Christ Superstar

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  • I've never understood why everyone's all "Oh my gosh, Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him!!! How did he know???" It's not like Judas had been running around for the entire musical up to that point talking about how dangerous Jesus' actions are, and how it's gotta stop now before the Romans get mad, and dude someone's gotta stop Jesus...
    • I think their surprise was more of just being shocked that he was capable of stabbing his friend in the back.
      • This is in fact what Judas says. "Cut out the dramatics — you know very well who."
    • Depending upon the production, they're often depicted as the best of friends, and it's not so much "someone's gotta stop Jesus" as it is "Dude, you're in way over your head!"
    • Also, it's one thing for a disciple and friend to say that things were getting dangerous and something had to be done before things went too far, and another for that disciple and friend to actually stab Jesus in the back by betraying him! That's a pretty big line to cross and it's likely none of the other apostles thought Judas would betray their rabbi and friend!
  • Two things I've never gotten... First, Mary Magdalene saying to Peter: "It's what he told us you would do/ I wonder how he knew" when she wasn't present for his prediction that Peter would deny him thrice. Second, Judas making numerous references to how badly they have beaten Jesus before they actually hurt him.
    • I'm pretty sure by the time we see Judas in that scene Jesus is already lying in his cell looking pretty battered up. Though that might only be in the 2000 version
    • Some productions correct this by featuring her at the Last Supper, and the priests' lyrics hint at a conveniently off screen pre-beating beating.
      • To be fair, the Bible doesn't say she WASN'T present, either. Some sources even say she was an apostle toonote .
    • Occam's Razor: at some point in between the Last Supper and the denial, Peter came to Mary off-screen and told her a variation of 'can you believe what Christ told me? He said I'll deny him three times!'
  • Why does Judas say "If you'd come today you could have reached the whole nation/Israel in 4 B.C. had no mass communication"? B.C. literally means Before Christ, so this story, about Jesus Christ, obviously took place after 4 B.C.
    • Because the song refers, not to the moment when Christ died, but when he was born and arrived on Earth. The authors have Shown Their Work, because most scholars agree that Jesus Christ was born at some point between 6 B.C. and 4 B.C. (if the Biblical narrative is to make sense, given that, according to our chronology, Herod the Great -he of the massacre of the innocents- died in the year 4 B.C. Matthew and Luke both wrote that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great, which means that, in that case, Christ would have had to be born in the year 4 B.C. or before).
  • "We have no law/ to put a man to death." You know except for the part where Judaism totally does have the death penalty: Four different types of execution, actually, with the type of execution being determined by the crime committed. Also, one of the crimes for which there is the death penalty is false prophesy, which, haven't you already convicted Jesus of that? Seriously, what's going on here?
    • They are under Roman occupation and answers to Roman law and court. Not doing so would be... unwise.
      • When Roman authority was lacking for a short period there was a whole swathe of executions.
    • That line was based off of a similar line in the Gospel of John. The author(s) of the Gospel of John may not have been well-acquainted with Jewish law.
    • Early in Jewish legal doctrine, scholars took to maintaining such stringent demands on the evidence required to actually enforce capital punishment that people were rarely, if ever, executed. In the first century CE, it was generally agreed that "a Sanhedrin [the Kangaroo Court Caiaphas presides over in the musical] that puts a man to death once in every seven years is called destructive", with some scholars arguing that the limit was more like seventy years.
  • Why do the priest insist that Judas take the "blood money" when he was willing to betray Jesus for free?
    • It's not unheard of, both in fiction and Real Life, that a spy/traitor/whatever gets paid even against their will, either as a mean to share the guilt or to partly wash the other person's hands or simply not to owe them anything. There's at least a small amount of leverage if some time later that person comes back asking for a reward and you reply 'we've already paid you.'
      • The payment also matched the lowest prescribed price for a human being.
    • There's also the fact that Judas isn't necessarily saying "you don't have to give me anything for betraying him"; it's more that he's saying "I don't want you to give me anything for betraying him". It's a subtle difference, but it's there. Judas is essentially trying to absolve himself of any guilt for what he's about to do, which would mean it's the priests that would ultimately hold the blame. By forcing him to take the money, they're basically forcing him to accept that he's just as responsible for what will happen as they are. It's also why they don't let him give the money back later.
  • For the most part, the musical does a pretty good job at keeping the divinity of Jesus ambiguous. All of his famous miracles happen before the narrative starts (except the resurrection and the ascension, which happen after), leaving it up to the viewer to decide if they really happened or if they are just tricks and rumors. However, there is one thing for which I can't think of a non-supernatural explanation. How did Jesus know that Peter would deny him *exactly* three times?
    • To be fair, that can also have a non-miraculous explanation, although YMMV on how far-fetched that would be. Jesus knew Peter well enough to predict the way he'd react in an interrogation, so maybe he just, correctly, assumed Peter would be asked about it and he'd deny having any connection to Jesus. The whole 'I knew you would/wouldn't do it' trope (is it a trope?) has been done to death, and arguably it happens a lot in real life as well (e.g., a mother applies reverse psychology to get her kids to do the dishes, as she knows how they'll respond to it).
    • The 1973 movie has a small moment that gives credence to this. In that movie's rendition of the Last Supper, not only does Peter say "No! Not me!" upon hearing the prediction but he says it before Jesus can even finish the prediction!
  • Judas repeatedly emphasizes that he feels Jesus has lost track of his original message and is starting to believe his own hype and divinity. So what, in his view, actually was this original message?
    • This is another instance where the writers have Shown Their Work. A good portion of Jesus' teachings are relatively secular in nature, as in, they don't directly invoke any religion at all, but appeal to an inherent goodness in everyone. In fact, some scholars point out that Jesus never meant to start a new religion, and was sent merely to guide the Chosen People of God, away from the Old Covenant and into a New one. In any case, it's possible to see Jesus' actions as a general appeal to kindness (feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, etc.) without any mention of his divinity. This is precisely what Judas sees as his "original message", and the whole point of Heaven on Their Minds is him saying "This is cool and all, but people are calling you God and you're not stopping them and that's going to bring down some trouble". In his view, the underlying message of Jesus was merely one of kindness, not one of complete religious overhauling.
  • Caiaphas and the other priests worry that if Jesus' followers launch a rebellion, Rome will retaliate by crushing Judea. Later, we see a mob of Judeans intimidating and manipulating Pontius Pilate, a Roman official. So, which is it? Are the Romans a ruthless occupying force that will smash Judea for any insubordination, or weak leaders seeking to pacify their subjects out of fear?
    • Both. The Romans are a government, and governments have to walk a fine line when it comes to dissent, because the people outnumber law enforcement, and killing or imprisoning lots of dissenters, while effective in the short term, means you have fewer subjects. Pilate could put down the mob with violence, but why would he do all that over one guy who, frankly, is kind of a problem for Rome, anyway? It doesn't help that Jesus does nothing to speak in his own defense: Pilate gets frustrated with Jesus' answers and eventually says good riddance to Jesus and his obvious death wish. This is also a case of Shown Their Work (including quoting directly at points from John 18).
    • It's not exactly unheard of for a strict ruling regime to be faced with a potentially devastating (for them) uprising. Likewise, it's not unheard of for said uprising to be brutally quashed when and if said regime gets their act together enough to stop it. It's a simple matter of numbers in any given situation: Pilate is just one Roman facing down an increasingly hysterical and violent crowd with (depending on the production) relatively little backup. However the Romans overall clearly have the upper hand in the relationship. It's probably worth keeping in mind that there was a Jewish rebellion against the Romans that took place not long after the crucifixion and...well, let's just say it didn't exactly succeed in overthrowing the Romans...
    • The Roman Empire has enough troops to brutally crush any Judean uprising (and indeed did so during the Jewish–Roman Wars that started only a few decades after Jesus's death). Pontius Pilate, the prefect of Judea, doesn't. If Judea rebels, there is a pretty good chance that Pilate will be killed by the mob, and even if he escapes he will be disgraced and his political career will come to an end. The fact that afterwards the Roman emperor will send in his legions to deal with Judea is cold comfort.


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