I have just finished reading Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Four Parts, and something has been bugging me the whole time. Adams' introduction to both the first and fourth books in the series includes this statement:

“And then, on Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change...”

This struck me as a particularly anti-Semitic, vapid sort of viewpoint, because essentially Adams is saying the reason for Jesus' execution was His teaching that we should be “nice to people for a change...” This portrays the executors as either grotesquely unfair, or the most bitter, twisted people in history.

For surely to carry out a ghastly execution on a human being for such a ridiculous statement is an indication of the executors' hatred for niceness, as indeed the linking of this statement and it's apparent consequence by Adams seems to indicate. Surely that man, Jesus, had something far more incendiary to say than, “let's be nice to people for a change.” Perhaps something worth hating? Perhaps His real statements appeared to tear at the very fabric of the Jewish nation, piercing the heart and soul of all their expectations and beliefs, shattering their hopes and generally raising their hackles? You may think I'm being too hard on Adams for his over-simplification, but I think a quick dip into the biographies of Jesus justifies this.

For hundreds of years, the words of the Jewish prophet, Isaiah, had been read in Synagogues full of expectant, or perhaps tiring followers of Yahweh. One day, in His home town, after returning from making quite a splash in Galilee, Jesus read these words from the scroll of Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
      to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
   and recovering of sight to the blind,
      to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
   to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.

Source: Luke 4:18-19 (quoting Isaiah 61:1-2)

Sounds pretty good right? Maybe even Marvin the terminally depressed robot would have been excited.

The Israelites of that time were in a pretty sticky situation. A foreign army was occupying their land and oppressing them with heavy taxes for an Emperor they had never seen. A long, long time before, God had promised their second king, David, that one of his offspring would sit on the throne of God's people for eternity—a king, a Messiah—and yet now, they were being ruled by a Roman king, thousands of miles away. The Israelites weren't waiting for the Great White Handkerchief, or the reappearance of Zarquon, they were waiting for their eternal king.

And now, a local boy, Jesus, stood in the synagogue in Nazareth and read those words from Isaiah. But what He did next was amazing. He said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” and then sat down to teach. Jesus, this boy who grew up in Nazareth, was claiming to be the long awaited King.

Furthermore, the Bible itself shows that being nice had nothing to do with Jesus' death. After He had said this, all the people were furious. Luke's biography tells us they drove Jesus out to the brow of the hill on which the town was built in order to throw Him off the cliff! Clearly He had offended them.

He made other outrageous claims as well. Like the Vogons suddenly appearing and announcing that Earth was being demolished to make way for a hyper-space bypass, turning the world upside-down in panic and probably anger. Jesus declared that if the leaders of the Jewish community would destroy the Temple, He would raise it again in three days. This was a shocking suggestion. The Temple was at the centre of Jewish life, it was literally the house of God, and it had taken them forty-six years to build. But what Jesus was really saying was even more astounding. Jesus wasn't talking about the structure that stood on the Mount of Zion in Jerusalem; He was talking about His own body. And when the leaders of the Jewish community did succeed in having His “temple” destroyed, He did raise it up after three days.

Surely it was because of these outrageous claims that the leaders of the Jewish community succeeded in having Jesus killed. His real claims struck at the heart of their religion, the identity of their nation. Surely this was what raised their hackles; rather than some wimpy, clichéd plea that we “all be nice to people for a change.” This over-simplification of the real issues is inaccurate not only because it makes a mockery of Jesus' death, but it is strangely unfair to His prosecutors and those seeking His death. They may not have truly understood His mission, but they understood Him a lot better than Douglas Adams. Jesus was not saying we should be nice to people for a change. He was saying that He is God's long-awaited King, that He sets the captives free and restores sight to the blind, and that it is through Him that you can be blessed by God.

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Nice timing Joanna - I just reread all _Five_ parts of the trilogy this week. I liked the points you made about his misunderstanding of the reasons for Jesus’ crucifixion. The other thing I noticed about the books this time through is how prominent the theme of ‘meaning’ is and how the characters are always unable to find meaning in the universe or in their own lives. Or any meaning that they do find is unintelligible. A fair cry from the Christian view of the meaning of the universe and our lives is that all things have been made for Christ.

Posted by Stephen Bell on 06 June, 2005 9:44 PM

Hey Jobee! Awesome article…although I haven’t read the books or seen the movie…I know shun me now and forever more!.. your comments get at the heart of such a major issue in this postmodern society of ours… so many people have no idea about Jesus! Its scary the way biblical illiteracy or ignorance has become to pervade our society especially to the point where a bloke can write a sentence in a book that totally misses the point of Jesus death and whats more so oversimplify his teaching. Afterall, Jesus didn’t come to make peace in this world (Matt 10:34),so much for the “being nice to each other” stuff!

Posted by Fiona Bywater on 07 June, 2005 6:44 PM

I think Joanna is very perspicacious. [Look it up…]

Posted by Steph Vaughan on 22 June, 2005 5:03 PM

Perspicacious…secret Joanna code for acutely perceptive or observant… oh what a limited vocabulary I would have without the weird and wacky words of Joanna Hayes…

Posted by Walter on 29 June, 2005 4:28 AM

Wonderful thoughts!  I wrote on my own, but was sure to give you credit! smile


Nice artical Jo, and nice exploration on the reaction of the Jews to Jesus.

Hate to disagree with you though, but I thought I’d add my own two cents.

Douglas Adams wasn’t trying to make a serious statement about Jesus, of course it’s a mockery - the whole series is, as the comment above noted - an attack on ‘meaning’ in the universe.  Meaning, and God, are constant jokes - I mean, 42, Arthur Dent, and ‘Sorry for the inconvenience’?  The one liner about Jesus is an attempt to reduce a person who is difficult to joke about (the Pythons found it hard) to a laugh.

The tendancy we have to label other people’s takes on Jesus as misunderstood (which, of course they often are), can simply come across as a touch triumphant and self vindicating - ‘see we’re right and he/she/they/it are wrong!’.  An oppositional review has a tendancy to simply get up people’s noses, instead of getting them to listen to your point.

My apologies if this comes across as unkind - I hope it hasn’t got up your nose too much.

Hi Drew,

thanks for your comment.

I do realise that Adams’ statement was a ‘lighthearted’ sort of ‘joke’.

The reason I was inspired to write the article is that I know of many people for whom that is actually their whole perspective on Jesus. That He was a nice guy who just said we should be nice to each other.
So I thought I’d draw attention to the faults in that perspective by using Adams as a spring board.

And yes, in fact the entire aim of my article is to get up people’s noses by presenting them with a more complete picture of Jesus and His mission.

I appreciate that this doesn’t work for everyone, obviously there is the possibility of causing offence, however I hope I wasn’t triumphalist.

thanks for your feedback though, there are certainly many ways the same object can be achieved.

Posted by Joanna on 07 November, 2005 11:07 PM

I first read Hitchhikers’ many years and thought it was very funny (sarcasm is my favourite sense of humour as I actually get it). Realising its fatalistic view of the world came a bit later. While it may be silly to intensely study Hitchhikers’ for grand truths (or the lack of same), books can often tell you a lot about their author.

Some fascinating ‘further reading’ is “The Salmon of Doubt” released in 2002, after Adams’ death. The book is a miscellaneous collection of his writings and speeches, including articles such as:
- Interview with American Athiests
- Is there an Artificial God?

The god that Douglas didn’t believe in is the god who is used by people to explain the unexplainable. What is the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything?
“Religion” is a process where you do silly things for inexplicable reasons (such as the Jatravartid who lived in fear of The Coming of the Great White Handkerchief)

All this is great and plausible, except that you have to deal with the person of Jesus. Far easier to assume that he was killed for telling people to be nice to each other, than to acknowledge his call for repentance, his provision of salvation through his own death, and his rising from the dead, pointing to the future Coming of the Lamb who was slain.

Posted by Mike Cuthbert on 28 January, 2006 2:18 AM
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