Let’s go back to Life of Brian. Besides being a clever funny film, it represents a turbulent period in Jewish history, the Roman occupation. I haven’t been able to trace the DNA in my family that far back, but if I am like most Ashkenazic Jews, my ancestors were driven out of Israel with the revolt in 70 A.D. and the fall of the Second Temple.
Life of Brian begins with Brian Cohen, (I am enjoying this because my adoptive sister Bonnie’s Mom’s maiden name was Cohen, and we know of the Cohen Y-Haplogroup and the Kohanim priesthood. Some rotten priest Brian would have been though. Must have been the bad side of the family, or as Mom said, Dad was actually a Centurion in the Jerusalem Garrison). He joins his mother (and the other women of the community) at stoning, where the women are a disguised majority of the ones doing the stoning. (John Cleese as the High Priest talks about the elders of the town, but you see few men, except at the initial lecture, which is supposed to be Jesus. In Tucson, you have the wisecrack about Jesus saving and a phone number for gardening, but I digress. You can hit me for being politically incorrect later).
Of course Life of Brian has the opposing rebel groups who fight each other, more than the Romans, (including the scene in the movie where the opposing groups come together in the palace and fight each other, because they both had the same plan to kidnap Pilate’s wife). There are the timeworn jokes among Jews about arguments and if you have three Jews, you have three opposing groups.
Brian is captured, only instead of being sentenced to crucifixion, (which as the Roman official in the movie says is rather nasty, ah, that British understatement), he gets something else.
Centurion: “Brian, my lad, I have good and bad news. The good news is you wont be crucified.”
Brian: “The bad news? Out with it, Centurion!”
Centurion: “You’re going to Rome as a slave.”
Brian: “Oh a slave, very nice. What stopped you from killing me? Regardless, I’m getting away from my domineering Jewish mother.”
The least the Romans could have done, was brought Lasagna, Spaghetti, etc. But no, they brought Legions, their Gods statues defiling Jewish places of worship. Oh well, they did bring the aqueducts, sanitation, and gladiatorial combat. Along with Brian is a very snotty couple, the Ben David‘s. They were spared too, thanks to a few well placed shekels in the right hands.
Off to Italy they go, the Ben David‘s in as much comfort as one can have on a ship those days, Brian at the oars like Ben Hur.
They are dodging pirates all the way to Ostia, the port for Rome. The Ben David’s complaining the food isn’t Kosher, Brian just happy to eat, even though they forced him to eat clams and pork. His mother’s final words ringing in his ears (Doesn’t Terry Jones play an excellent woman)? “Go ahead, go to Rome, see the world, be a slave, see if I care.”
Brian is sold to a Roman version of the couple in the movie A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Brian works for the title of the worst slave in Rome and is freed. With nowhere else to go, he joins the Ben David’s.
Mrs. Ben David hates the food and the lack of proper Jewish social life. They start venturing north toward the Alps. Mr. Ben David becomes a furrier, because someone has to keep his wife in them.
Mrs. Ben David complains about the cold and her husband falling down on the job for not taking care of her in the usual style.
She brings up the same subject constantly. Mr. Ben David provided the Shekels for rebels like Brian and was caught with his hand in the cookie jar. “Sometimes,” she laments, “I think it would have been better if you died at that place, Masada, with the rest of those zealots. Now we are going ever farther from Israel, to colder places, with only Brian, some example of a Cohen HE is!” Mr. Ben David doesn’t dare tell her to shut up if he knows what’s good for him.
They trek to the Roman border at Trier, along the Rhine. When the threesome met travelers going the other way, they learned about the Amber trade. Now, Mr. Ben David was speaking with a Centurion, Brian in tow.
“What is out there?” The Centurion said grimly, “Nothing but trees and crazy people. I get it, more searching for the amber. If you are lucky, you will get amber. If you are unlucky, you will find a grave. It’s your funeral, mate.”
Ashkenazic Jews started with this. All because a snotty coulple from Life of Brian wanted to get their fortune back, even if it was in the forest among crazy Germanic and Baltic tribes. Brian was just there by fate, for everyone has to be someplace.
When they first took their chances and went off in the woods, they had already heard the stories about the Knights Who Say NI! (See Monty Python and the Holy Grail). But they would not be deprived of the Amber, no matter what it cost in furs and shrubbery. (Turns out, the Knights Who Say NI, were the ancestors of modern Lithuanian basketball players.
In the end, the threesome prospered, more Jews joined them and a community was born. Then things went bad in the year 1096. Something called The Crusades. The Jews of Germany were being used for target practice by knights heading to the Holy Land to fight Islamic occupiers.
The descendants were annoyed but could do nothing. ” Oy gevalt! One group of Goyim using us as target practice to go to our freaking land to kill another group of Goyim occupying it.”
The news came the King of Poland was inviting them in. “Poland?” came the anguished cry. “We can die here, or live in Poland.”
Poland worked for a long time. (In 1939, 80% of all the Jews in the world lived in Poland). Sadly, the choices still came, we can die where we stand or live elsewhere. Again, everyone has to be someplace.
- BBC boss says Monty Python film The Life Of Brian would be lost on modern audiences because of Britain’s ‘poor religious literacy’ (dailymail.co.uk)
- The Life Of Brian (myoldaddiction2.wordpress.com)
- How we made Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (theguardian.com)