A series on Christianity can’t be done straight these days, so the makers of Christianity: A History (Channel 4, Sundays) are doing it aggressive. First up, the Jewish novelist Howard Jacobson presented a programme telling the Christians that, for much of their two millennia, they perpetuated a libel against Jews that ended (although in truth it hasn’t ended) at the gates of Auschwitz. I was startled when the gate with “Arbeit Macht Frei” suddenly filled the screen, and my first thought was that this was a step too crude – the Nazis hated Christianity for its softness (Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that “conscience was a Jewish invention, a blemish, like circumcision”).
Yet Jacobson, if self-righteous, was convincing; the Nazis sought to make Jesus Aryan, as has much Christian iconography, in contrast to the hook-nosed, treacherous Judas. At least in some parts of the world – the differences are important, and he didn’t point them out – the old libel could yet be whipped into murderous use. The series has already sparked debate, not surprisingly since Jacobson’s film was vigorous, its polemical purpose was transparent, it held and gripped.
Next week, Michael Portillo will say that the Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion of himself and his empire to Christianity was a bad idea. You can imagine the bishops moaning softly over the sherry: with a series like this, with the strains of “tidings of comfort and joy” scarcely died away, who needs publicity?
I'm intrigued by this description from John Lloyd TV columnist for FT.com, of episodes of a new BBC series. Quite gutsy sounding TV. He says,