Profiled at the Guardian around his new book in which he suggests that Jesus was a Palestinian insurgent. And apparently any pissing off of Martin Amis was only an added bonus.
‘Let me make one thing clear before we start,’ Terry Eagleton says. ‘I did not do this book about Jesus just to piss off Martin Amis.’ I guess he wouldn’t mind too much if it did, though. The book about Jesus is a new reading of the Gospels, out in time for Christmas, in which Eagleton asks the question, ‘Was Christ a revolutionary?’ and answers it mostly in the affirmative. It is a typical Eagleton stocking-filler: short, iconoclastic, fiercely clever; it places Jesus on the fringe of Palestinian insurgents against Rome, in the political wing of the anti-imperialist Zealots. The essay takes Eagleton back to his earliest intellectual outings at Cambridge in the Sixties, where he made a name for himself contributing to a curious Marxist Christian magazine called Slant. It is also the latest offensive in his argument with what he likes to call ’smug, liberal, rationalist’ opinion, of which his ongoing war of words with Amis is the most visible engagement.
Eagleton has a practised ability to change the terms of a question, a product of the years when he used to excuse himself from High Table at Oxford in order to debate the progress of the struggle with comrades from the Workers’ Socialist League and shop floor activists from the car plant at Cowley. The caricature has always been that of the armchair revolutionary, singing rebel songs in Irish pubs, before slipping back to the dreaming spires. He liked to romanticise himself in his Oxford days as ‘the barbarian in the citadel’, spreading sedition to the sons and daughters of privilege. Though his detractors charged him with intellectual bandwagon-jumping, he has stayed stubbornly faithful to his teenage socialism, a fact which has given him revered status among two generations of dissenting undergraduates.