Muslims respect Jesus as a prophet and endorse various aspects of his story. The Annunciation appears in the Koran, and so, in consequence, does the Virgin Birth. In the pains of childbirth, it says, Mary was sustained in the desert by God providing a brook at her feet and a palm-tree which she could shake to get dates. But Muslims deny Jesus’s crucifixion. The Jews said that they killed him but, the Koran declares, they did not: ‘They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but they thought they did.’ Perhaps this denial is not surprising, since it is from Jesus’s death and resurrection that the claims for his divinity — which Muslims reject — arise, but it is strange nonetheless. The Crucifixion is the best-attested event in the Gospels, a moment of history. The encounter with Pilate reads like a version of a real political event, not a legend. It is another denial, though, which always makes the scene real to me. In all four Gospels, Peter tells Jesus that he will never desert him. Then he follows Jesus when he is arrested and taken to the house of a high priest. He does not enter, but stays outside: ‘And the servants and officers stood there, who had made a fire of coals; for it was cold: and they warmed themselves: and Peter stood with them, and warmed himself’ (John 18:18). Then a ‘damsel’ comes out and accuses Peter of being a friend of Jesus. In Mark’s version, a servant repeats the accusation, because he has noticed Peter’s Galilean accent. After Peter denies his master three times, the cock, as Jesus had foretold, crows. Possibly these details are stylised, typological, but they read like reportage. You can see Peter weeping in the cold dawn.
It is pleasing that Ofcom has fined the BBC £150,000 for the Jonathan Ross/ Russell Brand performance when, for the benefit of the show, the two men rang up the elderly actor Andrew Sachs and boasted into his answering machine about Brand’s sexual exploits with his granddaughter.