High life | 31 December 2015

This is going to be one hell of a year, hell being the operative word. It will be the year the greatest Greek writer since Homer turns 80 (but we’ll keep quiet about that for the moment). Our world is so stuck in reverse that a woman who was stabbed in Miami during the Art Basel shindig, and was bleeding and begging for help, was mistaken for an artwork and ignored. The woman survived but will art? Conceptual art must be the biggest con since Bernie Madoff and then some. And speaking of con artists, I’ve never had any respect for Mark Zuckerberg, someone who is reputed to have copied

The question Christianity fails to answer: ‘Who is my neighbour?’

‘Fine old Christmas,’ wrote George Eliot, ‘with the snowy hair and ruddy face, had done his duty that year in the noblest fashion, and had set off his rich gifts of warmth and colour with all the heightening contrast of frost and snow.’ Thus opens the second chapter of Book II of The Mill on the Floss. I had found the passage when searching for a secular reading for my newspaper column’s readers at a carol service at St Bride’s church in Fleet Street a couple of nights ago. I knew at once I’d found what I wanted. Eliot had been my first port of call. You can be confident

Why Jesus sometimes plays a very long game

We closed the last page of a gruesome, thrilling picture book called The Day Louis Got Eaten and said our prayers. Our prayers are always the same. We ask Jesus to bless as many people known to us as we can remember, taking it in turns to name them. We aren’t sure what the range of consequences might be for someone if we ask Jesus to bless them, but we do it anyway, and the word has a pleasant, incantatory feel to it when repeated. It has been at least a fortnight since we last asked Jesus to bless our list because Grandad has been away. And as we went

Is this the greatest sculpted version of the Easter story? It’s certainly the strangest

In April 1501, about the time Michelangelo was returning from Rome to Florence to compete for the commission to carve a giant marble David, a very different sculptor named Tilman Riemenschneider agreed to make an altarpiece in the small German town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Since then, things have not changed much in Rothenburg. Though battered during the war, it has been restored to postcard perfection (or rather turned into a perfect place for tourists to take selfies of themselves against a Disneyesque medieval background). And the Altar of the Holy Blood is still there, in the place for which it was made, at the west end of the

For modern-day Assyrians their present is under attack from Isis, as is their past

The historian Tom Holland tweeted this morning: ‘What ‪#ISIS are doing to the people & culture of ‪#Assyria is worthy of the Nazis. None of us can say we didn’t know.’ What #ISIS are doing to the people & culture of #Assyria is worthy of the Nazis. None of us can say we didn’t know: — Tom Holland (@holland_tom) February 27, 2015 He linked to a Washington Post article about how the Islamist group had kidnapped at least 200 Assyrian Christians from their homes in north-east Syria, and may well be preparing to murder them. In another tweet he showed a video by Assyriology professor Simo Parpola on the

Nigel Farage: Bigger Than Jesus

Ukip’s commonwealth spokesperson Winston McKenzie – he of Carnival of Colour fame – is never far from controversy. It was only a matter of time before a devout Ukipper compared their hero Nigel Farage to a deity and we should have all guessed it would be Winston: ‘Jesus was one man. We are his army. Nigel Farage is one man and we are his army and that’s what it’s all about’ Happy Faragemas, everybody.

No one in the Bible has been as elaborately misrepresented as Mary Magdalene

How would the real Mary Magdalene have reacted to her posthumous reputation? Not very kindly, one suspects. Our only historical source, the New Testament, does not even hint that she was a prostitute, and she’s unlikely to have been placated by Christians telling her: ‘It’s OK, we think you were a reformed whore.’ No one in the Bible has been so elaborately misrepresented. In addition to not being an ex-prostitute, Mary of Magdala was not Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, who anoints the feet of Jesus with ‘about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume’ and then wipes it up with her hair. Nor was

Spectator letters: On the Pope, Jesus and Mandy Rice-Davies

Papal blessing Sir: In his excellent article on Pope Francis (‘Pope idol’, 11 January), Luke Coppen mentions the satirical rumour that the new pontiff had abolished sin. It could never be said, however, even in a spoof, that he has abolished the Devil, whom he has named and shamed on a number of occasions. What Coppen calls ‘the cockeyed lionisation of Francis’ is surely itself a trick of the Devil: so too the ‘older son problem’ — the disgruntlement of obedient Catholics at Francis’s embrace of sinful prodigal sons and daughters. Virtue is surely its own reward, and no one who has experienced grace hankers after the fleshpots of Egypt. Piers

Rod Liddle: Try my new year resolution – ignore the internet

At last, it has been scientifically proved that Jesus Christ is better than Muhammad. We’d always known that our lad with the beard and the holes in his hands was far superior to that arriviste Arabian chap who hung around in caves. But tell that to a Muslim and they become unaccountably frosty and defensive. Now, though, a couple of scientists have used algorithms and quantitative analysis to prove that Jesus Christ was the most significant and important human being ever to have lived, while poor old Muhammad managed to slink in at number four: Champions League spot, sure, but no cigar. The Prophet was beaten by both Napoleon Bonaparte —