Transformation of characters often involves a dramatic change, whether in appearance or attitude, from one point to the next. The way characters interact and behave before said transformation is vastly different from how they would do so afterward. In Gerd Theissen’s historical account of the life of Jesus, Shadow of the Galilean shows the transformation of many different characters, especially in light of their exposure to Jesus Christ. Most prominent among these characters experiencing transformation is the protagonist, Andreas, who gradually turns from a reluctant turncoat into a devout follower. In this essay, we will explore the ways in which Andreas transforms, and what this transformation means for his character.
Andreas starts out the book as a well-off Jewish son of merchants from Sepphoris. He has a pair of slaves, and is devoutly Jewish, though he hates the Romans and Pilate for attempting to build an aqueduct from tax money taken from the Temple. He goes to a protest and is arrested by the Romans, where he is offered a choice: prison, or becoming a mole to give information about the different religious groups found in Palestine. During his initial interrogation, Andreas reveals that he feels the Jewish God protects the outcasts instead of those in power, engaging in a dialogue with his interrogator about which group is truly God’s children. Eventually, he agrees to offer information in exchange for his freedom.
Being brought up as a liberal Jew, Andreas has a difficult time dealing with the various crises of faith that are presented to him at the beginning of the book. He does not want to report others of God to the Romans for persecution and imprisonment, but he also desires his freedom. He is constantly torn between the Roman concept of worldly peace (freedom from direct oppression) and the true peace provided to him by God. Often throughout the book, he has to talk to Romans who feel as though they are being shortchanged by the Jewish God. Andreas has to explain to them that Jews to not actively draw away from society, but are instead required to worship God as a consequence of their faith. Throughout, Andreas feels the burden of having to be an advocate for God in this Roman-occupied world, while still having to work for them.
One important transformative moment comes when he contemplates suicide, which is something that Greek philosophy would allow him to do. Killing himself would free him from the burden of having to effectively betray his God through becoming a turncoat, while avoiding the harsh fate of the Romans were he not to do so. However, he comes to the conclusion that “God gives us the task of living and we cannot hand it back to him when we think it too difficult” (Theissen, p. 21). Instead, he comes to the realization that, for whatever reason, it is God’s will that Andreas perform these actions.
Throughout the book, Andreas makes discoveries about the way his world works, especially under the thumb of the Romans. This helps him to make discoveries about himself in the process, granting him a better spiritual clarity and removing his uncertainty. In Galilee, Andreas finds a couple beset with terribly high taxes, and harvests that yield no crops. It is for these reasons and more that the Zealots are recruiting people left and right; desperation has filled the countryside, making the people look elsewhere for support. Andreas also hears of a prophet, named Jesus, who is gathering people from their homes to follow him to a shining kingdom where they will be eternally free. Andreas decides to follow Jesus and investigate him further.
Soon after hearing of Jesus, Andreas is kidnapped by the Zealots. Having previously had a lot of respect for them, he soon finds himself thinking of them the same way he does Pilate – cold, emotionless people who see force as a means to an end. This changes Andreas’ attitude dramatically and encourages him to learn more about who Jesus is. Talking with Barabbas, it is clear that the Zealots think him too soft and unable to make change happen. Andreas hears more tales of Jesus from a family in Bethsaida, and is eventually told to report on Jesus.
Thinking that Jesus is a security risk to Rome, Andreas still makes his report slightly more harmless to lessen the damage that could be done to him. This is further evidence of Andreas’ dilemma regarding his complicity in the actions of Rome; he does not want to see anyone hurt, but he also does not want to be hurt himself. When his report eventually leads Pilate to think Jesus a threat, Andreas finds himself feeling incredibly guilty about the man’s subsequent crucifixion. Instead of standing on the sidelines, impartially observing the political and religious atmosphere of Palestine, he starts to become emotionally invested and involved.
Andreas’ final state in the book, a devout Christian with a sincere and calming belief in Jesus, comes at the final chapter. Here, he decides that Jesus is a “dream of a man,” an ideal that is difficult to match in the real world (Thiessen, p. 179). Andreas is fed up with the terrible games that many of man’s societies play on the poor and the sick – from the Romans to the Zealots and beyond. However, he felt that Jesus could be the man to undo those iniquities. Only converting truly at the very end of the book, Andreas holds doubts all throughout his journey as to the validity of Jesus and his message. Having been given the task of learning about the fringe religions of Palestine, Andreas embarks on a journey where he discovers things about the world and himself that he did not imagine.
The character of Andreas transforms from an impartial, Roman-affiliated Jewish observer to a devout, somewhat faithful Christian over the course of the book. Tasked to look into the life of Jesus, Andreas questions many people as to the role of religion (specifically Judaism and Christianity) in this Roman-ruled world. Perpetually torn between the concept of Roman violence and the non-violence espoused by Jesus Christ, Andreas starts to see the consequences of his impartial actions. Andreas regrets his complicity in Jesus’ death, and starts to have faith in his status as the Messiah.
Theissen, Gerd. The Shadow of the Galilean: The Quest of the Historical Jesus in Narrative
Form. Fortress Press, 2007. Print.