Why casting directors avoid Galileans like Jesus

Peter speaking

“Is anyone here from Liverpool?”

My daughter was having breakfast along with her colleagues at a residential conference in the Home Counties when suddenly this person walks in from the car park.

His explanation for asking such a geographical-specific question?  “I’ve just managed to lock my keys in my car!”

You may have read of the recent U-turn manoeuvred by Morrisons.  The supermarket has had to handle a PR disaster following a casting call for working class people for their next television advert.

This read: “They should NOT sound or look posh and we should skew towards northern accents. And nobody from Liverpool please.”

To be fair to Morrisons, this non-Scouse directive was not something it had requested to its own advertising agency.  But in the real world, of course, perception is everything.

So now the advert is going to feature Scouse actress Leanne Best, who last night broke down in tears as PC Jackie Brickford in BBC1’s gripping “Line of Duty.”

Coming from Liverpool can be tough, especially if you are wearing a suit.  But Jesus knows what it’s like to be classed as a northerner with a distinctive accent.  He came from Galilee.

You could always spot a Galilean, usually a mile off, not least by their accent if not by their suit.  Apparently the good folk from Galilee did not distinguish between certain consonants and vowels in contrast to the rest of the country.  They were mocked for their crunching of syntax.

Even those Galileans who learned Hebrew were reported to have not been allowed to read the Torah in other synagogues for fear that they might offend God by mispronouncing something.

Philip Yancey writes: “Galilee got little respect from the rest of the country. It was the farthest province from Jerusalem and the most backward culturally. Rabbinic literature of the time portrays Galileans as bumpkins, fodder for ethnic jokes.”

Of course, it was Simon Peter’s accent which betrayed him to the bystanders at Jesus’ trial.  And it was this Galilean accent which subsequently led the members of the aristocratic Sanhedrin to conclude that Peter and John, standing before them for proclaiming the risen Jesus,  were “uneducated and ordinary men.” (Acts 4:13)

Certainly Jesus himself spoke Galilean for the simple reason that he was a Galilean.  Apparently, not that I would have any idea, you can demonstrate this by those Aramaic words he used preserved for us in the Gospels.

But this does communicate one very important truth – that Jesus came to us as one of us.  Forget the standard English accent of Robert Powell and whoever else may be playing Jesus,.  The word of life is spoken to us with a strong regional accent.  Not exactly Radio 4.

In fact, this applies to much of the New Testament, which is written not in elegant classical Greek, the language of Plate and Aristotle but in koine or common Greek, the everyday language of commerce.  Like the English spoken in Brussels or Singapore.

C S Lewis asks the question:  “Does this shock us? It ought not to, except as the Incarnation itself ought to shock us.

“The same divine humility which decreed that God should become a baby at a peasant-woman’s breast, and later an arrested field-preacher in the hands of the Roman police, decreed also that he should be preached in a vulgar, prosaic and unliterary language.

“If you can stomach the one, you can stomach the other. The Incarnation is in that sense an irreverent doctrine: Christianity, in that sense, an incurably irreverent religion.”

All this can be condensed into just one word:  Abba.  This Aramaic word stands out in the Greek text of Mark and Paul.  This is the one word which summarises the whole teaching, the whole life even, of Jesus of Nazareth.

For this is how he invites us to relate to the God of heaven and earth, the God of this awesome creation, to know him as our loving father.

The Gospel is that in Jesus we may address God as Abba, spoken of course in a Galilean accent.