Easter 2015: idea for a short story or novel. Working title, "Gospel of Judas", unfortunately already claimed by a recently discovered Gnostic Gospel. This is different.
The idea is that an imposter was crucified in Jesus' stead, thereby enabling his resurrection via a somewhat less miraculous mechanism - he was never killed in the first place. Jesus in this view is a religiously inspired anti-Roman terrorist, in the mold of today's jihadis. The unfortunate imposter, I am thinking, is a sort of simpleton apostle wannabe -- maybe his name is Simkin-- who hangs out on the fringes of Jesus' crew: a hearer of voices / village idiot type with an astonishing gift for mimicry. His favorite target is Jesus: his imitations of Jesus' mannerisms and preaching style, overlaid with absurdist content, regularly send the apostles into fits of hysterical laughter, while annoying the hell out of Jesus, whose sense of humor does not extend to self-mockery. When it becomes clear that the Romans' tolerance for Jesus' rabblerousing is wearing dangerously thin, and that an arrest is probably imminent, Jesus and Judas come up with a plan to simultaneously neutralize the Roman threat and rid Jesus of this annoying fanboy. Judas negotiates with the authorities to lead them to Jesus and help them identify him. In Gethsemene Judas kisses not Jesus but Simkin, who is most pleased to be taken as Jesus by the Romans, and rises to the part, spouting off some of his more outrageous megalomaniac riffs for this unexpectedly important audience. As he becomes more and more the center of attention, he becomes progressively more unhinged, regaling Pilate and Caiaphas with delusions of grandeur -- King of the Jews, Son of God, etc. -- all the while remaining in character as Jesus. Jesus keeps a low profile while this is going on, not wanting to alert the Romans to the mistaken identity. He and Judas had expected that Simkin would be arrested, maybe spend a few days in jail, but that he would be released once the Romans realized that he was deranged and not the real Jesus, by which time Jesus would be safely away to Galilee. They never meant Simkin to come to any serious harm. However Simkin's tirades have had the effect of provoking the authorities, who never realize they are dealing with a madman. Before Jesus and Judas quite realize what has happened, Simkin has been tried, flogged and crucified. The other disciples, having fled when the Romans arrived in the garden, hear second hand the news that Jesus has been executed. They are aghast, and immediately go underground; Peter denies having any connection to Jesus' secessionist activities. Several weeks later they are invited to a secret meeting in a Jerusalem pub, where a hooded stranger reveals himself to be none other than Jesus, miraculously alive following his crucifixion. He is vague on how this came about, due to his guilt over the fate of poor Simkin, and because the disciples' astonished response to this "miracle" is rather gratifying. The whole episode, however, has shown him just how perilous his jihadi activities have become, and like so many other terrorists since, he decides to grow up and get a real job, settling down with Mary Magdalene in Nazareth to raise a family and make furniture. He remains a respected figure among the next generation of rebels, who call him Rabbi and come to him for advice on anti-Roman guerrilla warfare techniques. But his own days on the front lines are over; there is nothing like a near-death experience to bring you to your senses.