Rugby League: the game they play in heaven

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In advance of tonight’s deciding State of Origin clash between Queensland and NSW, Frank O’Shea resolves the mystery of Jesus and the 12 Apostles — they were a Rugby League team.

Why did Jesus have twelve Apostles? With him, they constituted a group of thirteen. Now, Josephus is only one of the contemporary writers who refer to the deep, superstitious dread of Jewish society of the time for that number. So why would Jesus deliberately flaunt that taboo? And what's more, why were the Apostles all men? The answer to these questions is simple: Jesus and the Apostles were a Rugby League team.

Before you think this is just a crackpot theory – to go with the many others in this area – let us look at the evidence. Jesus' father and all his family played Rugby Union ("the game they play in heaven") and it was a matter of some disappointment when the only son changed to the rival code. Often during his playing career, Jesus would speak fondly of his youth and of being "in Union with my father".

There was a thriving League competition in Palestine at the time. We know some of the teams: the Vipers, based around the wealthy Eastern suburbs of Jerusalem; the down-to-earth Bulldogs ("Do not give what is holy to the Dogs"); and of course the Demons, who had some tremendous tussles with the Apostles.

As a player-coach, Jesus brought the game into the first century. He pioneered pre-season training, insisting on a forty-day intensive training camp. He placed great emphasis on fitness and speed: "Come with me and I will teach you to catch men," he is reported as saying to Simon.

As a tactician, he was supreme. He developed the blind-side attack ("go in through the narrow gate") and the quick play-the-ball ("what you have to do, do quickly"). He even predicted certain events in the modern game like the rise of teams outside Sydney ("the Gentiles"). One of his later followers, Paul Tarsus, urged the use of the bomb out wide, rather than near the posts. "Do not kick against the goal," he advised. The final word was transcribed wrongly by some mediaeval scholar who had never seen a football game.

The Miracles

I have my own interpretation of the miracles. Take calming the storm for example. The boat is a metaphor for the game. "The boat was in danger of sinking" obviously means that the game was getting away from the Apostles, with Jesus out of the main action "asleep", probably taking a spell on the wing. But, in a final desperate attempt, he went over close to the posts after a winding and waving run. As the reporter says:

"Everyone was amazed'. What kind of man is this? Even the winds and waves obey him.'"

Similarly with the miracles of raising from the dead. There were three altogether and two of them were men. Obviously, they were in a slump; their careers were dead. The apocryphal Gospel of St Levird refers to Lazarus as a particularly ferocious tackler in his later years:

"His grip was as iron."

It is probable that Jesus gave him some tips on tackling in the dressing room after a game — the Gospel is quite specific that he smelled. Up to recent times, the Lazarus family still played a solid game of League.

The Sayings

You can also interpret the sayings quite easily once you know the code. Take the famous "camel through the eye of a needle." This is obviously a reference to big Jim Zebedee, the second rower, trying to duck under a tackle. You may think this a bit far-fetched. But consider for a moment the word CAMEL. Take the first letter C and go forward the mystical seven places in the alphabet to the letter J. Leave the next three letters as they are: J-A-M-E. Finally with the last letter L, again go forward seven spaces to get the letter S. Clearly, CAMEL is the code for JAMES.


Judas was the playmaker in the team and could play either at half-back or hooker. He had, however, the unfortunate habit of kissing his colleagues after a score. Fortunately, this has not continued in modern Rugby League, although it is still to be found among soccer players and some cricketers.

The Grand Final of 33 AD was the most memorable for many years. The Pharisee Vipers were determined to get their own back on the Apostles who were going for three-in-a-row. There was a bit of biff early on involving Peter who tore off an opponent's ear. Jesus had to be carried off before the end and was replaced by a youngster from Cyrene called Simon.

The outstanding player, however, was Judas. After the game, the writers gave him the man-of-the-match bonus of thirty pieces of silver, even though he was on the losing team. In true unselfish spirit, he used the money to buy a field for use by the youngsters of the city. "Always nice to see players put something back into the game, Rex." "It certainly is, Warren."


Down through the ages, the Catholic church has been a strong supporter of Rugby League and the modern followers of Jesus continue to promote the game. Some Catholic religious orders regard this as an important part of their ministry, as a glance at the names of winning schools in the NSW schools competition will testify. Even hymns like "The Lord is my shepherd" and the American favourite "Drop-kick me, Jesus, through the goalposts of life" bear testimony to the game's origins.

I admit that my analysis lacks the sophistication of Hitchens or Dawkins, but I will continue to work on it.In the meantime I am working on my theory that the Iliad was an account of an end-of-season AFL trip and that Paradise Lost was a description of a famous Australia v New Zealand cricket series ("and Satan under arm his missile threw").

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