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Three wise men and a baby, plus John the Baptist, Pontius Pilate and Mary: what a lineup!

In the Christmas rush you probably don't get the time to catch all your regular TV and radio programmes, so here is a transcript of the special Christmas edition of Melvyn Bragg's `Start the Week' which is going out on Radio 4 this very Monday!

Bragg: Good morning. Today, as Christmas approaches, we have with us in the studio Three Wise Men from the East who have made a special study of what the stars can tell us. We also have Pontius Pilate, a Roman judge who is due to give a lecture at the Royal Hebrew Institute on Wednesday on the subject, "What is Truth?". We have John the Baptist, who thinks that the human brain can look into the future and we have our token woman, Mary Magdalene, who works for the Bethlehem Post.

First, the Three Wise Men. Could you briefly sum up your message for those who haven't read your book?

1st Wise Man: We haven't written a book.

2nd Wise Man: We are too wise to write a book.

3rd Wise Man: If we wrote a book, people would steal our ideas.

Bragg: Right. So, if you had written a book, what idea would you be trying to get across?

1st Wise Man: Our idea is that if we follow the star ...

2nd Wise Man: The star which has been pointed out to us ...

3rd Wise Man: By a divine finger ...

1st Wise Man: We will have discovered the son of God.

Bragg: This, frankly, strikes me as a load of tosh. You're asking us to believe that God told you to follow a star and find his son at the end of the journey? Why didn't he just tell you where his son was?

1st Wise Man: Maybe he didn't know.

2nd Wise Man: Maybe only the star knew.

3rd Wise Man: Maybe he wanted us to find out from the star where his son was and report back.

Bragg: But hold on a moment! You're meant to be wise men! When you find the son of God, what will you learn from a baby? It doesn't make sense to me.

John the Baptist: I could have told them where he was but nobody ever believes me.

Bragg: Perhaps we could come to you in just a moment, Baptist. Pilate, do you want to come in here?

Pontius Pilate: Well, you say that we can learn nothing from a baby, Melvyn, and this is certainly true in the intellectual sense in that a baby can tell us nothing about astronomy or geography. That is because astronomy and geography mean nothing to a baby. But perhaps the baby is right! Perhaps astronomy and geography are, in the long run, meaningless and valueless.

Bragg: That's rubbish. I sometimes think that science is the only thing we have to cling on to. We arts people have ignored science for far too long.

1st Wise Man: Hold on a moment. What's this with the "we arts people" bit, Melvyn?

2nd Wise Man: We're not "arts people". We're "wise" people.

3rd Wise Man: That means we see truth from all angles.

Pilate: Yes, but what is truth? Does it encompass following a star across the Middle East looking for a baby? I think not. Does it encompass looking into the future, as John the Baptist thinks, and proclaiming the coming kingdom of God? I think not.


Miller: Sorry I'm late. My camel broke down. Did I hear someone use the word "cognitive" as I came in?

Bragg: No, Jonathan.

Miller: Oh, sorry.


Bragg: Baptist, you believe you can see the future. Do you actually think the human brain will genetically evolve to acquire the ability to predict things?

Baptist: No. I can only tell the future because God wants me to.

Mary Magdalene: Gosh! That must be wonderful!

Baptist: Not really. I can foresee, for instance, that Salome, King Herod's daughter, will have my head cut off.

Mary Magdalene: Gosh! That's awful!

Baptist: Not really. At least it means I go straight to heaven.

Bragg: Hold on, hold on a moment. Let's define a few terms here. God, for a start. And heaven.

Mary Magdalene: Couldn't we talk about Salome and the dreadful Royal Family instead?

Baptist: What say you, Royal Family? There is a family greater than that of Herod's come among us! There is a baby born to be King over us! Repent while there is time! Lo, I say unto you ...

Bragg: That's all we have time for. See you next week.