“This is Jesus, King of the Jews.” (Matthew 27:37b) “‘Yes, Wart,’ said Merlyn. ‘Or rather, as I should say (or is it have said?), Yes, King Arthur.’” (White 161) Jesus was King of the Jews; Arthur was King of the Britons. Many people would not see much of a comparison between these two great kings. However, upon further analysis, one would find that the similarities between Jesus and T.H. White’s depiction of King Arthur are plentiful. These similarities include: a destiny of greatness, a humble background, a pursuit of great change throughout the world, and a betrayal. Although there are some factors that hurt the comparison, there is far more evidence showing how similar these two kings truly are.
There are some definite differences between Jesus and White’s Arthur that would cause many connoisseurs of literature to rebuke the idea that they shared any similarities at all. Although many of their differences are minor, there is one that is profound. This extremely noticeable and important contrast is the difference in maturity and wisdom between King Arthur and Jesus. From a young age, Jesus was noted as being very wise and showed much maturity. In the Gospel according to Luke, one reads “And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:40) Luke goes on to tell us that when Jesus was still only twelve years old, he stayed at the temple in Jerusalem instead of returning home with his parents. (Luke 2:41-47) When he was eventually found, his parents asked him why he had stayed behind; he replied “‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’” (Luke 2:49) Even at such a young age, Jesus showed wisdom that rivaled the religious leaders. He also had the maturity at that age to realize who his true Father was, and showed signs that he was aware of his ultimate destiny. As Jesus grew older, he continuously showed off his wisdom and maturity in almost everything that was thrown his way. He never had to ask another person advice on what he should do, nor did he ever need to be told that what he was doing was wrong. Jesus truly did have the maturity necessary to become the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He knew it was his destiny to save mankind, and readily accepted his fate.
Whereas Jesus was far more wise and mature than even the leaders of his time, T. H. White depicts an Arthur with the maturity and wisdom of a small child. There were many instances in which Arthur almost could not think for himself and relied on his tutor Merlyn to correct his faults. This can be seen after one battle when Arthur did not know how many men he had lost and was prideful of his victory. Merlyn was enraged but Arthur could not (or would not) figure out for himself what was wrong and was forced to ask Merlyn what was wrong. To this Merlyn replied, “‘Tell you!’ he exclaimed. ‘And what is going to happen when there is nobody to tell you? Are you never going to think for yourself?’” (White 169) Here we can see that Merlyn was aware of King Arthur’s fatal flaw. Even when Arthur is warned about Guenever, he ignores the warning and decides to marry her anyways. (White 252) Even though there is not one particular act that led to Arthur’s demise, a combination of stupid mistakes led to his ultimate downfall.
Once that primary difference in maturity and wisdom is peeled away, one can begin to look at the similarities between Jesus and Arthur. The first of these comparisons is the fact that both of the two men were destined to be great. Throughout the Old Testament, there are many predictions and prophecies of the coming of Christ. One such account is in Isaiah, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) The coming of Christ was not a random occurrence of chance; rather, it was foretold long before the day would come for an innocent man to die upon a tree. It was Jesus’s destiny to become King of the Jews.
It was Arthur’s destiny to become King of the Britons. Although he was unaware of it, his father was Uther Pendragon, the former King of England. (White 160) This meant that Arthur was the rightful King of England after the death of his father. Though he was not raised as a future king, it was inevitable that he would become one. As he grew up, his tutor, Merlyn, taught him important lessons that were essential for Arthur to develop into a great king. Merlyn knew that Arthur was destined to be a great king because he lived backwards in time. (White 24) However, Merlyn was the only person who knew this. Arthur lived his life thinking that he would become the squire of his foster brother. He had a very humble beginning, but that all changed when he pulled a sword from a stone.
Every story has a beginning, and for Jesus and Arthur, it was a humble one. When most people think of the birth of a future king, they think of the child in an extravagant crib within castle walls, especially for the King of Kings. Jesus, on the other hand, was first laid in a manger because there was no room in the inn. (Luke 2:7) This is vastly different from the picture that is normally painted within one’s mind. He did not lie in a bed, he was not in a castle, and there was nothing extravagant about his birth. Other than the prophecies and predictions, there was no other indication that this baby boy was the Son of God. Even the environment in which he would grow up was normal. His father was not a king, soldier, or scholar. His father was just a carpenter that lived a simple life. As far as anyone else was concerned, Jesus was just a normal human being.
“The Wart was called the Wart because it more or less rhymed with Art, which was short for his real name.” (White 5) Though he would come to be King of England, he was not raised as such. Before it was revealed that he should rule over the British Isles, Arthur was to be the squire of his foster brother, Kay. Wart looked up to Kay and could always be found at his side. “Besides, he admired Kay and was a born follower. He was a hero-worshipper.” (White 9) This shows the vast contrast between the early personality of Wart and the king that he would have to become. Fortunately for the sake of England, Wart did mature, and due to his humble beginning, King Arthur sought to bring about a lot of needed change.
“You must be the change you want to see in the world.” (Gandhi) There have been many people throughout the history of mankind that wished to save the world from itself. They saw the fatal flaws of the human condition and tried to correct the flaws before they became detrimental to society. One such person was Jesus of Nazareth. However, he did not simply wish to change the world; he actually did it. In fact, Jesus was sent to Earth just for that reason. Everywhere he went, Jesus taught new ideas and concepts in order to change the way people thought, acted and felt. He would challenge everyone to always take things one step further. For instance, instead of telling people to not commit adultery, Jesus tells a crowd of people that they should not even look at a woman with lust. (Matthew 5:27-28) Jesus told people to love their enemies instead of hating them. (Matthew 5:44) Instead of warning the multitudes to not murder, He taught them to not even become angry with someone. (Matthew 5:21-22) Jesus was determined to bring about the change that he so desperately sought, even if it meant he had to die in the worst way imaginable.
Before the rule of King Arthur, knights did as they pleased without consequence. (White ch. 6)They believed that the person who is the strongest is right and this led to a lot of chaos and violence. With the consult of Merlyn, Arthur saw how destructive this idea was and wanted to change knighthood into an institute that promoted good deeds. It was this pursuit of change in which the Knights of the Round Table were founded. “Why can’t you harness Might so that it works for Right?” (White 189) Arthur reasoned that he could use the Knights to do good in England instead of causing chaos. He finally decided to instill a code of chivalry and formed the Knights of the Round Table.
“Then you should have died! Died, rather than betray your friends, as we would have done for you!” (Rowling ) Sometimes our friends turn out to be enemies. For both King Arthur and Jesus Christ, this statement could not be any truer. Throughout his ministry, Jesus acquired many disciples who followed him, but only twelve of these disciples were known as the Apostles. The Apostles were always with Jesus and were meant to continue his ministry after his crucifixion. Unfortunately, one of these twelve Apostles was not as noble as everyone believed. Judas Iscariot agreed to betray his teacher (which would result in Jesus’s arrest and execution) in exchange for thirty silver coins. (Matthew 25:38) Interestingly enough, betrayal has its way of exacting justice on the betrayer. After the crucifixion, Judas returned the money and hanged himself. This one act of betrayal had not only destroyed one life, but his betrayer was ruined as well.
Arthur was a person that was quite familiar with the idea of betrayal. Throughout England, there was not a greater knight than Lancelot. (White 252) It was not long before Lancelot joined the Knights of the Round Table and would become Arthur’s close ally. Unfortunately, Lancelot was not immune to human emotion and fell in love with Arthur’s queen, Guenever. In turn, Guenever fell in love with Lancelot because he was such a great knight. The two eventually start a romantic relationship, thus betraying King Arthur. This would also lead to the demise of Arthur, because his enemy (and son) used Arthur’s love of both Guenever and Lancelot against him. Interestingly, like Judas, Lancelot almost destroyed himself because of the guilt of his betrayal. He eventually went mad and it was many years before he would return to normalcy.
Though King Arthur and Jesus Christ were to completely different people from completely different times, the two characters have many striking resemblances. They both had a very humble beginning and early life but were destined for greatness. Both men wished to bring about change that would make the world a better place. Finally, each of them was betrayed in a way that led to their demise. One was King of the Britons; the other was King of the Jews, but they both were great kings nonetheless.