The Chicken Conundrum


nonfiction by Andrew Merton


Why did the chicken cross the road?

That’s the wrong question. To determine the right question, we must first identify the chicken.

What chicken?

The chicken, the one that allegedly crossed the road.

All right then: what is known of the chicken?

Until recently, almost nothing. But in October, 2008, archaeologists on a dig near the abbey of Nantes, in France, unearthed a remarkably well-preserved leather satchel that contained a fragmented scroll of parchment upon which was written, in Greek, what appears to be a definitive account of the chicken. According to this document, which has come to be known as the Kotopoulo Chronicle (Kotopoulo, Greek for “chicken”), the chicken lived in the Holy Land at the time of Jesus Christ, and belonged to a family of peasants whose hut and meager barnyard lay in a small valley bisected by the road to Calvary. The document describes the chicken as being unusually large for its time, probably about seven pounds, with black, shiny feathers. On the day of the crucifixion the chicken encountered Christ amidst the procession of Roman soldiers escorting him to Golgotha. The chicken flapped its wings and flew over the heads of the soldiers, coming to roost on the crossbar of the crucifix. And there the chicken remained throughout the entire ordeal, from the time the cross was anchored in the ground until Christ drew his last breath.

Why did the soldiers leave the chicken undisturbed?

Perhaps because they saw it as some kind of omen. Or perhaps simply because they planned to eat the bird once their work was done. In the fragmentary remains of the Chronicle there is no mention of what became of the chicken following the crucifixion.

Nowhere in the Gospels—or anywhere in the Bible, for that matter—is there any mention of such a chicken.

Not directly. But in Matthew 23:37 Christ laments, “Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killeth the prophets and stoneth them that are sent unto her! How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” According to the Chronicle, as late as the seventh century, an obscure Irish sect held that this utterance amounted to a prophecy that on the day of the crucifixion, an angel would assume the form of a hen, so that she might watch over both the body and the soul of Jesus Christ.

Then why has there been no acknowledgement of the existence of this holy hen for more than a thousand years?

All seven members of the Irish sect were set upon and slain by militant Druids, to whom their insistence that a divine chicken watched over Christ amou>nted to a blasphemous mix of Christianity and pantheism. Thereafter, debate over the significance of the chicken languished as theologians devoted themselves to questions that seemed more pressing at the time, such as the divinity of Mary and the precise natures of Heaven and Hell. Then, at some point in the ninth century, a monk at the abbey of Nantes came across the Kotopoulo Chronicle. Unfortunately the monk’s Greek was not as strong as his Latin. His attempt to translate the document’s seminal inquiry into French resulted in the following sentence: Pourquoi le poulet al-il traverse la route?

Which, in turn, was loosely translated into English as, Why did the chicken cross the road?

Precisely. And that is the text that misguided scholars have been pondering for the last millennium, when in fact, had the translation been accurate, or had they had access to the original Greek manuscript, they would have been debating the real question raised in the text–the vital yet unexplored matter of why the chicken rode the cross.




Andrew Merton