• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

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    Thursday, September 21, 2006

    Jezile (Son of Man) – Jesus’s Key Speeches.

    Ever since my review and scene guide for Jezile (Son of Man) I’ve been meaning to post something specifically about the various speeches Jesus gives in the film. Jesus’s speeches in this film are more political than any other Jesus film I can think of, and this has been considered one of the reasons why the film has yet to have a wide release in the US. Claiming a political stance for Jesus is a risky business (although that doesn’t seem to stop many people), but I think this film does it reasonably well. Whilst it may look on the surface like this film’s Jesus makes ‘political’ speeches as opposed to the ‘spiritual’ ones of the gospels, I want to examine the two key speeches in the film to see exactly what they do say and how much of it has a basis in the source texts. (Inevitably this list will not be exhaustive).
    Speech 1 (~30 mins)The occupiers and elders blame the people for the robbery, unrest and killing. Unrest is due to poverty, overcrowding and lack of education. We must prove to them that we are committed to non violent change. Then negotiations can begin. We must not let ourselves be corrupted, but rather fight poverty, epidemics and thuggery. Listen, listen..Each human life is important. It’s our right to protect our beliefs…

    But this never becomes the right to kill.

    We don’t need weapons to fight this battle
    [The disciples hand in their guns]
    This is perhaps the least sourceable of the speeches Jesus gives. Even so there are echoes of John 11:47-48 in the first sentence, Matt 26:52 in the third (although this verse needs to be balanced with Luke 22:36 & 38), and Matt 5:48 in the fifth. The line “this never becomes the right to kill” is clearly linked to not only the sixth commandment, but also Jesus’s teaching on how this should be expanded (Matt 5:21-22; 38-39; 43-44). Whilst these verses have certainly been selected to bolster a certain point of view, there’s no doubt that they are in the screenwriter’s mind. The call to the disciples to leave their former lives behind them also evokes the stories of Matthew/Levi and Zaccheus
    Speech 2 (~ 37 mins)
    We are too busy with modern trivialities as if they are the most important things. If you constantly find fault with yourself, you will lose the struggle with real sin. All authority is not divinely instituted. If you follow me we will have peace.

    I’m not here to destroy beliefs and traditions but to create them anew. We must forgive those who offend us and those who trample on our comrades, otherwise our hatred will destroy our future.

    When those with imperial histories pretend to forget them, and blame Africa’s problems on tribalism and corruption, while building themselves new economic empires, I say we have been lied to. Evil did not fall.

    When I hear someone was beaten and tortured in the Middle East I say we have been lied to. Evil did not fall.

    When I hear that in Asia child labour has been legislated for I say we have been lied to. Evil did not fall.

    When politicians in Europe and the USA defend trade subsidies and help restrict the use of medicine through commercial patents I say we have been lied to. Evil did not fall

    When you are told, and you will be, that people just “disappear” you must say we have been lied to. And evil will fall.
    This is perhaps the Key speech that the film presents. The opening sentence seems to summarise Matt 6:25-34 nicely, but the rest of that paragraph sounds more like the kind of things we think Jesus would say, rather than being things he actually did say. In fact, it could be argued that these sentences go against certain things Jesus said. For example, Jesus considered that each person needs to eradicate the personal sin in their lives (based on say Mark 9:43-48 and parallels). Alternatively, John 19:11 records Jesus telling Pilate that his (corrupt) power was divinely instituted. That said it’s also worth noting that Jesus says “All Authority on Heaven and earth has been given to me”. But this paragraph is just the opening to the speech, when it gets going it is clearly expounding the teaching of Jesus evoking Matt 5:17 (“I am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfil”), Matt 5:38-48 (Love your enemies), Matt 6:14-15 (Forgive men their sins). The final part of this speech is reminiscent of the sending of the seventy two in Luke 10, particularly the line about seeing “Satan fall” (v.18). From the film’s point of view, however, this final line is also significant because it explains the significance of the film’s later variation of Jesus’s “crucifixion”.

    In some ways, however, picking through these two speeches to find echoes of verses from the gospels is only one way to approach this, and it is perhaps more reasonable to examine the speeches as a whole and ask whether they fit a biblical perspective or not. There is a huge swathe of individual verses which are used to justify non-violence as something Jesus both taught and practised, but no single speech that neatly sums up that philosophy. Clearly the filmmakers have taken the stance that it is appropriate to lump these disparate quotes together in order to forge two such speeches, and I’m certainly sympathetic to that approach.

    The problem with this methodology is that things are not always that simple. Jesus may have said "those who live by the sword, will die by the sword" (Matt 26:52) after Peter had cut of Malchus’s ear, but the reason he had the sword in the first place is because it seems that Jesus told him to bring it (Luke 22:36, 38).

    On balance, I personally see the various words from the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus’s example as he is arrested, tortured and killed, as outweighing the verses that are routinely used to argue for violent / military methods on occasion. I have to admit, however, that the Luke 22 verses trouble me. But then it’s easy to sit in my ivory tower and pontificate about such things. What Dornford-May and co. have done is take a radical message about non-violence to a context where the words of Jesus still need to be heard.

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