• 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.

    Matt Page


    Thursday, December 07, 2006

    The Nativity Story - Scene Analysis

    As promised earlier in the week here is my scene guide for The Nativity Story (my review). This might contain some spoilers, though obviously the story is pretty well known. You can read all my posts on the film at this link.
    Screen Quote - (Jer 23:5-6)
    Slaughter of the infants - (Matt 2:16)
    Zecariah's vision - (Luke 1:5-22)
    Nazareth School - (1 Ki 19:11-12)
    [extra-biblical episode - Tax collection]
    Magi see the star - (Matt 2:1)
    Mary and Joseph Engaged - (Luke 1:27)
    Annunciation - (Luke 1:26-38)
    [extra-biblical episode - Journey to Elizabeth]
    Elizabeth's greeting - (Luke 1:39-56)
    [extra-biblical episode - Magi]
    Birth of John - (Luke 1:57-66)
    John's circumcision - (1 Ki 19:11-12)
    [extra-biblical episodes - Mary returns, Herod and son]
    Joseph plans to divorce her quietly - (Matt 1:18-19)
    Joseph's dream - (Matt 1:20-24; Is 7:14?)
    [extra-biblical episode - Herod and son II]
    Journey to Bethlehem - (Luke 2:1-5, Zech 9:9?)
    [extra-biblical episodes - Journey to Bethlehem]
    Magi and Herod - (Luke 2:1-8)
    [extra-biblical episode - Meeting the Shepherds]
    Birth - (Luke 2:6-7)
    Shepherds and the Angels - (Luke 2:8-16)
    Visit of the Magi - (Matt 2:9-11)
    Magi return - (Matt 2:12 (sort of))
    Escape to Egypt/Death of Infants - (Matt 2:13-18)
    Closing Voiceover - (Luke 1:51-53)
    This is obviously a harmonised version of the two birth narratives from the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Most of the text from the gospel birth narratives are included here, and, as Mark Goodacre points out, the omissions are generally justified in order to combine the two different versions into a single, smoothly flowing narrative. The main omissions are the full text of the Magnificat, Zechariah's prayer, a host of angels appearing to the shepherds, Jesus's presentation in the temple, and the magi's dream is replaced by them deciding for themselves that visiting Herod might not be the best plan. Only one of these items is really an episode - that of the temple appearance, and as Mark points out this has to be sacrificed in order to get the shepherds and the wise men there at the same time. Personally, I wish they had included this scene as I find it quite inspiring, and had decided not to have the shepherds and wise men arrive together. That is not supported by either text, and the contrast between stable (Luke) and house (Matt) and Herod's decision to kill all males in Bethlehem under the age of 2 (having learned when the star first appeared) suggest to me that if the gospel accounts are to be harmonised then the wise men should arrive some time later.

    Steven D Greydanus of Decent Films notes in his review how the film seems to chop the inspiring and beloved words of the Magnificat and Zechariah's prayer. He notes how "these omissions are all the more curious precisely because the whole challenge with these scenes is the paucity of source material". I can see both sides on this one, particular as I found the added dialogue quite poor in places. But I have also seen various people try and act out the words from the Magnificat and it is always poorly executed, and feels very forced and static.

    Two omissions that neither Steven nor Mark mention relate to the effect that these two miraculous births had on those who witnessed them. Following the birth of John Luke 1:65 notes how " All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea". Likewise, once the shepherds have seen Jesus Luke records how "when they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child". This emphasis on not just hearing the news about what God was doing, but telling is others is something of a Lucan theme, and leaving it out does, to a degree, make it easier to relegate the story to "just a story". These verses are nearly always omitted from filmed versions of the nativity stories. I'd love to see them covered one day.

    As with the source material, there are a few Old Testament verses used as well. As I noted in my review the account of Elijah hearing God's after the earthquake wind and fire is referred to twice. There is also the opening quotation from Jeremiah 23:5-6, something that sounds like it might be based on Zech 9:9, and some quotation from Joseph''s dream that I missed completely, but I think is probably Is 7:14. That's one to check next time I see this.

    I have a few more points to make about this film before I'm done, but I'll save those for future posts.

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    • At 6:11 pm, December 18, 2008, Blogger funmom said…

      Our favorite Christmas tradition is acting out the Christmas story. It quickly reminds my children that christmas is so much more than presents and sweets.

      This year I was lucky enough to find a place that had the whole story with the script and set to music as a download. It was just beautiful and simple!

      www.FastFamilyFun.com download the script and music here:

    • At 11:35 am, January 06, 2009, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks Eric


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