• 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


    Wednesday, February 28, 2007

    Podcast: Jesus of Montreal

    This month I'm discussing Denis Arcand's Jésus de Montréal (Jesus of Montreal). The film tells the story of an actor who gets the role of Jesus in a play, and begins to find his real life becomming more and more like the one he is portraying.

    My three previous entries in this podcast are all still available to download: Jesus of Nazareth, Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo (The Gospel According to St. Matthew), and The Greatest Story Ever Told

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    Tuesday, February 27, 2007

    Book Review: Filmstar Jesus Christus

    One of the things I have most enjoyed about running this blog, is making contact with others around the world who are also interested in this area. Back in July Thomas Langkau made contact and as a few emails went back and forth we became friends. In the process it emerged that he was in the process of writing a book on Jesus films, which has just been published

    "Filmstar Jesus Christus" is, as far as I'm aware the first book on films about Jesus to be written in German. Unfortunately, I've not really spoken much German since doing it at GCSE, almost half my life ago. It does make me wish I'd kept it up.

    However, the book doesn't just settle for going over old ground but in a different language. Instead it takes a fresh approach of concentrating on Jesus films since 1990. There is obviously an overview of the different Jesus films from the last 110 years, and the book's German perspective brings certain films to light that have passed without comment in other volumes. There are a few comments on films that have considered how Jesus would find the 20th Century such as The Second Coming or Hal Hartley's excellent Book of Life. There are also comments on films that explore religious themes such as Bruce Almighty and The Exorcist.

    The main body of the book focuses on 15 Jesus biopics since Jesus of Montreal. That starting point is significant as Lloyd Baugh claimed that films about Jesus had nowhere else to go. So Langkau picks up where Baugh, Tatum (initially), and Stern et al. left off. The fifteen films in question are:
    The Bible Collection: Jesus (1999 - Young)
    Jesus (1999 - Moati)
    The Passion of the Christ (2004 - Gibson)
    Es wäre gut, daß ein Mensch würde umbracht für das Volk (1991 - Niebeling)
    Jesus Christ Superstar (2000 - Morris / Edwards)
    Life of Jesus: The Revolutionary (1995 - Marcarelli)
    The Garden of Eden (1998 - D'Alatri)
    Judas (2004 - Carner)
    Visual Bible: Matthew (1993 - van der Bergh)
    Gospel of John (2003 - Saville)
    Mary of Nazareth (1995 Delannoy)
    Mary the Mother of Jesus (1999 Connor)
    Maria, figlia del suo figlio (1999 Costa)
    Close to Jesus Series (1999-2001 Mertes)
    The Miracle Maker (1999 Hayes Sokolov)
    I've actually only seen 9½ of these films, being only halfway through the Close to Jesus Series. The approach taken to each one varies. There's more attention on the more significant films. The Bible Collection: Jesus and The Miracle Maker get a scene guide table each comparing the screenplay of the four gospels. The Passion of the Christ, however, gets a comparison between the film, the gospels and source writer Emmerich's work. Other films, such as the films about Mary are collected together into a single chapter. The flexibility of this approach works allowing each film to be discussed in the way most appropriate to it and its readers.

    The appendices are useful as well. In addition to a film credits section, and several bibliographies, there is a list of useful websites, documentaries, and finally pictures of the DVD front covers of the 15 films featured.

    Due to my inability to speak German, I'm unable to offer any comments on the quality of the analysis. However, it's clear that this work is thoroughly researched and offers a fresh perspective in this field. Anyone who speaks German, and has an interest in this field would be advised to get a copy.


    Monday, February 26, 2007

    Color of the Cross review up at rejesus

    My review of Color of the Cross has been published at rejesus.

    Anyone who is interested in the film might also wish to read the longer review of it written for this site as well as my scene analysis.

    There are also a few other bits and pieces that have surfaced about this film recently. Over at Sisterlocks® there's a very positive review by BlaqKofi. That in turn led me to the blog of co-writer Jim Troesh who has a number of posts on the film, including episode 4 of his short documentaries series, The Hollywood Quad. Troesh mentions a few interesting things to do with the writing of the film, and does it in a very tongue in cheek style. That works better in some places than others, but the final line is brilliant.


    Friday, February 23, 2007

    Text and Interpretation in The Passion of the Christ

    I've been preparing for a talk I'm doing on Saturday looking at the historical information about the death of Jesus. As it turns out I'm making a few brief comments on The Passion of the Christ so I thought I'd post them here, and flesh them out a little. There's actually been very little written on this site about The Passion of the Christ (my review) directly, as it's only been mentioned in reference to other films, or its release on DVD.


    In the run up to Easter 2004, there was tremendous controversy about alleged anti-Semitism in The Passion of the Christ. Most lay Christians, and a good proportion of church leaders, were left slightly confused by all this. On the one hand they found the idea of anti-Semitism abhorrent, yet on the other hand they felt this was what they perceived to be an attack on God's word. After all Gibson was only portraying what he found in the gospels.

    However, from a film-making point of view, the translation from a written text, to a film requires a huge amount of interpretation. Particularly when it is an ancient text; particularly when it isn't written for entertainment like say Shakespeare. And when you are trying to make one film from four different, ancient, non-entertaining sources, which have been sifted through 2000 years of theological reflection and artistic interpretation, then the amount of interpretation, creation and deviation is massive, even for those seeking to be as historically accurate as possible.


    That, of course, doesn't even take into consideration that The Passion set itself the target of being a particularly visual film. Whilst, eventually, the film was released with subtitles, Gibson's initial vision was for The Passion was that it would rely on "visual storytelling" and the power of his images to convey the story. Admittedly, he was also able to draw on a general level of familiarity with the story, but even so this is a far heavier reliance on images than is standard. As a result, the level of interpretation is perhaps even greater in this film than in most.

    Take, for example, the scene which depicts the trial in front of Pilate. We have no record of how Pilate really looked. Gibson portrays him as a noble, clean cut, philosophical type. He pauses in between the lines that are spoken to ponder their meaning, as if he is so carefully weighing the immense judgement he is making that he is caught in indecision.

    How differently would Pilate have come across if he had been portrayed by one of the actors who played a Roman soldier in the film, perhaps one of the two who is responsible for carrying out the brutal flogging? What if he had barked out his orders and decisions, and his acting had reflected disdain, or disinterest in what was happening, or even a sadistic pleasure in seeing Jesus suffer?

    The differences in physical resemblance between this philosophical Pilate, and the pudgy, ugly actor with bad teeth who plays Caiaphas has been commented on numerous times. What if Pilate's costume was adorned with tacky looking shiny objects, and Caiaphas was dressed fairly plainly. What if the two actors swapped roles but acted the part in exactly the same way. Would we feel more for this noble Caiaphas who has, after all, huge responsibility for the fate of the Jewish people, and has to deal with this power hungry Roman.

    Then consider the size of "the crowd", leaving aside the motive Mark supplies for them being there (Mark 15:6-9), how big exactly is a crowd? A crowd in a football stadium might be 100,000 people. A crowd in my living room might be only 10 (it is a small living room). Pilate's house would, no doubt, have been a great deal larger than mine, but from there on in the way the crowd is depicted is straight from Gibson's imagination.

    This crowd numbers around 300 people, packed into a massive space, as if Pilate frequently hosted such numbers when trying potential political revolutionaries. What if the space was smaller, the crowd looser and less animated? 50 to 100 people could still be called a crowd a such a situation. Either way, if Sanders' estimate that the Passover time population of Jerusalem was between 300,000 and 400,000 then even a crowd of a 1000 would be a drop in the ocean.1 What if the film had showed that the vast, vast majority of Jews in Jerusalem at that time were not present, and urging the governor to execute Jesus.

    There are, of course, numerous other points that can, and have, been made about this scene, and indeed the historical reliability of the accounts it claims to be based in. My point here is simply to show just how much translation is present in a couple of aspects of a particular scene. It also shows what a shame it is that many church leaders lined up so enthusiastically to inform those who listen to them that this film was historically accurate.

    See also: Why is the Historical Jesus Quest so Difficult?

    Sanders, E.P., The Historical Figure of Jesus, p.249


    Thursday, February 22, 2007

    ARGGHH! The Gospel According to Matthew..."Colorized Version"?

    Someone tell me this is a hoax. "Genius Products", who appear to be part of the Weinstein Company are about to release Pasolini's classic Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo...in colour. It's due to be released on the 26th March, and whilst it's skinny on the extras it does included the black and white version of the film as well.

    I have to admit I'm lost for words. Pasolini is probably spinning in his grave. The use of black and white was a deliberate choice by Pasolini; it was part of his aesthetic. Review after review of this film comments on the grainy black and white film stock, the impressive use of chiaroscuro.

    "But hey black and white is boring. Why don't we jazz it up with some colour?". Part of me is curious to see this, but only in the same way that people can't help looking on when they drive past the site of a car crash.

    The worst thing is that another release of this film on DVD means that it has further shrunk the potential market for a decent, Criterion-esque release of this film which includes the option to remove the subtitles, as well as his related films La Ricotta and Seeking Locations in Palestine for The Gospel According to St. Matthew.

    Meanwhile my podcast on Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo is still available to download.

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    Wednesday, February 21, 2007

    Living Bible - Episodes 7 & 8 (UK version)

    (This post is part of a continuing series on the UK release of The Living Bible - See all posts and citation method)
    Episode 7 - Woman at the Well
    John hands on to Jesus - (John 3:22-31)
    Pharisees hear about Jesus - (John 4:1-3)
    [extra-biblical episode]
    Woman at the Well - (John 4:4-42)

    Episode 8 - Jesus Before the High Priest
    Jesus is taken away - (John 18:12-15a)
    Trial before Annas - (John 18:19-24)
    Peter's first denial - (John 18:15-17)
    Testimonies against Jesus - (Mark 14:55-56)
    Peter's second denial - (John 18:18, 25)
    Trial before Caiaphas - (Mark 14:57-65)
    Peter's third denial - (John 18:26-27)
    Another Trial before Caiaphas - (Luke 22:66-23:1)
    Quote from Isaiah - (Is 53:3-5)
    Aside from some of the early silent films, the incident with the woman at the well is fairly rare for Jesus films. Obviously Saville's The Gospel of John had to include the incident, but otherwise the only major films to cover this incident are Rossellini's Il Messia and this series' contemporary . As with The Gospel of John the whole episode is included, although not quite word for word, hence not only is this incident included, but it's also given prominence.

    This version of that story though is very keen to stress the woman's sin in her five marriages. Whilst that corresponds to the 20h century understanding of the situation, the woman should almost certainly be seen as a victim. Marriage was rarely by choice for women, and a displeased husband could get a divorce with relative ease. The repeated divorce cycle suggests perhaps that she was unable to have children. The fact that she was drawing her water in the noonday sun, rather than in the cool of the morning suggests she had also been rejected by society.

    Episode 8 struggles to bring together the four gospel accounts of the trial before Caiaphas into a harmonious whole. The task is made harder by the degree of confusion in John as to who is High Priest. The title is given to both Annas and Caiaphas (I believe that the title was held for life, even after the person was no longer in office). Details are given of the hearing before Annas, but not before Caiaphas. The four accounts can be seen in parallel at Five Gospel Parallels.

    But the film further complicates the hearing in front of Caiaphas, by trying to mesh Luke's marginally more divergent account with those of Matthew and Mark. Whilst in Mark and Matthew it appears to occur at night, Luke stresses that it happens by day, and the film picks up on how a night trial would have been unlawful. Luke also includes a little less detail overall, but adds Jesus saying "If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer".

    So the film decides to handle these as a main trial by night, and an official hearing in the morning to ratify the night council's decision. Whilst there are discrepancies between Luke and Matt/Mark, this seems a fairly poor way to solve them as both accounts contain enough common ground for it to be clear that these trials were one and the same.

    The episode ends on the famous verses from Isaiah 53:3-5. I've previously noted that whilst the passage is quoted 7 times in the New Testament, the parts that support substitutionary atonement are curiously absent.

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    Tuesday, February 20, 2007

    More on a New David Film

    Early last month I linked to news that J. Michael Straczynski was writing a film about David. Peter Chattaway thinks he has heard about this film from another source, producer Ralph Winter. Winter is interviewed by Infuze Magazine and drops in this little piece of information
    I've read a couple of scripts lately based on Old Testament stories. One of them is about David, and his rise from a shepherd to becoming the anointed king. And it's gritty. It's brutal. It's reflective of the time. And it's not written by a Christian. But it's a compelling story, and that's the kind of movie I want to make!
    As Peter notes, that sounds very similar to Straczynski's script, the safe bet would be that this is the same film.

    Certainly I'm encouraged by these two soundbites. The story of David is grizzly, and the biblical writers almost seems to revel in the little details here and there like Philistine foreskins and people getting caught by their hair in trees and so on.

    Winter also makes some comments about The Nativity:
    ...it's a straight-ahead retelling of the story, and there's a lack of mystery to it. I think they toned down some of the violence, afraid that some Christians would be turned off by it...Ultimately, it's just not transcendent enough to inspire me. My wife liked it more than I did. And I hope to see it again, so maybe I'll feel differently. It's got all the right production values, but it doesn't have that mysterious missing element that takes it to another level.

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    Monday, February 19, 2007

    Interview with Lance Tracy

    I reviewed Lance Tracy's The Cross a couple of weeks ago, and I managed to get the following interview with the director.
    Matt Page:Are you familiar with the Life of Mohammed film "The Message"? How did that influence what you did here?

    Lance Tracy:No I’m not familiar with the film.

    MP:The flashback-triggering-memory technique you used several times in the film also got used later on by another Jesus film that people might of heard of. Did you hear from Gibson’s people or do you think it was just coincidence?

    LT:Funny story here. While Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ was in development, Mel’s producing partner, Bruce Davey went to breakfast with my producer, Roger Lamb. Roger wanted to discuss a feature length version of The Cross. Little did Roger know that Bruce and Mel were in development on The Passion of The Christ. We had just finished The Cross so Roger gave Bruce a copy of the film. A year or so later (as memory serves me) when the Passion of the Christ came out, I was sitting in the movie theatre watching it with my wife. Mel’s crucifixion scene was almost identical to The Cross. There was a similar crane shot starting at the head of Jesus and raising straight up to the sky. Simultaneously, in both films you could hear the heart beat of Jesus fade up and then slowly come to a stop—a device I used to let the viewers know that this is exactly when Christ’s heart stopped. Mel added a CGI "tear" from God at that moment, which was effective, and his budget accommodated it. My wife looked at me at this scene in shock—I knew her look; "This is exactly like your film". If you compare the resurrection scene in Jesus’ tomb, you’ll notice the same thing. There are other shots as well. The Cross was finished at least a year before The Passion of The Christ, so any inspiration on our film certainly didn’t come from it. The next day after the release of Passion, I received a bunch of phone calls from viewers around the country noting the similarities and asking how I felt. They were implying that I should be upset. I told them that if Mel was indeed inspired by The Cross then I was flattered. I consider him a great filmmaker. Admittedly, all filmmakers are inspired by ideas from other filmmakers.

    MP:Talking of The Passion of The Christ, there was obviously a lot of controversy surrounding that film. If you were re-making this film what would you do differently?

    LT:Good question. I would spend more money, shoot it in Morocco and use actual middle-eastern people / actors in the film. Also, while the "viewing the movie through the eyes of Jesus" was unique and interesting, and worked well for this short film, I don’t think I’d do it again on a feature - at least to that extent. While it eliminated controversy over what Jesus probably looked like, I believe it would be difficult to develop his character the way it would need to be developed in a feature.

    I wanted a hero that relates to every man, someone who is willing to die for the cause. Obviously Jesus did that. While that makes great gospel, that also makes a great story. Unfortunately, it is difficult to put our sometimes cinematically-cumbersome religious beliefs and viewpoints aside to take the artistic license to tell the best story. I felt like both The Passion and The Cross had some of those cumbersome moments--A checklist, if you will, of items that must appear in a Jesus film in a certain way, in order for it to be told correctly. You don’t find those same constraints in a non-religious historical film. There are expectations to contend with, and a Christian audience goes into a film like this with their own set of them.

    My feature script is called Revolution and I’d like it to relate on many levels to a non-Christian audience—mainly because I don’t think our world should be compartmentalized between "religious" and "non religious". However I don’t feel the market can accommodate another Jesus film right now.

    MP:Most filmmakers have tried to minimise the line from Matt 27:25 due to the way it has been used to justify anti-Semitism over the ages. What were your reasons for portraying it the way you did?

    LT:Jesus and the gospel are not politically correct, from my viewpoint. That’s why he died. I don’t think if he came back today and preached the same way, things would be different. If I’m going to tell an honest story about Jesus, there will be inherent moments that will seem anti-Semitic. Taken into context, those Jewish Pharisees happened to be on the receiving end of his strong words, but I think he would have said those same things to anyone, if they stood in the way of his mission and message. It wasn’t because they were Jewish, it was because they happened to be Jewish Leaders who were leading both Jews and Gentiles astray. In Matthew 10:34, Jesus states, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." Now, he said a lot of things in his days, and I think it’s important to not get hung up on just one thing, but to consider the balance of ALL he said, and the message he was trying to portray. That’s what we tried to present in The Cross —a balanced view of his message.

    MP:One of my favourite shots from the film is the one of Judas jumping off the tree. It’s a very unusual camera position. What were you trying to capture with that shot?

    LT:There’s a certain level of gore in this film which I believe must be there, in order to tell the story truthfully. I decided to place the camera under Judas and have him fall toward camera upside down in the frame. I felt it was jarring and confusing, as I imagine a hanging would be. Agustin Rodriguez, the actor, did a fine job.

    MP:Have you any plans to revisit this material at all? There was some discussion on the DVD about a longer film using the same basic premise?

    LT:As I eluded to above, my long-term goal as a director is to make an epic film of his entire life, in the calibre of Gladiator or Lawrence of Arabia. The market is a bit swamped at the moment, and I’d like a few more features to contend with first. My current feature documentary on the effects of the Adult Entertainment industry called Adult Entertainment: Disrobing an American Idol is being released next month: www.adultdocumentary.com. My next project is an American Civil War story with quite a twist, scheduled to lens this summer in Oregon State, USA


    Thanks to Lance for his answers.

    I find Lance's first couple of answers astonishing, particularly as there seems no good reason to doubt their veracity. With regards to The Passion of The Christ it was clearly released three years after The Cross, and the similarities are obvious. What I find astonishing is that in the mountains of reviews, essays, papers, comment and discussion I've waded through on The Passion no-one has yet mentioned The Cross so directly.

    I'm also really surprised no-one has ever mentioned The Message to Lance either before, during or after the film's release. I have yet to see it so I can't comment on any similarities or differences, but I would have thought that someone, somewhere, would have brought it up in conversation at least once. Mind you, it's not a particularly well known film especially for those who don't have a strong interest in Islam

    The Cross is available to buy on DVD, as well as to download

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    Friday, February 16, 2007

    RoGoPaG Coming to DVD

    I've been meaning to catch RoGoPaG ever since my friend Peter Chattaway reviewed it a while ago. It's actually a collection of four short films and it takes its name from Robert Rossellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Ugo Gregoretti who each directed one of the films.

    The film that is of most relevance to this site is Pasolini's La Ricotta in which a movie director makes a film about Jesus's death. The film was deemed so irreverent that Pasolini was initially sentenced to some time in jail. Shortly afterwards he released the far more reverent Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo (1964).

    La Ricotta, with out the other three sections I believe, has been available on DVD since 2004 when it was released as an extra on the Criterion Collection version of Pasolini's Mamma Roma. (The director character - played by Orson Welles - reads passages of Pasolini's book "Mamma Roma" during La Ricotta).

    However, the entire anthology is to be included in a boxed set of Pasolini's films which is to be released on 26th February 2007. The set will also include Accattone and Comizi d'amore (Love Meetings). Sadly, Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo is not included in the set. I long for the day that film gets the full treatment and not only gets released with the option to remove the subtitles, but also with La Ricotta and Seeking Locations in Palestine for The Gospel According to St. Matthew (which Peter Chattaway also makes some comments on). This set is actually only volume 1. A second box set will be released on the 23rd April featuring Hawks and Sparrows (1966), Oedipus Rex (1967), and Pigsty (1969).

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    Thursday, February 15, 2007

    The Essential Jesus

    This isn't so much of a formal review as a few thoughts on Crossan's Book which I read over the autumn (fall) last year.


    Unlike John Dominic Crossan's previous works "The Essential Jesus" is more of a popular level text, which claims to be "the definitive presentation of Jesus' authentic sayings and teachings". Essentially it's a compilation of what Crossan considers to be the earliest, and authentic, sayings of Jesus alongside some of the earliest examples of Christian art. There's a brief introduction, ("Contexts") before the main section which lays out each saying on a fresh page and intersperses it with images of this early art (largely sculptures on sepulchres). The final two sections contain notes on the images, and then an inventory of images.

    Crossan's methodology is very controversial, and he his fair share of ardent admirers and vitriolic critics alike. In terms of the collection of sayings, the raw information displayed here is already present in "The Historical Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography", but by making this collection the core feature of this book, it brings Crossan's reformed gospel into clearer focus. The use of images also contributes to the clarity of image that Crossan lays before his readers.

    One the points that I found most interesting is Crossan's theory that two characteristics typified Jesus's Kingdom program - eating and healing. To support this theory he not only relies on the historical texts but also the sheer number of the earliest Christian images which depict meals or healings. Out of 60 typical images, 27 are eating scenes, and 19 are healing scenes. Whilst I'm not convinced that art is any less subject to bias, ideology and removal if deemed offensive, it's certainly an interesting point. Certainly the artistic evidence supports the textual evidence on this point, and it's interesting that this aspect, and particularly it's political implications, tend to be underplayed today. I intend to follow this up at some stage with an examination of the frequency which these two features figure in Jesus biopics. Certainly the miracles are often underplayed. How will the meal scenes fair?

    The other point which I found interesting was Crossan's skill in making familiar texts fresh once again. Crossan provides his own translation for each text, based on his own five point process. i - both individual and social, ii - both political and religious, iii - sayings require both interpretation and translation, iv - structural and spatial presentation to return to the original more memorable phrases, v - minimal and poetic, also to reflect the original easy-to-remember format. However, in places, the new translation seems less memorable than the standard canonical versions. Perhaps that simply reflects my own familiarity with these canonical version, but whilst overall Crossan achieves his objective, in places it seems to only make things less easy to remember.

    What really breathes fresh life into these texts is the way he asks after certain sayings "but how is the Kingdom of God like that"? It's a incredibly simple question, but pretty soon I realised that in many places I had uncritically accepted the explanation I had been given years ago (at Sunday school probably), and had not really listened to those texts since. Whilst Crossan's "Mediterranean peasant" filter gives him a particular angle on these things, even those who reject the prominence Crossan gives it will find the question helps them look at things anew.

    So overall it was an interesting and challenging read. I should be clear that I don't agree with all of Crossan's approach. In places it is overly pessimistic, in others it's more Mediterranean than Jewish. But even despite my misgivings he has a number of fascinating insights which make "The Essential Jesus" well worth a read.

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    Wednesday, February 14, 2007

    Living Bible - Episodes 5 & 6 (UK version)

    (This post is part of a continuing series on the UK release of The Living Bible -See all posts)

    After the unusual episode arrangement in parts 3 and 4, the series fits back into a more recognisable chronology for the next two parts covering the following episodes (citation method)
    Episode 5 - First Disciples
    Jesus in the Wilderness - (Mark 1:13)
    Jesus and John's disciples - (John 1:29-39)
    Call of Simon Peter - (John 1:40-42)
    Jesus Calls Philip - (John 1:43-44)
    Jesus Calls Nathanael - (John 1:45-51)

    Episode 6 - Jesus at Nazareth and Capernaum
    Jesus in Jerusalem - (John 2:23)
    Jesus in Galilee - (Mark 1:14-15)
    Jesus Heals a Nobleman's Son - (John 4:46-54)
    Rejection at Nazareth - (Luke 4:16-30, Mark 6:4)
    Jesus goes to Capernaum - (Matt 4:13-16)
    The harmonising approach used by the makers of this film runs into some difficulty in these episodes. Firstly, Jesus's contact with John the Baptist is markedly different in the fourth gospel compared to the other three. In John, Jesus is not baptised by his cousin. The Baptist simply points him out to his own followers, with the result that some of them instantly leave John to follow this new, and by implication greater, leader. John's gospel also omits the temptation in the desert.

    To overcome this, Episode 5 starts with Jesus leaving the desert after his temptation, and it is then that John makes the famous announcement "Look, the Lamb of God". It also omits verses 31-32 of chapter 1 where John the Baptist repeats the words heard in the Synoptics immediately after Jesus emerges from the water.

    It should also be noted that in the US DVD release these incidents are handled even more curiously. Firstly, the baptism is included, but John's hair and beard are different. Then the "Behold the Lamb of God" scene is shown, but it is totally different, being filmed in a different location with more extensive dialogue, with John looking the same as in the baptism scene (all US episode 2). Finally, the third episode opens showing this incident again, only this time it is the same as the UK version being discussed here.

    These episodes also come up against some of the ways the Synoptics and John differ. Both the numbers of trips Jesus makes to Jerusalem (three in John, just one in the others) and the way the disciples are called varies between the four gospels. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus first calls Peter and Andrew as they are by the Sea, and then soon after calls James and John. In the fourth gospel, John the Baptist encourages Andrew and an unnamed disciple to follow Jesus, and Andrew introduces Peter. Shortly after the numbers are brought up to five when Philip and Nathanael join.

    Here the series prefers John over the Synoptics. James remains absent, although the unamed disciple is here identified as John. Episode 6 then starts in Jerusalem with a reference to Jesus having just cleared the temple. He then returns to Cana and Galilee. The script does well here to harmonise the different accounts although it does omit the wedding at Cana.

    The Living Bible also departs from the majority of Jesus films over the healing of the official's son. Most films tend to depict this based on either Matt 8:5-13, or Luke 7:1-10, with the "official" also being a centurion. This ties in with the Rome vs the Jews subplot of many Jesus biopics. Here, however, the Johannine version of the story is prefered whereby the official is a nobleman, and it is his son that is critically ill. Many would, of course, hold that these are two different, albeit similar, events, and indeed this film may prove to take that path as well. That said, the similarities are striking, and the differences fairly minor, and could be explainned away by the differing concerns of the authors.

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    Monday, February 12, 2007

    News on The Inquiry (L'Inchiesta)

    Just before Christmas, I mentioned that Hristo Shopov who played Pontius Pilate in The Passion of the Christ had reprised the role for The Inquiry (L'Inchiesta) which played at the Capri Hollywood Film Festival.

    There's no news of a general release for the film yet, but according to the IMDb it will be playing at the Los Angeles Italian Film Festival on the 20 February 2007. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with actors Dolph Lundgren and Daniele Liotti and director Giulio Base. You can make reservations here.

    There are also a number of pictures from the film at the Rai Fiction site as well as this plot synopsis
    A beautiful, young Israeli woman, Tabitha, awakens to find her mother being stoned by a group of people for cheating on her father with a Roman soldier. In lower Germany, the great Roman warrior Tauro is charged by the Emperor Tiberius to travel to Jerusalem and find the truth behind the legend of a man, Jesus of Nazareth, who supposedly arose from the dead. When Tauro comes to Jerusalem, he encounters Tabitha and her grandmother, saving her from a petty mugger. Love sparks between the two, but she is forbidden to touch, much less speak to a Roman...
    I imagine that it is the part of Tauro that the film's main star Dolph Lundgren will be playing. For some reason the combination of Dolph and a great Roman warrior called Tauro makes my expectations for the film slide considerably.

    FilmChat also notes how The Inquiry might be being released on DVD by Fox Faith, but under the title The Final Inquiry

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    Friday, February 09, 2007

    Children's Bible Programme Friends and Heroes to Air on BBC

    Mark Goodacre posts about a new BBC TV series dealing with Bible stories for children. According to Christian Today Friends and Heroes will start on the 12th March on CBBC (Children's BBC). It will show either once or twice a day starting at either noon (if 2 episodes) or 12:30pm (if only one episode).

    The official Friends and Heroes website describes the series as follows:
    Friends and Heroes is the epic animated tale of two young people in the First Century - Macky and Portia - whose idealism and friendship leads them across the ancient world, from the fabled Egyptian port of Alexandria, to the besieged city of Jerusalem and finally, to the very heart of the Empire: Rome. As they fight for justice and even survival against the might of the Roman Empire, they become friends and then, in turn, heroes.

    Through Macky and Portia, Friends and Heroes brings the inspiring stories of the Old and New Testament to a new, worldwide generation of children in the Twenty-First Century, whatever their faith or background.
    The 13 episodes will be broadcast on weekdays between March 12 and 23, sometimes twice a day, starting at 12 noon and 12.30pm, or in single episodes starting at 12.30pm. The series will form part of the BBC's factual output on CBBC which is also used by schools. The website also has an intro video, a making of featurette as well as an episode guide which I've summarised below. These 13 episodes are only the first of three series which combine 2D and 3D animation. Each episode is 26 minutes long.
    Episode 1 - Daniel in the Lions’ Den, The Miraculous Catch of Fish
    Episode 2 - Samson and Delilah, Peter and Cornelius
    Episode 3 - David and Goliath, Peter released from prison
    Episode 4 - Rahab and Caleb, Peter raises Tabitha
    Episode 5 - Gideon, The Christmas Story
    Episode 6 - Moses and the Egyptian, Paul on the Damascus Road
    Episode 7 - Ruth and Naomi, The Good Samaritan
    Episode 8 - Peter and John healing people, Shadrach and the Furnace
    Episode 9 - Esther, Joseph of Cyprus (Barnabas)
    Episode 10 - Joseph and his Brothers, Simon Magus
    Episode 11 - The Burning Bush and the Exodus, The Last Supper
    Episode 12 - Jonah, The Prodigal Son
    Episode 13 - Elijah and King Ahab, The First Pentecost
    There's quite a bit there, and I'm encouraged that there are a number of lesser known stories included as well as some of the classics. It seems like the characters will be involved in their own adventures in the 1st Century, but the biblical content will be recounted by stories. It's aimed at 6-10 year olds so it will be interesting to see how they deal with the stories. It's noticeable that stories where God/Israelites kill lots of people have been avoided (although that may figure in some - time will tell. This I think is a better approach than that of the Veggie Tales series (where the fate of the enemies are things like perpetual tickling, and thus process of concealing the difficult passages in scripture starts at a young age).

    Edit: My review for this series is now available.

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    Thursday, February 08, 2007

    Color of the Cross - Scene Guide

    I reviewed Jean Claude LaMarre's Color of the Cross last month, and have been meaning to write the corresponding scene analysis ever since. As usual bible references are cited in accordance with my general citation policy
    [Opening Shot of the Cross]
    [extra-biblical episodes]
    Journey to Jerusalem - (Mark 10:32, Matt 26:52)
    Passover preparation - (Mark 14:12-26)
    [extra-biblical episodes]
    Camping in Gethsemane - (Matt 5:11)
    [extra-biblical episode]
    Mary's Pregnancy Recounted - (Matt 1:18-25)
    [extra-biblical episode]
    Birth of Jesus told - (Luke 2:6)
    Start of Last Supper - (Mark 14:17)
    [extra-biblical episode]
    Last Supper - (Mark 14:18-21, 9:33-37)
    Foot washing - (John 13:1-15)
    [extra-biblical episode]
    Bread and Wine - (Mark 14:22-25)
    [extra-biblical episode]
    Jesus Predicts Peter's Denial - (Mark 14:26-31, Luke 22:31)
    [extra-biblical episodes]
    Disciples in the garden - (John 12:24)
    Testimony against Jesus - (Mark 14:55-59)
    Boy Jesus - (Luke 2:41-52)
    [extra-biblical episode]
    Gethsemane - (Mark 14:32-42)
    [extra-biblical episodes]
    Great Commission - (Matt 28:19-20)
    Arrest - (John 18:1-11)
    Crucifixion - (Mark 14:24,34, Luke 23:43, 34)
    [Montage of moments from Jesus's life]
    One of the most striking aspects of the scene selection for this film is the omission of the events between Jesus's arrest and his crucifixion. "Yoshua" is arrested in Gethsemane, and then the camera cuts to his dying words on the cross. As I noted in my review it has been suggested that this might be some sort of response to The Passion of the Christ, or it may simply be a way of drawing out the parallels. A third option occurred to me the other day, on reading some of Crossan's work on the crucifxion. Crossan suggests that as the disciples fled after Jesus's arrest none of them could have witnessed these events, and so the details between the arrest and the crucifixion originated in historising prophecy. Whilst I'm not personally convinced by Crossan's arguments (surely the disciples would at some stage try and find out what happened on that fateful night), it does shed an interesting light on this film's portrayal of those events.

    There are a number of interesting insertions into the biblical text. Early on the roman leader, who is not Pilate, and Caiaphas meet, and Caiaphas is clearly cast as having to ensure the peace is kept, and being responsible for handing over any would be revolutionaries. The Roman asks how it feels "a Jew handing over a Jew", Caiaphas's response "It doesn't feel good. If I'm wrong let history judge me" both captures the misgivings he may have had about handing Jesus over, as well as recasting the fateful words of Matt 27:25. It's also interesting to see Gamaliel given a role here, although whereas he is the voice of tolerance in Acts 5, here he is the voice of intolerance - unable to accept a black messiah.

    This is one of few films to actually show the two disciples going to arrange the Passover meal, and following a man carrying a water jar. As I understand it a man carrying a water jar would have been unusual in 1st Century Judea, whereas here it seems to be fairly mundane. Jesus's prediction that this would be the man to follow appears to be more prophetic than pre-arranged as is sometimes suggested.

    The character of Judas is a fairly prominent part of this film. As per John 12:6 Judas is categorised as a thief (which is fairly rare amongst Jesus biopics). However, he is also shown as being either an adulterer or a rapist, when he forces himself on Mary Magdalene (for her part she lies back and thinks of Magdala whilst hoping to delay his betrayal). Bizarrely though despite these two negative characteristics being shown, Judas's betrayal is not motivated because he is (directly) influenced by the devil, but because he is a disappointed zealot, who changes his mind even before he arrives in Gethsemane. Whilst Jesus films often try to undemonise Judas in this way, it is unusual for them to portray his general character in such a fashion whilst doing so. For what it's worth we don't see Judas's suicide.

    Jesus's family are shown in greater depth than in most films. Not only is Joseph still alive, but we meet James, Ezra and Leah, all of whom are related to Jesus. The standard Protestant view is that those described in the gospels as being Jesus's adelphos and adelphe are his actual brothers. The standard Catholic view is that these words should be translated cousins in this instance, and the standard orthodox view is that they were Joseph's children by another marriage (although I'm unsure how closely believers in the various camps align with these positions in practise). Most films tend to ignore Jesus's family altogether (except, of course, Mary), presumably in order to avoid offence. This does tend to weaken the all round portrayal of Jewish families in the film. By clearly showing Jesus's kinsfolk as younger than him, the film eliminates the step-brother/step-sister position, and by calling them brothers/sisters suggests it is going the Protestant route. It's worth noting, however, that Mary's costume is highly reminiscent of a nun's habit.

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    Wednesday, February 07, 2007

    The Cross (2001) – Review

    Having heard of Lance Tracey's The Cross, a few years ago, I was delighted to find out recently that it is not only available to buy on DVD, but also to download (although this takes several hours). Here's my review, with a scene guide and (hopefully) an interview with the director to follow.


    During the 90s "What Would Jesus Do?" became a popular slogan to encourage Christian teens (and other ages) to look at the world with his eyes and live accordingly. Lance Tracy's 2001 film The Cross takes things a step further making the camera the eyes of Jesus and placing its viewers in his place to see his crucifixion from his perspective.

    Such point of view shots have become increasingly popular in Jesus films, as they have progressively de-mystified the person of Jesus. Interestingly, however, it is precisely the reverence Muslim filmmaker Moustapha Akkad had for Mohammed that led him to use point of view shots in his biopic The Message.

    Neither film uses point of view shots exclusively, but given the way the technique in general enables audiences to identify with that particular character, there is clearly special significance in applying this method to a film about someone of religious significance.

    That said The Cross is much more than a single concept film. The point-of-view shots are only one of a number of new ideas that the film brings to the table. The film opens with a couple of establishing shots. These are not from Jesus's point of view, but create the context into which the rest of the picture will happen. We quickly find ourselves looking down a crossbeam at the Via Dolorosa. The crowds press in, some sympathetic, some not and it seems like the film is going to be over before it has even started.

    However, the camera settles on a particular woman. As we wonder if this is Mary Magdalene, the shot dissolves into a flashback, and we see Jesus heal her from what appears to be a self-inflicted slit wrist. Three years later, The Passion of the Christ would popularise this flashback-as-memory technique in films about Jesus.

    But this film does more than simply punctuate its linear narrative with the odd flashback. The normal flow of the story is shattered and re-assembled in non-linear fashion. Even for those familiar with the gospel accounts this is disorientating, and serves to create a level of confusion in the viewer that Jesus must have felt on the first Good Friday. As Jesus is crucified numerous blackouts and blurry point-of-view photography heighten the disorientation.

    The array of shots taken from Jesus's point-of-view encourages the viewer to consider other characters whose perspective we might temporarily be adopting. One of the most well-known point-of-view shots is the one taken from on high – popularly known as the "God shot". The Cross' religious subject matter means that it is only natural to interpret any overhead camera work in this manner. Indeed there are several shots that adopt this position, most notably a Dali-esque image at the moment Jesus dies. One of the most powerful moments in the scene is also filmed from this perspective as Mary Magdalene runs to tell the disciples of her encounter with the risen Jesus.

    Elsewhere, we witness the moment where Jesus's parent's lose him in the temple from his mother's perspective. Here, also, the camerawork is disorientating and enables the viewer to share Mary's panicked state of mind. Arguably the most striking shot in the film is when Judas leaps to his death. With the camera placed almost directly below him, the shot suggests the point-of-view of Satan as if Judas is jumping straight into the world below.

    Not all the aspects of the film are as impressive as the camerawork. As one might expect for a low budget film the acting is a little weak in places. This is exacerbated slightly by the lack of an (on-screen) lead character to give the picture a dramatic core. Addressing that problem, however, would have almost certainly weakened the very concept Tracy sought to explore.

    The "making of" documentary on the DVD notes that the film's low meant that it had to be limited to 20 minutes. Unfortunately, adopting Jesus's perspective takes a good while to establish. Sadly, by the time the film has achieved this, there is very little time left to do anything else.

    It's a shame that The Cross was produced in 2001 - just after the glut of Jesus films that ushered in the new millennium, and just before The Passion of the Christ made religious films popular again. Even in its original form, The Cross deserved a great deal more attention. Had it been given the resources Lance Tracy's undoubted talents deserved, it may have gained it.


    Monday, February 05, 2007

    Biblical Studies Carnival XIV

    Chris Weimer at Thoughts on Antiquity has posted the fourteenth Biblical Studies Carnival covering the best biblical studies related posts from January. It's well laid out and links to several posts I had missed earlier, as well as some of those I had already admired. Richard Bauckham gets a whole section to himself mainly due to coverage of his latest book "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses".

    The carnival for the coming month will be hosted by Charles Halton at Awilum


    Friday, February 02, 2007

    Articles at Christianity Today

    There are a number of articles at Christianity Today that I'd like to highlight.

    Firstly, there is an article by Peter Chattaway on the Definitive Edition DVD of The Passion of The Christ. Peter notes how the DVD contains both the original cut and Passion re-cut, how it has 4 commentary tracks and numerous featurettes, and also how many of those are dated 2005, as if it was originally due for a much earlier release. Strangely, particularly given Gibson's anti-Semitic remarks last year, the line from Matt 27:25 which he took out of the original film due to its anti-Semitic connotations has been incorporated here as a "deleted scene".

    Then there's their list of the Ten Most Redeeming Films of 2006 (HT to Tyler Williams). This is not the "best of" list, but simply the "most redeeming" as voted by the CT writers. The ten are as follows:
    1 - The Nativity Story (Catherine Hardwicke)
    2 - The New World (Terrence Malick)
    3 - Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (Marc Rothemund)
    4 - Joyeux Noel (Christian Carion)
    5 - The Second Chance (Steve Taylor)
    6 - Charlotte’s Web (Gary Winick)
    7 - Tsotsi (Gavin Hood)
    8 - The Three Burials of Mequiades Estrada (Tommy Lee Jones)
    9 - Akeelah and the Bee (Doug Atchison)
    10 - Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón)
    I've seen 6 of this list, and I'm keen to watch Joyeux Noel (Christmas was particularly busy this year so no chance), but it's the honourable mentions that give me a few ideas of things I really need to catch. Overall the list grabs a number of good films, but is off, in my opinion at least, in a few places. For example, despite it's merits, The Nativity Story does not, in my book, deserve to be number one. And whilst I haven't seen it, I'm struggling to believe that Charlotte’s Web (#6) deserves to be higher than Tsotsi, The Three Burials of Mequiades Estrada, or Children of Men.

    Finally, there's a review of Jeffrey Overstreet's new book, "Through a Screen Darkly". Eric Miller's review heaps praise on the book. Whilst a cynic might point to the fact that Overstreet also writes for CT, that explanation doesn't explain why Publishers Weekly also give it a "starred" review.


    Thursday, February 01, 2007

    Gospel Comparison: Jesus Anointed by a Woman

    Yesterday's post got me thinking about the story of the woman who anoints Jesus. I mentioned this incident last year when looking at From the Manger to the Cross. I've always found the varying accounts and the way they vary a bit confusing. There are numerous details in each telling and they all seem to vary significantly from each other. It's also strange because the story is one of the few that is in all four gospels, and because it is Luke's account that is the most different rather than John's as we would normally expect.

    Anyway, yesterday I decided to tabulate all the incidents and see how they compare across the four gospels. The results are below, and you can view all four stories in parallel using the Synoptic Parallels page.

    DetailMatt 26:6-13Mark 14:3-9Luke 7:36-50John 12:1-8
    Before Passover
    2 Days Before


    6 days Before

    At BethanyYY
    House of SimonYYY
    (The Leper)YY

    (The Pharisee)

    Lazarus present

    Martha serves

    A WomanYYYY


    Alabaster JarYY

    A pint

    Broke jar




    Wipes Feet

    With Hair

    Kissed Feet

    Smells Fills House

    Some objections..YYYY
    Pharisees object

    Disciples objectY

    Judas objectsY

    Why not soldYY
    Year's wages

    Judas a thief

    Kind of Woman

    Leave Her AloneYY
    Parable & Rebuke

    Beautiful ThingYY

    Day of BurialYY
    Always Have PoorYY
    Wherever Story ToldYY


    By doing this on a spreadsheet I was able to do a few comparisons. Firstly, the number of elements of the story that are common to all four gospels are startlingly few. Essentially, Jesus goes for a meal, a woman puts ointment on him and when some present object Jesus rebukes them. There are however a stack of differences. Where and when does this take place? Does the woman anoint his feet, his head or both? Who objects, and what do they object about? And what is Jesus's response.

    Some of these details amalgamate quite nicely. Simon could have been a Pharisee who had contracted a skin disease at some point in his life, perhaps when he was much younger. The woman could be Mary of Bethany, who could have had a sinful life. Other details flat out contradict themselves, such as whether this took place two days before the Passover or six days before. Others could possibly co-exist, but would seem unlikely to do so. Perhaps the disciples objected because of the waste, AND Simon objected because of the woman's character.

    There are a number of ways to respond to all these details. Firstly, one could decide it was all one incident. The details over timing are minimal and perhaps the woman, who was Mary of Bethany, anointed both his head and his feet with both ointment, and her tears, and wiped his feet wit her hair as well. There were two sets of objections to this behaviour, and Jesus dealt with both. This is the way the majority of harmonised Jesus films try to go, with the woman performing multiple anointings. The major problem with this is that none of the gospels describe the event in this way.

    The other possibility is that there were two such events. One recorded in Matthew, Mark and John, and the other recorded in Luke. Certainly, of the 14 details mentioned by the third evangelist, the only one it shares with the other three accounts (other than those elements common to all four as listed above) is that it took place at the house of someone called Simon.

    This version of events is how the film From the Manger to the Cross chooses to show things, with two different events. There are, however, additional problems with this. Firstly, it is difficult to know how likely this is. The action seems to have been fairly shocking in it's time. Would two such women have had such a similar response, given how few similar incidents of woman responding in dramatic ways to Jesus are recorded?

    Secondly, the details of the other three accounts still don't match up all that well. Of almost 40 individual details, no single account contains more than 23 (John), and Matthew only contains 17. Furthermore, if we compare them we find that although they agree the incident took place at Bethany, and that the conflict and Jesus's reprimand concerned the potential sale of the ointment for the poor, there are only 9 details which they have in common. Comparing them in pairs, Matt/Mark share 15 details, Mark/John share 11, and Matt/John share just 10.

    On the other hand there is still a good deal of conflict. Mark and John conflict over when this took place, John implies (at least) that this took place in Lazarus's house, whereas Matthew and Mark say it was Simon the Leper's house. Matthew and Mark only mention Jesus's head being anointed, whereas John only mentions the feet and so on. There is of course the possibility that there were three such events (Mark/Matt's, John's and Luke's), but that would just be getting ridiculous.

    Thirdly, it seems reasonably clear that when Luke is writing he is familiar at least with Mark's gospel, and possibly Matthew's as well, yet he erases their story and brings in his own. If he was aware of their incident, and another one which he prefers, why not include both? Mark was happy to do that with the two feedings of multitudes (4000, and 5000 in Mark 6 & 8), as was Matthew, although perhaps the fact that Luke was not has some significance.

    Fourthly, there is again the point that none of the gospels record there being two separate incidents. Such a theory is purely conjecture, based on trying to tie up the details of the four different accounts.

    How does all this relate to the films, comments about From the Manger to the Cross not withstanding? Well firstly, what is remarkable is the number of films that add a new detail all of their own, namely that this woman is Mary Magdalene. In fact, as programmes such as The Secrets of Mary Magdalene have pointed out, it is the confusion between this story, and those of the unnamed adulteress of John 8, and Jesus's exorcism of Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2), that led to Magdalene being labelled a repentant sinner.

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