• 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


    Friday, October 10, 2008

    "The Jesus I Never Knew" on DVD

    One of the things that really got me into this whole Bible films thing, was reading Philip Yancey's book "The Jesus I Never Knew" about ten years ago. I had already been trying to find a decent portrayal of Jesus in film, but Yancey's book, which refers to different Jesus films in a number of places opened me up to new ideas. There's a wonderful section early on where he talks about Pasolini's Gospel According to St. Matthew, and he also discusses how he used to lead classes comparing various film versions of a particular episode in the gospels. He also whet my appetite for the BBC's Son of Man which, sadly, still awaits a wider release.

    I later learned that a course pack had been put together, with a leader's guide, participants' guide and a VHS video (remember those?) containing several clips. But it was really highly priced, and whilst it seemed likely that it would contain clips from the then unseen Son of Man, I simply couldn't afford it. It soon went out of print and Amazon Marketplace and eBay seemed to offer no solace.

    So I was really pleased to discover recently that this pack has now been released on DVD, and much more reasonably priced (RRP $24.99). It looks like it was released in May this year, so I'm surprised I hadn't heard anyone mention it prior to a chance encounter on eBay.

    I've now had a chance to flick through the material. The DVD comes with a Leader's Guide booklet to accompany the participants' guides (which you purchase separately), which is also provided as a PDF. There's a bit of extra information ("More About Philip", "Additional Resources" and "Also from Zondervan") on the disc, but the main component is the video material for the six sessions.
    The set up of these sessions has clearly been thought through well. The material switches between group questions and discussion and some dialogue from Yancey interspersed with Jesus film clips. There's no need for group leaders to faff around with remote controls trying to pause in the right place: when it's time for the group discussion the DVD simply goes to a holding menu-type screen and awaits further instruction. Typically each session opens with a 5 minute introduction from Yancey, then some opening group questions. The main part of the session comprises 15 minutes from the DVD; 10 minutes discussion about the video; and a twenty minute "Bible Exploration". Yancey takes a couple of minutes to wrap up and there's a final question for the group to close.

    Yancey's video bits jump between him addressing the audience directly, and watching clips from eight different films:
    From the Manger to the Cross (1912)
    The King of Kings (1927)
    Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)
    Son of Man (1969)
    The Gospel Road (1973)
    Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
    Jesus (1979)
    Heaven (1987)
    In some ways that's quite an eclectic mix, and doubtless, some of those films will be unfamiliar to some. The inclusion of several scenes from Son of Man is a particular highlight. That said, this selection is limited in two ways. Firstly, most these films tend to be those already beloved by the evangelical community who are the most likely audience for this course. Those that could be seen as a little more controversial, like From the Manger or Son of Man are largely unknown. Last Temptation of Christ or Jesus Christ Superstar are certainly significant omissions.

    Secondly, these films are now all quite dated. These clips were originally collated for the VHS set, which was released in 2001, so more recent films like The Passion of the Christ and The Gospel of John hadn't yet been made. Furthermore, whilst a bunch of Jesus films were released in 1999 (Jesus, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, The Miracle Maker, The Revolutionary, it's unlikely that there was sufficient time to incorporate them into the project. The result is that those viewing these clips today will find that even the most recent portrayal of Jesus they are shown is 30 years old. Yancey's clips have also aged a little bit. It's funny how quickly things like this move on.

    But it's good to see this course finally become more widely available. I'm thinking of running a modified version of it in the spring, although I'm entirely sure how I'll go about it. Watch this space!



    • At 2:47 pm, October 10, 2008, Blogger Peter T Chattaway said…

      It's definitely a shame that the set (still) doesn't include clips from Last Temptation, etc. When I saw Yancey give a presentation on this theme at Regent College in the mid-1990s, he did use clips from Last Temptation and Jesus of Montreal, and he did not use clips from Campus Crusade's Jesus film -- and when I interviewed him, he explained why he didn't use any clips from that latter film: ""It's pretty boring. It's very literalistic, it's very predictable, and it doesn't really add anything to the Bible, so why show it?"

      Incidentally, checking my review of the VHS set just now, I see that the review came out in February 1999 and claims that the set was published in 1998; I guess it came out in Britain a couple years later? That would explain, at any rate, why all the films that came out on the cusp of the millennium are missing from this set.

    • At 2:54 pm, October 10, 2008, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Actually it never came out over here (and neither has this DVD yet), but the 1998 release makes sense (FWIW I used the date from its Amazon webpage). But yes, that explains it. I'm surprised about the Jesus film U-turn, but I guess that it might be relatively easy to get the rights to use it compared to some of those others. Or he may have found some aspects of it he liked. I discovered a couple of nice touches in it myself over the summer.

      Thanks for the interview link.


    • At 3:21 pm, October 10, 2008, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Having read your review of the VHS version, I think there are some changes this time around. Firstly, there are only 6 sessions here not 14. Secondly, I'm fairly sure that there are more clips from Son of Man than the three you mention.



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