• 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, March 31, 2010

    Pop Clasics on Passion of the Christ

    As part of reflecting on Palm Sunday, Pop Classics' Juliette Harrisson has reviewed Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. As an expert in the classics, as well as a Catholic, it's nice to have her perspective on the film, and she doesn't disappoint with a good proportion of the article taken up discussing the film's use of language. Juliette says the film was recorded in Hebrew and Aramaic, which I'm not quite sure is the way I remember it, unless the use of Hebrew is for a couple of Torah quotations or something. But there's then a good deal of talk on the film's Latin as well including a couple of interesting new observations (which is quite an achievement given how much I have read about the film over the last decade). And whilst I've read several Catholic perspectives on the film the something about the combination of Classics expertise and Catholic faith that means she really gets this film on a level I, perhaps, do not.

    There have also been a number of posts on The Passion of the Christ at Jesu Cristo en el Cine recently.


    National Geographic's Documentary Series on the Plagues and Jesus

    I cam across news of this one thanks to an article in the Daily Telegraph called "Biblical Plagues Really Happened". It turns outs this new "evidence" was based on a National Geographic's Documentary Series on the Biblical Plagues which is airing this Easter. Ican't quite work out from National Geographic's web site how many episodes there are to this series, or how many of them have aired already. There are three Blog posts entitled Biblical Plagues Part 1: Tales of Terror, Biblical Plagues Part 2: The River of Blood and Biblical Plagues Part 3: Science Behind the Plagues, all of which end by saying "Don't miss Biblical Plagues: The First Curses and The Final Torments, this Monday starting at 9P et/pt!" but when you click on them they suggest the programmes run one after another on Sunday starting at 11A(M?).

    It appears though that there's very little new in this documentary. I first came across the idea of the plagues being some sort of chain reaction over ten years ago. There might be some new information in this (perhaps that they were triggered by a sudden prolonged dry spell) but the core of the theory (including the possibility that a volcano was responsible, go a long way back.

    Personally, while I used to be attracted to such theories, I find them a little too neat these days. It seems reasonable to me that a series of events may have lain behind the Exodus, but whther there were exactly ten plagues which occurred exactly as the final text of Exodus records seems a little unlikely / unimportant to me, particularly given the different sources behind the plagues seem to recall fewer in each instance (as far as I recall).There are also a number of other National Geographic documentaries showing through April from their "Mysteries of the Bible" series, including The Birth of Jesus, Jesus the Man, Jesus: the Healer and Jesus the Preacher which all air on Good Friday (2nd April), and one on Revelation that airs on Easter Monday (5th). Parts of these seem to be available to view online (even in the UK) though most of them seem to be repeats.

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    Tuesday, March 30, 2010

    Whatever Happened to Ben Hur?

    I've made various posts about the supposedly forthcoming mini-series remake of Ben Hur. Actually I've been meaning to post about it for quite a long time now, given that it was meant to be showing in various countries this Easter. In fact, Mark Pedro, Thomas Langkau and CGArtist have all been sending me a few updates on the production as April 4th got closer. But suddenly it seems to have disappeared. Both Mark and Thomas told me that they searched for it in their Easter TV magazines, but it appears that neither country will be showing it. This is strange as even as late as March 23rd there was a press release going round about its premiere on Canada's CBC. But I've checked the TV schedules for CBC (as well as the US's ABC and Spain's Antenna 3 who were also meant to be showing it) and none of them have any information on it. It is mentioned on this page on CBC, but there's no further info and it's not on the main schedule page. Furthermore, the trailer has been removed from YouTube, apparently "by the user" (though you can still view it here).

    So it looks like it won't be shown this Easter, which, given that even if it's not actually finished by now it must be very close, does rather make me wonder when it will be shown. Christmas? Easter 2011? Or will it be relegated to a straight to DVD release?

    Edit: One of the commenters below has seen the series and confirms that CBC are showing it this Easter

    Monday, March 29, 2010

    Who is Your Favourite Herod?

    Over at NT Blog, Mark Goodacre asks "Who is Your Favourite Herod Antipas?" Mark is torn between Josh Moshtel's campy turn in 1973 film version of Jesus Christ Superstar and Jose Ferrer in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).

    I think my favourite portrayal of Herod Anitpas is Frank Thring's turn in 1961's King of Kings (pictured). Thring was a veteran of numerous historical epics, including Ben Hur, and El Cid, and, as anachronistic as it is, I like his murder of his father, Herod the Great. In honesty, though, I'm not willing to commit 100% to Thring until I've checked the relevant chapter in Adele Reinhartz's "Jesus of Hollywood".

    Incidentally, In trying to find a decent photo of Thring in the role (I cropped the above to make Thring more prominent, but you can see the full picture here) I also turned up Thring shredding ex-neighbours star Craig Maclachlan in an interview, and numerous images on Jeffrey Hunter Movies. The latter site is definitely worth checking out as they have scanned in three articles about the film from 1961.


    Friday, March 26, 2010

    Sodom and Gomorrah (1962)

    Stephen Lang, in his "The Bible on the Big Screen", subtitles Robert Aldrich's Sodom of Gomorrah "Not the Sin We Expected". It's undoubtedly a fair point: the story of Lot, Sodom and Gomorrah lasts for only three chapters of Genesis (13, 14 and 19) - not much material for a 150 minute film - yet nearly all of the biblical story, including the moment for which the cities were judged, was somehow omitted.

    In fairness, attempted angel-rape was probably a little strong for the production code era, which forbade even the mention of homosexuality. That said, what the script writers were forced to leave out, the costuming department more than compensated for with a series of male tunics so short that they stretch little but the audience's credulity.

    The film starts at some point after the events of Genesis 13, indeed the story of Lot and Abraham's separation is told by a narrator a couple of minutes into the film. Lot is leading a large group of people through the desert and already he is facing dissent from within his own camp. The scene - which echoes the complaints Moses faced when the Israelites were in the desert - is the first of many nods to other stories from the Hebrew Bible and their cinematic interpretations. There are numerous debates about slavery, angry prophets, housebound leopards, enemies being drowned by waves, girls bathing in milk, fights won using slings and stones and chains falling off godly men.

    It's often been noted how Biblical epics have often sought to satisfy the audience's thirst for titillation and violence whilst simultaneously soothing any qualms they have about the material by including moments of piety and some form of "moral" conclusion. The wealth of biblical cross referencing perhaps also reflects the film's wealth of mildly erotic material. Given this tendency within epic films in general, it's hardly surprising that one about Sodom of Gomorrah takes it to extremes. Barely a scene goes by without a dance from a group of scantily clad women or some beefy man flexing his muscles.

    In fact the finished film betrays the likelihood that it was conceived primarily because of it's potential for titillating material. Lot is very much a minor figure in the Bible, and certainly no kind of hero. We first hear of him as he and his men are falling out with his uncle (Abraham), then he gets himself captured and needs Abraham to come and rescue him, before settling into a Godless city and only just managing to escape before it suffers and almighty smiting. There are various stories in Genesis which reflect badly on Abraham, but in his dealings with Lot he always comes out smelling of roses. But of course, the filmmakers must have reasoned, in the Bible Abraham is left out of the destruction of Sodom episode, so if we want to make a film about that, then we're going to have to make Lot the hero.

    To do this the story of Abraham rescuing Lot is missed out, the majority of the material inserted stresses Lot's morality and heroism and the story of Abraham bargaining with God over Sodom's fate is retold with Lot as the hero. The inserted material features a number of overlapping sub-plots: the queen of Sodom's brother is plotting to overthrow her using another tribe; the queen is seeking to protect her cities using Lot and the Hebrews; the queen's slave falls in love with Lot and becomes his wife; the queen's brother seduces Lot's daughters; and supposed anti-slavery of the Hebrews clashes with the Sodomites use and abuse of slaves to build their kingdom. In all the majority of these scenes Lot is portrayed as an anti-slavery, just, merciful, brave and principled leader, in stark contrast to the conniving, immoral Sodomites and their lesbian queen.

    The major exception comes towards the end of the film. The Hebrews defeat the enemy tribe, but their land has been destroyed so they turn to selling salt, make a huge profit and move into the city. But as they do so they begin to lose their principles. Lot is no exception to this compromise with Sodom, but comes to his senses after killing the queen's brother in a duel, being duly arrested and then visited and released by the two angels from Genesis 18 and 19.

    As a film Sodom of Gomorrah (also known as Last Days of Sodom and Gomorrah leaves a good deal to be desired. It's overly campy, badly written and often hamily acted. But Mikos Rozsa's score is fine and the scenery (Aït Ben Haddou 20 miles outside Ouarzazete, Morocco) is often impressive. And there are at least two impressive moments. The scene where the Hebrews fight the Halamites is very well put together by a young Sergio Leone, demonstrating the potential that would blossom in his spaghetti westerns. The other is the film's opening shot (overlaid by the titles) where the camera pans over a mass of intermingled, semi-clad, restless bodies. It's strangely disorientating, particularly given the well known fate of the Sodomites, and captures the 'otherness' of the story which is about to unfold far better than the rest of the movie ever does.

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    Wednesday, March 24, 2010

    Sodom and Gomorrah on iPlayer

    I almost missed this, but it 1962's Hebrew Bible epic Sodom and Gomorrah was on BBC2 last Saturday and, consequently, will be available on the BBC's iPlayer until this Saturday. I don't really know much about it, other than that it stars Stewart Granger and Pier Angeli and has a score by the great Miklos Rozsa. But eventhough the IMDb gives it only 5.6 out of 10, I'm still going to have to find time to watch it before Saturday or else I might never get the chance again.

    Tuesday, March 23, 2010

    Not the Messiah In Cinemas For One Night Only on 25th March

    I've posted several pieces over the last few years about Not the Messiah - an oratorio based on Monty Python's Life of Brian. Having aired on BBC's iPlayer at New Year, it seems a filmed version of the work will be showing in cinemas across Europe this Thursday (25th March 2010). It will also be playing in South Africa.

    A full list of participating cinemas is posted on the film's website, where you can also find a trailer and a gallery, but perhaps best of all, you can download the libretto. Here's the film's promotional blurb:
    A fabulously entertaining 90 minute comic oratorio by Eric Idle and John Du Prez (creators of Spamalot) inspired by Monty Python's Life Of Brian filmed at its only European performance at the Royal Albert Hall in October 2009 to celebrate 40 years of Monty Python.

    This hilarious take on the Messiah features the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, a host of superb soloists in the lead roles including Rosalind Plowright and Eric Idle, with Michael Palin as Mrs Betty Parkinson and special guest appearances from Pythons Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam. And of course three sheep!

    Like Handel only funnier.
    For what it's worth I'm sure I read another version of that tag line "Like Hamlet only funnier" which, assuming I've remebered it correctly. makes for an interesting switch.

    The cast stars William Ferguson as Brian and also features Eric Idle (who wrote the oratorio along with Spamalot's John Du Prez), Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam and Carol Cleveland. The BBC Symphony Orchestra will be providing musical accompaniment.


    Friday, March 19, 2010

    Decent Films on Joseph of Nazareth

    Apparently today is the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, and to mark the occasion my friend Steven Greydanus has just posted his take on the film Joseph of Nazareth part of The Bible Collection's Close to Jesus series.

    Not many people have actually written about this film so it's always nice to hear someone's opinion on it, even more so when it broadly corresponds to my own. But he also adds some real gems, particularly his reading of how the film handles Joseph's plan to "divorce" Mary "quietly".

    Incidentally Steven was also kind enough to mention my recent-ish post on Colour and Symbolism in Bible Films


    Apologies for the Lack of Replies

    I'd just like to apologise to everyone who has emailed me or left a comment over the last month. I usually like to reply asap, but have been snowed under and not had much of a chance to get onto it. Hopefully I'll be working my way through the backlog later today and early next week. In the meantime, thanks for your comments. Matt

    Wednesday, March 17, 2010

    Top Ten Bible Films of the Noughties

    I've been meaning to post this since around mid-December but haven't quite got to it. However, with the Oscars over a week in the past I figured it was now or never (unless I turn into one of those pedants who refuse to recognise the old decade as finishing until 31st December this year).

    Before I reveal the "winning" films, there are a few notes on my selection. Firstly, I've not accounted for short films. There are a number that could have been considered, but the growth of YouTube and Vimeo mean that it's almost impossible to assess everything that might qualify under those conditions. This leads me onto my second point. I have not managed to see every Bible film that was released between 2000 and 2009. I've caught most but I'm aware of films like Corina van Eijk's Samson and Delilah, Mesih (Jesus, the Spirit of God) and even NBC's Kings which have escaped my grasp. Lastly there is always a line to be drawn between Bible films and those that reference the Bible in some way but are sufficiently well set in another time period so as to make it too much of a stretch to consider them for a list like this. Here I've decided to place the line somewhere between Son of Man (which qualifies) and A Serious Man (which, regrettably, does not).

    So, without further ado, allow me to unveil my Top Ten Bible Films of the Noughties.
    Jezile (Son of Man)
    If, 4 years after proving a hit at Sundance Son of Man is still struggling to find a decent distributor, it's certainly not on account of its quality. Mark Dornford-May's modernisation of the Jesus story roots itself in a fictional African township which is run by corrupt officials and torn apart by violence. The unconventional treatment of Jesus' death and resurrection is only one of a number of the film's bold moves, but really the film's heart lies in its political handling of Jesus' message.The Real Old Testament
    Whilst he idea of filming the opening chapters of Genesis in the style of MTV's "The Real World" would probably send most filmmakers running, TROT turns out to be a work of inspired genius. Telling a 3000 year old story in the style of the 21st century's most overdone television genre strips away the pomp and piety that has become attached to these stories and lays them bare, revealing odd little details that are all too frequently glossed over. The ending might not quite live up to the opening, but reading certain parts of Genesis will never be the same again.
    The Miracle Maker
    If ever there was a film that disproved that animation is solely for children, this is it (well maybe this and that The Simpsons). Sure it works for kids, but I've been amazed that no matter how many times I return to this film I always find something new. Jesus may be played by a puppet, but this remains one of the most credible portrayals of a human Jesus, and it's also arguably the most Jewish Jesus ever to grace our screens. And the tight screen writing (which is remarkably well-versed in 1st century history) does justice to the story in a mere 90 minutes.

    The Nativity Story
    Rushed out to cash in on the success of The Passion of the Christ, The Nativity Story failed to find the audience of its predecessor. The opening scenes were wonderful however, depicting the gritty realism of life as a 1st century (BC) peasant, and whilst Keisha Castle-Hughes didn't perform as well as her début in Whale Rider, Oscar Isaacs portrayal of Joseph gave the film real heart. It was a shame that the earthiness of the first half of the film gradually gave way to kitschy Christmas card sentimentality, but even in spite of that The Nativity Story will feature as part of many a Christmas viewing tradition in years to come.

    It's probably an oxymoron to call something a non-canonical Bible film, but Abel Ferrara's film about a film is not really the kind of picture to fit neatly into boxes. There is some representation of the canonical gospels here, as well as an interview with a well known Biblical scholar (Elaine Pagels), but there's also a modern day tale of infidelity and redemption and the first decent portrayals of one of the canonical gospels. And if that sounds deeply confused then it's probably a fair reflection of the film itself.

    The Passion
    It had been almost 40 years since the BBC had properly dramatised the Jesus story, and whilst nothing would be quite worth that kind of wait, it was certainly a fine effort. Shown in 4 parts, The Passion offered a 'real time' look at the events of Holy Week determined to be fair to the Romans and the Jewish leaders as well as the followers of Jesus. Joseph Mawle's performance as Jesus remains one of the very best though there's some great work from the lesser characters as well. And the programme offered some refreshing new takes on the old, old story.

    The Gospel of John
    Dwarfed by The Passion of the Christ looming in the background, this word for word adaptation of John's gospel did a surprisingly good job of enlivening a difficult, wordy text. It's due in part to a charismatic, if a little smug, performance by Henry Ian Cusick in the leading role, and a few flashes of brilliance from director Philip Saville. It may become a little turgid in places, and have floundered at the box office, taking the Visual Bible company with it, but there are plenty of strong moments as well. Not least the way the screenplay handles the gospel's anti-Semitic polemics.

    The Passion of the Christ
    Dividing religious leaders and film critics in equal measure Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ proved to be one of the most controversial films of all time, and certainly the surprise hit of the decade. It's easy to scoff, or to take offence at the subject matter, but there's much to admire in Gibson's film from the bold use of Aramaic to the Caravaggio-esque cinematography. And whilst those who find the film distasteful may have some valid points, what other film could unite Quentin Tarantino and the Pope?

    The Apocalypse
    Easily the least defensible choice on my list, not least because of a tagged on love story and poor (and by now dated) CGI. But at the same time it's one of the few films about Revelation to rely on the story's likely, historical context instead of the spectacular / bizarre.

    Who Wrote the Bible
    The noughties were the decade where documentary films began to emerge into the mainstream so it's more than fitting to include one on this list. Robert Beckford's controversial look at the authorship of the Bible challenged both those clinging to the traditional takes on the writers of the Bible and those who would disregard it completely. The documentary would spawn a string of films presented by Beckford which presented thoroughly 21st century takes on Christianity, unafraid to question and adopt alternative theories but rooted in belief nevertheless.

    So over to you. What would you have included and what do you think I'm wrong to include?


    Monday, March 15, 2010

    Pop Clasics on Jesus of Nazareth

    In between writing about Doctor Who, Rome and Xena: Princess Warrior, Juliette Harrisson has managed to find time to write about Jesus of Nazareth (see all my posts on this film). As always with Juliette's work, it's mainly focussed on the depiction of the Romans (or Greeks), and I was particularly intrigued by her final paragraph:
    Zeffirelli is not out to depict the dirtiness, unpleasantness or even the violence of the ancient world. Rather, he wants to provide an 'authentic' background for the story he's telling which serves that story - it is violent or unpleasant where necessary, but for the most part, he wishes simply to show people getting on with their lives within their historical context. This is, of course, partly determined by his subject matter, since adding sex and violence to the story of the Gospels would make a rather different series and not give it the reverent air it has. But it is also, fundamentally, a different, perhaps an older, approach to the depiction of the ancient world, in which the director is more interested in showing the similarities between us and the ancients than the (sexy, violent) imagined differences.


    Wednesday, March 10, 2010

    The Cross Available to View Online

    Somewhat unbelievably/annoyingly, I seem to have mislaid my copy of Lance Tracy's The Cross. It is still available to download for $10, but I'd rather find the one I've already bought.

    However, those who, like me, are unwilling to part with their hard earned cash just yet will be pleased to know you can now view it online for free at Tracy's website.


    Various New Jesus Film Projects

    Been a bit busy of late, so not had time to link to Peter Chattaway's latest round up of Jesus films news.

    One of the films Peter discusses at length is Bruce Marchiano's Jesus ... No Greater Love. The news is that Marchiano is releasing a 15th Anniversary Edition of The Gospel According to Matthew. The film has been repackaged and "coupled it with a first-ever, two CD audio re-issue of 'In the Footsteps of Jesus'". Profits from the sale will go towards funding Marchiano's Jesus ... No Greater Love which seems to be the new name for the film that was being called the Gospel of John. Incidentally, can anyone else think of any other films that have an ellipsis in the title. I can think of one other and it's a sort of Bible film, but not many others are springing to mind.

    Other news is that both Jesus and Esther from The Bible Collection have been re-released; that Not the Messiah (Python Oratorio based on Life of Brian) has been given an MPAA rating, suggesting it may get an video release in addition to it's current limited cinema release (which comes to Leicester on 25th March); that Mark Millar has failed to find a studio to make American Jesus; and that there are a couple of animated Nativity films at different stages of pre-production, The Fourth Wise Man and an Egnlish language version of the Spanish film Holy Night!.

    This reminds me, speaking of animated Jesus films, I don't think I ever blogged another story from Peter about At Jesus' Side (trailer), a film about four dogs who witness Jesus' death and resurrection. It's being released on March 16th, and looks pretty darn awful. I've not been sent a review copy though so I guess I'll never really know for sure. They have a blog as well for anyone who wants to find out more.

    Incidentally, seeing as I'm speaking about FilmChat today I'd like to link to this post of his which starts off being about Avatar but actually ends up being interesting. Peter's point is that in (western filmed) battle scenes you nearly always find the side you sympathise with coming from the left. This has affected the way I have watched various battle scenes since then including one from Channel 4's 1066 where the French come from the left despite the largely pro-Saxon stance the film adopts throughout. Food for thought.


    Tuesday, March 09, 2010

    Coming Soon, Genesis in 3D

    This just in from Jeffrey Overstreet: Paramount Pictures and Walden co-founder Cary Granat are making a 3D version of the creation story. In The Beginning will "will use 3-D visuals to transform the oft-told tale into a spectacle that the filmmakers hope will attract family and faith-based audiences". Granat was behind Walden's The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe which has been greeted with a mixed response amongst Christian film critics.

    The story, and the quotation above, originate in an exclusive at Deadline New York, but if it's true, it will be interesting to see how the film compares with the animated 3D Noah film that is also rumoured to be in production. THe race for the first 3D Bible film is very much on.

    Granat apparently "pitched the film by claiming that the Adam And Eve story has never really been told by a feature film" which is odd given that the title of his film seems to be a nod towards John Huston's epic The Bible: In the Beginning. Still given the occasionally lackadaisical approach to C.S. Lewis' tome, I can't say I'm greatly surprised. That said, it's hard to imagine any Bible film getting the budget to film in 3D without having to make it family friendly and tone down the Christianity a bit. Quite how you do that with Genesis, I'm not entirely sure.

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    The Bible: A History, Part 7

    Sunday saw the final entry in Channel 4's The Bible: A History, a series which has varied in quality, as well as in approach, but ended on a reasonably high note thanks to Robert Beckford's examination of the book of Revelation.

    Beckford has been 4's primary religious presenter over the last decade, charting his quest to revise the Pentecostal faith of his upbringing, and to propose instead a less literal reading of the Bible which nevertheless remains a book with an important message for today.

    As with other programmes in the series, this entry begins by looking at some of the traditional takes on the book, including William Blake and modern day fundamentalists. But it also looks at the sad tale of the Branch Dividians at Waco. I would have preferred a little more clarity as to the differences between the Dividians and the Pentecostal church which he visits, though it's there for those with an ear to hear. However, it also includes a compelling interview with one of the survivors of the Waco siege, who bizarrely still justifies some of what happened that day.

    Throughout the programme there's a good deal of discussion as to the enduring imagery of Revelation, both by people like Blake, but also in popular contemporary culture, but Beckford's quest is to move away from these images of death and destruction to find something that speaks to us today.

    As usual there are a range of interviewees to help him on his journey including a somewhat uncomfortably posed Mark Goodacre, Christopher Rowland and Martin Palmer who considers Beckford's quest a "fool's errand". Goodacre does a good job of putting the book in its historical context. Meanwhile Beckford has travelled to Patmos and is shown the traditional location given to John's vision by a Greek Orthodox priest. (Incidentally, priests from the Orthodox church have featured very prominently in this series, particularly given that there are so few Orthodox Christians in the UK).

    After Patmos it's on to America, and the Pilgrim Fathers intent on creating a place that reflected the end of Revelation, but who found themselves supposedly "battling Satan" in the Salem Witch Trials 70 years later. Prof. Paul Boyer provides the background and finds similar rhetoric in today's post-9/11 world. Beckford turns instead to the Brixton riots, the time when he could begin to realise that the Bible in general and Revelation in particular can be "profoundly political". There's a brief look at the Diggers Revolution and the Civil Rights Movement.

    And it's here that we meet arguably the programme's most compelling interviewee, Prof. James Coen (spelling undoubtedly wrong, but there was no caption). Coen, who was active in the 60s draws out the way that King and others harnessed the imagery of Revelation to bring about an end to injustice, and the battle between good and evil.

    Another group adopting the text in a similar way is those protesting about Climate Change and there's some footage taken from a Climate Change rally featuring horsemen of the apocalypse intercut with a discussion with school children as to whether such an approach is justifiable.

    Beckford's personal emphasis seems very much on the closing chapters of Revelation, and the inspired images found therein which link to the very start of the Bible and the Garden of Eden. It's this that is the focus of his closing monologue - a strong argument for a non-literal reading of the text which sides with the oppressed in the hope of creating a new Heaven and a new Earth.

    Like last weeks episode on Paul I find myself broadly in agreement with the arguments presented, although I would have liked to see the way the imagery of the Roman Empire relates to the images in Revelation drawn out a little more. But there was little here that stood out as being weak or irrelevant and it made a strong case for the enduring influence of the book today.

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    Monday, March 08, 2010

    I Would Have Posted Something on the Oscars but...

    ...as it turns out I haven't seen a single one of the winners. I've been keen to see The Hurt Locker (pictured) for a while, and, as a Brit, I'm very pleased to see it do so well (particularly as it beat the megabucks blue-people-film).

    The only other winners I'm keen to see are Up (one to watch with the kids) and the Argentinan winner of the Best Foreign Language Oscar El Secreto de Sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes) which doesn't even appear to have been released over here yet. I'll have to ask my sister-in-law if she's seen it yet.

    Zimbabwean Jews & A Round Ark

    Occasionally I post things here just so I know where to find them later (I do also use Delicious, but try not to overcrowd it).

    Anyway, the BBC website has a story about the Lemba, a lost Jewish clan which has lived in Zimbabwe for two and a half thousand years. It sounds like one of those lost ten tribes of Israel stories that circulate every so often but what caught my eye was the fact that DNA evidence "confirm(s) their Semitic origin". The article was a forerunner for a special programme on the BBC's African Perspective which I think you might even be able to downloaded outside the UK.

    This reminds me of the story in The Guardian from New Year's Day about Noah's Ark being round. I meant to blog it at the time but assumed it would be all over the biblioblogs. In the end it only made a few of them (Mariottini, PaleoJudaica - apologies if I missed you off), and even then it was relatively late. That's maybe because for this story to become relevant to Biblical Studies you have to accept that the ark story is relatively late and based on an earlier Babylonian myth. That said, I'm still surprised not to have seen it mentioned more widely.


    Sunday, March 07, 2010

    More new on the Coptic Jesus Film

    It's almost four years since I blogged about plans to make a Coptic Jesus film. The current financial difficulties seem to have accounted for so many Bible film (and other independent) projects that I thought this had been one of them, but, according to Cairo's Al-Ahram, apparently not.

    There's quite a bit in the article, not least the news that the project is about to start filming. But it's mainly based on quotes from Muslim director Ahmed Maher,(rather than Coptic Christian screenwriter Fayez Ghali) who sees it as his task "to present a religious story in a secular way". But it looks like Maher is keen to give the film a distinctly Egyptian twist.

    he country that embraced Christ the infant when no one else would: "it is important for the West to understand that Egypt...is itself the country that embraced Christ the infant when no one else would. This is the principal issue on which the film is based."

    Thanks to David Wilson for letting me know about this article.


    Wednesday, March 03, 2010

    Persona on Miracle Maker

    My friend Stef recently watched The Miracle Maker for the first time and has posted his thoughts over on his Filmsweep blog an his Persona persona. He's clearly a big fan: he's spent most of the week lamenting the fact it's dropped out of the Arts and Faith top 100.


    Tuesday, March 02, 2010

    Spanish Blog on Jesus Films

    I've just come across a Spanish blog about Jesus films - Jesucristo en el Cine. The author appears to be Alfonso Méndiz, Professor of Audiovisual Communication and Advertising at the University of Malaga. Mendiz has also recently published a book also called "Jesucristo en el Cine". I'll be adding his blog to my blogroll when I finally get around to updating it. Google's translation of the site seems remarkably readable, and there seems to be a lot there already which is worth reading.

    Monday, March 01, 2010

    The New Arts and Faith Top 100

    As some of you will know I'm a regular contributor to the Arts and Faith discussion forum having stumbled across an earlier incarnation back in 2002. 3 times since then the group has produced its Top 100 spiritual films, in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

    The board came under new ownership last year and Image Journal who now run the site decided it was time to produce a new list. Unfortunately I didn't have time to vote this time around, but the new list became official today.

    There have been a lot of changes since the 2006 list: Almost half the films on the list are new; even fewer of the films are in English; and, sadly, the number of Bible films has dropped dramatically, including The Miracle Maker which dropped off the list entirely despite being number 3 last time. There is one new Bible film on the list, however, 2006's Son of Man. And I suppose A Serious Man might also count as a version of Job.

    I've seen 45½ of the films on the list (having had to send back M because the subtitles were unreadable) so there is plenty to get my teeth into.

    The Bible: A History, Part 6

    Having courted controversy with last week's look at Jesus Channel 4's The Bible: A History moved onto safer ground this week with a look at St. Paul. Not that it wasn't controversial in it's own way - it was - but a largely unknown historian's look at the man responsible for the spread of Christianity was always going to raise fewer eyebrows than Gerry Adams' take on the Prince of Peace.

    The historian in question was Tom Holland a prize-winning author who has specialised in classical history. His controversial point was that far from being an authoritarian oppressor, he was actually the archetypal liberator. "Look to the make the world fairer today" Holland explained in a tantalising introduction "and you owe a debt of gratitude to Paul". It was a point repeated as the programme began to draw to a close. It is Paul who has been most influential on western thinking not Darwin, Marx or Freud.

    The problem is that aside from this introduction and conclusion, the middle of the programme struggles to flesh out Holland's point. He makes passing reference in his opening statement to how the ancient Romans and Greeks saw inequality as a virtue, but didn't really demonstrate the point any further. This comes, I think, from the "all things to all men" nature of programmes such as these. Before it could get onto subtler issues like this, the programme needed to explain who Paul was where he came from etc.. It was the right choice, but it did leave Holland's key point a little a little lacking in weight.

    That said, Holland did explore two of the areas where Paul's reputation is blackest - his comments on women and homosexuals. Personally I find the criticism Paul gets in these areas distinctly lacking in context. Ancient thinkers will always be from a different culture than our own, and thus when their values are held under such scrutiny hundreds or thousands of years later we are, of course, not going to agree with every word. But I agree with Holland that such statements as "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one" (Gal 3:28) were utterly revolutionary, and to criticise Paul for failing to see the full extent to which his line of thinking goes is to be gravely uninformed.

    Holland does go on to tackle those two issues in particular, finding himself in a gay bar to explore Paul's attitude to homosexuality, before talking to a female New Testament lecturer about Paul's attitude to women.

    Holland approaches these two issues differently. In the first case he argues that while Paul, like his culture, prohibited homosexuality, he was always very "flexible" in his thinking. He was always challenging his own prejudices, and this too is something he has passed onto the western world. "His aim is always to push against the limits of preconceptions in the name of equality and love" Holland explains. In other words, had he had the time to work these thoughts through, or had he been born into our culture, he probably would not have spoken out against homosexuality as he did.

    In honesty, whilst it may be a fair point, it also overlooks a lot of key evidence. Far from being disapproved of in classical culture, sex between males was rife, though only in certain contexts, few, if any, of which bear any similarity to what we think of today when we talk about homosexuality. Secondly, quite what Paul is speaking against is never that clear - at least not once you get into the original Greek. Again, I guess this was a time issue, but it would have been nice to see a little more explanation of this point, given Channel 4's typical audience.

    What's interesting is that the programme took a very different angle on the question of women's rights. Rather than re-applying the same arguments, which would not have been inappropriate, he talks to Paula Gooder who explains that some of the letters traditionally attributed to Paul were probably not written by him, including 1 Timothy with it's rules telling women to learn in silence, and forbidding them to teach. It's the perspective I came around to a number of years ago. These statements seem just too greatly opposed to Paul's words (as above) and his actions, working with women teachers, greeting women apostles and so on. Personally I think both issues hang on the translation of hapax legomenon which seem to weigh against the thrust of Paul's words, actions and lines of thinking, but I digress.

    Having explored Paul's conversion and his ideas about taking the gospel to the gentiles earlier in the programme, it ends by looking at his death, taking the view that Paul was killed in the Neronian persecution of the early 60s AD. There was no mention of alternative theories, but again this is probably because of time constraints. That said Holland did refer to a legend in which Paul's freshly severed head bounces three times forming a spring of water in each place it hit the ground.

    It's hard to sum up my feeling about this episode. In many ways it was one of my favourites. I agreed with almost everything it said, which always leaves one well disposed towards something, and particularly appreciated Holland's attempt to rehabilitate Paul, by explaining his cultural context and the impact his thought has had on 21st century thought. At the same time there were a few extraneous moments (like the footage from Holland's visit to speaker's corner) which should have been cut in favour of fleshing out some of the more important arguments.

    Next week, it's the final episode of the series when Robert Beckford takes a look at Revelation. Given Beckford's track record, not to mention his personal history, I have high expectations.

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