• 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


    View my complete profile
    Contact me
    Book me to speak

    Monday, May 16, 2011

    Scene Guide: The Passover Plot

    Having reviewed The Passover Plot a couple of Mondays back, I thought it would be good to post a scene guide for the film. It's been a while since I did one of these (see all) so a reminder (for me if no-one else) of the reasoning behind my citations from the gospels.
    [EBE - Text intro explaining political situation]
    [EBE - Arrest of messianic/zealot preacher]
    Jeremiah 33:15-16 cited
    Teshua in the desert - Mark 1:12-13
    Baptism of Yeshua - Mark 1:9-11
    [EBE - Introduction to Pilate]
    Healing of a blind man - Mark 8:22-25
    Yeshua teaches - Mark 8:12, 11:22-24
    Greatest Commandment - Mark 12:28-31
    Beatitudes - Matt 5:3-12
    Rejection at Nazareth - Mark 6:1-5
    Yeshua recites the Shema - Deut 6:4
    Are you the one? - Matt 11:2-6
    Calling the disciples - Mark 3:13-19
    [EBE - Romans in Zealot Meeting]
    [EBE - Zealots and Yeshua's brothers]
    Parable of the Sower - Mark 4:1-20]
    Death of John - Mark 6:17-29
    [EBE - Pilate and Herod]
    Isaiah 53:7 cited
    [EBE - Bartholomew's baby]
    News of John's death - Mark 6:30-32
    [EBE - The disciples complain]
    [EBE - Jesus preaching]
    Jesus fails to heal - Mark 6:5
    [EBE - Yeshua meets the Zealots]
    Isaiah 53:5 cited
    [EBE - Yeshua Plans his Death]
    [EBE - Pilate and Herod collude]
    Triumphal entry - Mark 11:1-11
    [EBE - Fire stars]
    Cleansing the temple - Mark 11:15-19
    [EBE - Temple uprising]
    [EBE - Death of Bartholomew]
    Last Supper - Mark 14:22-31
    Gethsemane and Arrest - Mark 14:32-50
    [EBE - Pilate and Herod collude]
    Jewish hearing - Mark 14:53-65
    Trial by Pilate - Mark 15:1-20
    Crucifixion - Mark 15:22-39
    "Burial" - Mark 15:40-47
    The Empty Tomb - Mark 16:1-8
    [EBE - Death of Jesus]
    A Few Notes
    The first that is noticeable from looking at this scene guide is how heavily the film uses the Gospel of Mark. Aside from a token nod to the Beatitudes, the extra-biblical episodes added to fill out the story and a few citations of the prophets, all the incidents in this film are found in Mark's gospel. Whilst this is highlighted by my policy of citing Mark even if the event occurs in all of the synoptic gospels, it's nevertheless fair to say that Millard Cohana and Patricia Knop's screenplay, which is presumably largely based on Schonfield's book, uses Mark the most.

    There are a number of potential reasons for this. Firstly, close adherence to Mark gives Schonfield's work an air of authenticity. If Mark is the oldest gospel, then a supposedly subversive alternative version of the life of Jesus should probably look more like Mark than anything else. The film pre-supposes that at a very early stage there was a parting of the ways between its real history and the history told by traditional Christianity. Mark would be the most in touch with those traditions, and, from the film's perspective, the gospel least bent away from "what really happened". It's significant that the text at the end of the film stresses that Mark was written over 40 years after the events it portrays, and gives dates for the other gospels as Luke 85AD, Matthew 90AD and John 110/120AD.

    Secondly, of all the gospels Mark is the one that is usually seen as portraying Jesus as a man of action. Certainly there are fewer words and those tend to consist of pithy sayings rather than long teaching discourses as found in Matthew and John in particular.

    Thirdly, Mark's gospel does not so much include a resurrection as an empty tomb. The additional, and almost certainly forged, endings try to patch over this embarrassing omission (which may be deliberate or the result of damage to an early copy of the manuscript), but the genuine ending, in the form we now have it, only includes accounts of the empty tomb. (spoiler) The film also gives us an empty tomb - Jesus is woken up and taken away - but, as he dies shortly afterwards, no resurrection appearances. The film shows a single attempt to demonstrate this to someone not in on Yeshua's plot, but it fails.

    Having said all that the film does not really portray a Marcan Jesus. Mark's Jesus may be a man of action, but his action is not so much a quest to be hailed as the messiah but as a healer and exorcist. There is only one "healing" in this film, and there's more about that below, and no exorcisms. I was struck in a recent read through of Mark quite how prominent the dealing with the demons aspect of Mark's gospel is. One of the things that is strange about the film is that Jesus does so very little. He's not a miracle worker, he's not a teacher and he doesn't rise from the dead. The film's alternative history fails to offer a compelling reason for why the Jesus story lived on and for why he didn't simply fall into the all-too-heavily populated category of failed Jewish messiahs. At least bar Kokhba minted his own coins. There's also relatively little talk of the Kingdom of God. This is Jesus' obsession in Mark, but is overshadowed by the film's emphasis on Jesus being the messiah. Indeed faced with Pilate's questioning Yeshua conspicuously does not even say "my kingdom is not of this world".

    The one miracle that the film does portray is the healing of the blind man from Mark 8:22-25. It's this single miracle that persuades people to follow him and proclaim him the messiah. But the film suggests that Jesus does not perform a miracle at all. The blind man is in fact a fraud, seemingly pretending he is blind to make his appeal for money more compelling. Jesus sees through it and so spits in his face. The man momentarily gives himself away, and before he can cover it up, the disciples have declared a miracle and the crowd joins in. There are shades of "penny for an ex-leper" here. It's an intriguing reinterpretation of an odd text - after all, why does Jesus spit in the man's face - but if this was Jesus' sole miracle (and we later see him fail to bring Bartholomew back to life), it again raises the question of why anyone really found Jesus worth following.

    There are two main asides from the time Jesus spends with his disciples. The first is the role of the zealot movement. They are seen as very prominent in Jerusalem and around, and there's an uneasy relationship between them and the followers of Jesus. In a key scene the two groups meet and Jesus lays out his agenda of peaceful revolution as opposed to violent overthrow. The result is a plan to have Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a donkey and then disappear to avoid capture by the Romans, reappearing in the temple shortly afterwards to re-take the city peacefully by sheer numbers alone. Recent situations in the Middle East at the moment come to mind as we have seen attempts at a similar peaceful movements result in varying degrees of success. There are certainly echoes of 1961's King of Kings whether intentional or not.

    The other aside is the story from the perspective of the authorities. Donald Pleasance's role as Pilate is particularly to the fore, and its clear he is pulling all the strings, shown scheming with Herod, Caiaphas and his own soldiers. There's also a good deal of screen time given over to Caiaphas, reminiscent of BBC's The Passion. Caiaphas is hated by the zealots who mock him as corrupt, and pushed about by Pilate. Hugh Griffith's portrayal of Caiaphas taps into numerous aspects of the worst of Jewish stereotypes over the centuries and so its hard to sympathise with him. Yet, surprisingly, the body he convenes to hear Yeshua's case find "no cause" for a charge of blasphemy, and returns him to Pilate to see if he can get him under Roman law.

    At the end of the film there is a lengthy note, the first part of which is as follows:
    Yeshua of Nazareth died with his faith undimmed. Those who shared his faith were convinced that death could not hold him, and that he had gone to God until the day when the prophecies would finally be fulfilled.



    • At 4:58 pm, May 29, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      Donald Pleasance has done both the devil and Pilate in movies - I haven't seem this one but I wouldn't be surprised if he is the highlight.

      Mark is often thought of as the most political of the gospels as well - no xmas story - much hermeneutics - much radical politics for those inclined to the revolutionary anti- establishment Jesus

    • At 12:58 am, June 15, 2011, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Yes, the Plesance link is an interesting one, I can't work out whether he's pro-Christianity, against it, or just coming by these similar jobs as a result of a long career.


    • At 8:11 pm, June 30, 2011, Anonymous stathem said…

      Donald Pleasance did as a devil and Pilate in the film - I think this is the highlight.


    Post a Comment

    << Home