My second book (sort of)

Inch by inch, little by little, I am gradually making my way onto the bookshelves.

I write mainly for websites and periodicals, but occasionally I have been cited in the footnotes of some book or other, and my sister once bought me a second copy of The Gospel According to the Simpsons — I already had a much-marked review copy — because the new editions were quoting my review of it in their opening pages.

Then, last year, I contributed an essay to Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics. And since I don’t get any royalties from the book sales, I don’t mind letting you all know that my essay was eventually republished with only slight, slight, slight revisions here, where you can read it for free.

Now for the bigger challenge. I see that is finally taking pre-orders for Scandalizing Jesus?: Reappreciating Kazantzakis’s the Last Temptation, a collection of essays on both the book and film versions of The Last Temptation of Christ that has been timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the publication of Kazantzakis’s novel this year.

I have an essay on the treatment of sexuality in both versions of this story, and in Christian theology in general, and in life-of-Jesus movies over the past century, etc., and I have no doubt many people will disagree with points I make here or there.

Heck, even I might disagree with some of my points, since I wrote the essay over a year ago — before I wrote the Re-Viewing essay, in fact! — and a lot has happened in that time (e.g., I got married two months ago, I have become slightly better acquainted with Orthodox thinking on the subject, etc.). As a journalist, I am used to very fast turnarounds, so waiting a year-and-a-half between the writing of an essay and its publication is very new to me.

Anyway, I know I shouldn’t count my chickens before they hatch — and I haven’t even seen the proofs for my own essay yet — but it’s encouraging to see that finally has a page for this book. It is beginning to feel more real.

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  • Peter,

    I just read your excellent synopsis of the film industries 100 year struggle to present Jesus Christ in an authentic way.

    It reminds me of a television series that was on years ago called “Faith in America” – I think. What impressed me about it was how difficult it is to take a camera into a functioning worship service and in any way “catch on film” what is happening there. Since so much is internal at such a moment, the camera’s images are not only inadequate but misleading.

    Having said that, I think the way filmmakers have progressed – as you so thoughtfully describe in your article – has brought us to the point where we can “recreate” a spiritual insight that does work on film. It requires “point of view” and “flashbacks” and “novel-like voice-overs or dialogue” – but we are accomplishing what is very hard to do: “An authentic portrayal of the Christian faith.”

    That is why I often am left cold when a film which is so authentic of American/Canadian life in every way EXCEPT our faith, is allowed to omit this with impunity.

    My favorite example of a director who does it well is Spielberg in AMISTAD. The weaving of the judge’s prayer before Jesus with the court proceedings, the reading of the “pictures of the gospel story” by the illiterate African slaves, the Quakers trying to free their fellow human beings…


  • Thanks for the kind words, Denny.

    Alas, I think I have more mixed feelings on Amistad than you do. I remember being rather moved by the film when I first saw it, but then when I watched it again and read up on the original history behind that event, I was more disturbed by the way it meddled with the historical record. Check my Books & Culture article on the film here.

    Who knows, though, the pendulum might swing back towards appreciation if I saw it a third time. 🙂

  • Yes, I was aware of the Amistad historical controversy, and I’m also painfully aware of the shortcomings of the abolitionists – as presented so painfully in UNITED BY FAITH, by Curtiss Deyoung. Since our denomination began as an abolitionist movement within the Methodist Episcoal church, I’m aware of how these types of stories become more mythical and symbolic than actual.

    But, this is almost always true of “historical films.” They are always inadequate, artistic, historically questionable, not only because of the difficulty in presenting an historically accurate film artistically (as a poor example GODS AND GENERALS comes to mind), but because history itself is so open to “point of view” as in THE PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES by Zinn.

    So, rightly or wrongly, I don’t tend to judge a film within its historical veracity so much as within its own narative – and does it work as a part of the metanarrative. That means, of course, that I don’t get my history from films, but it also means that I don’t judge a film by its historicity.

    I realize, even as I’m writitng this, that I don’t entirely agree with what I’m saying, since I care deeply about the “biblical history” perspectives of the films you describe in this article about Jesus. So I guess I should qualify by saying that in most instances I hold the historical nature of most films lightly!