8th day of Christmas: 3 films on the circumcision of Jesus

8th day of Christmas: 3 films on the circumcision of Jesus January 1, 2016

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Happy New Year!

Today is the eighth day of Christmas, and that means today is the day on which we commemorate the circumcision of Jesus. Here are three films that depict this moment from Jesus’ infancy, which is mentioned briefly in Luke 2:21.

First, naturally, the circumcision is depicted in The Genesis Project’s word-for- word adaptation of Luke, which was produced between 1976 and 1979.

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Here, the circumcision is performed by Joseph himself, apparently at home — and, despite the fact that the movie’s English narration sticks to the biblical text, the film does allow Joseph to speak some extra, untranslated dialogue in Hebrew.

You can watch this version of the circumcision here, starting at the 22:40 mark:

By far the best-known film that depicts the circumcision of Jesus is Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth, a 1977 miniseries that took great pains to emphasize the Jewishness of the culture and family within which Jesus was raised.

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Here, because the circumcision story is combined with the prophecy of Simeon (which actually took place over a month later, as per Luke 2:22-24 and Leviticus 12), the circumcision seems to be taking place within the Temple, and it is performed by men who apparently specialize in this ritual. This fits with other scenes in the miniseries that emphasize the central role played by Jewish institutions in Jesus’ life.

You can watch this version of the circumcision here, starting at the 54:12 mark:

The most recent film that deals with this part of the story is The Savior, a Palestinian film that was produced with an all-Arab cast in 2014. Perhaps because it is based primarily on Luke’s gospel, this film depicts the circumcision of Jesus too — and it even includes a shot of the infant Jesus’ foreskin being dropped into a bowl!

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While The Savior has been shown on TV, it is not available online to my knowledge.

The circumcision of Jesus is theologically significant for at least three reasons.

First, it underscores the humanity of Jesus. As Leo Steinberg noted in The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, nowhere is the “humanation” of God more evident than in the fact that Jesus has gender, and Renaissance depictions of the Christ child often drew the viewer’s attention to the child’s genitals, precisely to make this point. (Of the three films above, Jesus of Nazareth is perhaps the most Renaissance in sensibility: just look at how the sight-lines of the three men standing over Jesus, plus the one man’s hand, all converge on the same point.)

Second, it underscores the vulnerability of Jesus. Some theologians have noted that this was the first time Jesus shed his blood, decades before he died on the cross, so in some sense it marked the beginning of his “sacrifice” for our redemption.

Third, it underscores the Jewishness of Jesus. The Genesis Project and Jesus of Nazareth were both produced in the mid-1970s, at a time when people were becoming newly sensitive to the fact that Jesus and his family were Jewish. (Geza Vermes’ groundbreaking book Jesus the Jew was published in 1973.) So it makes sense that both of those films would underscore this point: the Genesis Project through untranslated Hebrew dialogue, and Jesus of Nazareth through extra dialogue about Abraham and “the seal in flesh of the covenant between the Lord and his people”. (As for The Savior, it was produced in the Middle East, where circumcision is “widely practiced” not only among Jews and Muslims but among Christians too.)

So, those are the three films I can think of that depict the circumcision of Jesus. Are there any others? If so, please let me know in the comments below.

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