American Gods will have “multiple versions of Jesus Christ”

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American Gods is a brand new TV series based on a book by Neil Gaiman which imagines that the gods of many different mythologies have come to America and have fallen on hard times because people don’t believe in them like they used to.

One of the gods that many Americans believe in, of course, is Jesus — and while Jesus did not appear in the first episode, which aired last Sunday, we know that he will be played by Jeremy Davies in at least one of the episodes to come.

It remains to be seen how weak or powerful Jesus will be in this series — which is to say, it remains to be seen how the series will gauge the strength of the American public’s belief in Jesus, relative to its belief (or lack thereof) in the other gods — but producer Bryan Fuller told Variety last week that the show will at least reflect the fact that there are many different beliefs about Jesus within the United States:

The show revolves around the premise that “if you believe in something enough, you can manifest it into reality,” Fuller explains. In manifesting this show for Starz, Fuller and fellow showrunner Michael Green weren’t afraid to take on difficult topics.

So this is probably the only TV drama — certainly the only cable drama — of the year that will introduce multiple versions of Jesus Christ.

“There are so many different perspectives on who Jesus Christ was and is in the hearts of those who worship him, so that I think it’s interesting to say to Christians that your Jesus — pointing to one end of the room — is different from your Jesus,” says Fuller.

One thing we do know is that the series will suggest some sort of relationship between Jesus and a goddess named Ostara, or Easter (played by Kristin Chenoweth). From the official character description for Jesus released eight months ago:

Resurrected on Ostara’s feast day, Jesus has always been generous in sharing the Easter holiday with the ancient goddess. But the overly empathetic Son of God would be crushed to know that Ostara harbors some deeply buried resentment over the issue.

Alas, there is very little evidence that a goddess named Ostara ever existed — which is to say, there is very little evidence that anyone ever worshiped a goddess of that name. The only reference to her in the pre-modern literature comes from the Venerable Bede, an 8th-century Christian monk who may or may not have been speculating as to the origin of the name Eostremonath, which is the month we now know as April.

In any case, it will be interesting to see how Jesus fits into the mythology of this series. Variety notes that Jesus will even get a prologue of his own in one episode:

Though Shadow and Mr. Wednesday’s unlikely pairing forms the core of series, each episode is opened by a “Coming to America” sequence describing the arrival of another faith or group of believers. Irish tales, Norse mythology and gods from different regions in Africa are introduced in these sequences, and characters from those scenes often re-emerge at other points in the season. . . .

“I get teary-eyed watching one of the Coming to Americas that is about Christ,” says Fuller. “I am a secularist who can imagine a lot of different scenarios in terms of what spirituality and faith are. And yet watching this sequence, I am moved by the believers in the scene witnessing their God, who is a positive God who’s defined by love and tolerance. I find that very affecting, and my Catholic upbringing still resonates very strongly. It’s nice to sort of say, ‘This is what people who have faith aspire to.’”

Will Easter, too, be a part of that prologue sequence? We shall see.

— No pictures of Jeremy Davies as Jesus have been released yet. The photo above shows Davies playing Charles Manson in Helter Skelter (2004).

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his award-winning film column for that paper, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He has also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005) and The Bible in Motion: A Handbook of the Bible and Its Reception in Film (De Gruyter, 2016).