Two years ago, I made a spreadsheet charting the similarities and differences between The Bible and its big-screen spin-off Son of God. Last year, I wrote detailed recaps for each episode of A.D. The Bible Continues, noting how the series made use of both the scriptures and secular history. Now it’s Risen’s turn to go under the microscope.
The Jesus movies of the past dozen years have followed a trajectory that is almost the complete opposite of their counterparts in the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood.
Christians aren’t the only ones who hold Jesus in high esteem. Muslims do too, though they have radically different beliefs about him — and at least one movie has actually tried to dramatize those beliefs the same way other Bible movies have dramatized their own filmmakers’ beliefs.
But wait… is it right to call Jesus, the Spirit of God, an Iranian film produced in 2007, a “Bible movie”? Is not much of the film based on the Koran and other post-biblical sources, such as the late-medieval document known as the Gospel of Barnabas, rather than on the Bible itself?
Well, yes, the film is based on those other documents, but I’d still say it counts as a “Bible movie” on some level, inasmuch as many of its narrative elements can be traced back through those sources to the Bible itself. If we can accept Ben-Hur, which was based on a novel, or The Passion of the Christ, which was based on the visions of a 19th-century nun, as “Bible movies” because they contain elements that go back to the scriptures, then we can certainly put this film under the same broad umbrella.
I promise to have a post on last Sunday’s episode of The Bible soon. In the meantime, I just want to note two things that popped up in my news feed today.
First, it turns out there is another brand-new Bible-themed movie on TV this week, as the Reelz network is hosting the American premiere of Barabbas, a two-part mini-series about the Jewish rebel or criminal who was freed by Pilate in Jesus’ place.
Starring Billy Zane and directed by Roger Young (who previously directed some of the better-known films in the ‘Bible Collection’ series), it is based on the same Par Lagerkvist novel that inspired the 1961 film starring Anthony Quinn (as well as a 1953 film made in Sweden and, apparently, a 2001 film made in Armenia).
In orthodox Christian belief, Jesus is both God and man, fully divine and fully human. And it is because God has revealed himself in the form of a particular person who lived in a particular time and a particular place that Christians down through the ages have generally felt free to portray Jesus in icons, passion plays, and other forms of religious art. But except for the most basic and theologically essential points, such works of art have generally passed over the particularities of Jesus’s life. His humanity, expressed in the mere fact that he can be depicted at all, is often balanced with his divinity by a degree of artistic abstraction: Whether depicting Christ in static paintings or following the stations of the cross according to a set pattern, artists have tended to downplay realistic or naturalistic details to focus on the more eternal truths.