Bible movie of the week: Jesus, the Spirit of God (2007)

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.

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The death, resurrection, and second death of Lazarus

One of the recurring themes in the Gospel of John is that the people who were healed by Jesus faced ostracism and worse from some of their fellow Jews. You see it in the story of the man who was born blind; after Jesus healed him, he was thrown out of the synagogue for refusing to deny that Jesus was the Messiah. And you see it in the story of Lazarus; after Jesus raised him from the dead, he became such a celebrity that the chief priests plotted to have him killed.

This last detail is often forgotten in dramatic depictions of the raising of Lazarus — possibly because John’s gospel never tells us whether the plot succeeded — but a few films have acknowledged it. Three come to mind.

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Come and See: How Movies Encourage Us to Look at (and with) Jesus

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 generally pass 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.

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