The Pasolini-directed movie about St Paul that never was

So many movies have been made about Jesus, and so many of those movies have been mediocre, that it’s sometimes surprising to realize how many world-class directors have tried to get Jesus movies of their own off the ground but never succeeded. The list includes Carl Theodor Dreyer, who passed away in 1968; Gillo Pontecorvo, who passed away in 2006; and Paul Verhoeven, who published a book about Jesus in 2008 and has talked about making a movie on the subject since the 1980s, but is no closer to actually getting the film made now than he was back then.

You don’t often hear about people dying to make movies about Saint Paul, though. But it turns out that one of the best Jesus-movie makers of them all — Pier Paolo Pasolini, director of The Gospel According to St Matthew, which incidentally celebrates its 50th anniversary this year — tried to make a movie about the apostle who took Christianity to the Gentiles, and yesterday his screenplay was published in English for the first time ever.

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Bible movie of the week: The Big Fisherman (1959)

Four years ago, I wrote a blog post on The Big Fisherman (1959), one of the more obscure Bible movies ever released by a major Hollywood studio.

As far as I know, the film, which was originally distributed by Walt Disney’s Buena Vista division, has never been officially released to home video, at least not in North America. But I had read a bit about it in books on the history of Jesus movies — the title refers to the apostle Peter — and I was intrigued by the information I found at the Internet Movie Database.

For one thing, the film is based on a novel by Lloyd C. Douglas, who also wrote The Robe, which 20th Century Fox turned into a much more famous film in 1953. For another, it seemed that this film might rely on the secular account of Herod Antipas and John the Baptist given to us by Josephus, which no other film I could think of had ever done.

And what did the apostle Peter have to do with any of this? I had no idea, but I was curious to find out.

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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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History and tradition in movie depictions of the Cross.

Western Easter came and went last week, but the Eastern churches are currently only half-way through the Lenten season, so yesterday was, for us, the Sunday of the Veneration of the Precious Cross.

Thinking about this, I inevitably started thinking about Jesus movies, and I began to think about the fact that the recent mini-series The Bible has joined Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in taking a step back from recent “historically accurate” depictions of the Crucifixion towards a more traditional sort of iconography.

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The Bible: final episode, first impressions

And so it ends. Here are my first impressions of the final episode of The Bible, which aired last night.

Continuity between Bible stories, redux. Once again, I am impressed by the fact that this adaptation-of-the-whole-Bible approach — whatever its limitations — has allowed the filmmakers to emphasize the continuity between Bible stories in a way that you rarely see in other films.

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