The Young Messiah: a scene guide (w/ clips and references to the scriptures, the apocryphal texts, and the novel)

The Young Messiah: a scene guide (w/ clips and references to the scriptures, the apocryphal texts, and the novel) March 18, 2016


Last month I wrote up a scene guide for Risen, noting which scriptures different parts of the movie were based on. Now it’s The Young Messiah’s turn — and this time, matters are complicated by the fact that the film is based not directly on the Bible, but on Anne Rice’s novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, which in turn makes use of Old and New Testament apocrypha in addition to the scriptures.

Because page numbers vary from edition to edition, the scene guide below notes which chapters in Rice’s novel the different scenes seem to be based on. Some scenes are based on multiple chapters, while other chapters are stretched out over multiple scenes. And, because some scenes from the film have been made available online, I have included them in the scene guide where appropriate.

Timecodes are approximate, based on an online screener that I watched twice.

1:10-1:45 — Prologue

The opening titles say “many Jews fled to Egypt” because of the “rebellion and chaos” under “Rome’s puppet king, Herod the Great.” But the opening titles also quote Matthew 2:13 — citing chapter and verse, even! — to the effect that Joseph took his own family to Egypt specifically because an angel appeared to him in a dream.

1:45-6:15 — Bullies in the street — Chapter 1

Jesus is playing in the street with his sister/cousin Salome, and his brother/cousin James is nearby too.

The Bible refers to the brothers of Jesus on many occasions (Mark 3:31-35; Matthew 12:46-49; Luke 8:19-21; John 2:12, 7:1-10; Acts 1:14; I Corinthians 9:5) — even giving names for four of them (Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55) — and it refers to the sisters of Jesus, who remain anonymous, twice (Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:56).

James, in particular, was a prominent leader in the early church (Acts 12:17, 15:13-21, 21:18-25; I Corinthians 15:7; Galatians 1:18-20, 2:9-13; Jude 1) and is traditionally believed to be the author of the Epistle of James.

Orthodox and Catholic tradition hold that the brothers and sisters of Jesus were actually his step-siblings (children of Joseph from a previous marriage) or his cousins. Rice’s novel says James was a step-brother and all the other “brothers” were cousins, but the film makes James a cousin and eliminates all the other brothers.

The sisters of Jesus are not named in the Bible, but early Christian tradition gives them the names Mary and Salome. Only one of those “sisters” is depicted in the film, and she has the name Salome, presumably to avoid being confused with Mary the mother of Jesus. Salome is also the name of one of the women who witnessed the burial of Jesus (Mark 15:40) and discovered the empty tomb (Mark 16:1).

The bullies attack Jesus and he does not fight back. This may reflect the teaching of the adult Jesus that people should turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-39, Luke 6:29).

When Jesus tells the bully to stop chasing Salome, the Devil figure — described in the credits only as “The Demon” — causes the bully to trip, fall, and bang his head on a rock, thereby killing him. The crowd assumes that Jesus himself cursed the boy.

In Rice’s novel, Jesus does in fact kill the boy supernaturally, without realizing that that is what he has done — he has not mastered his powers yet — and in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, a 2nd-century apocryphal text from which Rice took this story element, Jesus actually curses and kills multiple boys. But the film modifies this so that it is the Devil, not Jesus, who is responsible for the bully’s death.

6:15-9:00 — Jesus at home with his family — Chapter 1

James believes that Jesus cursed the dead boy. The not-entirely-sympatico relationship between Jesus and James in this film may reflect the gospel tradition that the adult brothers of Jesus did not believe in him during his ministry (John 7:5) and even thought he was crazy (Mark 3:21).

Mary tells James, “Don’t say that, he’s your cousin!” The idea that the siblings of Jesus were actually his cousins is first attested in St Jerome’s Against Helvidius, written sometime prior to AD 383. (The tradition that they were step-siblings goes back at least a couple hundred years earlier, to the Infancy Gospel of James.)

Jesus’ uncle Cleopas and aunt Miriam enter the room. Cleopas is one of the two people who met the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), and he may be identical to Clopas, whose wife Mary (or Miriam, in Hebrew) was at the Crucifixion (John 19:25). A 2nd-century Christian writer named Hegesippus said Cleopas was the brother of Joseph, but in Rice’s novel and the film he is Mary’s big brother.

Salome tells Jesus to raise the dead boy, the same way he raised a dead bird. In the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and in Rice’s novel, Jesus turns clay birds into living birds, but in the film, he raises an actual bird that was living and then died.

Jesus sneaks out the window to go raise the dead boy. This is the first of at least two instances in which Jesus will sneak away from his parents in the film. In the book, Jesus runs through the crowd where his parents can see him.

9:00-12:45 — Jesus raises Eleazer — Chapter 1

The dead bully is named Eleazer, which is a variant of the name Lazarus. The adult Jesus raised a man named Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44). The young Jesus also raises multiple people from the dead in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.

Eleazer immediately resumes beating Jesus and calls him “Son of David!” The term “son of David” is a Messianic title (Mark 12:35-37, Matthew 22:41-46, Luke 20:41-44) that is applied to Jesus by multiple characters within the gospels (e.g. Mark 10:47-48; Matthew 9:27, 15:22, 20:30-31, 21:9; Luke 18:38-39).

Eleazer’s father says Jesus is possessed. People accused the adult Jesus of being possessed and performing his miracles with the help of Satan (Mark 3:22-30, Matthew 12:22-37, Luke 11:14-26).

Joseph says Herod the Great is dead, so the family is going back to Palestine now. Herod the Great died in 4 BC, so if Jesus is seven years old when this movie begins, the film (following Rice’s novel) would seem to be saying that Jesus was born in 11 BC, which is much, much earlier than the gospels indicate. Luke says Jesus was “about thirty years old” (3:23) when he began his ministry during or after “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar” (3:1), which would be around the year AD 28; if Jesus was born in 11 BC, he would have been about forty by the time that point in Tiberius’s reign.

12:45-16:30 — Jesus at home with his family — Chapter 2

Joseph tells Mary he knows Herod is dead because he had a dream today (Matthew 2:19-20). He mentions that it was a dream which brought them to Egypt in the first place (Matthew 2:13-15).

Joseph says they’re going home to Nazareth, and not back to Bethlehem. Matthew 2:22-23 says Joseph opted for Nazareth instead of Bethlehem partly because he had yet another dream. Luke’s gospel is the only one that says Nazareth had been Mary and Joseph’s home prior to the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:26-27, 2:4-5,39).

16:30-16:45 — Satan disappears in the street — No chapter

16:45-18:40 — On the boat — Chapter 3

Jesus tells a stranger he was born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1, Luke 2:4-7).

18:40-23:45 — The family encounters Romans and rebels — Chapter 5

In the novel, Jesus’ family goes to the Temple in Jerusalem for Passover on their way home to Nazareth, but the festivities are interrupted by a riot put down by Herod’s soldiers (not Roman soldiers). In the film, the family goes directly to Nazareth and witnesses a clash between Zealots and Romans while they are en route.

23:45-27:35 — Herod’s palace in Jerusalem — No chapter

The Roman centurion Severus meets with a king identified only as “Herod”. It is not specified which of Herod the Great’s sons this is. In Rice’s novel, as per history, Herod’s sons Archelaus and Antipas are largely absent from Palestine because they have gone to Rome to petition Caesar for control of their father’s kingdom; in the end, Archelaus got to rule Judea and Antipas got to rule Galilee.1 The Herod of the film might be an amalgamation of the two, but if his palace is in Jerusalem he would bear a closer resemblance to Archelaus. (The Herod of the film also seems a bit unstable, and Archelaus was deposed by the Roman emperor only a decade into his reign, whereas Antipas lasted over forty years, his reign over Galilee spanning three emperors.)

Herod says to Severus, “I’m Jewish. Do I have the madness?” Ethnically, the historical Archelaus and Antipas were Samaritan on their mother’s side and half-Nabatean (i.e. Arabic) and half-Idumean on their father’s side — but religiously, their father’s Idumean ancestors had converted to Judaism, and their father was raised Jewish.

27:35-29:10 — Jesus has a dream about the dead Zealot — Chapter 7

Cleopas clearly wants to tell Jesus where he came from, but Mary and Joseph won’t let him. In the novel, however, Cleopas had already spilled the beans in Chapter 4.

29:10-30:40 — Roman camp — No chapter

Severus says “they say” Herod choked to death on the blood of children. This is a reference to the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16-18).

30:40-33:55 — Cleopas healed — Chapter 9

Jesus heals Cleopas publicly in the film, but in the novel, the healing is discreet enough that no one but Jesus seems to know what he has done.

Cleopas says at one point that he is “brother to the prophesized virgin.” The idea that the virgin birth was predicted ahead of time stems from Matthew 1:22-23, which says the virginal conception of Jesus “fulfilled” Isaiah 7:14. But in its original historical context, Isaiah seems to have been referring to another child — possibly even his own (cf. Isaiah 8:1-10) — and as conservative scholar N.T. Wright has pointed out, “There is no pre-Christian Jewish tradition suggesting that the messiah would be born of a virgin. No one used Isaiah 7:14 this way before Matthew did.”2

The way Jesus and Cleopas sink into the water resembles a baptism.

Jesus seems to be unconscious when Cleopas raises him up from out of the water. Rice has said that her depictions of Jesus lacking energy after his miracles were inspired by the story in which the adult Jesus felt power go out of him after a sick woman touched the hem of his garment (Mark 5:25-34, Matthew 9:20-22, Luke 8:43-48).

Once again, people accuse Jesus of healing by the power of the Devil (see above).

33:55-35:35 — Jesus talks to Mary — Chapter 9

Jesus says there were angels by the river but he didn’t see them.

35:35-36:30 — Roman camp — No chapter

36:30-37:55 — The rapist — Chapter 10

Jesus and his family come across a woman killing a man who captured and raped her.

In the novel, there were actually two women: Bruria, a widow who fights off a drunk man, and her servant Riba, who had been hiding at home and is now pregnant with a son who is born later in the story. The woman in the film is called Riba, but she is never described as pregnant and she never gives birth.

And in the novel, it is not Bruria or Riba who kills the man but Joseph and Cleopas (and other male relatives who are not depicted in the film).

37:55-40:40 — The family talks to the rape survivor — Chapter 10

Mary says she was born in Sepphoris, a village near Nazareth. There is indeed a tradition to the effect that Mary was born in Sepphoris, which dates back at least to the Middle Ages, when a church dedicated to her mother St Anna was built there.

Jesus asks if Riba can come with the family “as a sister”. This underscores the elasticity of concepts like “brother” and “sister” in that culture.

40:40-42:55 — The men bathe — Chapter 11

In the novel, Joseph and Cleopas bathe to purify themselves after they kill the man who attacked Bruria; in the movie, they seem to be purifying themselves simply because they have buried him. Cleopas says the purification ritual for people who have touched a dead body was given to the Jews on Sinai (possibly a reference to Numbers 19:11-22, though the Hebrews had left Sinai by then; cf. Numbers 10:12).

42:55-45:55 — Crosses — Chapter 12

Many men are crucified along the road. There was indeed a rebellion in Sepphoris after the death of Herod the Great, which the Romans put down.

Note: the crucified men appear to be tied, not nailed, to their crosses.

Mary recites Psalm 23 as the family walks past the crosses.

45:55-51:40 — The family arrives in Nazareth — Chapter 12

A kinswoman named Old Sarah bribes Roman officers with food and wine, so that they won’t take arrest or crucify any members of Joseph’s family. As the soldiers leave, she recites a benediction from Numbers 6:24-26.

Old Sarah says she knows about Greek mythology because her father had Homer and Plato in his collection of scrolls.

51:40-53:40 — Joseph talks to Jesus — Chapter 14

53:40-56:10 — A woman belly dances for Herod — No chapter

The belly dancer’s name is Selini. This scene may be inspired, in part, by the story of Herodias’s daughter Salome dancing for Antipas (Mark 6:21-28, Matthew 14:6-11; but note, Herodias’s daughter is named only in Josephus, not in the gospels).

56:10-57:55 — Severus interrogates a man on the cross — No chapter

Apparently the Herod of this film crucifies people, i.e. kills them in the Roman manner. But the biblical Herods tended to use other methods, e.g. Antipas beheaded John the Baptist (Mark 6:16-29, Matthew 14:3-12, Luke 9:9), and Agrippa I had James the son of Zebedee “put to death with the sword” (Acts 12:2).

57:55-1:01:40 — Jesus meets the local rabbi — Chapter 17

The relationship between James and the rest of Jesus’ family is clarified even further here, as the rabbi says to Joseph, “I know James, your cousin, who you adopted.”

The rabbi recalls how Mary said she was visited by an angel (Luke 1:26-38).

The rabbi probes Jesus’ knowledge of Samson (Judges 16), Elijah (II Kings 2:11-12) and the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2-3). Jesus refers to, but dismisses, the popular belief that Enoch lives in Eden (which comes from the apocryphal Jubilees 4.23).

Jesus also says the house of David will last forever (II Samuel 7:12-16, Psalm 89:3-4), and he cites various references to carpenters and carpentry in the Old Testament, such as the instructions God gave Noah for building the Ark (Genesis 6:13-16), the vision of the new Temple that he granted to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 40-43), the presence of Wisdom when God made the world (Proverbs 8:22-31), and the way Cyrus the Persian sent carpenters back to the Holy Land to build the temple (Ezra 1, etc.).

1:01:40-1:06:00 — Jesus falls sick — Chapter 19

Cleopas mentions that Mary once sewed the veil for the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem, which comes from the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of James. In the novel, Mary’s role in sewing the veil is mentioned in Chapters 4, 21, 23 and 25.

Cleopas says he could have been a prophet, which he says in Chapter 16 in the book.

The Devil appears to Jesus while he’s sick in bed. Satan appears to Jesus once in the gospels, after his baptism (Mark 1:12-13, Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13), but films have often imagined that he appeared to Jesus at other times too (e.g. in Gethsemane, as in 1999’s Jesus, 2000’s The Miracle Maker and 2004’s The Passion of the Christ).

The Devil shows Jesus how Jerusalem burned during the last Passover, after Herod the Great’s death. In the novel, Jesus was present for that Passover, and he witnesses or hears about the burning of other cities too as his family leaves Jerusalem, in Chapters 5-7. Another character also describes the burning of Jerusalem in Chapter 20.

1:06:00-1:08:55 — Deciding to go to Jerusalem — Chapter 21

Mary doesn’t want to go to Jerusalem because Jesus’ “enemies” will be there. Joseph says the Temple has been “purified” since the uprising the year before.

1:08:55-1:10:05 — Farewells — Chapter 22

In the film, all of the females stay behind in Nazareth except for Mary and Miriam, the wives of Joseph and Cleopas — but in the novel, Miriam has already died (in Chapter 19) and the holy family is accompanied by Old Sarah, Bruria and Riba, too.

1:10:05-1:11:00 — Roman camp — No chapter

1:11:00-1:13:00 — Romans come to Old Sarah’s house — No chapter

1:13:00-1:15:40 — James tells Jesus about the Nativity — Chapters 21-22

While the family is on the road to Jerusalem, James tells Jesus about the angels that visited the shepherds (Luke 2:8-15), and about the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12).

In the novel, James tells Jesus about the Magi while the family is still in Nazareth (in Chapter 21), and he tells Jesus about the angels — and he confesses that he’s hated Jesus since before Jesus was born — while the family is staying at the Caiaphas household in Bethany just outside Jerusalem (in Chapter 22).

James says the Magi came from Persia. The Bible simply says they came from “the east”, but historically the Magi do have Persian roots; in the Iranian film Saint Mary, the point is made that the Magi were Zoroastrians and thus believers in one God, centuries before Persia became Islamic. Interestingly, despite this emphasis on the Magi’s Persian origins, the film follows centuries of artistic tradition in depicting the three Wise Men as representative of Europe, Africa and Asia — the three continents that were known to Christendom before the discovery of the New World.

James says to Jesus, “Don’t make it rain. I know you can.” And suddenly it rains. In the novel, Jesus makes it stop raining in Chapter 16 — in conjunction with some discussion of Jewish holy men like Honi the Circle-drawer, who successfully prayed for rain — and Jesus makes it snow in Chapter 21. The biblical Jesus doesn’t cause any precipitation, but he does command a storm to stop while he and his disciples are sailing across a lake (Mark 4:35-41, Matthew 8:23-27, Luke 8:22-25).

1:15:40-1:18:00 — The arrival of the Romans prompts Joseph and Cleopas to discuss whether to turn back — No chapter

Cleopas objects to Joseph’s suggestion that they seek help from the Essenes. In the novel, Cleopas objected to Elizabeth’s suggestion that John the Baptist be raised by the Essenes after she dies, in Chapter 8.

1:18:00-1:20:55 — Jesus prays and takes off for Jerusalem — No chapter

Jesus abandons his parents and relatives and goes to Jerusalem. This parallels how he will eventually stay behind in Jerusalem when he is 12 years old (Luke 2:41-50).

Jesus ends his prayer to God by saying, “Your will be done.” This phrase will become part of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:10), and it is also part of Jesus’ prayer in Gethesemane (Matthew 26:42; cf. Mark 14:36, Luke 22:42).

1:20:55-1:34:40 — Jesus goes to the Temple — Chapters 23-25

In the novel, Jesus goes to the Temple with his relatives, and they offer sacrifices. In the movie, he goes by himself, and Mary and Joseph eventually catch up with him, and no sacrifices are made because they need to get away from the Romans.

Jesus meets a blind rabbi and completes the rabbi’s quotation of the messianic prophecy in Isaiah 11:2-3 (the rabbi says, “The spirit of the Lord will be with him, to give him understanding, wisdom, and insight. He will be powerful, and he will know and honour the Lord,” and Jesus adds, “His greatest joy will be to obey the Lord”). In the novel, the blind rabbi is reciting one of the Psalms when Jesus meets him.

In the film, the blind rabbi tells Jesus how Herod met the Magi and ordered the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-18). But in the novel, the blind rabbi avoids telling the story (in Chapter 23), and Jesus eventually hears it from another rabbi he meets after slipping away from his guardians (in Chapter 24).

Jesus heals the rabbi. The biblical Jesus healed many blind people (Mark 8:22-26, 10:46-52; Matthew 9:27-31, 12:22, 15:30-31, 20:29-34, 21:14; Luke 7:21-22, 18:35-43; John 9). The rabbi then begins to look for the boy — similar, perhaps, to how one of the men healed by Jesus wanted to find him afterwards (John 9:12,36).

1:34:40-1:36:20 — Severus tells Herod he killed the boy — No chapter

Herod says he wanted to meet “the Son of Man, the one, the counselor, the prince of peace, the little boy who can make the dead breathe and the blind see.” “Son of Man” is a title from Daniel 7:13 that Jesus applied to himself throughout all four gospels. “Counselor” and “prince of peace” come from the messianic prophecy in Isaiah 9:6.

1:36:20-1:41:05 — Mary tells Jesus about the Annunciation — Chapter 25

Mary says she was “strictly raised”, which may reflect the description of her childhood in the Infancy Gospel of James. She also tells Jesus about the angels who visited her (Luke 1:26-38) and Joseph (Matthew 1:20-24), and she says that Jesus is “begotten” of God, which echoes some of the more traditional translations of John 3:16.

Mary tells Jesus that God “has made you a child to grow in wisdom, as well as in all other things.” Luke 2:52 says Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (which, in turn, echoes Old Testament passages like I Samuel 2:26).

Mary refers to her husband as “Joseph bar-Jacob the carpenter.” Joseph’s father is named in Matthew 1:14, and his profession is identified in Matthew 13:55.

1:41:05-1:44:50 — Closing voice-over — Chapter 26

The final words of both film and novel are: “Father, I am your child.”

1. The Parable of the Minas (Luke 19:11-27), a lesser-known version of the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), identifies the master as a nobleman who went to another country to be made king — and who then executed his enemies when he got back. This is almost certainly a dig at the Herods.

2. Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, page 176.

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