Next year marks the 40th anniversary of Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth — still regarded by many as one of the best Jesus films ever made — and to celebrate this milestone, the Smithsonian Channel has announced that it will air a new documentary series featuring scenes from the film and brand-new footage of its star Robert Powell touring the Holy Land and talking to scholars about the historical Jesus.
Here is the press release issued by the Smithsonian Channel:
NEW YORK – Starring no less than seven Academy Award winners, the 1977 miniseries, Jesus of Nazareth, was a global television event, becoming one of the most celebrated TV biographies of Jesus ever made. Now, 40 years later, the actor who portrayed the Son of God is returning to the Holy Land to seek out clues to the real historical figure who inspired Christianity. THE REAL JESUS OF NAZARETH, a four-part series, will premiere on Smithsonian Channel in 2017. The announcement was made today by David Royle, Executive Vice President of Programming and Production, Smithsonian Channel.
Jesus of Nazareth features a cast of blockbuster stars, but when the director cast his lead character, he chose a relatively unknown British actor, Robert Powell, who gave a performance for the ages. Since then the series has become an Easter and Christmas television tradition for many. Globally, more than 90 million people have watched it.
“Jesus of Nazareth is a cultural phenomenon, and essentially created a new image of Jesus for the television age,” said Royle. “It’s a privilege to have gained access to the original film footage and Robert Powell’s unique connection to this story makes him a wonderful and insightful guide to the historical Jesus and the Holy Land.”
THE REAL JESUS OF NAZARETH will combine scenes from the landmark series with Powell’s journey throughout modern Israel, where he meets archaeologists and scholars who help him reconstruct the story of the man who changed history and inspired billions.
THE REAL JESUS OF NAZARETH is produced by Impossible Factual for Smithsonian Networks. The Executive Producers for Impossible Factual are Jonathan Drake and Steve Maher. John Cavanagh, Charles Poe and David Royle serve as Executive Producers for Smithsonian Channel.
It might be slightly erroneous to say that Powell is “returning to the Holy Land”, since Jesus of Nazareth was shot in Tunisia, not in Israel. But you get the idea.
Here’s an interview Powell did in 2011, in which he begins by talking about playing Jesus and what it was like to be recognized for the role over 30 years later:
Given that Zeffirelli’s depiction of Jesus was quite faithful to the gospels, I am curious to see how this new series will balance the movie footage with the documentary footage. Will it pit the scholars and their historical reconstructions against the biblical accounts (and thus, in some sense, against the dramatization of those accounts)? Or will it find some way to synthesize the two? I guess we’ll find out next year.