The importance of poop in The Chosen

The importance of poop in The Chosen December 7, 2021

Poop is a big deal in The Chosen.

USA Today has an article on the popular life-of-Jesus series that begins by focusing on the scene in Christmas with The Chosen — now playing in theatres across the US — where Joseph shovels some manure before Mary gives birth to Jesus in a stable.

As the article puts it:

Jenkins literally had Jesus’ father Joseph shoveling stable animal droppings to clear the way for his laboring wife Mary in “Christmas with the Chosen: The Messengers,” the first episode to win a theatrical release (Fathom Events, in theaters nationwide through Dec. 10).

“That image alone, of Joseph scooping manure to prepare a spot for Mary to give birth, is not only one of the special’s defining images but one of the main themes of ‘The Chosen’ series,” says Jenkins, who featured the shovel shot in the special’s trailer. “It shows his humanity and his humility. I just think it says so much.” . . .

“The No. 1 word that we put on our wall, the banner across everything we do, is ‘authenticity,’ ” says Jenkins. “So many past Bible projects telling Jesus’ story have been a little stiff, maybe a cleaned up, sanitized version of the story. We desperately seek to pursue a portrayal that’s as authentic as possible.”

The manure shot isn’t the special’s only nod to animal fecal matter. When Joseph gets into an argument with the innkeeper, who tells him there is no room in the inn, Joseph replies that the man is lying to him, and says, “This is bull droppings here!”

Of course, as longtime fans of The Chosen know, animal droppings and rude puns are a recurring element in this series. The very first episode practically begins with Matthew, the fussy tax collector, stepping in poop accidentally, and a man calling him a “public anus” — a play on the Latin word “publicanus” meaning “tax collector”.

And in the fifth episode, Simon Peter is startled to learn that Jesus was building a latrine when Thaddaeus met him. To quote what I wrote in my analysis of that episode:

Simon is startled when he learns that Jesus worked on a “latrine” or “privy”. Something about the Messiah working on human waste disposal seems a bit off, to him.

As it happens, the Jesus of the gospels actually mentions such facilities, and in language that might be coarser than we expect. In Mark 7:19 and Matthew 15:17, he tells the disciples that food cannot make a person unclean because it goes through the stomach and out into the aphedron — a word that some translators actively try to avoid.

The King James Version of the Bible translates aphedron as “draught”, and other versions use words like “drain” or “sewer”. But the Revised Standard Version omits the word entirely and simply says the food “passes on”, while the New International Version simply says the food goes “out of the body”. The New American Standard Bible tries to have it both ways, simply saying in the main text that the food “is eliminated”, but then admitting in a footnote that the literal translation would be “goes out into the latrine”.

For his part, Thomas Cahill argues in Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus that aphedron should be translated “shithole” because, he claims, aphedron was “Macedonian slang that would have sounded barbarous to Greek ears.” He adds, “Jesus was not bashful about referring to bodily functions, even if his translators are.”

So, yes, Jesus talked about privies, and used them, and quite possibly built them, too.

I cannot help but note that Dallas Jenkins’ father, Jerry B. Jenkins, co-wrote the Left Behind novels, which are all about the end times. So if Dallas’s life-of-Jesus series focuses more on poop and where it comes from, you might say that one generation focused on the eschatological while the other generation is focused on the scatological, so to speak.

On a related note, see this post I wrote nearly seven years ago on the, um, rude bodily noises that have been made in Jesus movies such as 1999’s Jesus and 2015’s Last Days in the Desert (and, slightly tangential to the genre, 2011’s Holy Flying Circus).

One last note: The USA Today article also seems to suggest that there is something unusual about Jesus dancing at weddings and the like in The Chosen. But when I reviewed 1999’s Jesus way back when, I noted at the time that Jesus having emotions and dancing at parties had already become a standard way of “humanizing” Jesus in film even then.

– – –

The Chosen can be streamed in full via VidAngel or the show’s app (Android | Apple).

I interviewed co-writer/director Dallas Jenkins in December 2019 (after Season 1 came out) and in May 2021 (during Season 2; we spoke after Episode 5 came out).

I interviewed executive producer Derral Eves about Christmas with The Chosen.

I reviewed Season 1 of The Chosen and Christmas with The Chosen: The Messengers.

I have also written detailed analyses of each episode of Season 1:

zero | one | two | three | four | five | six | seven | eight | scripture index

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