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Who is Jesus Christ? Filling historical gaps requires faith in filmmakers

Actor Jonathan Roumie portrays Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount in a scene from 'The Chosen' TV series. / VidAngel Studios
by WorldTribune Staff, April 21, 2022

Most recently, filmmakers and not theologians led the way in supplementing the sparse available biographical details of Jesus Christ in the effort to discern how he lived his life.

Did they get it right? "Oh ye of little faith." (Matthew 8:26)

Julian Duin, a veteran religion reporter, noted in an analysis for Newsweek on April 15 that biographical films of Jesus include "the gritty 'Last Days in the Desert' (2015) with Ewan McGregor portraying an emaciated and doubting Jesus enduring 40 days in the wilderness, to the Lumo Project's 'The Gospel Collection' (2014-2018), a word-for-word presentation shot in Morocco and featuring British-Tamil actor Selva Rasalingam.

Cultural authenticity was the priority; Rasalingam looks convincingly Jewish and the actors – taking a cue from Mel Gibson's 2004 'The Passion of the Christ' – spoke in Aramaic with subtitles.' "

The most recent portrayal is "The Chosen", a seven-season TV production that traces the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

"Some $45 million – mostly through crowdfunding – has been poured into the first two seasons of the production," Duin noted. "A third will premiere in the fall. Hopes are to raise $100 million to eventually reach an audience of 1 billion."

About 390 million people have seen "The Chosen" thus far, Duin noted.

"The Jesus that we imagine is a person of the people," said screenwriter and executive producer Ryan Swanson. "He has a real life... I just figured he might be nostalgic for working with his hands. It's like he missed tinkering under the hood. He was walking through a village and stopped to help someone."

Capernaum – Jesus's Galilean headquarters – was on a trade route, so producers of "The Chosen" selected a cast which includes white, black and Asian actors as the Roman soldiers and the pagan, Samaritan, African and Jewish characters who would have traversed first-century Israel.

The lead actor, Jonathan Roumie, has an Egyptian-Irish parentage and family roots in Syria. Jesus's followers in the series include a mix of ethnicities: Tamar, an Ethiopian woman (Amber Shana Williams); the quasi-autistic disciple Matthew, played by Paras Patel, a South Asian, and Israeli-born actor Shahar Isaac, who plays the disciple Peter.

Executive producer and director Dallas Jenkins said the production used "a combination of historical context, biblical context and a little artistic imagination" to construct additional details of Jesus's life.

"I want people to feel, taste, smell. I want them to feel the dust, what it must have been like back then," Jenkins said.

Duin noted that "back then" was "first-century Israel, a bleak landscape overrun by Roman soldiers who could kill people on a whim. Jesus, who spent much time in wilderness areas on the run from Jewish authorities, is portrayed as a nomad in a brown knee-length tunic typical of working men of the time. Over that is a tattered mauve cloak – 'they didn't have sewing machines, so hems were frayed,' says costume designer Leila Heise – befitting a man who only owned one set of clothing.' "

"This is a person who sleeps outside, bathes outside, eats outside, builds fires – and builds things," said screenwriter and executive producer Tyler Thompson. Jesus is also depicted as a handyman who, in a scene from the second season, is found repairing a disabled cart.

"Movie Bible projects are usually stiff, formal – they go from Bible verse to Bible verse," said Jenkins, "and everything is very, very black and white. I think we have to round the edges a little bit making this show feel a lot more human," hence scenes showing Jesus dancing at a wedding or joking with his disciples.

"The Chosen" is available to stream on Prime Video, VUDU, Vudu Movie & TV Store, Apple TV, Angel Studios or BYUtv on your Roku device."

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